Word Count: 1680 words
Summary: "Love can do strange things to a person..." A rash of mysterious crimes all over New York City draw Spider-Man and Captain Stacy into a working relationship, as Peter and MJ try to work out their issues. Post—SM3.
Chapter Links: Prologue | 1
Chapter 1: Friends
“Bohr found an explanation for the quantization rule of angular momentum. He theorized that for a very large orbit…” Gwen wrote down Dr. Connors’ words, but they didn’t really make any sense right now, not when her eyes kept drifting over to the empty desk Peter usually occupied.
Truth to tell, they hadn’t really spoken since that disastrous date at the jazz club. She had wanted to speak to him at the funeral, but he hadn’t said a word to anyone, seemingly lost in his own thoughts. But the haunted look in his eyes that day had made her want to wrap him in a consoling hug, to assure him that she was there for him.
The long ride home, she was bothered by that urge she had felt. He’d hurt her, acted like a complete ass, all to make his ex-girlfriend jealous. Why do I attract the losers? she had wondered ruefully. First Dennis in high school, then Kevin in college, and oh, God, Eddie... Is there something about me that brings it out in them?
Gwen tried to push those depressing thoughts away. After seeing Peter at the funeral, she couldn’t help but feel that the strange dark side she’d seen wasn’t really him. Yeah, but no one goes all Jekyll and Hyde without a reason, the voice of her father cautioned. He may have been suppressing that side all along, but it’s still there, lurking beneath the surface. Do you really want to associate with someone like that – knowing they could turn on you at any moment?
She shook her head, trying to refocus on the class. Her father had always lectured her about being far too trusting, even though he actually loved that part of her personality. Gwen truly believed that a good friend didn’t abandon you at the first sign of trouble – and that’s what she and Peter had become this semester. They were more than lab partners…
But they’d also be no more than friends. After witnessing the look between Peter and Mary Jane that night, she knew for certain that she should stay well out of that. Gwen could only hope that Peter hadn’t damaged his relationship with Mary Jane beyond repair.
“…calculate the lifetime of high angular momentum states then what would we be able to obtain?” Dr. Connors looked around the lecture hall for any takers. Gwen blushed a little, trying to avoid his attention. “What would we obtain?” he repeated futilely over the students’ blank stares. With a frustrated sigh, Dr. Connors began to answer his own question, “We would obtain that the de—”
“—decaying of high excited states would approximate the spiraling in of a classical electron rotating around the proton.” Everyone turned toward the voice of the person who had stepped into the room. Peter’s face was haggard, but at least he was here. And only… she glanced at the clock on the wall behind him… twenty minutes late.
“Correct, Mr. Parker.” Dr. Connors nodded in grudging approval. “At least you seem to be keeping up with the readings, if not with your attendance.”
Looking contrite, Peter made his way to his seat. She tried to send him a compassionate look – Dr. Connors must not be aware of Peter’s recent tragedy, she’d have to quietly inform him – but he wasn’t meeting hers or anyone else’s eyes.
She couldn’t deny her relief at seeing him in class, though. It meant he was starting to get his life back to normal. They needed to talk… but would he be willing to talk at all?
An hour later, class ended and people started to move away in small clusters, talking about what they were going to do that night, or whether so-and-so had understood a word of that lecture… And Gwen stood up, almost expecting to see an empty seat again… but instead Peter was still there in his desk, doodling in a corner of his notebook.
She walked over to him, her back to the light streaming through the mini blinds. When her silhouette cast a shadow across the paper, and he looked up with surprise, hand twitching over the design he had made. Interlocking hearts? “Oh, hi, Gwen.”
“Hi, Peter. How are you doing?” She tilted her head slightly in concern.
He smiled tightly. “Okay. Fine, I guess, considering…”
She stretched out a hand to lay gently on his arm, and when he didn’t flinch, she left it there. “Can we talk?” She sat at the desk beside him. “I know things have been rough lately…”
His wide blue eyes widened even further and then he grimaced, dropping his gaze to his hands. “I’m surprised you want to talk to me at all, after what happened.”
“Well…” she answered, a hint of a smile on her lips, “it was a pretty crappy thing to do.”
Peter glanced back up, but seemed to understand that she wasn’t going to castigate him here. “I’m sorry,” he said in a low voice. “I wasn’t really my—” He cut off what he had been about to say. “I was acting really selfishly, and I was a jerk to you and MJ… I’m just glad you don’t hate me.”
“Love can do strange things to a person,” she offered, to give him an out. “How are things with Mary Jane, by the way?”
“We’re… we’re talking, anyway. Beyond that?” He shifted uncomfortably. “I think we’re gonna be okay.”
“That’s good.” Gwen made to rise, gathering her books in her arms. “Hey, I have to go. I’ll see you in lab tomorrow, okay?”
“See you then,” he affirmed, but she could see the relief in his posture.
As Gwen left the lecture hall, she saw Peter slowly get up and walk over to Dr. Connors. Maybe he was going to explain to their professor about his recent absence, and she wouldn’t need to say anything at all.
At that moment, her cell phone shrilled in her bag, and she fumbled inside to open it one-handed. “Hello?”
“Gwen Stacy?” Gwen didn’t recognize the voice. Who could be calling at this number?
“Yes, this is she…” She continued to walk toward her next class, face puzzled.
“This is Kassandra, at the agency?” a woman asked in a bored voice. “We have a job for you, if you’re interested.”
Oh… “What is it?” Nothing with office products, I hope… or in a skyscraper… she shivered.
“It’s for Perlman cosmetics,” Kassandra drawled, sounding like she was reading from her computer screen. “They’re looking for models with specific body types, and you fit one of the profiles.”
Gwen frowned slightly, but kept it out of her voice. “When and where?” She hadn’t taken a job since the crane accident, but if she wanted to keep working, she couldn’t keep turning offers down…
“Saturday, 9am to noon, Central Park...” The receptionist trailed off as if she was about to stop wasting her time with another stuck-up diva and call someone else.
“Sure,” Gwen hurried to agree, sitting on a nearby bench. “Let me get out a pen…”
After she took down the information and ended the call, she wondered whether she had really made the right decision. It would be nice to have a little spending money, maybe get my own place…
The piercing sound of approaching sirens suddenly filled her ears, and she turned, just like everyone else in the courtyard, to see a large fire truck barreling south down Broadway. And none too soon, she realized. As distracted as she had been today, she hadn’t even noticed the smell of smoke…
Gwen ran toward the blaze, drawn with other students to stare in shock and amazement. One of Columbia’s landmarks, the Miller Theater, was on fire! Smoke poured out of the front entrance and flames were beginning to lick at the marquee, charring the edges of the sign. The fire truck screeched to a halt, spilling firefighters and equipment onto the sidewalk. Thank God it was lunchtime on a Tuesday, hopefully no one was actually inside…
A shout directed her attention upward. “Spider-Man!” Gwen’s heart leapt in her chest. Even though he had saved her life, she had never actually seen him in action.
With amazing speed and fluid grace, the red and blue superhero whizzed overhead, landing on the rooftop of the theater. As she watched, heart pounding, he disappeared into the roof access. Is someone really trapped inside? At this time of day?
She waited, inching ever closer to the front of the growing crowd, eyes scanning the building with growing fear. The minutes passed with excruciating slowness as she waited for some sign that he was okay.
Suddenly the stage door burst open and Spider-Man staggered out, a young blonde woman in his arms. A ripple of relief spread through the crowd, and Gwen released a breath she didn’t realize she was holding. He lifted the woman into the arms of a firefighter – she coughed weakly and tried to stand.
As Spider-Man spoke quietly with the rescue workers, she noticed that his costume seemed brilliant against the woman’s soot-covered clothing and long hair. In her eyes, he was larger than life, so incredible in his dedication to the city… she found herself shouting out to him almost before she could stop, “Good job, Spider-Man!”
The hero tilted his head to look at her in surprise. Does he remember me? A blush crept up her face. Does he remember that kiss?
A chorus of cheers and congratulations sprang out all around her, and he gave the crowd a jaunty wave. It didn’t seem specifically directed at her, but how could a person really tell with his eyes hidden beneath that mask? He sprang into the air, gliding on the gossamer thread of his webbing, off into the city blocks to the east and out of sight.
Gwen stood there watching the way he had gone for a few minutes, as the crowd around her slowly dispersed. A warm feeling spread across her chest. Maybe she had terrible luck with men, maybe Peter Parker was a lost cause… but Spider-Man?
He occupied her thoughts all the way to the subway entrance.