Fandom: Spectacular Spider-Man animated series
Characters: Peter/Gwen, MJ, Flash, Liz, Captain Stacy
Word Count: Part 4: 2,100 words
Summary: Peter still hasn't talked to Gwen about that fateful kiss - he keeps getting distracted. Between his personal life and his spider-life, can he make it work?
Author’s Note: Set at the beginning of season 2, using episode 2.03 as a jumping off point. Not terribly spoilery, if you haven’t seen the first three episodes of season 2.
Previously: Part 1 // Part 2 // Part 3
Christmas Day came and went without incident. It seemed that criminals were indeed taking the day off with everyone else. Peter spent most of the day wavering between anticipation of the dinner at the Stacys, and dread at the same. This could be a chance to finally fix things with Gwen, or it could be another nail in the coffin. And it didn't help the butterflies in his belly that Captain Stacy had behaved so oddly when inviting him to dinner.
What would it be like to get to know someone on the police force? Would the captain become his ally... or his adversary? How awkward this whole thing could turn out to be. Peter had never considered this until Christmas Eve, and that odd conversation.
It was giving him a real headache, almost like a constant spider-sense tingle that never went away. Except that that there was no actual danger around. He felt it at the breakfast table, on the subway, in the mall...
Peter felt a tug on his elbow, reminding him that he should keep focused on what he was doing. He blinked and turned toward Mary Jane, who was standing next to a display of glittery half-price Christmas pins. "Come on, Tiger. That gift for Gwen isn't going to pick itself out."
His expression turned sheepish. "No. That's why I brought you along."
She gave him a knowing grin. "Wow. Those smarts are good for something other than science?" Then she grinned even wider and waved for him to follow her. "What do you think she would like?"
"I have no idea..."
"I mean, I’ve only known Gwen for a few months... haven’t you been friends for years?"
She had him there. "Yeah, but... I dunno. You seem to be able to read people."
"Really? Thanks." He could tell the compliment pleased her, and it was only the truth. She had seamlessly woven herself into their lives in a very short time. "Now let’s go find that girl something she’ll love."
As they walked, Peter's eyes simply glided over the displays of Christmassy knickknacks... and even though he didn't have much money to spend, who gave a Christmassy present the day after Christmas? His eyes wandered to the left, toward the jewelry counter...
"Uh uh, no. No jewelry." MJ's voice was firm.
"Why not?" He hadn't seriously considered it, but he was curious.
"You're not even dating, right?"
"No... not yet, anyway."
"You want to be, though. Jewelry is for a long-term relationship." MJ took him by the elbow again and steered him in another direction. "Or a promise of something more. You two don't even really have something."
"Then what should I get?"
"Something personal, a gift that shows her who you are. That you want to share that with her."
"Okay...." He rubbed at the back of his head with his hand. "I have no idea what that could be."
She chuckled softly. "Let's just walk around. I'm sure the right gift will catch your eye."
He shrugged. MJ probably knew better than he did about gift-giving. The best presents he had given lately were web-wrapped for the police.
They wandered down the aisles, passing by the clothing area (he didn't even know what size she was), the shoes (did she even like shoes? It seemed like most girls did, but Gwen wasn't ‘most girls’), the accessories (the only thing she ever carried was her backpack)... They had almost made one full circuit of the store, and nothing had caught his attention. Nothing except the darned odd feeling on the back of his neck.
MJ was different. She had stopped several times to feel the fabric of a sleeve, to check the height of a heel, to sling a purse over her shoulder and twirl around. But when Peter lifted his eyebrows to ask if Gwen might like it, she simply gave him a small shake of her head.
After the fifth time they had stopped, Peter threw up his hands in frustration. "I thought we were here to get something for Gwen!"
"We are..." she answered in that smoky voice of hers. "But can't a girl do a little browsing herself?" She winked. "Oh, I bet that scarf would look amazing with my new jacket..." MJ wandered off toward yet another display.
Peter's shoulders slumped in defeat. Maybe he should just bring a bouquet of flowers.
A few yards away he saw the toy section, which looked like it was pretty empty after the Christmas rush. He wandered over, curious about what kids were into this year. His own box of action figures were packed away in the attic, now that he was too old for them. Well, maybe not too old. He was enough of a nerd to have several in mint-condition boxes. But who needed toys like that when he was now a living, breathing action figure himself?
Suddenly he noticed a shelf full of stuffed animals. Girls liked those, didn't they? He could give her a teddy bear, and when she cuddled up with it at night, she could think of him... That thought made him blush a little. He shook his head of the thought of Gwen in bed and started searching for just the right one.
He picked up small bears, large bears, dogs, cats, and lions (he was uncomfortably reminded of Kraven's pet, and he put it right down). Nothing really seemed to say Gwen. At the end of the display, a red-booted foot stuck out, mostly covered by a large purple-furred ape. Peter pulled it from below the ape and his mouth dropped open in surprise. He was holding... a stuffed version of himself.
Well, not Peter Parker, of course, but Spider-Man. He knew there were toys out there -- action figures and posters and even bed sheets -- but a cute and cuddly stuffed doll? He squeezed the doll's feet, and hands (which were posed in a web-shooting position), but thankfully no sounds came out. If the thing had started singing "The Itsy Bitsy Spider" he would have wet himself. Who the heck would want something like this?
"Oh, my goodness, that is adorable!" MJ was suddenly beside him, plucking the doll out of his hands. "With its cute little white eyes and little black spider-webs... he'd be like a girl's own personal protector, watching over her while she slept!" She continued to coo over it, hugging it to her chest.
Peter blushed even harder at this. It was one thing to imagine Gwen curled up with a teddy bear, but a completely different thing to imagine... himself! Even a small plushie version. And the way MJ had it pressed against her chest...
"You should totally give it to her." She shoved the doll back into his hands.
"Oh, yeah. I mean Spider-Man is already like her protector. And this will be a reminder of that... and of you."
Peter started and looked into her face with alarm, almost dropping the doll to the floor. She was wearing a mischievous smirk, and her chin was tilted downward as if she were in on a secret that just the two of them shared. "Wh--what do you mean by--?" he stammered.
Just then, his spider-sense suddenly tingled strongly, and out of the corner of his eye he glimpsed a flash of yellow. He whirled, already feeling off-balance by MJ's insinuations and the constant unease he’d been feeling for two days. But instead of danger... he saw Flash Thompson clunking his way toward them on his crutches, Liz following behind. The cheerleader was carrying a couple of shopping bags, probably Flash's purchases.
Before he could duck out of sight, he heard a cry of, "Petey!" followed by and an unbelieving, "Parker, is that you?"
"Hey, guys," MJ greeted, completely nonchalant.
"Uh, yeah, hey," Peter added with much less enthusiasm.
Flash brayed a laugh, and pointed at Peter. "What's that you've got? A toy? Didn't get enough from Santa this year?" He snatched the Spider-Man doll out of Peter's hands.
"It's not for me, it's--"
"Spider-Man?" Flash actually looked more clueless than normal. "As a stuffed animal?"
MJ stepped in and took it from the jock smoothly. "I think they call it a plushie, big guy. Isn't it adorable?"
"Yeah, it's sweet," Liz answered unenthusiastically. She edged away from Flash and stood closer to Peter. "Is he getting that for you?" She didn't sound very happy about the idea.
"Oh, no. But I might get one for myself someday." MJ winked at Peter, and he fought not to blush even harder than before. If she kept this up, his face would be redder than the costume below his shirt.
Peter took it from MJ quickly. "I-It's for Gwen. A late Christmas present."
Liz, who had seemed happy for a moment that the gift wasn't for MJ, was unhappier than ever. "That's Petey, always so thoughtful," she said wistfully.
"Yeah, when he puts his mind to it, he can be a real gentleman."
The air was getting so thick with tension between the two girls that Peter wished he could swing off on a strand of webbing.
Flash broke the tension with a laugh. "For Gwen? Oo... nerds in love..." He reached over to muss Peter’s hair, but Peter ducked away easily. "I gotta say though," Flash gestured at the doll awkwardly with one crutch, "you got surprisingly good taste, Parker. Spider-Man merchandise was really popular this year. As it should be."
"Yeah, I suppose even the web-slinger has to make a buck, right?"
Peter frowned, but kept silent. Not a cent of that was coming his way, but it wasn’t as if he could sue the company for copyright infringement. Not without exposing himself.
"He probably gives it all away to charity, or something," MJ said thoughtfully. "Why else haven’t we seen the ‘Spider-Mobile’ cruising down I-278?"
Flash seemed to mull this over. "Yeah, that would be just cool enough for him." He turned to leave. "C’mon, Liz, I gotta get home in time for dinner. See ya later, Mary Jane, loser."
"We’ll sure miss you," Peter snarked under his breath. He gave serious thought to making a web-tripwire between Flash and the exit doors. How lovely it would be to see the arrogant jerk sprawled flat on the marble tile...
He resisted, sighing. If only Flash weren’t such a fan of his alter-ego.
MJ grabbed his elbow again, steering him toward the cash registers. "You’ve got to get home to dinner, too, don’t you?"
"Yep." He started to dig in his pocket for his wallet. "Hey, MJ... what did you mean back there about this doll reminding her... of me?"
She stopped and gave him a serious look. Then her eyes twinkled and she was all light-hearted smiles. "Because you gave it to her, silly. What else would I mean?"
After they left the mall, they started to walk toward the subway station, but Peter stopped. He still had to wrap the gift before he and May went over to the Stacys, and web-swinging was faster than any other form of travel for him. "You know what? I’m just gonna take a cab. Aunt May asked me to pick up some whipped cream from the store before I came home. You can go on without me."
"Sure, Tiger. Good luck tonight."
"Thanks. And thanks for coming along with me."
MJ gave him a hug and a peck on the cheek. "I’m sure she’ll love the little guy, but remember, the best gift you can give her..." She stared straight into his eyes. "...is your time and attention."
"I’ll try to remember," he promised.
She gave him a cheery wave and set off for the subway entrance.
He went around the corner, pretending to flag a taxi down as he turned, but he dropped his arm once he was out of sight. He ducked quickly into an alley nearby and changed out of his clothes, placing them and his gift into a web-sack. Then he leapt into the sky, swinging away. Strangely, the weird headache seemed to disappear as he left downtown. Maybe he had just been nervous about getting the right gift, and now that he’d taken care of that...
Of course, the butterflies in his stomach hadn’t gone away. He tried to fly faster than they could flutter.
Back at the subway entrance, MJ waited patiently by the railing above the stairwell. Once she saw the red-and-blue figure swing away, she gave a small smile and descended toward the platform.
Next: Part 5