Disclaimers: Marvel owns 'em, Quesada decides their destinies (or at least did until recently), and we all just watch (and occasionally bang our heads on the desk). I make no money off of this, although the art of writing is often quite cathartic and certainly less expensive than a psychiatrist.
Rating: PG-13. Things are gonna get intense before they calm down.
Pairing: Peter/MJ. There is no other option. Some other canon couples may appear, as this will ultimately involve a fairly sizable cast of Marvel's finest.
Spoilers: OMD and the Post-OMD world, up to Big Time. Apart from that, all bets are off.
Summary: One Moment in Time ago, they made their choices. But the fates aren't through with Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson. And all the while, Mephisto has awakened...
One Last Chance
Here It Goes Again
"It could be ten, but then again, I can't remember
Half an hour since a quarter to four.
Throw on your clothes, the second side of Surfer Rosa,
And you leave me with my jaw on the floor.
"Just when you think that you're in control,
Just when you think that you've got a hold,
Just when you get on a roll,
Here it goes, here it goes, here it goes again.
Oh, here it goes again.
I should have known, should have known, should have known again,
But here it goes again."
"Here It Goes Again"
"Adrian Toomes, as I live and breathe," Spider-Man announced gleefully, as he threw a webline at the winged burglar known publicly as the Vulture. "Long time no kick your butt!"
It was a familiar scenario for Spider-Man; his hands grasped around a length of webbing as his lithe body sliced through the air, being dragged through the glass and steel canyons of Manhattan by one of his oldest opponents, the other end of the webline stuck fast against the small of the flying felon's back. But the beleaguered hero could not prevent the nostalgic smile that formed beneath his mask, even as his prey attempted to lose him, slamming the hero's body into buildings and beneath elevated train bridges as he flew onward.
"Gotta say, Toomes," he chuckled as he pulled himself along his webbing, hand over hand toward the Vulture, "as much as I wish the state's prisons had better security measures for costumed criminals, it's been great duking it out with you again! And just two days after I took down Mysterio for trying to heist Horizon Labs, it's like old home week!"
"Insolent insect!" the Vulture shouted as he flew a complex weaving pattern along a field of lampposts that lined the streets of New York's banking district.
"That's 'insolent arachnid' Toomes, and we both know that," Spider-Man corrected him jovially as he navigated the unexpected slalom course with balletic grace. "But seriously, that guy who's been calling himself the Vulture lately? No fun at all, with that red costume, and that whole Predator-mandible thing? What's up with that?"
"Will you never cease prattling?" Vulture snarled testily as he once again banked suddenly, hoping to force Spider-Man to swing wildly like a wrecking ball against the side of the building behind him.
"We've been doing this song and dance for how many years now," the hero quipped, "and you still have to ask that? Haven't you been paying attention? It's like Bruce Springsteen playing 'Born to Run', the fans expect it!" Okay, Parker, he thought to himself as he narrowly dodged another outcropping, time to end this.
Spider-Man thrust his legs forward, pushing against the side of the wall as it rushed past him. Using his natural ability to adhere to any surface, he anchored his feet against the side of the building and tugged hard on the webline that connected him to the Vulture. Sure enough, the sudden yank caused Toomes to lose control of his flight harness, leaving him careening wildly like a trout tugging against a fishing line. Spider-Man grabbed the line with his left hand, securing it to a nearby flagpole, as he extended his right arm, firing another strand of webbing against the Vulture's straining form, grabbing him securely at the right left wrist. Pulling the webling taut, he was able to pull Vulture's wrist toward the flagpole, where he tied it securely with a dozen more loops of webbing. Within a minute, he had securely trussed his prey to the flagpole, bound by enough webs to prevent him from wriggling free.
"There we are," Spider-Man announced as he perched himself briefly against the windowpane beside his captive prey. "All ready for Thanksgiving. Once again, Toomes, it's been a pleasure. We gotta do this again sometime."
"You may rest assured, you meaningless arachnid," Vulture growled, stressing the word 'arachnid' with poison in his voice, "that day will come sooner than you anticipate, and next time, I'll be the victor!"
"Given your current track record," Spider-Man quipped, "I'd take a piece of that action." He pulled a scrap of paper out of his belt compartment, scribbled his customary salutation of "Courtesy of your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man" and stuck the note on the Vulture's back, where the sticky webbing held it in place. "Well, it's been giggles, but I've got things to do and you've got time to serve. Toodles!" He leapt lightly from the window, snagging a ledge on the opposite side of the street with a webline, and swung away from the downed felon. As he made his way back to his apartment, he triggered the Bluetooth headpiece under his mask to contact Avengers HQ to inform them of where he left the Vulture so they could send the police to pick him up.
The sun was just setting behind the city as he arrived at his apartment in downtown Manhattan. Not the Taj Mahal, he conceded, but a much nicer place than that hole-in-the-wall he had shared with Vin Gonzales last year. "To say nothing about his sister Michelle," he mentally amended, before deciding that saying nothing about his former landlady was the best way to go. He lighted gently to the rooftop of his apartment building and surreptitiously glanced about to make certain that his presence wasn't being monitored. Satisfied that the coast was clear, he scaled the outside wall to his apartment window, jimmied it open from the top and slid inside.
The shower spray felt invigorating as he washed away the dust and grime he acquired during his bout with the Vulture. Peter found himself once again taking advantage of the bathroom acoustics by singing to himself; "If it hadn't been for Cotton-eyed Joe, I'd been married a long time ago. Where did you come from, where did you go? Where did you come from, Cotton-eyed Joe?"
Once showered, shaved, shampooed and dressed, he was ready for an evening of vegging out on the couch. He glanced at the clock on the wall, noting the time. "Seven-thirty," he muttered to himself. "Maybe I can catch the news before 'Bones' starts." He grabbed his remote, turned on his television and located the news channel. Even as he had just collapsed onto his sofa, the news anchor was announcing that "NYPD officers had just arrested Adrian Toomes, a.k.a. the Vulture, on suspicion of a daring daylight bank heist. Witnesses claimed that the vigilante and part-time Avenger Spider-Man had aided the police in apprehending the Vulture. Mayor Jameson's office offered no comment."
"Oh he had some comments, all right," Peter chuckled, imagining what Jameson must have been ranting. Ever since Spider-Man was officially recognized as both a member of the Avengers and as part of the new Future Foundation(what used to be called the Fantastic Four), Jameson's efforts to use his position as Mayor of New York City to collar him met with severe resistance. Not to mention that his approval ratings in recent months have been steadily on the decline. As any number of political pundits would happily inform Jameson, "It's the economy, stupid!" Peter smiled as he switched off the news broadcast. Schadenfreude, he had to admit to himself, was fun.
He took a few minutes to thumb through the mail he had neglected earlier. No bills, he noted with relief, just a few ads and a postcard from Carlie Cooper. He was grateful to read that things were working out for her, but he still felt a faint pang of melancholy as he reflected on what they had shared together, what might have been and what could never be between them.
He shook off this rising gloom and placed the postcard back on his coffee table as he returned to his apartment. All things taken into consideration, his life was pretty good right now. He had good friends, a solid and rewarding career with Horizon Labs, and Aunt May was happy with her new husband (John Jameson, father to J. Jonah Jameson and a man so gregarious, charming and intelligent that Peter began to suspect that maybe JJJ was adopted). Part of him still regretted that he and Carlie couldn't have made a go of their relationship, but there was no real heartache attached to their split. In the end, they both realized that it was the right thing for both of them. They were meant to be friends, nothing more.
He turned his attention back to his TV. He figured on a quiet evening. A delivery pizza, maybe some Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert before going to bed. He was scheduled to log in a few hours at Horizon Labs tomorrow and Max Modell wanted to go over the prototypes for a new magnetic security lock they were working on, so a good night's sleep was definitely called for. He picked up the handset on his phone and was about to dial up his favorite pizza place when the sudden buzz of his doorbell commanded his attention. Replacing the handset, he hauled himself off of the sofa and opened the front door. The door almost flew back toward him as a red-haired hurricane blew into his apartment.
"Hey, Tiger," Mary Jane Watson greeted him brightly as she entered walked past him, kissing his cheek lightly. "I come bearing good news and Chinese takeout." She handed him one of the two plastic bags she was carrying, and placed the other bag on the table. "That bag's got fried rice and chow mien noodles," she explained, "and I got sweet and sour pork, broccoli beef and General Tso's chicken in this bag. That last one's a bit spicy, so consider yourself warned. Oh, and some shrimp eggrolls and chicken potstickers as well."
"Uh, nice to see you too, MJ," Peter stammered, taken somewhat aback at her unexpected appearance. While they were no longer a couple, she was still arguably his closest and dearest friend in the world, and despite the fact that she caught him by surprise he was genuinely glad to see her. He placed the bag on his kitchenette counter and rummaged his cabinet for two clean plates. "To what do I owe your sudden largesse?"
"Sorry I didn't call first," Mary Jane apologized, "but after the auditions today, I just had time to swing by the Orient Express Take-Out and pick up dinner for two. I got some great news and I just had to celebrate it with you."
"I'm honored," Peter smiled as he started serving up rice and noodles from the take-out cartons onto two plates. "Uh, did you bring chopsticks, or do you prefer cutlery?"
"I got two pairs of chopsticks at the Express," MJ answered as she removed the cartons from her bag and set aside the two fortune cookies for after dinner. "But don't stand on ceremony on my account if you want to use a fork and knife."
"Hey, spider-agility," Peter reminded her as he brought the plates out and set them on the coffee table, along with a couple of serving spoons for the entrees. "So, what's your good news?"
"I got a major part for a prestigious Shakespearean company production of 'Much Ado About Nothing'!" MJ positively beamed. "I'll be playing Beatrice."
"Hey, that is good news," Peter's smile matched MJ's as he hugged his friend in congratulations. "I remember that movie version awhile back, Beatrice was the Emma Thompson role, right?"
"That's the one," Mary Jane answered. She coughed theatrically and began to recite, "'And there will the devil meet me, like an old cuckold, with horns on his head, and say, Get you to heaven, Beatrice, get you to heaven; here's no place for you maids. So away to Saint Peter for the heavens; he shows me where the bachelors sit, and there live we as merry as the day is long.'"
"Author, author!" Peter shouted, applauding enthusiastically. Mary Jane bowed and smiled, stating, "Thank you, thank you, you're too kind."
Peter chuckled briefly as she finished bowing. "You start serving, and I'll get us something to wash down the celebratory repast," Peter offered as he headed toward the refrigerator. Opening the door he started rattling off, "I got iced tea, root beer...hey, I still have some zinfandel left over from my apartment warming. You're not driving home, are you?"
"Subway," Mary Jane answered. "I'll have a small glass of wine, please."
"Madame has exquisite taste."
Mary Jane chuckled at Peter's fake French accent. "Oh, I might be out of the loop for awhile during rehearsals," she added as she sat on the sofa and opened up the takeout boxes. "Nora Lurhman, the producer, she's considering renting some business suites as temporary housing for the cast and crew in Jersey City. Nothing fancy, four or five bodies to a room, but it beats having to drive all the way over from Manhattan."
"Am I going to have to head for New Jersey to see you perform?" Peter asked.
"Just the initial rehearsals will be in Jersey City, until the Foxwoods Theater on Broadway is available for final staging. From what I hear the Foxwoods is still dealing with this over-budgeted musical trainwreck that, well, some people involved will probably be looking into other lines of work, if you catch my meaning."
"What, half the cast said 'Good luck', instead of 'Break a leg'?" Peter joked. "Or referred to 'Macbeth' by name?"
"OY, you'd think!" MJ laughed as she began spooning broccoli beef and spicy chicken onto her rice and noodles, recalling the time-honored theater superstitions. "You name it, it went wrong. Special effects failures, opening delays, the writer/director replaced at the last minute, leading to massive rewrites, the lead was injured, the opening night reviews were just brutal, and after that audiences stayed away in droves. Glad I wasn't involved in that fiasco! I think that's why the Foxwoods decided to stick to Shakespeare for this one. And the production company has a proven track record for hits."
"That's show-biz, I guess," Peter shrugged his shoulders. Returning with a wine bottle and two glasses, Peter added, "Seriously, MJ, let me know when the play opens. I'll buy tickets for opening night."
"Oh?" Mary Jane smirked, arching an eyebrow coquettishly. "'Tickets'? You used the plural? Who's the lucky lady?"
"Uh, well," Peter hemmed and hawed briefly before continuing, "I was actually thinking of inviting Aunt May and John. Figured they'd enjoy a night of theater, right?"
"Right..." Mary Jane nodded sagely. She glanced at the coffee table where she had placed the take-out cartons, and noticed a drop of sweet-and-sour sauce landed on the post-card. She found herself reading the signature on the card and fell silent for a moment.
"Hey, Red," Peter's gentle voice nudged her out of her reverie. "You okay?"
"Huh? Oh, yeah," she replied, shaking her head slightly. "And you, Peter? How are you doing, really?"
"Me?" he shrugged noncommittally as he uncorked the wine bottle. "You know me, MJ, livin' the dream."
"Yeah, I do know you," she answered, a faint air of sorrow in her voice. Her eyes still on the post-card, she found herself unable to stop asking the next obvious question; "You hear from Carlie?"
Peter regarded her levelly, with an unaccusing eye. "You saw the post-card."
She nodded. "I didn't mean to pry, it's just that, well...I'm sorry it didn't work out with you two."
"Hey, it's okay," Peter assured her as he started pouring the wine. "Carlie's where she needs to be right now. She's got a good career, she's doing some good in Los Angeles, her CSI team's already helped solve at least one high-profile arson case. Plus she's become a key player with her roller team, 'The Riot Grrls'." Handing Mary Jane her glass and filling his own, he concluded, "I don't regret being with her, MJ, but she and I both know it's better this way. She's in a good place right now, and so am I." Lifting his glass he concluded, "To Carlie. The LA roller-derby scene won't know what hit 'em."
"To Carlie," Mary Jane echoed, touching her glass to Peter's. As the glasses chimed, MJ added, "And don't worry about your love life, Tiger. A great guy like you, not a hardship to look at, I'm sure you won't be dateless for long. Y'know what they say, plenty of fish in the sea."
Peter nodded slowly as he took his plate and started spooning some extra sweet and sour pork over his rice. "Maybe," he commented. "But right now I've put away my rod and reel." When he saw the sudden grimace on MJ's face, Peter added, "That didn't sound so naughty in my head. Seriously, MJ, I'm just saying that I'm taking myself off of the dating market for awhile."
"You sure, Petey?" Mary Jane asked, concern for a friend coloring her words.
"I got a lot on my plate now," Peter answered. Glancing at the plate of Chinese take-out before him, he added, "metaphorically speaking. I got a good job at Horizon Labs, plus I'm with both the Avengers and the Fantastic—er, the Future Foundation, I've got a pretty full life right now."
"If you say so," Mary Jane answered as she served herself some spicy chicken and sweet-and-sour pork. "If it's right for you, then I'll stand by you, you know that. I just don't like thinking that you're here alone."
Peter placed a hand gently on Mary Jane's knee, squeezing it reassuringly. "Thanks for caring, MJ. But I'm okay for now. I'm just at a point where I need to prioritize my life. Maybe get some savings set up with my gig at Horizon, get some debts paid off, that sort of thing. In a few months, I'll probably consider dipping my toe back into the dating pool, but for now, I'm where I need to be."
Mary Jane smiled, recognizing the wisdom in her friend's words. "In that case, Tiger," she announced, lifting her glass in another toast, "Here's to 'where we need to be'."
"Salud," Peter answered as their glasses clinked together a second time.
The remainder of their meal was accompanied by friendly conversation, laughter, gossip and occasional companionable silences. After an hour and change, Peter placed his emptied plate on the coffee table and noticed Mary Jane's empty glass. "Did you want a refill, MJ?" he asked.
"No thanks, Peter," Mary Jane answered. "I have to be heading home soon anyway. Oh, wait," she added suddenly, pulling out a package from the bottom of one of her take-out bags. "Almost forgot, what's Chinese take-out without...ta-da," she presented Peter with a fortune cookie.
"Ready, MJ?" Peter asked as she held her own cookie. "On three, one, two, three!" They broke open their cookies and withdrew the slips of paper inside. "You're my guest, you go first," Peter offered.
Mary Jane glanced at the slip and began to read it aloud; "You will soon have the opportunity to correct a great mistake." Glancing at Peter for a second, she added, "In bed." Peter suppressed a snort as the redhead chuckled. "Oh come on, you were thinking it, right?"
"I was not," Peter denied feebly, his own chuckling fit betraying him. "Okay, here's mine," he added as he looked at his fortune slip. "The path to Heaven often leads through Hell." Putting the slip down he looked at Mary Jane for a second, and added, "Somehow, 'in bed' doesn't work for that one."
"Oh well," Mary Jane quipped as she grabbed her purse from the couch. "Hey, I gotta go. I'll call you tomorrow when I get more details about the rehearsal schedule."
"We'll talk then," Peter answered. "And, hey, congratulations again. I'm insanely proud of you."
"Thanks, Tiger," she smiled as she kissed him on the cheek. "And I don't know if I mentioned it yet, but I'm pretty damn proud of what you've been doing. With Horizon Labs and..." she hesitated, not quite wanting to finish the sentence. "Well, you take care of yourself."
"Will do, MJ. And you too." They hugged briefly before parting. " 'Bye."
As Mary Jane Watson rode the subway back to her neighborhood, she reflected on her evening with Peter. Not for the first time, she felt a familiar and not-unpleasant melancholy that pervaded her thoughts whenever she considered her relationship with that sweet, geeky young man. The man the world knew as a former photographer and now inventor and engineer for Horizon Labs.
The man she knew as Peter Parker. Friend. Lover. Spider-Man.
She hadn't told him. She hoped she would never have to tell him. He wasn't the only one who wasn't interested in the dating scene right now. She hadn't been involved with any man seriously since her brief(but not brief enough, she thought darkly) liaison with Bobby Carr. And she didn't miss the dating scene, not for a moment.
There was really only one man she ever wanted in that way again. And for various reasons, he was no longer an option.
She got off at her regular stop, headed out of the subway terminal and stepped out on the brightly lit streets near her apartment. As she entered her apartment building, she shook off the bittersweet thoughts that always accompanied her memories of Peter Parker and decided to take a quick shower before going to bed.
"Hey, red," a suave, masculine voice startled her as she inserted the key in her apartment lock. With a terrible recognition she turned to face the speaker.
Bobby Carr smiled knowingly at her. "You doing anything tonight?"
And in the deepest pit of Hell, Mephisto stirred...
Author's Note: Yeah, I have issues with the way things were run in the Spider-titles over the last few years. The fact is that, while quite a few of the stories during the Brand New Day arc were actually fairly decent if not downright brilliant, One More Day was a train wreck of epic proportions, made only worse by One Moment in Time. The dilemma; how to undo OMD/OMIT without either invalidating BND/Big Time, or creating a worse continuity snarl than if Hawkman were to join the Legion of Superheroes?
My ultimate goal is not to retcon OMD, but to clarify it, to address what I feel were the storyline's big unanswered questions, as well as some unanswered questions regarding other Marvel stories in recent years. What was Mephisto really up to? Why did Peter and MJ feel that they had no choice but to accept his deal? Why did MJ try to push Peter into a romance with Carlie Cooper? How did Norman Osborn suddenly rise to power? I plan to explore these and other questions as the story progresses. Hopefully I'll manage to tell a compelling story that respects the characters and entertains the readers. We'll find out together, won't we?
Also, I plan to cherry-pick from Marvel continuity, since I haven't been following it very much. I'm aware of the main events in recent years, but not every little detail. So please don't bother writing to tell me that character X died in a recent issue of title Y, or Loki's supposed to be a kid or Kitty Pryde should be wearing that goldfish bowl over her head so she can interact with others while her powers are out of whack. This isn't quite the 616, but a reasonably close approximation. Besides, what's with that goldfish bowl anyway? Yo, Kitty, Mysterio called, he wants his look back!
And yes, Loki and Kitty Pryde will both figure in my story, along with the Avengers, the X-Men and the Future Foundation(formerly the Fantastic Four, say that ten times fast!). I'm setting this up like a major Marvel crossover, only centering on Spider-Man instead of the Avengers and the X-Men as is the norm. How does it all come together? In the immortal words of River Song, "Ah-ah-ah, spoilers, sweetie."
Feedback, it's chicken soup for the fanfic writer's soul.
Peace out, Kirayoshi.