Disclaimer: I don't own them. That's OK, if you love someone set them free...

A/N: Sometime after the second movie.

The Boy Next Door


Spider-Man rested, crouched on the concrete corner of the roof, and watched the activity below. There were no streetlights working in this alley and the pathetic bundle rolled into the trash against the side of the building should have been decently hidden by the dark. Instead, flashbulbs were going off, the sporadic light giving the scene a grim, eerie feel. As the photographer finished a set of harsh work lights were plugged in and switched on, removing the last of the soft shadows.

Shaking his head, Spider-Man decided to leave. There was nothing his powers could do to help the dead, and anything he could do to track down the killer could be done better by the police. If he got moving, maybe he could keep some other poor schmuck from ending up in the police morgue. He hesitated as one of the officers pulled out a wallet.

"Jeff L. Sokal." The cop flipped through the wallet's contents. "Photographer, looks like, with Apex Studios. Local."

Jumping to the top of the next building down the road, Spider-Man spun a web to the top of a high rise across the street and swung into the night. He spared a brief thought in salute to his fellow photographer, now deceased, and moved on in his quest to defend the living. It was a minor incident in his patrol.

Nothing memorable.

"Ms. Watson?"

The red-head sitting outside the office stood up, wobbling slightly on her high heels. Jon Riebeau, the famous director, looked her up and down fast: petite, slender, dyed hair, cute face, ultra-feminine. Worth interviewing, he thought, but barely. As she walked past the heavy man through the doorway, he noticed that her initial clumsiness had given way to a graceful stride and she went up a point or two in his estimation. Gesturing for her to sit on the couch, Riebeau joined Manny and Chris behind the wide table and picked up his clipboard.

"Acting experience?"

"Most recently, I played 'Cecily' in The Importance of Being Earnest, Ivar theater. Before that I..." The director listened absently as she went through a typical list of aspiring-actress qualifications. "...Emma Rose..." No film, no TV. Minus points. He noticed Manny leaning back to get another cup of coffee, but Chris seemed to have perked up. She scribbled something at the bottom of her notes and turned it so that Riebeau could read it.

Red-heads hot for FBI, plays off whole X-files thing, her note read. Eew. Old news, nothing deader than last year's fad. He rolled his eyes at her and groaned. The actress sitting in front faltered for a moment, then lifted her chin and went on, upping the volume and slowing down. Ha! A little grit, a little poise? We're not deaf, honey.

"Didya look over the scene?" Manny, the scriptwriter, sounded as bored as Riebeau felt. How many people had they interviewed today? The project details weren't being released until the PR was in place, but all the studio had to do was put out a call for a new Riebeau film and it got swamped with actors. Riebeau's films were blockbusters, and everyone wanted to be part of the next one. The director narrowed his eyes as he watched the actress take a stance, a deep breath, and begin to read the part.

"I've got twenty hostages to think of," she declared firmly. "I'm not playing Russian roulette with innocent lives." Oh yeah, plus points, honey. He folded his arms and leaned back, actually listening for the first time. Good delivery, stronger presence than the girl's sweet face had led him to expect.

"My job is to get those people out alive, and I'll do whatever it takes to get the job done." She went on with the clichéd monologue. Mentally, he ticked her off for a call-back, then closed his eyes and stopped paying attention. The blond earlier had a better look for the part.

"Yes, thank you, Ms. Watson," Chris cut her off. "We'll call you." Watson smiled and set the reading on the table while Manny casually flipped her résumé around and glanced at it.

"Thank you for your—"

"Hey!" Riebeau jumped, startled, when Manny interrupted the girl mid-sentence. He was sitting up straight and peering from the résumé photo to the actress in front of him. "Mary Jane Watson? You're Mary Jane Watson?"

"Ye-es," she said. The director was wondering what put the bug up Manny's butt. Mary Jane Watson? Didn't ring any bells.

"You're the girl Spider-Man rescued at the Unity Fair, couple of years back, right?" Son-of-a—Riebeau could feel the grin stretch across his wide face. Sometimes you luck out, sometimes you just luck out. Her reading had been OK, she wasn't a total dead-head. What a gimmick.

"I," Watson was looking blank. "Well, yes, that—it was awhile back." She smiled again, this time showing a dimple in her cheek. Oh yeah, she'd do fine.

Chris was practically drooling. "Ms. Watson, I wonder if you'd mind reading over the script and coming back at ten tomorrow to do a more, um, in-depth audition with some of the other potential cast members," she said brightly. Riebeau snorted. He couldn't stand middle-aged women being perky. Chris drove him nuts.

It was about time someone remembered the practicalities. Riebeau leaned forward and glared. "Please note, Ms. Watson, that the script is covered by the confidentiality agreement you signed before auditioning. You are not to share the script with anyone, period. It is not to be discussed with your boyfriend or your therapist and not to be copied, under threat of law. Your copy is the property of Apex Studios and will be returned immediately upon request." The director had had a lot of practice using his bulk and loud, clear voice to intimidate people. Most actors were scared to death of him. It was rumored that he'd thrown a multi-million dollar star off one of his sets rather than put up with so-called artistic temperament.

"Certainly," the red-head lifted one eyebrow, not looking particularly intimidated, and accepted the book. Riebeau didn't figure the promise meant much—he was sure she'd say anything for a chance at being in his film. The girl flipped the cover open and looked down at the title page. All of a sudden, she was laughing.

Riebeau blinked in surprise and looked over at Manny. He sure didn't see anything funny about his script, and the little red-head was getting a frown from him. Chris looked confused. Watson was trying to stifle the giggles and finally managed to suck in some air and straighten her face out. "Thank you, I'd be delighted to return tomorrow. Ten o'clock?"

"Yes," Chris wasn't sure how to react. "Do you...you are interested in the project?" Stupid question to ask a hungry wanna-be. She'd be insane to turn this down. Maybe she was insane, laughing like that. Riebeau hated not getting the joke. The way she was grinning now, dimple and all, there was a joke here.

"I'm very interested," Watson stated firmly enough, although you could hear the suppressed laughter. "I'd consider it an honor to be in the new Spider-Man movie."

Peter stared at his girlfriend. MJ was sitting on her kitchen table, swinging her legs back and forth and grinning impishly at him.

"What?" He couldn't have heard right.

"I'm—auditioning—for—a—movie—about—Spider—Man," MJ said slowly and carefully, and then doubled over laughing. "Oh, man, the look on your face!" she gasped. She was holding her sides, tears running down her face as she tried to hiccough to a stop.

He felt around for a chair and slid limply into it. "You're kidding."

MJ snorted. "Nope."

"What's it about?"

"Uh—you, maybe?" MJ was still snorting and choking on her laughter.

"No, I mean—what about me? How can they make a movie, what, what," Peter was stuttering now, "who knows anything about me?"

Mary Jane rolled her eyes. "I haven't read the script yet."

"You've got the script?"

"Yes, and I'm not supposed to show it to anyone or let you read it." She lifted her chin and pressed her lips together, glaring sternly at Peter. "I'm not even supposed to've told you about it at all." The stern look dissolved into giggles.

"MJ, you've got to let me...so wait a second, what's your role? Who are you going to be if you get it?"

"An FBI agent, apparently." Peter coughed. "What? What's funny about that?"

Peter tilted his chair back and smirked at the floor. "It's just...well, you don't look, um, all that—you know, dangerous."

"Neither do you, tiger," MJ snapped. She straightened and flipped her hair over her shoulder. "Come on, don't you think I can pull off tough?"

Her boyfriend gave her a long, slow look that was both melancholy and warm. "I've seen you face up to maniacs, MJ. You are tough." Mary Jane looked down, wishing she hadn't brought up a sore subject. Then she jerked back up to face Peter as he went on teasingly, "I just don't know if you can act tough."

"Keep it up, Pete, see if I let you read that script." Peter chuckled and hopped off the chair to lean a hand on either side of her. He lowered his head to hers and kissed her. Wrapping her arms around him, she pulled him even closer. For the moment, the movie was forgotten.

Manny walked around and around the office, waving his arms and talking in that irritating squeak he called a voice. Maybe if he wasn't so hyper all the time he wouldn't look like a bunch of animated sticks. Riebeau brushed crumbs off his generously sloping front and reached for another doughnut.

"I've talked to dozens of eye-witnesses, it's not like she'll have anything new to add, but the authenticity of it! And the publicity, it'll help play up the whole 'true-story' thing, we can put an interview with her up on the net while we're promoting the film," Manny rambled on. "I mean, what great publicity!"

Ya think? Maybe the ability to state the obvious is what made Manny such a great writer. Movie-goers seem to love rehashing over what they already knew. Of course, he did his homework too. It was amazing, all the information the scriptwriter had gathered on Spider-Man. He'd even gotten copies of the FBI profile.

"I'll have to re-write the whole 'Unity Fair' scene, make sure Agent Amberly's got at least a cameo in it," Manny went on. Riebeau ignored him and went on munching. Anything Manny did was fine with him, as long as it didn't mess up the pace. The director wanted this movie to be fast-moving, non-stop motion, action and emotion like a punch in the face. So far, the storyboards looked promising, and the CGI people seemed to think it could be done.

"I like her look, Manuel, she'll be a great Amberly," Riebeau had been thinking about it all day. "She did OK with the reading, but she's got a real fragile air about her. It'll be good. We'll play up her vulnerability, her ordinary humanity. It'll be a total contrast to the Spider-Man." Yawning widely, he wiggled his feet and looked wearily at Manny. The skinny writer looked ready to jitter around all night, caught up in his creative possibilities. "Maybe you could go home, take a look at the script—I'm thinking about using the whole relationship between Amberly and Goodman to get down into her character, see if you can work with that."

"Yeah? I don't know, I don't see what you mean—"

"So go look." Riebeau heaved himself to his feet and herded Manny to the door. "Good night, good night, go on with you." Pretty much shoving Manny out, he walked slowly toward his bedroom. What a day. Yeah, the Watson girl was going to work. She had that little-girl look, but she showed some backbone. Nice combination, he could work with it.

That laugh still bugged him. He paused with a mouth full of toothpaste and grimaced at the mirror. What'd she find so funny about Spider-Man? Spitting into the sink, he filed it in the back of his mind for later investigation. He would turn her inside-out, find out if she could act. He would make her a star, whether she could act or not. All you had to do was shake out all the little secrets, find the right buttons to push to get the action you wanted on screen. Riebeau thought he was good at that.

By the time the morning editions came out, Sokal's next-of-kin had been notified and the papers had the go-ahead to print the story. It wasn't much, just a paragraph in the back pages of most of them, recording the passage from man to statistic. The Daily Bugle didn't even bother to print it.

No one at Apex Studios read the paper. After Sokal's boss called to find out why he wasn't at work and reached the widow, people started gossiping, fascinated by actually knowing a murder victim. And of course, they started looking for a replacement photographer.