Before the Calm
Harry had been a student at Midtown High for a few months now, and it seems he was getting a little popular.
"Um..." The girl fidgeted nervously, before finally plucking up the courage to say, "I like you. Will you please go out with me?"
Harry smiled brightly and replied, "Okay!"
The classmate also smiled brightly, then Harry cheerfully added, "But, the thing is, I'm actually already in love with another girl. I mean madly, head-over-heels in love. So I'd only be using you to try and forget her. If you don't mind being used, we can go steady no problem. Also, I don't have a three-date rule. We can get physical at whatever pace you're comfortable with." He thought for a moment. "One more thing. If we ever do get serious - somehow - you're gonna have to sign a pre-nuptial agreement. My dad insists."
The girl stared at him blankly. Then she slowly turned around and walked away.
"They all have the same reaction," Harry explained as he played with his food. "They never even get mad and yell. They just... stare."
From the other side of the cafeteria table, Flash muttered to Kong, "Why are we eating with Puny Parker and his friends again? When did we become a clique?"
"Quiet, Flash," Debra told him. Flash scowled, but didn't say anything.
Harry excitedly spoke up again. "Oh! But that pre-nup doesn't apply to you, Gwen. I'd want to take care of you. And I want you to be happy long after I'm gone."
"Just be gone. That'll make me plenty happy."
"You said 'they all'," Kong repeated (with just a tiny pang of jealousy). "Do girls confess to you really that often?"
"Really that often." He shrugged. "But it's not like I'm trying to get rid of them. It's just, A: I have to be Happy-Go-Lucky Harry when I'm talking about love. I just have to be. And B: I want to be up front with everything. But it's for the best. Those girls don't really like me. They just want my money. Which is funny 'cause I don't have a lot of money."
"Yes you do," Mary Jane said. "Your dad's one of the four hundred."
"Four hundred what?" Kong asked. He was ignored.
"Okay, I have money, but I can't just throw it around. My dad wants me to be responsible. That's one of the rules in exchange for enjoying my youth."
"Enjoying your youth?" Peter asked.
"Yeah. See, I need to be ready to inherit Oscorp the moment my dad retires, whenever that is. So my dad always tells me to 'live my childhood to the fullest,' while I still have the chance. He may be nuts, but he has a lot of sense."
Mary Jane nodded. "Oh, so that's why you're like... you... when we're not in class."
"That's right! I'm enjoying my high school life on max power! I'm trying to get down all the clichés. The next big thing on my list is joining an after-school club, but I'm trying to decide..." Harry hesitated for a few moments, then his eyes widened and he pointed at Debra. "I should join the Investigation Team!"
"HUH?!" said... everyone.
"My life would be like a TV show! Think of it: On the surface, I seem like a typical high school student, but I'm in a special club that looks into the urban legends in New York with rumors of Spider-Man as top priority. I, the protagonist, spend my days taking bizarre cases, working with my friends, fighting crime-"
"We don't do that."
"-searching the city for clues. And then in the B plot, I try to win the heart of the heroine, my first love! And at the climax of the series we finally confess our feelings for each other and share a passionate emb-"
Harry was cut off by soda spraying into his face. The soda can emptied after a few seconds, and Gwen placed it back on the table with a loud "clank!"
"Your B plot has been canceled," she deadpanned.
Peter got a dreamy smile on his face and told Flash, "Isn't she wonderful?"
Flash laughed, but stopped quickly. "Wait, are you being serious?"
Harry wiped his face with a napkin and casually mumbled, "...I was just thinking out loud."
"Actually," Mary Jane spoke up, "since we're talking about your team, there's something I've been wondering for a while." She picked at her food as she spoke, not really wanting to make eye contact with anyone (especially Gwen or Peter - speaking this topic in public would probably make them scold her later).
"What will you guys do if you ever do find out Spider-Man's secret identity?"
"When we find out," Kong corrected.
"You guys have ties to the school paper," Mary Jane continued. "Are you going to spill his secret to the whole school? Or are you going to sell the info to a real newspaper so everyone will know?"
Gwen watched Peter out of the corner of her eye. He tried to mask his despair with a blank face, but Gwen knew. Mary only said what Peter feared constantly. But his downcast eyes went up in surprise when Flash said, "Probably not."
"Really?!" Mary Jane asked. "I mean - That's - I mean - Why not?"
"Well, I dunno. We might tell some people," Flash replied. "We won't decide for sure until it happens. But he wears that mask for a reason... duh. Spider-Man's my hero. I just wanna meet him, not stop him from doing his job."
So they weren't trying to expose Spidey after all. Hearing that made Peter happy inside... though it was offset by Flash calling Spidey a hero.
Mary Jane looked at Gwen and smiled, as if saying, Ha! It was a good thing I asked after all.
"Flash is right," Debra added. "We didn't form the Investigation Team for fame or money. It's all for the sake of intellectual curiosity." Debra spoke proudly and adjusted her glasses. She clearly thought the simpler motive equated to a higher purpose.
Kong slammed his big fist onto the table and grinned. "It's about pride, dudes. We're doing it to prove we can!"
Harry pointed at Kong dramatically. "Yes! That is the indomitable spirit of a true Investigator! But it raises the question, what would you do if you met him?"
"I'm very interested in learning how his powers work," Debra answered.
"The first thing I'd do is ask for an autograph," Flash said.
"Me too!" Kong added. "Can you imagine being the first two people to ever get his autograph?"
Please don't, he does not need the ego trip, Gwen thought.
"Is that all?" Peter blurted out with surprise. He picked up his milk box as he continued. "After all your effort, you'd just ask for a signature?"
"That's not all, stupid," Flash shot back. "I said it's the first thing I'd do."
"What would you do if you ever met Spider-Man, Parker?" Kong asked.
"M-Me?" Instead of just dismissing the question, he stopped and considered it carefully. He realized that, for once, it was safe to reveal his true feelings. Everyone else at the table waited expectantly for his answer.
"...I'd probably punch him in the face," Peter said darkly.
"Don't misunderstand," Peter continued, staring straight ahead. "I don't want to punch him. I can think of several things I'd rather do. I'm not a violent person. It's just that, if I ever came face to face with that person, I imagine attacking him on sight would be an uncontrollable impulse!"
He unconsciously crushed the milk carton in his hand. It took him a few seconds to realize it, then he hurriedly used his napkin to try and soak up the mess on his tray. The rest of the group was silent.
"...L-Let's change the subject," Mary Jane offered.
"Y-Yeah," Flash agreed. "So, uh, Harry, I noticed you dyed your hair."
Harry had all-black hair since he moved to New York, but today he had bright red highlights streaking through. He also had a second earring hanging off his left ear.
"I was waiting for somebody to say something," he replied in mock exasperation... probably mock. "I decided to experiment with a new image. But I couldn't decide what color so I went for a two-toned look." Harry looked around the table with a big smile. "So how is it? Is it hip? Is it me? Is it stylin'?"
"It looks like clown hair," Mary Jane deadpanned.
"It looks ugly," Gwen deadpanned.
No one else said anything. Harry slowly turned to Peter, who sat beside him. He had the expression of a kicked puppy.
"Um... I like it," Peter said.
"PETER!" Harry tackled him in a hug. "You're such a good friend! I'm gonna hate myself when I finally steal Gwen from you!"
"Kong," Gwen held out her hand, "please give me your soda."
Kong kept the can away from her. "No way."
As soon as he said that, the bell rang. Lunch was over. Everyone wordlessly gathered their trays and left the table.
Peter walked down the hallway towards his next class, thinking back to the lunch he just came from.
He had multiple lunches like that during the months Harry lived here. Having a big group of friends, talking and laughing over trivial things, getting excited, getting frustrated, being lively... being a normal teenager. Those moments were absolutely priceless to Peter.
Because for just a few minutes at a time, they made him forget...
Peter promised himself that he would be responsible. That meant he wouldn't avoid his problems or duties. He wouldn't wish for an easy exit that wasn't coming. Even so... he was thankful for those brief moments where he could escape reality.
But the problem with happiness is... The more I have, then the more I have to lose.
Peter gripped his head in both hands and fell to his knees. He felt like the force of a tidal wave crashed into his body. There was a police siren inside his brain.
DANGER! DANGER! DANGER! DANGER!
This sensation came out of nowhere, and it was stronger than anything he felt before. It took several seconds for Peter to regain his bearings.
"Are you okay?"
He looked up. While the others students passed Peter without a glance, one boy stood in front of him, holding his hand out. His face was completely emotionless.
Peter stared at the hand in front of him. Then he ignored it and stood up on his own. "I'm fine."
He examined the other boy carefully. He had curly red hair. He might have been a year or two younger than Peter. His face was still emotionless.
"Are you... new here?"
"Yeah. I transferred a few days ago. But I don't know how long I can stay. It depends on what happens."
Peter didn't know what to say, so he said nothing.
The other boy introduced himself to Peter, then walked past him without waiting for a response. Peter looked over his shoulder and continued to watch him.
Since they shared the same body, Peter had the same powers Spidey did. Peter never practiced with them, so he wasn't confident he could use them the same way, but they were there. One of those powers was a sixth sense that warned him of danger (Spidey called it the Spider Sense, but Peter refused to use such a silly name). And since it was automatic, Peter already experienced it a few times before as a mild buzzing in his head.
That danger sense was what made Peter collapse moments ago. It's supposed to get him out of harm's way, but it was so strong and abrupt that it overwhelmed him. It was just like a searchlight suddenly flashing into his eyes in a dark room. It took Peter several seconds to adjust and understand what he was sensing.
The danger sense was reacting to that boy.
Truly a sixth sense, it found things that were undetectable by seeing or hearing. That person didn't have any weapons or superpowers. He wasn't even trying to hurt Peter - Peter wasn't in immediate danger - but there was something about him that was "dangerous."
Every fiber of Peter's body told him that person was a "threat."
That boy was an "enemy."
The rest of Peter's day continued normally. After school, he met up with Harry and walked home with him.
Contrary to her original attitude, Gwen encouraged Peter to hang out with his new friend as much as he wanted. In her own words: "The more time he spends with you, the less time he has to harass me."
Harry suddenly spoke up, "You think I should dye my hair again?"
Peter wasn't expecting that. "I thought you liked that two-toned look."
"I do," Harry answered with melancholy. "I wanted to stand out, but what Gwen and what's-her-name said at lunch really got to me. The problem is, what color would I change to?"
"You could make it all red instead of just streaks," Peter suggested.
Harry dismissed it without offering a reason. That made Peter unsure how to respond.
"Well... how about the normal kind of red?"
"You know, like Mary Jane has. It's orange, but they call it red."
"I said I wanted to be unique. I don't want a normal-looking color like that." Harry hesitated. "But come to think of it... Isn't she the only redhead in our school? Maybe I'd stand out after all."
A face flashed through Peter's mind.
"Actually, I met another person today," he said without thinking.
"Just today? Was he new?"
"Yeah... He said he just transferred a few days ago."
"As the last new kid, I figured I'd be the first to hear about the newest new kid," Harry said. "What's he like?"
Peter had to think about this. After all, he could hardly tell Harry that kid triggered his danger sense. He struggled to remember what his other senses told him. What that boy said... How he looked...
"If I had to pick a word, I guess he was... creepy?"
After a few seconds, Harry stopped walking. Peter noticed and turned around.
"A creepy redhead..." Harry was deep in thought, as if he remembered something. Finally he asked, "What was his name?"
The other boy introduced himself to Peter, then walked past him without waiting for a response.
"I think it was... Cletus... I think that's he said."
Harry was silent. He expression became somber. Peter wasn't used to seeing that on him. Just like his danger sense, it told him that something was very wrong.
"Him again..." Harry breathed.
Like every day in downtown Manhattan, a sea of people literally filled the sidewalks. They walked in both directions nearly shoulder to shoulder. The streets were brimming with people, moving alongside the rows of buildings.
But on top of one of those buildings stood only a single person. He was a young boy with curly red hair. He stood at the very edge of the roof, looking down. An inch past his shoes was nothing but empty air. He could barely see the ground beneath him, but he knew it was there. He could barely see the pedestrians, but he knew they were there.
That's why he had a large rock in his hand.
Without saying a word he held it out at arms' length... and dropped it.
"Wha - Aaahh!"
"That's guy's been hit!"
"Call an ambulance!"
To be continued...
Author's Notes: (9/30/2012) The making of this chapter has a funny story behind it. For a long time now, I've had all these one-liners and brief paragraphs of the characters interacting with each other, but I never knew how to turn any of them into a full chapter. But one day, it magically came to me and I just knew how to throw all of them together. It was like knocking over a jigsaw puzzle box and having all the pieces fall into the right spaces. Still, it wasn't easy, since there was a lot of fresh stuff to write in addition to the one-liners.
Extra-Special Shout-Out to "JustNobody," who wrote one of the most touching reviews I've ever had. I regret that it took a full two months to write that chapter I promised. Like I said, my real life schedule has gotten a lot busier than it used to be. And that's in addition to writer's block. (PS: Your PM didn't sound condescending at all - I appreciated the advice.)
I kinda rushed this chapter during the last few days because I did not want it to take longer than two months. I don't know how good it is or if I got down everything I wanted to. I wanted to get this chapter out, but I may unexpectedly replace it with an edited version in the next week or so (unless someone objects).