A/N: Thanks to Mark Clark and htbthomas for the beta and their wonderful encouragement. And thank you to all the people who've read this story and provided such wonderful comments and support. It means the world to me that so many people have enjoyed this story.
Peter Parker applauded loudly at the conclusion of the performance. His lone applause echoed through the theater and MJ blush.
He was the only one in the audience.
It was just a dress rehearsal, but Peter knew he had a bad history of being "detained" on opening night, so MJ had made arrangements with the directors so that Peter could attend the rehearsals in case he had to miss opening night.
Her blushing stopped and she sent a smile in his direction. There was still some last minute chatter amongst the cast but she hoped that they were done for the day.
"Frederick, do you need me anymore today?"
"No, I think we're good for now. Nice work."
She climbed down the stairs and Peter made his way through the aisle to meet her. He was holding a bouquet of carnations behind his back. If they weren't so expensive, he would have gone with roses but MJ claimed to love the carnations just as much. He pulled them around so that she could see, "You were wonderful, MJ."
"You got me flowers!" MJ exclaimed. "You really didn't have to do that."
"I wanted to. You did amazing today."
MJ smiled, "It was only a dress rehearsal."
"I couldn't tell. I hope to see the real thing when it opens on Friday."
"I know…but it's okay if you can't. I'm glad that you at least got to see it today."
He kissed her. "Are we still on for dinner at Aunt May's?"
He waited outside the dressing room for her to change and Peter remembered another time he had waited for MJ. It reminded him of a certain someone who knew more than most did about what Peter's unusual pastime. As they left the theater together, Peter asked MJ, "How is Carolina doing?"
"She's doing really well. She just landed a big role for an off-Broadway show opening in December."
"You still talk with her a lot?"
"Oh, yes. I've been busy with this show but we have lunch when I can. And she calls me all the time. I think she thinks of me as a big sister." And then she added with a grin, "And she just adores you."
"That's good. She's a good friend for you."
They entered the cool autumn air and walked down the streets of New York. Peter looked around at the bustle of the city and realized how much he truly loved it. It was home. People claimed that New Yorkers were heartless; he had his moments where he believed it too, considering the crime and tragedy he saw every day. The Bugle certainly liked to take that angle. But then again, kindness and compassion didn't sell papers the same way dirt and destruction did.
Peter knew firsthand that there were good people in New York. A little more than a year ago, he had been unmasked in front of a train full of people while he was fighting Doc Ock. At the time, he was too preoccupied with defeating Doc Ock…and saving MJ… He couldn't worry about the repercussions of being unmasked. But after things had settled down, he worried that someone might report what he looked like underneath the mask.
And not a single report had surfaced.
They had stood by him on that train. They had tried to defend him against Doc Ock. And after seeing his face, they all respected his secret. It reminded him that New York was still filled with good, honest people. This fact was what allowed him to keep going without getting discouraged.
MJ snapped him out of his reverie. "Do you want a cup of coffee? I know Aunt May will have some after dinner but I thought you might want a cup now."
"You know me well."
Coffee had become somewhat of an addiction as of late. It helped him get through his work and school as well as his extracurricular activities. He had started drinking it religiously.
They entered a coffee shop decorated with punk décor and techno music playing in the background. Definitely not your typical corporate brand, he thought. No doubt the coffee was more expensive, too. You paid for the ambiance.
The barista behind the counter was a slender girl sporting a bright pink apron and too much dark black eyeliner. She had a streak of purple in her hair and a nose ring that other bosses might have frowned upon, but this coffee shop seemed to encourage. Peter embraced the change of pace.
MJ and he approached the barista, who immediately went into her well-rehearsed spiel with a sing-song voice, "Welcome to Urbanity. What can I make for you today?"
But then her eyes widened and an expression came over her face. It was an expression Pete had started to grow used to but still feared. His heart stopped momentarily. It was the expression of recognition. He'd seen it a lot in the eyes of people on that train when he'd met them again.
"OMG! It's you! I can't believe it."
Pete cursed under his breath, "Not another one…How is it possible to keep running into them!"
But before he could continue to curse the fates and their fondness for hitting him over the head with irony, the girl continued with her rant.
"You're Mary Jane Watson! I'm your biggest fan. I've seen, like, all your plays. And I cut out all of the ads from the Emma Rose collection!" the girl exclaimed.
Mary Jane and Peter were both taken aback. Mary Jane put her hand to her chest in surprise and in true sincerity replied, "Why thank you! It's so good to run into a fan."
The purple haired barista's over-enthusiasm didn't seem to wane and Peter wondered if it was purely out of excitement to see MJ or some sort of caffeine overdose.
"I cut hair over on 83rd street, when I'm not working here obvi, but you would not believe how many people come in wanting to look like you. I do my best, but, god knows, I don't work miracles. And you're even more beautiful in real life!"
"Oh, my. Well, thank you."
"Can I ask you something?" She didn't wait for MJ's response but instead jumped right into her question. "Can I get your autograph?"
"Of course! What do you want me to sign?"
"Oh, crap. I have a million of your ads back in my room…"
"You know, I pass this place a lot. I could swing by with a signed headshot if you'd like."
"Oh, I'd love that!"
"No problem. My pleasure."
The girl's smile broadened and then there was silence. The couple was still standing there and the girl stared back. Then she seemed to realize that she was still working. "Right. Coffee. Here I am, acting a fool… What can I get you to drink?"
"Well, nothing for me. My boyfriend just wanted a coffee."
"You're Mary Jane Watson's boyfriend?" It sounded weird to hear the stranger say it with such excitement. Most people had at least a hint of disbelief in their voice but perhaps in this eccentric little café it was not so strange to see the model partnered with the science nerd. "Anything you want…on the house."
"Uh, thanks. Just a large coffee."
"Sure thing." The girl nodded and went to pour the coffee.
MJ leaned against the counter and smiled at Peter. "Well, look at that. I earned you a free cup of coffee."
"Yes, you did. I'm just honored to be in the presence of the great Mary Jane Watson," he joked.
She punched him lightly on the arm in response to his jest.
The barista turned back with Peter's coffee in hand. "Here you go."
Peter fumbled with his wallet as if to get out cash but the girl signaled for him to put it away. "No, seriously, this is on me."
Peter sighed a breath of relief. His bank account was low and every little bit helped. "Thank you."
As they entered the brisk autumn air, Peter took a sip of his coffee. Not bad. Not bad at all for a crazy little coffee shop with an overexcited barista.
"So how's it feel to be famous, Ms. Watson?"
"I don't know, why don't you tell me?" and then she whispered under her breath so that the passersby couldn't hear, "Spider-Man."
"Well, that's the thing about wearing a mask. You don't get that many cups of free coffee, that's for sure."
"Well, in that case, it's a good thing you have a famous girlfriend." Mary Jane reached for his hand and intertwined their fingers as they walked hand-in-hand down the sidewalk.
Peter reflected as he sipped his coffee and held the hand of the love of his life. New York wasn't so bad after all. The people here weren't bad either. And, in that moment right then, he was reminded it wasn't so bad being Spider-Man.