LIGHT UP THE DARKNESS
By Will Heston
All the characters are owned by Marvel Characters, Inc. Some of the dialogue is taken from the December 2007 film, I Am Legend and from the 1971 version, The Omega Man. The author respects and acknowledges all copyrights and trademarks, and does not make any money from unauthorized use of those copyrights and trademarks.
The author would like to thank HTBThomas, Scarlet, and D for their invaluable help as beta readers.
"The world's mine oyster, which I with sword will open."
- William Shakespeare, 1602.
"I started a joke, which started the whole world crying."
- Robin Gibb, 1968.
"I have a dream, a song to sing, to help me cope with anything. I believe in angels."
- Benny Andersson & Björn Ulvaeus, 1979.
Time gives us all a second chance, an elated Peter Parker thought as the final curtain came down on the Broadhurst Theater Company's revival of Oliver!. How ironic, and yet how appropriate, that the scene of Mary Jane Watson's opening night flop in Manhattan Memories years earlier would be the venue for Mary Jane Watson-Parker's opening night triumph in the magnificent stage musical about an orphan who finds love in a world full of rascals and thugs. Mary Jane's agent had managed to convince a skeptical director to cast her in the lead role of Nancy, the prostitute with a heart of gold who sacrifices her life in a valiant attempt to save the boy from the evil Bill Sykes. It turned out to be an inspired choice.
This time, there were no problems with Mary Jane's voice, and no need to make excuses about the sound system, thanks to stints as a torch singer at the Jazz Room, appearances in musical productions like A Catered Affair, Rent, and Chicago, and voice lessons that helped expand her range. Her rendition of "As long as he needs me," had brought the packed house to tears.
This time, there were no distractions. With Mary Jane's reluctant consent, Peter insisted on sitting near the back of the theater, so as to be out of her field of vision. The last thing he wanted to do was throw her performance off by drawing her attention away from the rest of the audience.
And this time, Mary Jane needed no reassurances that she belonged on stage. The thunderous applause that erupted when she took her curtain call was proof enough. Her character's death scene was so heart-wrenching that a woman sitting next to Peter could barely keep from sobbing.
By the time Peter made his way backstage, a sizeable crowd of autograph seekers had gathered around Mary Jane's dressing room. The moment she opened her door, a hundred playbills were thrust at her. He hung back, content to wait until she had signed them all before making his presence known. He was only too happy to let her bask in the adulation of adoring fans.
"Peter!" Mary Jane's face lit up as soon as she saw her husband. She rushed forward and threw her arms around him, nearly getting poked in the eye by a wayward pen.
"You did it, MJ!" Peter said as he hugged his wife. "Tony Award!"
"Shhh! Don't jinx me."
"Oops, sorry. Hey, listen. As soon as you're finished signing autographs, I've got a surprise lined up for you."
"What sort of surprise?"
"If I told you, it wouldn't be a surprise anymore." Peter gave her a wry smile. "But fasten your seatbelt."
Just that slightly corny hint was enough for Mary Jane to clutch her protective husband's arm and wave adieu to the autograph seekers.
Moving too fast to be observed by human eyes, the two young lovebirds swung through canyons of glass and steel as the lights of the city blazed beneath them. Mary Jane, strapped tightly to Peter's back by thin but very powerful strands of webbing, was laughing in sheer delight, holding her arms out like wings as they sped toward the financial district.
In the years since their friend Harry Osborn had lost his life in the battle with Eddie Brock and Flint Marko, Mary Jane and Peter had come to understand that they were the only ones who held the keys to each other's hearts. Though they had forgiven each other, it had taken Peter a long time to forgive himself for hurting Mary Jane while he was under the influence of the alien symbiote. But over time, the injuries he caused her in the Jazz Room had healed, as did the emotional injuries she caused him in Central Park, while she was under the influence of the new Goblin. Their love secured after a lengthy courtship, they finally got married in a hastily arranged ceremony on the steps of City Hall. Mary Jane was the only one in the wedding party not annoyed at him for showing up nearly an hour late. He had been tied up thwarting a bank robbery.
"Close your eyes, Mary Jane," Peter called out as they alighted on the roof of a nondescript, seventy-story office building near the waterfront. He quickly tore loose the gossamer threads that had kept her in place during the trip.
"Can I open them?" she asked Peter as he took her by the hand and escorted her a few steps forward.
"Not yet." he answered, turning her to the left. "Now."
Mary Jane opened her eyes.
She immediately recognized the card table and two of the plain metal folding chairs that her mother had given them. Spread out atop that table was an intimate dinner for two in sealed microwavable containers. Plastic knives, forks and spoons rested on plain paper napkins. In the center of the spread, flanked by a pair of plastic goblets, stood a bottle of sparkling white grape juice. A full moon illuminated their midnight repast, assisted by a pair of flashlights held in place by test tube clamps attached to laboratory stands. Nearby stood a portable microwave oven plugged into a small electric generator.
"Your table is ready, Madame," Peter said in a pseudo-French accent as he pulled one of the chairs out and gestured for her to sit down.
"Peter Parker, you are such a trip," Mary Jane laughed. "How the heck did you manage all this?"
"With a little help from the chemistry department," Peter quipped. He picked up the dishes and placed them into the microwave. "Dinner will be served in thirty seconds."
Shortly after they finished eating, Mary Jane sat down on her husband's lap and began serenading him. "When you get caught between the moon and New York City..." she sang, remembering an old Christopher Cross tune, one of many numbers she had made memorable for the Jazz Room's patrons. "The best that you can do is fall in love..."
"A toast," Peter proclaimed as he filled their goblets. "To the most talented actress and beautiful songbird ever to grace a stage."
Mary Jane gazed into her husband's eyes. "I was good tonight, wasn't I?" she asked as she sipped her "champagne." Gone from her voice was any trace of those nagging insecurities and self-doubts that had plagued her throughout her life. After so many years of struggle, Mary Jane Watson-Parker had finally come into her own.
"You were awesome," Peter said softly. "Everybody in that theater was on their feet for you." Though he could never be completely objective about his wife's stage presence, his reaction this time was in sync with everyone else's.
Overcome by her husband's outpouring of genuine, heartfelt praise, Mary Jane buried her face in his shoulder. "I love you so much, Peter," she whispered, muffling a sob before it could escape her lips.
"And I've always loved you, MJ," he whispered back, wiping away a tiny tear that had formed in the corner of her eye. "Without you, I'd be nothing."
She lifted her face toward his. As their lips met, imaginary fireworks started going off all around them.
After they broke their kiss, Peter took Mary Jane's left hand in both of his, keeping his eyes fixed on the engagement ring and wedding band that had once belonged to May Reilly Parker.
How proud she would have been, for both of them.
Shortly after Peter began graduate school, Aunt May had joined her beloved husband, Ben. He was still grieving a year later. But he took comfort in the fact that she had lived long enough to see her nephew on the path toward wedded bliss with the love of his life and to a solid, stable career.
Despite the turbulence in his life, Peter managed to finish college a year ahead of schedule, graduating at the top of his class from Empire State University with a double-major in physics and molecular biology. He went on to earn a masters degree in genetics, getting through the entire two-year program in one year. He had planned to pursue a doctorate in that field, but ultimately opted for virology after attending a lecture by Dr. Alice Krippin, a world-renowned medical scientist from Great Britain who had pioneered the use of viruses to combat disease. He came out of that lecture convinced that Dr. Krippin's work would lead to the next big scientific breakthrough and that his unique combination of credentials would position him to play a major role in it.
After completing his studies, he received an appointment as an assistant professor in ESU's life sciences department. Among the perks which came with that office, besides much-needed fringe benefits, was a town house on the north side of Washington Square Park, part of a university-subsidized housing block for married junior faculty and graduate students. Originally built for New York's financial barons in the mid-nineteenth century, the home boasted five spacious floors, a fully equipped basement laboratory, doric columns flanking its front door, and a spectacular view of the massive arch which stood at the entrance to the park. It was the largest living space that either he or Mary Jane had ever occupied.
As the low man on the academic totem pole, Peter was assigned the not-so-enviable task of teaching freshman biology, a small price to pay for the privilege of working for his mentor, Dr. Curtis Connors. But he was expected to engage in cutting-edge research and did not disappoint, having published three articles on spontaneous viral mutations during his first year of teaching. His students loved him, too. They appreciated his seemingly boundless energy, enthusiasm for his subject, and considerable, though frequently unsuccessful effort not to talk over their heads.
Through it all, he remained faithful to his great responsibility, keeping crime at bay and saving lives, until the news that Mary Jane had delivered three weeks earlier had finally forced him to confront a day of reckoning.
Peter stole a glance at his wife's stomach. There was no bump yet. But there would be, soon.
"How are you feeling, MJ?"
She gave him the smile that always melted his heart and made everything in his world perfect for the briefest of moments. "Wonderful."
"No morning sickness?"
"None," Mary Jane replied cheerfully. "You know, the baby's due next May. Maybe Aunt May's sending a message about what we should name her?"
"You sure it's going to be a girl?"
"I've got a feeling."
Still clasping his wife's hand, Peter nuzzled his cheek next to hers as he stared at the huge black swath that was New York Harbor, a vast stretch of shiny darkness punctuated by ripples of reflected light. He knew that he could not put this off any longer, but he also would not be able to make this decision without her help.
Mary Jane recognized her husband's distracted expression. She had seen before, usually when he had something important to say, but had trouble saying it. "Something on your mind, sweetheart?"
"Actually, yes." He continued to gaze at the tiny red flashing lights atop the Verrazano Bridge. "I was sort of thinking of quitting the night shift."
He had been expecting a surprised reaction from Mary Jane, but there was none. She simply turned toward him, keeping her expression neutral. "Peter, are you sure that's what you really want?" she asked in a detached, almost clinical manner.
"I don't know," Peter sighed. "Every time I start to think about it, I can still hear Uncle Ben whispering that same refrain over and over again - 'with great power comes great responsibility'. But when Flint Marko apologized for what happened to Uncle Ben...something inside me just died. Ever since then, I've felt like I'd just been going through the motions. And now, we have a baby on the way..." His voice trailed off, then abruptly returned, filled with resoluteness. "I'm just not into it anymore, MJ. Heck, I'd rather be changing diapers at three o'clock in the morning than be out there taking risks that our insurance policy won't cover." He paused again, drawing a deep breath this time. "I just want us to have a normal life together, that's all. Does that mean I'm shirking my responsibilities?"
"I don't think so," she replied matter-of-factly. "But I may not be the best person to ask. To tell you the truth, I don't think I'd lose a lot of sleep if Spider-Man calls it a day. But didn't someone once tell you that intelligence is a gift?"
"To be used for the good of mankind," Peter echoed, finishing the thought.
"Well, you're doing that, aren't you? You'll probably save more lives in a week as a virologist than Spider-Man ever could the entire time he's been around." An impish gleam appeared in her lucious green eyes. "And better you than me when it comes to changing diapers. So, the next time Uncle Ben starts whispering in your ear, tell him that you've got new responsibilities - to your family and your profession. I'm sure he'll understand."
Now it was Peter's turn to feel tears welling up. Mary Jane's wisdom and compassion more than matched her beauty. She must have known all along that he would eventually figure out when to close that chapter in his life and move on. And she was patient enough to let him decide in his own time and on his own terms when his alter ego should retire.
She truly was the glue that held his world together.
"I love you," he said softly. "Did I say that already?"
"Say it as many times as you want, Honey."
They were about to kiss again when Peter's watch chirped. Peter's eyes widened as he realized how much time had gone by.
"Uh oh. It's two in the morning, and I have to be on campus at eight."
"How come? Your Wednesday class doesn't start until eleven."
"I'll be at the medical school. We'll be commencing clinical trials for Dr. Krippen's new cancer therapy. Dr. Cortman's people will actually run the studies. I'll be in charge of data collection and analysis."
Mary Jane furrowed her brow. She was vaguely familiar with Dr. Krippin's work, having heard her husband mention it during rehearsals of his dissertation defense. "Sounds rather complicated, you know, infecting cancer patients with a virus help them get better?"
"Actually, the premise is quite simple," Peter explained. "Dr. Krippin is taking the measles virus. something that nature designed, and reprogramming on a genetic level to make it work for the body rather than against it." He recalled an analogy that he had once used to explain the concept to his Bio 101 class. "Think of your body as a highway, and the measles as an extremely fast car being driven by a very bad man. By changing the virus's DNA, she's getting rid of that bad guy and putting a cop behind the wheel instead. That's the theory anyway."
"How long before you know whether it works or not?"
Peter shrugged. "Hard to say. Maybe a year or two. The study's huge. We'll have over ten-thousand patients coming in from around the world."
Mary Jane whistled, clearly impressed at the size of the undertaking.
"I just thought of something, MJ," Peter continued. "If Dr. Krippin succeeds, she could win the Nobel Prize by putting the oncologists out of business." He gently nudged Mary Jane off his lap and stood up. "Can I have the last dance, Mrs. Tiger?"
"Of course, Dr. Tiger. What would you like to dance to?"
Peter reached into his pocket and pulled out his iPod. "Three Little Birds, by Bob Marley," he said. "I downloaded it this morning."
Mary Jane flashed her magnificent smile again as she recalled the last night of their honeymoon, when she and Peter had danced to that tune and many others at the Blue Iguana, a beachfront café near Montego Bay. Afterward, they made love in the surf until sunrise.
Holding each other close, they sang the uplifting lyrics of a classic reggae melody together, with Peter crooning off-key, as usual...
Don't worry 'bout a thing,
'Cause every little thing gonna be all right.
Rise up this mornin',
Smiled with the risin' sun,
Three little birds
Pitch by my doorstep
Singin' sweet songs
Of melodies pure and true,
Sayin, "This is my message to you-who-who."
Mary Jane nestled her head against her husband's chest. "Do you know what I like about Bob Marley?" she asked softly.
Peter shook his head.
"He had this idea that you could cure racism and hate, literally cure it, by injecting music and love into people's lives. Something you virologists should take to heart."
With that, Mary Jane Watson-Parker gazed up at her husband, locking her gorgeous emerald eyes onto his. And in those eyes, Peter Benjamin Parker saw a reflection of total peace…
SEVEN YEARS LATER…
"My name is Peter Parker. My daughter and I are survivors, living in New York City. I am broadcasting on all AM frequencies. I can be reached at Peter dot Parker at ESU dot EDU. If you are out there … If anyone is out there... We can provide food. We can provide shelter. We can provide security. If there's anybody out there… anybody…please… you are not alone."