A/N: I suppose I should put a disclaimer here but come on...is anyone that confused?
Fear of Falling
Mary Jane Watson sat huddled in a armchair, watching the rain come down outside her window. Lightning flashed now and then, lighting up the room, and thunder tumbled and growled its way across the dark city. Alone in her apartment, MJ felt the wild energy of the weather pulling at her nerve-endings, the cool electric air sneaking through the cracks and sliding along her bare arms. Storms always made her feel alive. She loved the way the water lashed down the sides of the buildings, built up in the streets. The raindrops hit the pavement hard then danced up in ragged, lacy fringes before collapsing back to earth, running and chuckling to the nearest drain. On a night like this, anything could happen.
And once, it had. Mary Jane had stood in a downpour, soaked to the skin, and shared an incredible, perfect kiss. An amazing man had saved her life, fought for her against the ugliness and brutality of life in the concrete collection of humanity that made up the city. A fantasy hero, in red and blue, hanging impossibly from a thread, had met her in an upside down kiss in a dark alleyway. For a heartbeat of time, the world had slowed and narrowed, until nothing existed but the touch of the rain and the warmth of his lips, her hands resting on either side of his head, the excitement that had spilled through her deeper than the rain could ever reach, matching the rhythm of her blood, her heart. She had laughed with sheer joy as he had bounded back up to his unbelievable path through the storm, high above the city.
Looking through the dark glass of her window now, MJ considered the moment with more melancholy than pleasure. She wouldn't trade that experience for the world, but now...it pulled her in too many directions.
She had never told anyone about it, never wanted to—it was too precious, too delicate to survive being put into words. Even if she found a phrase that would catch what it had meant to her, no one would understand. Too many people thought that her hero from that night was public property, a headline to be wondered at, analyzed, cheered or booed. It didn't matter. That moment couldn't survive be shared with anyone, whether they were approving, envious, or disgusted. It was private, belonging to her alone.
And one other. But he had no name, no face, no reality for her. MJ felt herself close to tears, and rested one hand flat on the cool window pane. Over and over, she had told herself that she was being silly, childish for believing in a kiss in the rain. That kind of romantic nonsense was what led people to do stupid things, like marry the wrong guy. You had to step back, think things through, make sure it was real before you moved on. Over and over, she repeated this in her head, but a stubborn whisper in the back of her head told her that there was a connection between her and her hero. Something too precious to lose.
There had been another night, not much later, when Mary Jane had depended on her hero to save her once more. The terror had lasted longer this time, given her time to think about death, time to know that this could be it. They said that when you faced death you saw your life flash before your eyes, but MJ hadn't seen herself. Only one thought had come to her mind, only one face had been there in the dark before her. Peter Parker. And she had realized that she wanted to see his face again, wanted Peter to be by her in the dark and in the light of day. Quietly, without her even noticing, her love for him had grown strong deep roots in her heart, as she had grown to appreciate his kindness, his gentle strength. Even as she felt her heart turn over in fear for a gallant hero in danger, she had known it truly belonged to a ordinary man. An ordinary man who had always been there to save her soul, the way her hero had saved her life.
Forcing herself to consider the day in the graveyard honestly, a wave of heat burned up Mary Jane's face. She had walked up to Peter, kissed him, declared her love to him. Every word had been sincere. But MJ had assumed that Peter felt the same way, thought that he had been waiting for her, was hers for the asking. Now she was ashamed that she'd never even considered that it might not all be a question of what she wanted. He'd been kind. But he'd let her know that they would never be more than friends.
And now she sat in an armchair, looking out at the rain, and thinking about two kisses. One crazy kiss in an alleyway that she treasured. One sad kiss in a cemetery that puzzled her. Kissing Peter had felt so right, so perfect, like that night in the rain. Like there was a special connection between her and Peter, too precious to lose.
There was her answer. You couldn't feel like you had a soul-deep bond with two people. Not like that. She had dreamed and fantasized, like any other silly girl, about finding a soul mate in a single kiss, and tricked herself into seeing it as reality. And if a stubborn voice inside her still cried that it had to be more than that, it just went to show that the truth hurts.
The rain had stopped and the moon was slipping silver light over the wet structures, throwing shadows on her balcony. MJ sat up and wiped her eyes, surprised to find that the rain had found her cheeks. Out on the balcony, something moved.
Catching her breath in sudden horror, MJ jumped out of the chair and backed up slowly, wondering if she should run for the door or the phone or a weapon—and then stopped dead, as the shadow stood up and the moonlight turned it into the shape of man with a spider-web pattern across his head and chest, looking at her with expressionless white eyes.
Stepping forward, Mary Jane opened the balcony doors. Spider-Man looked at her silently until MJ broke the awkwardness of the moment with the only thing she could think of to say. "Hi."
"Hi," Spider-Man replied, and the pause became awkward again. "Um, I...I probably shouldn't be here," he said softly. "I thought, maybe..." he paused and took a deep breath. "It's a beautiful night."
"Yeah," MJ said. "Did...I mean....you can come in?" She hadn't meant that to sound like a question.
"I was kinda thinking...you could come out," the web-slinger answered. MJ looked at him uncomprehending, so he added, "If you wanted...there's an incredible view from the top of the Chrysler building."
As Mary Jane understood, she blushed deep red. And had no idea if she should go or stay...she was in love with Peter. Peter was the reality, the man she could do normal things with, like watch TV or order fast food. Peter belonged to real life.
And Peter didn't love her.
"Ah, I...yes, that is...I'd like to see it," MJ managed to stammer out. There was no expression, of course, on Spider-Man's face but she heard a smile in his voice as he said, "Better get a jacket."
Rushing to her room and grabbing a coat, Mary Jane saw herself in the mirror and winced. Her hair was a mess, she was wearing sweats and no make up, and...who cared. She slid her arms into her coat and went back out to the balcony.
Spider-Man had hopped onto the railing, balancing on the balls of his feet in a position she couldn't keep up on solid ground, much less on a narrow iron railing over a sheer drop. But the wall-crawler wasn't even swaying, his body perfectly still and relaxed in the precarious pose. With a nervous half-chuckle, MJ walked up to him, and he reached his hands around her waist, lifting her effortlessly off the floor and swinging her into his arms. MJ squealed, grabbing him around the neck, and then they were falling, plunging downward with the air whipping her red hair around her face. She left her stomach somewhere back near her balcony and clutched Spider-Man desperately.
Then, suddenly, they were swinging upward again, rising through an arc toward the next building. As they moved farther and farther into the city, MJ felt the muscles beneath her hands bunch and flex, sliding warm against her grip. Spider-Man's chest was hard against hers and his grip certain, even as he switched the arm holding her from time to time to send out a new line. As the minutes passed without gravity protesting their violent disregard for the law, MJ managed to relax some. She even figured out that Spider-Man was moving, for him, very slowly and carefully, making sure she could enjoy the ride. All too soon, however, he came to a stop, letting her down lightly on a solid surface.
For an endless moment, MJ stayed in his arms, facing him, almost laughing at the wonder of what they had just done. Then he stepped back, letting go of her, and Mary Jane turned around, looking out over the skyline. From up here, it was a spectacular fairy-land of light and shadow, high above the noise of traffic or the common world of men. MJ and Spider-Man were close to the edge, a sheer drop off without a barrier, broken only by a protruding cement post capped by one of the building's famous gargoyles. Mary Jane took in a gasping breath of amazement and they stood silently together for a long time.
"I come up here all the time," Spider-Man said finally in a low voice, behind her. "It's a great place to think."
"What do you think about?" MJ asked, just as quietly.
"It's hard...sometimes it's hard, to keep going." There was pain in the softly-spoken words. "I have to be careful...people who get close to me, they can get hurt. The Goblin," he hesitated.
At the mention of the Green Goblin, who'd come so close to killing her, MJ felt a chill like ice run along her. She wanted to tell him to shut up, stop talking, but she sensed that he needed to say this, that this moment was the reason he had brought her here, and held her tongue.
"The Goblin attacked you to get to me," he continued at last, speaking each word slowly. "He knew I had rescued you before, guessed somehow that you...are...important to me. And he used that, to hurt me. He hurt you."
Mary Jane didn't know what to say.
"It, I guess," he went on in a rush, "I wanted to tell you how sorry I am for that. I needed...to let you know it won't happen again. I'm going to be sure of that." By the last sentence, his voice was no longer hesitant. It was a promise, and MJ could tell that he meant it with every fiber of his being. But the only thing that it meant to her was that her heart was breaking. Again.
"What you're saying is I'm not going to see you anymore," she said flatly. She didn't turn to look at him, and he didn't answer. For a minute the only sound was the light, rain-soaked breeze which played with the hair around her face. Then she went on.
"You know something? Over the last few months I've developed a fear of heights. I get sick going up escalators. I avoid windows in tall buildings, I haven't even stepped out on my balcony in weeks. After everything that happened...I have nightmares where I wake up with a jerk, knowing that in my dreams I just hit the ground." MJ's voice was thick with tears. "I forgot all about it, tonight," she finished, almost inaudibly.
Spider-Man stepped close behind her, close enough that she could feel the warmth of his body crossing the tiny space between them. "I've never wanted to let you fall," he said, helplessly.
"I know," MJ whispered. "I don't think you ever will." She turned to smile at him. Then she took one strong step forward, not giving herself time to think, over the edge.
Her heart beat wildly as she fell fast, her panicked mind screaming at her and wondering what she thought she was doing. A calmer part of her was hoping she'd stepped out far enough not to hit something and break her neck before he could catch her. Her pulse was racing and she wanted to scream, she wanted to laugh, she was flying, she was dying. After what seemed an eternity, an arm as strong as iron slid around her waist, and her direction changed, swooping at an angle to a neighboring wall. Mary Jane found herself held against the side of an office building, her back pressed to the wall, with Spider-Man holding her and himself tightly to safety with the fingers of one splayed hand and his feet. One arm was still unmoving around her waist. His face was only centimeters away from her and he was still, holding himself inhumanly motionless. Only his breath sounded, deep and harsh.
Mary Jane hid her face in his chest. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "But I knew. I know. You'll always be there for me."
Nothing more was said. It had gotten late, and the moon had set, leaving the city darker and the shadows deeper. They flew together, back over the city to her apartment building. As he set her gently down on her balcony, she held on to his arms, and then let go, stepping back. She offered him a watery smile, and turned quickly to her door, not wanting to watch him leave.
Inside, it was warm and dry and silent. MJ left the lights off, moving slowing to brush her teeth, change into her pajamas, all the normal things that filled up her days and nights. She knew she would dream peacefully tonight, and that she wouldn't be sitting around any more evenings, wondering about two kisses and whether or not it was possible to know if another person would ever really be there for you. Being caught midair by a superhero and a webline was impossible, but she believed. Loving two different people with your whole soul, two men who didn't love you back, was impossible too. But she believed. It wasn't a choice, loving someone. Either you got dropped, or you took the chance yourself, but either way you had to face your fear of falling.
All you could do was step off the edge, and believe.