Excuses, Excuses ...

Disclaimer: None of this is mine, and I fully admit some of the dialogue is heavily indebted to various scenes from the second movie (what I could remember of it -- I've only seen it twice). The odd line or two of dialogue might owe something to another story too, because I also found Scarlet's excellent movie novelization, "The Story Continues," very helpful in stimulating my memory. If you haven't read it yet, what are you waiting for?

A/N: This story came about because I couldn't help thinking "If only..." while watching Peter wait disconsolately outside the theater after missing MJ's show. You know: if only she'd seen him, if only he'd waited on the other side of the street, if only she knew how much trouble he'd taken even getting there, etc. My story is certainly not as good or as romantic as the movie, but there just aren't enough Peter/MJ fics out there right now. So, if you like that sort of thing, I hope you get a brief moment of enjoyment out of this frivolous bit of fluff.

Peter sat on the concrete steps of a brownstone across from the theater, waiting impatiently for the play to end. He kept his eyes fixed on the stage door, as if he could make it open and make MJ appear through it, just by staring at it. Funny how there hadn't been enough time while he'd rushed to the theater on his moped, striving vainly to make the eight o'clock curtain. Now the minutes crawled past as though burdened with leaden weights, and there were far too many of them.

He looked miserably at his scuffed shoes. Probably he shouldn't be in a such a hurry for the show to end, he thought, since he had no idea what he was going to say to MJ to explain his absence this time. MJ, I tried to come to your show, I really did, but a car of reckless thugs plowed into me, I had to save a group of people from being crushed – also the fault of the reckless thugs – and finally I decided that they needed to be stopped. Ha. As if. While this explanation had more novelty than his usual lame excuses – "I was busy" or "I lost track of time" or "there was a disturbance" – it was still only an excuse. He had a feeling that MJ would be as uninterested in his excuses as he himself was in offering them.

If only he could tell her who he was ... scratch that, if only he'd been able, just for once, to put aside his responsibilities. All he'd wanted was to enjoy a few uninterrupted moments of peace and happiness in the company of the sparkling girl who'd always been able to make him feel on top of the world with just her sunny smile. But no such luck.

While he was lamenting his usual terrible luck, an Asian girl who'd been playing an out-of-tune violin solo behind him, took a smiling bow to an invisible audience, then began to pluck out an only too familiar staccato melody.

No way, Peter thought in aversion, could this night get any worse? Apparently it could, because the busker began singing, in a heavily accented and rather off-key voice,

Spider-Man, Spider-Man,

Does whatever a spider can –

Spins a web, any size,

Catches thieves just like flies ...

Since the first time he'd heard it, Peter had abhorred the silly novelty tune that had become popular with buskers during the last two years: the song was stupid; it was tacky; it embarrassed him. He wasn't a heroic "streak of light" and he certainly didn't find life to be a "great big bang up." Who had written this stuff? That line about radioactive blood irked him the most: if he had radioactive blood, he'd be dead.

Tonight the silly ditty jangled his already taut nerves painfully. After all, he reflected, returning to his previous train of thought, it was all Spider-man's fault that he was in this fix. If it hadn't been for Spider-man (who'd had to perform a last minute rescue of a falling construction worker on the way home from the interview with Dr. Octavius, then take the man to a hospital for treatment of the concussion that had caused him to fall in the first place) he wouldn't have had to do a late load of laundry just to have some clean underwear for the evening. He would have been at the theater with more than three measly carnations in his hands, long before those thugs had gone on their joyride. Of course, those people on that street corner would also most likely have been flattened ...

Disgusted with the conundrum that was his life, Peter was on his feet and moving before he even knew it. Across the street, the show was finally getting out. Peter darted nimbly through the knots of people to linger by the stage door. He hoped to catch MJ as soon as she emerged, and wished he could wait unnoticed on the side of a building or on top of a street light to get out of the crowd. But anything was better than having to listen to that song, alone with his thoughts. The strains of it were still drifting across the street, but fortunately he could barely hear them through the bustle and chatter of the excited theater-goers.

Inside the theater, MJ slipped into her coat and gathered up her purse with a heavy heart. She was annoyed with herself for feeling so downcast, because it wasn't exactly a surprise that, once again, Peter Parker had disappointed her by failing to show up for something. There was the time that they'd planned to see a movie together, and she'd waited in front of the movie theater like a dolt through both the first and second showings, hoping that she'd just mixed up the time. There was the time that they'd wanted to try out a new restaurant together in celebration of MJ's first real modeling job, and she'd had to wait alone at a table for two, staring blankly at the ultra-modern chair opposite, for over an hour. When Peter had finally arrived, breathless, disheveled, apologetic, full of some absurd story about a subway breakdown and a lost kitty, he'd been too distracted and tired to carry on a conversation; they'd skipped dessert so she could take him home early in a taxi. Then there was the time they'd gone out for coffee together recently; Peter had barely taken a sip from his cup before he had remembered something he'd forgotten to do and rushed out of the door of the café without even taking his coat. Despite the fact that she had known he wouldn't be coming back, she'd finished her coffee and sat staring at the facing chair – this time a straight, wooden one, with Peter's jacket draped over it – for an hour before collecting the coat and leaving.

Most memorable of all was the time, over a year ago now, when they'd gone to an amusement park together. They'd actually been having a great time at the start of the afternoon, because it was all so fun and silly. They'd gone on one or two rides, shared a box of popcorn and talked for the first time in ages. For a lark, she'd had a strip of pictures taken in a photo booth, and, secretly pleased by his round-eyed and blatant admiration of her ridiculous "See no evil, Hear no evil, Speak no evil" poses, had given the strip to Peter, making a joke that someday he could say that "he knew her back when..." She felt happy and a little giddy: Peter was still in some ways such a kid, with his eyes crinkling in delight as he looked at her and his occasional off-the-cuff funny remarks. She'd been laughing helplessly at one of his quips when they'd heard an announcement over the loudspeakers clearing the park. Apparently there had been a mechanical failure on the roller coaster – something about cars stalled and tangled – and the park needed to be cleared so that emergency workers could more easily reach the people who were still trapped at the top of the ride. For a second, Peter had bristled with an emotion that looked like it could be anger or annoyance or anxiety – or maybe all three – and then he'd said casually that it looked like the fun was over for the day, and could she get home alright herself, because he'd just remembered that he had something he needed to do. Flabbergasted, she watched him dash through the crowd without waiting for her reply, and on the long ride home, first on a bus and then on a subway train, she looked unhappily at the empty seats beside her, realizing for the first time that Peter was never going to fill them.

Maybe she should just face the facts. Despite his protestations of friendship and the captivating warmth of his smile whenever he saw her, Peter didn't seem to care that much about her. He probably didn't spend the time thinking about her or wondering what she was doing, that she spent thinking and wondering about him. After all, before his birthday celebration, it had been two months since their last meeting, that abortive coffee date. He never returned her calls or called her himself. He didn't even know that she had a new boyfriend or that she still had the same apartment in The Village – which was hardly surprising, since he'd never been to her previous apartment, either.

MJ couldn't help feeling that Peter's avoidance of her was all part of that same heartbreaking rejection he'd confronted her with on the day of Norman Osborn's funeral. One minute he'd been kissing her like he meant it, warm lips clinging hungrily to hers as though unwilling to release them, and the next minute he was saying awkwardly that he would always be her friend. She eyed herself in the mirror of her dressing table, remembering how strangely familiar, how intense, how overwhelming the kiss had been, and how shattering she'd also found Peter's subsequent words. The only explanation for his behavior – except for a fleeting thought that she'd dismissed as too crazy to contemplate seriously – had to be that Peter, after having a major and slightly embarrassing crush on her all through high school, had suddenly woken up to who she really was under the cute party girl exterior, and had decided that he didn't love her after all. Maybe she wasn't as smart as he was, maybe she was too shallow or emotional .... Whatever the reason for his change of heart, she didn't need the constant reminder that he didn't want her, that he would never want her, especially when he was the first man she'd ever truly loved. The fact that he didn't return her feelings made her feel like the failure her father was always saying she would be. It was starting to make her mad, too. Somewhere, somehow, she was going to find someone who would appreciate her for who she was ...

She switched the light of her dressing table off with a sigh. Her friend Louise, who was just finishing taking her make up off, looked at her with concern. "You okay?" she asked, meeting MJ's eyes in her own mirror.

"Oh yeah," said MJ, forcing a bright smile. "Just tired."

Louise wiped her face with a soft cloth, then stood up herself, switching off her dressing table's light and taking the poncho from the back of her chair. "You know, a bunch of the cast are going out to get a bite to eat and have a couple drinks in a few minutes. Since your guy is away, why don't you come with us? We'd love to have you; you always make these gatherings into a real party."

"I don't think so, but thanks," said MJ quietly, feeling momentarily guilty that she'd forgotten all about John, who was finishing up an intensive two-week training session in an undisclosed location. "I'm afraid I don't feel awake enough to be the life of the party. I'd really like to catch up on my beauty sleep." She turned and walked away, ignoring another of Louise's keen looks and thinking abstractedly about John and Peter. Why on earth was she obsessing over scatter-brained Peter Parker anyway, when she had such an attentive, loving, reliable boyfriend? He'd even called her this morning from wherever he was training just to wish her luck with her performance and to promise her a surprise. Peter, on the other hand, couldn't be bothered to come to her show; in fact, he'd probably forgotten about it altogether ... likely because he had something more important to do with his oh-so-busy life. The next time she saw him, she decided, she was absolutely going to give him a piece of her mind. She was going to tell him her realization of a year ago that he had become nothing but an empty seat to her. Maybe saying it out loud would end the pain and help her move on once and for all.

MJ made her way slowly backstage, weaving through the clutter of boxes, props, scenery, and the rack of costumes on wheels being rolled away for cleaning. She passed the bustle of stage hands sweeping, carrying furniture, and restoring everything to a pristine state for the next night's opening scene. As she descended the stairs to the street door, she had one last fleeting stab of hope that Peter would be waiting outside for her. Perhaps something really had come up this time, and he would have an excuse that she could actually believe – but then she dismissed the thought in anger. What was wrong with her? Couldn't she live up to her own resolution for more than two seconds? She wrenched the door open furiously, and stepped out onto the street.

End of Part I