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The Daily Bugle didn't take walk-ins.

Three men knocked on J. Jonah Jameson's office door. One was young and tall and pale. One was middle-aged, short, and approximately dumpling-shaped. The third had a waxed, curly mustache, which completely distracted from all his other features.

JJJ himself threw open the door and glowered at them. "Who the hell are you people supposed to be?" he barked.

The short one crinkled his eyes up in a winning grin. "We hate people like Spider-Man."

The Daily Bugle didn't take walk-ins...theoretically.

Jonah's forbidding countenance melted at once into perfect amicability. "Well, why didn't you say so? Come in, friends!"

 

Peter sidled into the Bugle bullpen. He did not strictly work there right then, but no one ever revoked his keycard.

He wove his way to Betty Brant's desk and stole the remains of her bagel off her plate. "What's the news, beautiful?"

Betty predicted her old ex's carb crimes and waved a hand around to intercept him, but missed completely because her gaze was fixed on her boss's office door, her eyes alight as she worried the end of her pen distractedly between her teeth.

"Jonah's with some guys," she said. "I'm pretty sure they're HAM."

"Jonah's finally getting better deli meat for the breakroom?" Why did that sound familiar?

Betty gestured abstractly with the pen. "Not ham, like meat. HAM, like meatheads. It's one of those armchair extremist movements Twitter keeps pretending they don't know how to ban."

"That narrows it down."

"It's short for... Rats. Something militia?"

Peter twitched abortively for the door.

Betty reached over and smacked his arm without taking her eyes off Jonah's office. "Honestly, Peter," she said, "you haven't changed since we were teenagers. It's not a real militia. Don't go anywhere."

He would sense it if they were armed, right? Right?

 

Jonah stuck a cigar in his mouth. He chewed it. He was trying to quit.

"--so nice to see a man in your position who cares about the important things," the short one was saying. He seemed to be the main mouthpiece.

Jonah's mustache quivered pleasantly.

"About upholding accountability for people dragging down our community."

"Yeah, yeah," agreed Jonah, succumbing to autopilot and lighting a preemptive celebratory cigar.

"People who don't know what 'neighborhood' means."

"EXACTLY," exclaimed Jonah, smacking his hand on his desk.

 

Betty swiped out of the search engine on her phone. "Okay, it stands for 'Humans Against Mutants'," she said. "Sorry, I was remembering a sarcastic nickname." She fussed with the phone a little more and then put it down.

Right, right, Peter remembered why it was familiar now. He had punched some of them. Shoulda guessed.

He fixed his own hard glare on Jonah's silent door, still feeling twitchy even though his spider-sense stayed silent. "Betty," he said. "Darling Betty. Why are you giving me this news like a gift? Why is this a good thing?"

Betty finally turned to him and smiled in a mischievous way that reminded Peter of gleefully murderous little housecats.

She said, "You don't want to see what happens once Jonah figures out what their angle is?"

 

"I would love to collaborate with you gentlemen," said Jonah, shaking hands vigorously and indiscriminately. "You're an upright, civic-minded bunch, I can tell." He gestured his good cigar box at them. The younger one took one. Jonah spread his arms wide, biting off a half-manic grin. "I think this is the start of a beautiful partnership. Where do you want to start?" He took a cheerful puff of his not-for-lighting cigar.

"Well, we're especially focused on the mutant threat," said the short one.

Jonah choked on his inhale and started coughing around the cigar.

"Public opinion about them is very in their favor these days," he continued obliviously. "It's just disgusting. Dangerous. But your Spider-Man platform is the perfect jumping-off point. Start with one target and then ease people in from there."

"Boiling frogs," nodded the mustache sagely.

Jonah reached over to his 'decorative' ashtray and ground out his cigar with force. His lips peeled back to reveal crooked tombstone teeth. He inhaled.

 

Robbie walked over to Betty's desk and knocked on it, two short knuckle taps. "What are you two standing around gawping at?" he asked. "Peter, didn't I fire you?"

"Can't write about bloodshed you don't watch," said Betty. "It's a good day in the office, Mr. Robertson."

"...And why is that?" inquired Robbie, who loved Betty like a daughter and knew her very well, with trepidation.

"Wait for it," said Betty.

With the decisive violence of an erupting volcano, there was a blast of raw sound from behind the office door that was only just distinguishable as a voice everyone in the building was familiar with screaming: "W H A T ?"

Robbie scrunched up his face and braced himself against the desk like the sound had had the hair-ruffling gale force it seemed it must have. "...Why is that good, Miss Brant."

Betty twirled her pen on her fingertips and beamed up at him, squinching her eyes. "He isn't mad at us!"

Jonah's door slammed open, the knob bouncing off the abused brass wall guard. "Out, out!" bellowed Jonah, pursuing his visitors waving both arms, one of which was holding an empty mug that read ᴡᴏʀʟᴅ's ᴍᴏsᴛ ʙᴏss like a club. "Out, out of my office, out of my building, out! Hell, leave the state while you're at it! I used to be the mayor of this town! I still have connections!"

"I thought--" sputtered the short one. Jonah brandished the mug at him and he skipped out of the way. "With your vigilante-combatting crusade-- Surely you--" He panted. "You must see that our priorities--"

"I don't hate Spider-Man because he has powers!" shouted Jonah, "I hate him because he's a--"

"Wow," Peter said about a minute into the following deluge. "That's not fit for print."

"You want mutants in my paper so badly!?" finished Jonah, backing the little posse up against the exit. "I'll run nothing but mutants for weeks! --You, wait!"

This last was directed at the tall one, who was at the back of the group. Before he could scurry out of the room Jonah seized him by one shoulder, spun him around, and (juggling the mug) reached into his shirt pocket and plucked out his gifted cigar.

He dropped it in the mug and then pushed the man out the door. He kicked it shut, visibly aiming to clip any lingering ankles.

"Beautiful," said Betty. She tapped her phone to wake it, revealing that it was already open to a contact labeled "Sid S. (Bugle Security)". She hit the call button.

"Would somebody," projected Jonah, "call security and--"

"I'm already doing it!" chirped Betty, waving at him with her phone hand.

"Wh-- Well, good! The rest of you layabouts, take a note of Miss Brant's work ethic!"

Betty mugged a little smugly.

Peter had drifted over to a street-facing window and was looking down out of it, forehead practically touching the glass.

"Bigots!" Jonah was muttering, pacing back and forth strangling the air with his hands. "Hate groups! Trying to use my editorials as propaganda! Me! J. Jonah Jameson!" He twisted his grip on nothing viciously. "As if I would allow that! As if I would think like that! Nobody without their head so deep underground it's coming up in Australia would think that of me! I'm not... I... ...Do people...really think...I'm like that?"

Silence.

Someone shuffled papers. The sound carried.

Jonah inhaled, deep and angry, then let the breath out as a sigh, his shoulders slumping. The room tensed further in a way it hadn't when it had seemed like he was about to yell.

For a moment, with his posture crumpling, Jonah came dangerously close to looking his age.

Then he straightened back up, recovering his usual vim. "Well, we'll just see what they think this time next month! That's a good idea--somebody put up a comparative poll on the website. Now, speaking of layabouts--" He swiveled his head back and forth, scouring the bullpen. "Wait, where's Parker?"

"He left," supplied Betty. "Just now. Tore out of the room like he thought you were going to hit him."

Jonah huffed. "That punk! Some people just don't know how to act."

 

"What a bust!" the short man said. He kicked a piece of trash viciously off the sidewalk in front of the Bugle building and into the road. "This city is crawling with pamphlet-hawking, soy-drinking, gene sympathizers."

"There's no hope for mutie-lovers," grumbled the tall one.

"Eyyy-men," sighed the one with the mustache.

"Hey," said a new voice, coming from directly overhead.

They looked up.

Blank white lens eyes greeted them.

"We're nonviolent," said the squat one.

"Bully for you," said Spider-Man. "I'm not."

 

"Interviews!" barked Jonah. "Aren't we supposed to not talk over people? Amplify voices?"

"Suppose we are," said Robbie.

"WELL, SOMEBODY FIND ME SOMETHING TO AMPLIFY!"

"Oh, really?" Betty was saying into her phone. "No, just let him have them. Past the doors is public property; we aren't liable." She hung up, satisfied.

"--and if he isn't back here by the time I've set one up I'll get pictures from Grant, and next time he darkens my doorstep I'll mail him to the Globe in a giftwrapped box!"

 

"Well, fellas," said Spider-Man, dusting off his hands, "I'm not sure you've brought me around to the whole 'path of nonviolence' thing. But I've never been very zen. Maybe next time."

He leapt up onto the wall and started creeping around to the back of the building. He had had to bolt down two floors to find an unobserved window to jump out of. Totally worth it. "Honestly," he said. "Some people just don't know how to act."

 

Jonah paced around in an even higher dudgeon than his usual. "Somebody get me a mutant!" he barked. "Why haven't we got any mutants in this room!?"

"Good question," muttered Robbie.

"I had better not hear that we don't have any in the whole building!"

"That's oddly noble," said Glory, who had persisted in picking at the assignment she had open on her laptop at her desk right by Jonah's door through the whole ruckus.

"If I consult somebody who's not already salaried I'll have to PAY them!"

"Aaaaand there it is."

"Do something about it! Start a new hiring program!"

"We have hiring programs now?" asked Peter.

"WHOA, where did you come from," said Betty, startling hard.

Peter shrugged with the arm that wasn't braced on Betty's desk. His hair was mussed and his face was a little flushed. "I had to call my aunt," he said. "For an emergency...fashion consultation. For her. Not me. I think my sense of style is great, don't you?"

"No comment. Do you remember when we met and you wore yellow vests every single day?"

"That is a blistering lack of comment."

"I didn't say I didn't like the yellow vests. Whatever happened to them?"

"I think someone I dated after you might have burned them. Just shows you have superior taste."

"MJ?"

"I think it might have been Felicia.... Have you met Felicia?"

"It's not right!" Jonah continued to rant in the office foreground. "Ostracizing people just because they have powers! It's not right!"

Peter cupped his hands around his mouth and called over, "Gee, does that mean you're going to go easier on the old wallcrawler?" Then he jammed his fingers into his ears.

"SPIDER-MAN GOES OUT EVERY DAY OF HIS OWN VOLITION AND--"

Betty whapped Peter on the arm.

"--A PEST, WHO GOES WHERE HE IS NEITHER WANTED NOR NEEDED-- Wait, Parker?" Jonah did enough of a double take to finally stop pacing. "Why is it you're never here when I want you--"

"I don't work here," said Peter.

"--but the walls spit you out whenever there's an opportunity for a smart comment-- Huh? Well why the hell are you here if you don't work for me!?"

"Can't I drop in to visit my first love, and, frankly, the only woman I've ever--"

"Aren't you back with MJ again?" interrupted Betty.

"While she's on the clock," said Jonah, "no, you cannot."

"Oh, shame," said Peter. "In that case, my rates have increased by twenty percent."

Jonah spluttered. "In my eye they have--!"

"Fifteen."

"Five and I'll send May a gift basket.'

"Make it an edible arrangement and we've got a deal."

They shook on it. Betty rolled her eyes fondly between them.

Jonah plunked his ᴡᴏʀʟᴅ's ᴍᴏsᴛ ʙᴏss mug down on Betty's desk, fished the cigar out of it, and jammed it between his teeth, unlit.

"I am not a bigot, Parker," he chewed out around it.

"No, sir."

"I am not always ahead of the times, but I am a fair man."

"It's true, sir."

"And if people don't see that, I'll just make them see!" He slammed his fist on Betty's desk. "So I want PICTURES! PICTURES OF X-MEN!"

"....It just doesn't sound right...." muttered Peter. Betty shook her head.

"And if that's not close enough to your specialty, then I don't even know why I keep you around! --Not," he added, "that the X-Men and all the other X-people are anything like that Spider-Man!"

"Oooof course not," said Peter.

"But they've got to be the same kind of tricky shot!"

"So you admit I take tricky shots."

"WHY DO YOU THINK I PAY YOU SO MUCH, HUH?"

"I don't think you--"

"Parker!"

"Alright, alright."

Jonah thrust out his hand, expression a picture. "You'd better actually have something good for me after all this haggling."

"Of course!" said Peter, waving his hands in a very unconvincing reassuring/defensive combo motion. "Just hold that pose while I get a flash drive made up."

Jonah's mustache flexed. "How long will that take?"

"Couple hours?"

Jonah inhaled preexplosively.

"Here," said Betty, turning her laptop around and pushing it at Peter. "Just get them off the cloud."

Peter stared at her. He blinked once, slowly. "I'm not...in the cloud?

"The camera I gave you last winter backs up automatically to the cloud. I set it up before I gave it to you because I knew you wouldn't. I wrote the account information in the card and told you to change the password. Did you even look at the card?"

Peter began to look alarmed. "It does?"

 

After several minutes of Betty reassuring him he wasn't going to be in a data leak ("Honestly, what's in your camera roll? State secrets? Nudes?"), Peter hunched over and started picking at the keyboard. "You're in luck," he said. "Tuesday the original lineup took some newbies out and closed a portal to the prehistoric era out in Hamilton."

"And you were in Hamilton?" put in Betty. "With your camera?"

"My rent just went up," said Peter. "Thing is, JJ, they were teaming up with--"

"Son," interrupted Jonah, "I've done so much for you. I value you as an employee--as family even. Now, for me: Don't say Spider-Man."

"...Bernie Sanders."

Jonah sighed and ran his hands down his face. Several desks over, Robbie stifled a laugh into his fist in a passable impression of a cough.

Leaving one hand over his eyes, Jonah pointed at Betty's laptop. "Show me the damn pictures, Parker."

 

"Not bad...." gruffed Jonah, clicking through the pictures rapidly. "It's good the original five are there--they're classic, reliable, people are used to them capturing their imaginations.... --Do people call them that? The Oh-Five."

"Wow, you really have no mutant opinions," marveled Peter. "Or mutant thoughts. Your head is just empty, like a flower vase."

"Cut the sass, Parker," Jonah said perfunctorily.

"Seriously, don't you run a newspaper?"

"It would be perfect," said Jonah, mercilessly changing the subject, "if Spider-Man weren't in all the good photos."

"Look here, bossman, normally you like that," said Peter. "Demand it, even. Seems like you're cursing your own Pavlovian conditioning."

"We can edit him out," muttered Jonah, ignoring him, still clicking the mouse pad with unnecessary gusto. "Maybe he was attacking them. What do you think, team? 'Vigilante Pesters Helpful Citizens'."

"Boy," said Peter under his breath as Jonah straightened up. He fought to hold a sour expression, and failed. "Some things never change."

Jonah smacked Betty's desk decisively. (She tried to nudge his hand off with the back of her pen.) "But I still need somebody to talk to--a personal account to write out in lights!"

"Jonah," said Robbie moderatingly.

"STATISTICALLY," projected Jonah, who was difficult to moderate, "I KNOW THERE HAS GOT TO BE A MUTANT ON THE PREMISES, SO COUGH THEM UP! THIS IS A HUNT, PEOPLE."

"I cannot imagine why people would think you might be willing to participate in some sort of minority witch hunt," drawled Kate.

"Isn't Beatrice down in Accounting a mutant?" offered Betty.

"I didn't know you were a proponent of hum-- sentient sacrifice, Bets," said Peter.

"You are no better than me," said Betty.

"..."

"She quit last month," said Robbie. "Moving to Florida to be closer to her mother."

"Oh, good for her," said Glory.

"Florida," said Peter distrustfully. Jonah nodded.

Jeff from HR, who did not work in the bullpen but was 23 and as such had been drafted by one of the editors to help her fix a problem with her e-mail and had been there for most of the morning, slowly raised his hand. "I'm a mutant," he said. "Sir."

Jonah's full attention, which was a terrible thing to bear, shifted to focus on him. Jeff's hand drifted downward, and he looked at it like he was second-guessing the body language choice.

"That's wonderful, my boy!" exclaimed Jonah, suddenly overflowing with powerful avuncular energy.

"Ummm," said Jeff from HR. "Thank you."

"Wonderful, stupendous," insisted Jonah. "What do you do?" He fluttered his hands at Jeff. "What's your--special thing?"

Jeff from HR, in less than one second, visibly considered how verbose just the cliff notes on the topic of asking mutants about their powers in a PC way were and discarded the idea of trying to convey them. "I can turn my fingers into French fries, sir."

"...What?"

"French fries. I can generate French fries out of my hands, sir."

"Like...a McDonald's?"

"Homestyle, sir."

Jonah performed a contemplative chewing motion that made his mustache flutter. "...Do you want to be in the paper?"

"Not at all, sir."

"Understandable, kid. Understandable."

 

"God," said Peter, leaning against the wall with his arms folded to watch as Jonah dragged Jeff from HR with him back to the conversation about page layouts he had put on pause to be bothered by his photographer, shadowboxing the ethics of hiring him as a consultant en route. "For once Jonah is running on spite in the right direction."

"Now, Pete," said Robbie, who had likewise stepped back until he was reactivated by an impending major ethics violation, "you know he does that more often than not. Otherwise we wouldn't all still be here."

"...Yeah," admitted Peter. ("The photos need to be bigger," insisted Jonah. "Really use the wing guy to frame the others--") "I do know that."

He fished around in his jacket and got out his phone.

 

"Do you have one of those little flags that look like tropical drinks?" Jonah was asking.

Glory abortively started to raise her hand to cover up the subtle bi triangle pin on her hat band and then lowered it.

"Being a mutant isn't a sexuality, Jonah," said Kate.

Jeff from HR coughed into his fist. "There is a flag," he said.

They looked at him.

"Other things have flags," he said.

"Ha!" said Jonah, pointing at Kate triumphantly.

 

"Who are you texting?" asked Robbie.

Peter's head was bowed over his phone, typing something. He tapped things out with one index finger at a bizarre speed that could not reasonably be called hunt and peck.

"No one," he said. The contact name read: SCOTTY BOY. The last two messages were "Lol, you're in luck," (on the left) and "Don't say 'lol,' what are you, 12?" (on the right). He raised his head to address Jonah, pocketing his phone. "Hey, you still shopping for mutants? If I get you a good one, will I get a commission?"

Jonah swiveled in the ergonomic chair he had commandeered from Kate when she stood up. Once it was facing the right direction he leaned forward forebodingly. "Now, Parker," he said. "I might not be on the ball all the time, but even I know not to hawk this 'one of the good ones' horsesh--"

"NO," interrupted Peter, "I mean-- Not like-- I meant famous, if I can pull in a--"

There was a knock on the outside of the window.

Most of the rabble surrounding Jonah silenced. Betty reached into her purse, gripped something inside of it, and then left her hand there. The action movie gun clicking sound Peter thought he heard was almost definitely imaginary. They were on the highest floor.

"--An X-Man," finished Peter.

Outside the window, a woman in a green body suit, masses of red hair pulsing around her in a telekinetic breeze, raised her hand and twiddled her fingers in a little wave.

Jeff from HR unsubtly sunk down behind a desk.

 

After gibbering a demand that "Everyone stop gibbering, someone let the poor woman in" and eventually giving Jean a polite hand inside, Jonah looked back and forth between her and Peter.

"How do you two...know each other," he asked.

"We're in the same pilates class," said Peter.

"He has a deep, inexplicable bond with my boyfriend," Jean said at the same time.

They looked at each other.

"...Okay," said Jonah eventually, deciding he did not want to know about it if his freelancer had had a threesome with Phoenix and Cyclops.

 

After overcoming the awkwardness of introductions, Jean assumed a businesslike patter out of sync with her dramatic entrance. Peter extricated himself back to the noncombat zone with the nonchalant speed of a man who was hiding something.

"Bets," said Peter.

Betty was back to staring from her desk. "Yes, Pete?"

"Are we about to become the most pro-mutant news outlet in New York?"

Betty worried the end of her pen some more. "I rather suspect it."

"Hell, I rather expect it," cut in Robbie, stepping up behind them and joining their huddle. "Might even swap news outlet with employer."

"--run organizations," Jean was saying while Jonah watched her perched on a desk in a Thinker pose and waved at Glory to take notes. "I can put you in touch with some of our school to work programs."

Robbie ran his hands down his face, looking tired. "There's so much to do," he said. "And always so much to learn, before you can do any of it. I can't claim the high ground on this one--I hadn't noticed we hadn't taken a clear enough stance on this either. It's impossible to stay on top of all of it. ...But we're journalists. We have to keep trying."

"Is that why you stick around?" Peter asked. "...Sir?"

Robbie snorted. "You asking if I never cut the apron strings for long because Jonah tries so hard? Maybe among other things. Don't get too cheeky, Parker."

"I wouldn't dream of it."

"He always tries," repeated Robbie. "Now if only he would just let go of his vendetta with--"

"--that rat, Spider-Man?"

Jean pursed her lips and tipped her head to consider whatever character defamation Jonah had asked her to confirm. "He is slightly less funny than he thinks he is," she conceded. "Which is much more annoying than you'd think it would be."

Peter made a drain unclogging noise. Robbie pointedly did not look at him.

"She's not wrong," muttered Betty, whose attention was rapt on the exciting part of the room and as such missed any fine nuances being brandished beside her.

Peter made the noise again.

Jean looked over and stuck her tongue out at him.

 

JEFF!❀ @theother_jeffy
STORY TIME, PEOPLE. I FEARED FOR MY LIFE OR AT LEAST MY DIGNITY AT WORK TODAY
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JEFF!❀ @theother_jeffy
i'm wearing my worksona rait. i physically cannot stop saying "sir". i think i said sir 47 different times out of sheer social what the hell

YBY Call Me @belovedssdarling
i don't think you have a worksona i think you;re a genuinely boring person

JEFF!❀ @theother_jeffy
okay wow.
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JEFF!❀ @theother_jeffy
When i say i hid behind a desk i wish i was exagerating for comedy. but.

JEFF!❀ @theother_jeffy
"wow jeffavorite you hid from marvel girl? you must really be a radical!" no she's just really tall OK

JEFF!❀ @theother_jeffy
Also once i met an actor i worshiped and his personality didnt hold up. i cant let that happen again. i'm traumatized
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JEFF!❀ @theother_jeffy
The effort it took to not say "yeah but it does look like a pride flag probably because every single xman is some kind of gay"

JEFF!❀ @theother_jeffy
god

JEFF!❀ @theother_jeffy
he immediately asked me what my deal was and i was so overwhelmed by the sheer ... yeah that i didn't tell him youre not supposed to ask that... i need to go back in there before he publishes something don't i

JEFF!❀ @theother_jeffy
hes a nice very loud old man i cant let the word choice nitpickers have him

JEFF!❀ @theother_jeffy
fuck

JEFF!❀ @theother_jeffy
he's a coot but like i get it now. that's my coot.

JEFF!❀ @theother_jeffy
i'm gonna see if i can get him to wear a magneto was right pin

 

A week later, Peter flopped face first into bed. There was a newspaper clutched in his hand which if uncrumpled would have read "Iɴᴛᴏʟᴇʀᴀɴᴛ Cᴏᴍᴍᴜɴɪᴛɪᴇs ᴛʜᴇ REAL Mᴜᴛᴀɴᴛ Pʀᴏʙʟᴇᴍ".

"Awwwwwwwww, Tiger," cooed Mary Jane from where she was sitting cross-legged in the middle of the bed. She put down the script she was looking over. "Are you feeling cherished?"

"Whamph?" said Peter into the bedsheet. "No. By Jonah? No. Why? He's not cherishing me."

MJ patted him consolingly on the back, snickering.