It starts as a feeling.
Not unlike being in a fully occupied elevator, it greets him in the night, afflicting him with a brief state of paralysis before vanishing. Peter, in his sleep-addled condition, writes the episode off as a mere result of sleep deprivation. Come sun up, the event's all but forgotten, and the sense that he's being shadowed is perceived as fatigue-induced paranoia.
. . .
Returning to school after an "epic" battle is always difficult. Sliding into his civilian clothes, adorning a human skin, carrying out a non-life-threatening schedule, it's all so very mundane compared to the life he's created.
And not to mention disjointing. When Cindy's pencil pouch falls off her desk during Home Economics, Peter's fingers flex on instinct, shifting into position as they prepare to launch a wad of webbing. He catches himself, of course, instead watching as the pouch tumbles over and vomits a plethora of color pencils, pens, and highlighters. Cindy gathers her things, her face flush with embarrassment, and class continues on as normal. Life is normal.
Later on, the clang of pure metal will meet Peter's ears; his legs jerk, eager to propel his body onto the table, across the room, and in the direction of the sound. But it's just Gwen who's dropped her tray on the floor, so, again, there's no real trouble.
By the time Woodshop rolls around, Peter's almost desperate for something to do, every molecule thrumming with unspent energy. Because if something were to happen, it would happen in Shop, right? Right?
No. Because contrary to popular belief, not everyone who takes Shop is a distracted, incompetent halfwit. Class passes without incident, and Peter finds himself severely disappointed that no one's lost a finger.
At the thought, the phantom presence of fingers materializes upon his neck and brushes aside several tufts of hair. Peter swats the hand away, turning around to glare at the person, only to blank when he discovers the table behind him is empty.
Ned glances up from his boat, takes note of Peter's befuddled expression, and cocks his head to the side. "Peter?" When he receives no response, he reaches forward and waves a hand in front of his face, sighing when Peter finally acknowledges him. "Jeez, you keep doing that. What's with you today?"
Peter blinks, gives the unoccupied table one last look, then turns back around. His hands return to the wooden block before him, and he mutters, "Nothing. Just thought I felt something." The sound of something whirring to life draws a poorly concealed jump from him; he leans forward, his hand absentmindedly reaching for Ned, and scans the room until he places the sound with a power saw at the table beside them. Peter deflates, withdrawing his hand to his chest, and sighs.
"Are you all right", Ned questions as he blocks the saw with his head. "You seem kind of...squirrely." He draws closer, lowers his voice, and whispers, "Is it about the Octopus guy?"
Peter winces, so Ned leans back, returning his attention back to his wooden boat. "You said you didn't want to talk about it-"
"And, you know, I get that, but it might maybe help if you did talk about it. Even if it's just to yourself." Dragging a finger along the sail of the bow, he hums to himself and nods; he reaches into his pocket, pulls out a pen, and begins to write his name along the hull of the boat.
"I'm fine, Ned." Peter picks his block off the table and stares, eyes half-lidded with exhaustion. "It's just...hard. Having a weekend like that and coming back Monday to deal with things like exams and dodgeball is like the world's worst case of whiplash ever."
Pausing in his writing, Ned looks up at Peter. "You could take the day off. Mr. Shroud never does attendance anyway."
Peter shakes his head. "No", he says, placing his block back onto the table. "I need something to do. I spent all day yesterday just walking around our apartment 'til Aunt May made me help her prep meals for the next two weeks."
"Well, I could always come over. I found an antique comic book of Godzilla vs Superman at a thrift shop yesterday."
His lips quirk upwards. He leans onto the table, runs several fingers through his hair, and laughs for what seems like the first time in centuries. "Ned, that sounds horrible. Why would you pay for that?"
"So we could laugh at it. Duh." He elbows Peter in the arm and raises his eyebrows. "How about it?"
Blinking lazily, Peter gives him a full smile and nods. The bell above them rings, and they scramble to tidy up their work station. Throughout the clean up, Peter finds his spirits lifted, losing himself in Ned's words as they discuss the absurdity of pinning a giant lizard against an overpowered Ken doll. He does, at one point, lose feeling in his left arm. Aside from that, though, the rest of the day passes without event.
. . .
Sleep is an evasive creature, darting out of sight like a startled rabbit each time he draws too close to it. Just when Peter thinks he's won, something pricks the inside of his brain and jolts him back into consciousness. It's an exhausting game, and the outcome merits little reward.
On the off chance that he does get some sleep, Peter finds himself plagued with nightmares. Many are of his battle with Doctor Octopus, but there are others that he can't even begin to comprehend; visions of angry, red metal, lab coats, and shattered glass play behind his eyelids in such a frenzied array that when he awakes, it's to a stormy stomach.
After several days of terror, Peter forgoes sleeping; when he returns from his night out, instead of crawling into bed, he sits at his desk and writes. It's nothing specific, though the Doc's death and the resulting nightmares are a common theme. Oddly enough, Peter draws a sort of comfort from the writing, even if most of it is nonsense.
He fills in several pages of stilted words, then proceeds to fold his clothes, trashes the cans of Monster littering his room, and studies for an upcoming exam in World History. Then, drumming his fingers against his cheek, Peter leaps into the air and tugs on the cord extending from the ceiling. His suit falls from the attic, and he smiles, staring with displaced glee as he traces his fingers over the latex fabric.
He's about to slither into the suit, ready to take on who the fuck knows, when his phone pulses in his pocket. Peter takes it out and glares: sixty forty-five.
All at once, he finds his surge in energy depleted and has to firmly grasp the back of his chair to keep himself upright. His morning routine seems two times as arduous, but he does it nonetheless. The impact of a week with little sleep catches up to him once he reaches the train station. But by then, the day's already begun, and there's no time for sleep.
. . .
"Hey. Hey Peter."
Peter blinks, looks up from his computer, and cranes his neck to the right. MJ's sitting on a desk in the front row, sketchbook in hand, as she considers him with squinted eyes. He rubs his knuckles into the corner of his eye, yawns, and withdraws his hands from his keyboard. "MJ", he says with a taut smile. "What's up?"
Gnawing on the side of her pencil, MJ flicks her eyes to her watch, then says, "It's fifteen minutes past the bell. School's over."
"Oh." His neck and face blossom with color, and he chuckles, shaking his head at himself. "I must have been distracted."
"Right." MJ leaps off her desk, drops her book into her bag, and stops beside his desk. Eyebrows raised, she jerks her head to the blank screen and asks, "Are you okay?"
"Yes, yes, yes, I'm fine." He wipes his hands over his face and groans. "I'm just a little sleepy."
"Understatement of the year, Pete. You look like shit on a brick."
"You're no winner either, Racoon Eyes."
"At least I don't have eye boogers." MJ pulls a chair up beside him and drops her elbows onto the back of it. The humor slowly vacating her eyes, she scratches the back of her neck and clears her throat. "You've been kinda quiet this week."
Pete gives her a mordant smile and nods. "Bad weekend."
MJ purses her lips and averts her eyes to the frills of her skirt; she tugs at the fabric, tucking her face into her shoulder, and hums to herself before lifting her eyes once more. "You know, uh, Ned and I were talking", she begins.
"Well, it was more Ned's idea than mine, he found out about it on some forum apparently. But there's this laboratory." MJ smiles, one hand still fiddling with her skirt, and raises a hand to brush a curl behind her ear. "It was pretty big in the early twentieth century but kind of died out when they were exposed for kidnapping their subjects for experiments. That or there was a pretty big fire that killed some renowned scientist or something. The backstory's kinda weird. Anyway, it's got a shady past, and it's supposedly haunted. And, normally, I kinda avoid shit like this, but Ned said it's something you'd probably like and uh...well, I, we just wanted to know if you'd wanna come along. With us."
For but a second, Peter loses all feeling in body. Before he can question it, the numbness fades, and everything resumes functioning; he focuses on the feeling of blood coursing through his veins, then turns to MJ. MJ, who's staring at him in the way she always does when she thinks he isn't looking. "Not like-not like a date, though, right?"
Her eyes widen, and she shakes her head. "What? No, of course not. I mean, that'd be weird. Like, so fucking weird."
"Yeah, totally. Like trippy weird."
"Exactly." MJ clears her throat, rocks back and forward on her heels and giggles unevenly. "I mean, that's not to say that us dating isn't a conceivable idea or anything", she says, sparing him a brief glance. "Anyway, uh, so the lab. Next Saturday, six o'clock. We were thinking, Pizza Hut and White Castle milkshakes?"
Peter smiles. "That's a really weird combination", he tells her.
MJ gives his shoulder a light shove and snorts. "You only say that cause you've never tried it before."
"No, I only say that cause I respect my stomach."
"Come on, Pete, you're young. This is the time to fuck up your body."
He rolls his eyes. He shakes his mouse on the desk and signs out of his Google account. Once that's done, he powers off the computer and bites his lip. "So it's just us three", he asks, looking up at her. "No chaperones-"
"Oh, God, no. But, uh, Cindy'll be there, too."
"Cindy?" Peter raises his eyebrows. "You know Ned's got a thing for her?"
"From the way she talks about him, I think the feeling's mutual." She taps her fingers against his desk, then gives him a pointed look. "So? You in or do we have to kidnap you from your lair?"
Peter rolls his eyes. Scooping his backpack off the ground, he rises to his feet and nods. "Yeah", he says with an easy smile. "I gotta check in with my Aunt May, but I don't think I have any other plans that day."
"All right. Awesome." She smiles to the floor, steps aside to let him out of his aisle, and walks with him out of the class. "Can I walk you to your locker?"
As he's replying, something cold and familiar washes over him; he frowns, darts his eyes around the hall, then turns back to the classroom. When he finds nothing to be out of sort, his scowl deepens; his gives the hallway another lookover, his hands clenched at his sides, and waits for…
"Peter?" MJ places a hand on his shoulder, quickly withdrawing when he flinches and jumps back. She tugs her hands into her armpits and takes a steps back herself. "Sorry."
"No, no, it's fine. I-" He narrows his eyes, tightens his grip on his shoulder strap, then walks back towards her. "MJ", he asks, still surveying the halls.
"How do you feel Starbacks?"
MJ raises her eyebrows. "I think their coffee tastes like ass. And the nearest one is, like, three blocks away." She then frowns and extends her neck towards him.
Peter turns to face her and laughs airily. "Perfect." Without another word, he snatches her hand and leads her out of the building.