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Peter B. Parker was Miles’s favorite Peter Parker and Jeff was fascinated with this choice.

He would have thought that Miles’s favorite Peter Parker would have been theirs. The one from their universe. The two of them were very close, after all. Always perched together like birds on telephone wires these days. Heads together, murmuring and snickering and sharing jokes that Jeff was sure no one else in the whole world would understand.

They reminded him of parakeets. Parker was a soft blue one and Miles was a vibrant green. And they cuddled and rubbed cheeks and flapped unpredictably away from each other for indeterminate periods of time before bustling back to sit and cuddle and bask in the other’s company again.

Rio thought that the relationship blooming out there was sweet.

She wasn’t as wary of it now as she had been from the start.

Parker proved himself to be a sweet kid. A well meaning kid. Someone who was just as baffled as to what to make of Miles as Miles was of him.

He was struggling, Miles quietly told Jeff when Rio was working a week of night shifts. He was floundering, trying to understand where his place was in the world. Trying to figure out how to live in a world where he was no longer anonymous. Where every move he made was scrutinized.

Miles said that Parker sometimes sat on top of cranes and cried for hours all by himself because life down below was too hard to go back to.

It made Jeff fucking feel for this young man.

Parker didn’t talk to him much or, really, anyone outside his original circle much. He kept his distance, Jeff thought, out of a mix of anxiety and respect for him and Rio. Miles was a different story. Parker allowed Miles to see him as he was drowning up there on top of those cranes and Miles, he allowed to come in close and purr.

The purring was a new thing that Miles could do and which he did do, all the damn time.

It scared the shit out of Jeff the first week or so he started doing it, but he’d gotten used to the sound and Rio used it as a way of gauging Miles’s happiness when he came home to them on weekends. She said it was comforting to know that their son was happy to be in their presence. It was comforting to know that they could make him happy just by leaving him to sock out on the couch with a throw blanket.

She was warmed that that was all it took most of the time.

Jeff was, too.

So he’d asked Miles while he was in that happy place of his who his favorite Spiderman was and, after defeating the question by dividing everyone out into separate categories and declaring them his favorite in that category, Miles landed on his handful of Peter Parkers.

Tats, he said, was very nice, but not at all his Peter Parker.

He was Bitsy-Miles’s Peter Parker. And by this fourteen-year-old logic, he removed Tats from the running and replaced him among the others.

Parker and the infamous B were neck and neck, Miles said, but if he had to pick one of them to hang out with, it would be B.

Parker was his Peter Parker, he told Jeff, but B was no one’s and everyone’s all at the same time.

B refused to be owned by anyone and he told Miles that he was his hero.

Their Peter Parker wasn’t decisive or bold enough to say such a thing. And as close as he and Miles were, he still spent his time with his own friends. The ones around his age. The ones who’d stayed with him after everything that had happened to him.

Miles said that that was okay, but flattery gets you everywhere, so B was the winner there.

B, interestingly enough, was generally pretty standoffish. He was not inclined to go bouncing around universes like Miles and Gwen were. But despite that, maybe once every couple of weeks, he’d show up and take Miles out with him as a person. A real person. Normal clothes, normal shoes—sometimes matching shoes, but not always.

The guy looked like he lived in a wind tunnel. He was always wearing some too-big article of clothing or some mismatched set of bracelets or shoes. He never gave the impression that he cared much about, well, anything really.

He swung by to pick Miles up on a Friday or Sunday and Miles would rate him on a scale of 1 to 10 (he never made more than a 3. What did this mean? Only Miles knew.) and then off they’d go for a couple of hours before B would send Miles back on his own.

Miles said he did this with a lot of the Spiderpeople.

Jeff asked him what they talked about and Miles shrugged and said ‘stuff.’ Not in a defensive way, but rather in a ‘it actually doesn’t matter’ type of way.

It was truly fascinating.

Miles had been close like this with Aaron. Never with Jeff. Never with Rio.

He claimed he didn’t see B as any kind of uncle or parental figure. He said that at most, he was a teacher. A bad one. The worst one.

But still a teacher.

Jeff wanted to know what exactly this guy was teaching.

 

 

He learned by accident that B was one of Parker’s favorite Spiderpeople, too.

Parker came by the house with grey around his eyes and red capillaries at the top of the skin on his cheeks. He seemed lethargic. He asked Jeff if he could pass on a message to Miles for him.

Jeff asked if he couldn’t just text him, but Parker shook his head and blinked slowly.

He told Jeff to please tell Miles that he was trying, but they weren’t going for it. He’d gotten shot down in a major kind of way.

He didn’t say anything more than that, but Jeff thought that his eyes looked a little brighter than usual and his voice cracked while he spoke.

Jeff had told him to come in and have a cup of coffee, which Parker had politely refused.

He had a meeting with B, he’d explained. He didn’t want to miss it. Thank you, though.

He swept his fragile skin off the doorstep.

 

 

Miles was weirded out by Jeff asking him questions about B. Jeff knew this from Miles’s face and from Rio telling him what Miles told her.

She said that Miles didn’t get why he was so concerned. B wasn’t hurting him. He was being nice. He wasn’t being creepy. He did this for anyone and everyone.

But it wasn’t the act that Jeff was interested in. It was the logic.

Why would B do this? was his question.

What skin did B have in this game?

Was he lonely? Did he feel compelled or obligated to help out the younger folks? Did he find the kids amusing?

Just.

Why?

He asked Miles if he could talk to B.

Miles asked him how he felt about shitty cheeseburgers.

Obviously, he felt fine about them.

Miles told him that B would only talk to him if he liked shitty cheeseburgers.

Jeff hadn’t realized that there were rules. But okay, sure. He would buy this man lunch if it came to it.

 

 

B refused.

Miles was awkward about telling Jeff this.

“He said he’s not here to talk to parents,” he said nervously. “He said he’s not friends with people’s parents. He asked me why he should waste his time with people he doesn’t care about.”

It was mind-boggling. And yet so simple?

If Jeff didn’t know better, than he would have thought that this was avoiding behavior, but there was something about B that made him think, ‘No. He probably cannot actually be assed.’

Jeff wished he could attain that level of nonchalance.

 

 

He overheard a meeting.

He didn’t mean to. He’d just wrangled a couple drunk belligerent guys into the car and had gone around the corner to double check for additional drunk belligerents when he’d heard a soft murmur.

He looked up and saw nothing but had by then resigned himself to going up the stairs to the roof to make sure that no drunk, suicidal person was up there talking themselves down. When he arrived he realized that there, further up on the roof, where someone had build a tilted amphitheater of sorts out of a number of terraced concrete steps, was Peter Parker. Blond hair, blue eyes, kicking his feet while wearing an enormous wrinkled jacket made out of faded khaki canvas. He wore it with black athletic tights with grey stripes down the sides and orange vans. Next to him, in a leather jacket and heavy black boots, was B.

Parker leaned against his shoulder while B stared up at the sky.

There were no stars. They were too deep in the city for that. But B watched the sky anyways.

“—wanna fit in again,” Parker said to the toes of his sneakers.

“I get that,” B said to the sky.

“I dunno why it’s so hard. My therapist says I’m doing a good job for everything that I’ve been through, but it seems to me like everything’s moving fast and slow at the same time and I’m standing still.”

“What’s wrong with standing still? I love standing still. Imagine standing still, but horizontal. Like. On a mattress,” B said.

Parker laughed.

“I’m not tired much in this verse lately,” he said.

“You need a better mattress,” B informed him.

Parker laughed again.

“MJ likes a hard one,” he said.

“Tell me about it,” B groused. “She’s all ‘it’s better for your back’ like, lady, the human back exists to break. That’s the point of it. Let me break it slowly on something soft.”

“It doesn’t exist to break,” Parker said.

“Psh. Everything exists to break,” B scoffed with a wave. “It’s all just a matter of pace, kiddo. Wait ‘til you got arthritis. Wait ‘til you got fuckin’ carpel tunnel. I tell this doc, hey, my hands go numb all the fuckin’ time and he says to me, I will butcher you on any Saturday you want in six months. And I go, ‘doc, you ain’t stabbing me on Shabbat. That’s work.’ And he goes, ‘no, son, on Shabbat, it’s just a very expensive hobby. But if you’re that set on it, fine, I can see about a Monday.’”

“You don’t have carpel tunnel,” Parker said.

“I do.”

“No, you don’t.”

“You wanna bet, punk? Get a load of this.”

The tell-tale sound of bones popping sounded out.

“That’s not carpel tunnel,” Parker said. “That’s just air.”

“It’s evil,” B said. “I’m releasin’ it. In honor of the carpals.”

“That doesn’t even make sense.”

“Shut up, I’m releasin’.”

“Is releasing work on Shabbat?”

There was a pause.

“Does it look like Shabbat to you?” B demanded.

“It’s work,” Parker decided.

You’re work,” B sniffed.

“Scathing comeback.”

“Stop working on Shabbat.”

“I’m not that orthodox, dude,” Parker said.

“I ain’t either,” B told him. “I’m just sayin’. You’re out here worrying this way and that way over who you are and who you can trust and who you wanna be. Like, man. That shit’s work. Exhausting. So stop working on Shabbat. Take Saturday and just be. Don’t be someone. Just be.”

Parker said nothing for a beat, then brought his knees up and leaned his cheek against them.

“I don’t know how,” his impossibly quiet voice said behind them.

“Yeah, you do. We all do. You’re still human, buddy,” B said.

“You don’t know that,” Parker said.

“I do,” B said.

“No, you don’t.”

“I do so.”

“Do not.”

“Do so.”

Parker huffed.

“Go buy a new mattress with your girl,” B said, standing up and stuffing his hands into his pockets. He took one out and ruffled Parker’s hair. “And stop takin’ yourself so seriously, kid. Anyways, thanks for the drink. I’ll see you around.”

Parker lifted his head to watch B go.

“Bye Peter,” he said.

He set his chin back down onto his knees and stared off into the distance through the fog of lights before him.

Jeff left.

It already felt wrong to have stayed and listened, even though none of it seemed all that deep or scandalous.

It was more the fact that it had been intimate.

Yeah. The conversation had been intimate. Not descriptive. Not aggressive.

But personal. Like someone else’s hand placed over your heart. Like the feeling of giving that heart away to be held, but also being aware of the impenetrable distance between the hand over it and the core of your chest.

 

 

He was starting to get it.

B was a weird guy. A soft person. Not physically soft, but soft in presence.

He wasn’t confrontational. He wasn’t overly loud. He was just candid. He told jokes with a straight face, told stories without much inflection. He moved with a calm that rode the line of lazy. Sloppy even.

But he was an insightful man. He’d lived a lot of life. It sounded like he’d done a lot of trying.

He was just over it.

And it was as though the sacrifices he made every day—the ones that Miles and Parker and Gwen and all of the others made every day—made the world seem so vast and deep and unknowable that he’d decided not to sweat the small stuff anymore. Shit just happened sometimes and you figured out how to live with it.

‘Yeah, you don’t know who you are?,’ B would probably say, ‘Do you like coffee? Coffee’s some nice shit. Go have a coffee and stop asking yourself questions you don’t got the answer to. Why put the fuckin’ burden on yourself when everyone else is already deciding that shit for you?’

It was a refreshing way of living.

Did it work? Probably not. But it there was a comfort there that Jeff could definitely see the appeal of.

 

 

It was another couple of weeks before Miles came home one weekend with his arms full of books and his head full of mid-terms static; he barely remembered before crowding off to his room to tell Jeff, “Oh yeah, B wants to see you.”

B?

See him?

Why?

“I dunno, he just asked if you’d be down to chat,” Miles said.

Jeff wasn’t sure, actually.

He felt a little off-kilter about it.

Like, did he want to sit with this man who so effortlessly pulled back people’s layers? Did he want to have a conversation that was empty and full at the same time? Did he want to put himself in a situation where a man he didn’t know came to know him without trying? Without reciprocating the gesture?

He told himself to stop making it so deep.

Maybe B just wanted to talk about something boring. Normal.

Or maybe Miles had said something to him that he was concerned about.

Yeah, actually. It was probably that.

Jeff agreed.

 

 

Peter B. Parker was tall from afar, but he felt even taller when you were stood next to him. It was funny because Jeff found the opposite when he stood next to Peter Parker and the two of them were close to, if not the same, height.

He thought it might have had to do with the way they carried their chins. Parker tucked his.

“Officer,” B greeted in a battered yellow raincoat lined with a green and blue flannel overshirt.

“Mr. Parker,” Jeff greeted in return.

“Ehn. Call me Peter,” B said. “No one in my family’s been Mr. Parker for generations.”

“Is that so?” Jeff asked.

“We’re not formal people,” B said. Then paused. “Well, technically, I guess my parents were Doctor and Doctor, so I guess that’s another way of gettin’ around the stuffy Mr. and Mrs. bullshit.”

They were what now?

B lifted his eyebrows at him.

“Docs,” he said. “Scientists.”

“No shit?” Jeff asked.

“None here, sir,” B sniffed. “Doesn’t matter much. Don’t remember either of ‘em.”

“You must have been young,” Jeff said.

“Hm? Oh, yeah. Like, five? Six? Something that,” B said. “They were always just words in a book to me. Published all these papers. Worked in all these labs. Caused nothin’ but grief for me in the end. But anyways, that’s not why I’m here.”

“Why are you here, then?” Jeff asked, leaning up against B’s idea of a meeting place—a graffiti-covered wall that looked out over the docks.

“This,” B said, pushing off the wall and holding his arms out wide at the art behind him.

“This?” Jeff repeated.

“Yes, this,” B said, “I want to understand this.”

Uh?

Okay. So this was a little strange.

“Why? Or um. What’s the hard part of it?” Jeff asked.

It was graffiti. It was art. You felt about it how you felt about it. A lot of it was cultural.

“The technique,” B said, leaning in close and frowning at the wall. “I want to know what’s hard to do. I can’t draw for shit, man. I mean, technically, I’m a professional artist—photography, you know, for the papers and shit--but that’s not a helluva lot like this.”

When B explained his job like that, understanding of why he and Miles got on so well blossomed across Jeff’s mind.

“You want to learn how to paint?” Jeff asked. “You should ask Miles. He’s better at it than I am.”

“No,” B said. “That defeats the purpose. I just told you, I’m shit at drawing. And anyways, Miles tells me he learned from you and his uncle.”

Jeff didn’t get it. What was the purpose then?

B looked at him like he was fucking stupid.

“Your kid is ace at color theory,” he said. “I got color theory and I got lighting and I got texture and negative space—I got all that bull, yeah? Believe it or not, my ass went to college for it. But that doesn’t mean anything when it comes to style. I don’t know what’s hard about this stuff. I don’t know what to say to him when he wants me to see his pieces. But if he does something that’s hard, I wanna be able to notice it, you know what I mean?”

Yes.

Yes, Jeff did.

And he was…touched?

“Who are you?” he asked before he could stop himself.

B looked back at him and dropped his arms in confusion.

“Peter B.,” he said.

No. That. That wasn’t the question.

“Some folks call me Spiderman, but I dunno about that, I think I’m just doing my job,” B said with a wink. He spun back around. “Anyways, I’m thinkin’ that this involves some shoulder action. Real rounded lines. And then we got some tapering bits here—is that a motion or a pressure thing?”

Jeff didn’t know what he was thinking before. Experience told him by now that this was exactly how B functioned.

Fuck your dumbass question, B said. Answer it yourself. You already got some idea. Ain’t my job to piece it together for you. In the meantime, tell me the answers to my much better, more concrete questions. They are important for reasons beyond me.

Jeff felt like he finally got it.

This guy, he was soft. It was simple as that.

His heart was soft.

He protected it by thinking outward. Thinking inward would only invite things in to stab it.

“You need to do it to get it,” Jeff said.

B slapped at the side of jaw, musing on this.

“Alright, fine,” he said. “But I don’t wanna do it here. This stuff is too nice. I don’t want to cover any of it up. I wanna do it somewhere it doesn’t matter. How much paint do I need?”

“Depends on your piece,” Jeff said.

“I’m thinkin’ a hot dog. What the fuck does a hot dog look like? Is it too dick-like? Is that a bad thing?”

“You ask a lot of questions, Peter,” Jeff noted.

B shut up abruptly.

“I talk a lot, sorry,” he said quieter. “Gets lonely up high sometimes.”

You tell people not to martyr themselves, Jeff thought, and yet here you are.

“Do you have a lot of friends?” Jeff asked.

B tilted his head. His eyes narrowed a bit as though he was appraising the question.

“I used to,” he finally said. “But I lost touch. I’m working on getting them back now.”

“Tough year?”

B snorted.

“Tough life,” he said. “S’alright, we’re all slogging through the same shit in the end. Turns out mine’s just got height to it. And bombs. Mine’s got lot of fuckin’ bombs. What I’d give for a guy with a knife.”

Jeff laughed.

“You’d take a knife over a bomb?” he asked.

“Oh, any day,” B said. “And I’d take a bomb over a gun if I’m being honest. You know how many bullets I’ve had yanked outta my ass? Dear God. Wade pulled one out once and made it sing. I got no clue how. I mighta been high. No, I was definitely high. Maybe it wasn’t singing. Maybe I was singing. Stop distracting me: ART.”

He was alright, this guy.

Jeff got it now.