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Oh, come on, f-list. One of you must still have a vague interest in this fandom. :p

Everyone Has A Choice
4. Christmas Day

Peter had spent a long time deliberating what to get Mary Jane for Christmas. He’d thought about make-up, but she had a lot already, and a lot of it was probably more expensive than what he could give her. He’d thought about clothes, but she’d get plenty of those from her friends and relatives. Nothing he looked at seemed quite good enough to give to her.

The day before he’d gone to see Harry, he’d been in a bookshop looking for some books that would help him with science. All of it was pretty advanced stuff, and he’d been the only one in that part of the bookshop. He was scanning the shelves when his vision went totally off course and fell upon some children’s books, off to the side. Exactly why they’d decided to put a display of children’s picture books next to the giant volumes of advanced physics was beyond him, but he looked at them even so. One of them was a picture book of Cinderella. He picked that one up…it was the play MJ had starred in all that time ago, he still remembered the whole story…and noticed that in all the pictures of the title character, she’d been drawn with red hair. Well, that settled it- he bought it for her. It was rather expensive…actually, very expensive…and so he’d had to leave the science books behind. As it turned out, it didn’t matter, he solved the problem on his own. But he hoped and prayed she’d like the book.

On his way to visit Aunt May, he went to her house and knocked nervously at the door. It wasn’t her who answered, though- it was her father.

“Yeah?” he grunted. And then- “You’re the Parker kid, aren’t you?”

Peter nodded.

“Well, if not for you,” the man said, smelling of beer like usual, “she’d be living with Thompson or Osborn, wouldn’t she? She’d be out of our hands, and rich, and better off than with…you,” He sneered. “But no, it’s you she likes. Give me that, I’ll give it to her.”

Peter knew that as soon as the door closed the gift would go straight in the bin. “Er, you know what? I’ll come back later-”

“Who is it?” It was MJ’s voice, and she suddenly appeared behind her father. Peter was struck by how different they looked…they shared a few features, true, but you never would have thought them to be father and daughter…

“Peter!” she said.

“Hi!” Peter said, relieved. “I’ve got you a present.”

Mr Watson moved off, muttering swear words under his breath.

“Don’t listen to him- to whatever he said,” Mary Jane said. “I’ve got you a present, too-hold on-” She darted away from the door, and returned a few seconds later with a package. “Here.”

They exchanged presents. MJ opened hers first.

“Oh wow,” she said. She opened the book to the first page. “Oh wow…it’s gorgeous.” She moved to hug him, stopped for a second- but then she flung her arms around him. “Thank you so much. Damn, my present looks pathetic compared to that.”

Peter opened his, curious to see it, and inside was a camera. “No, anything but pathetic,” he told her. “Seriously, I need a new camera. Thank you.” Truth be told, seeing her so happy was enough of a present for him.

She smiled at him, and looked down at her new book…she was blinking very rapidly all of a sudden. No, don’t cry, I’ll always love you…

“Hey, girl!” her father yelled from inside the house. “Come back and celebrate with us, why don’t you?”

“I’m coming,” MJ said, just loud enough for him to hear. She gave another smile. “Thank you. I…are you going to your aunt’s house?”

“Yeah,” Peter said. “If…if your parents don’t mind, you could come round later, maybe…”

“They would mind,” she said. “But thanks for the offer.” One more smile, and she said goodbye and closed the door; her father was yelling again.

Peter walked the few steps to his own old house. He still had a key to it- it stayed in his pocket permanently. He unlocked the door, and came in, calling “I’m here, Aunt May.”

She came down the stairs, holding a present and beaming. “It’s good to see you, Peter,” she said, kissing his face. “Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas to you too,” he said. He sat down on the sofa, and looked around. This would always be his favourite place. He’d grown up here…grown up among the photographs and the wallpaper and the sofa and the tables. It was his home in a way that no other place had been so far.

“I went to see MJ,” he said. “I gave her her Christmas present…”

“Did you, dear? What did she have to say?”

“Well, we couldn’t talk for long, her father called her-”

May put on the expression she always wore at the mention of Mr Watson. “Did you invite her over here?”

“I tried. Oh,” he added. “She gave me a camera. Look.” He took it out of his rucksack. “It’s brand new. Isn’t it great?” He handed it to her, and she examined it with interest. “It’s certainly modern,” she said. She put it on the table, and changed the subject back to the more important things. “So, you and Mary Jane…”

Peter had no idea what to say. “We’re…we’re not sure quite where we are.”

“You love her,” she said in her matter-of-fact way. “That’s all you need to be sure about.”

“I know, I know…it’s just…” He didn’t really want to talk about it. He couldn’t work it out inside his own head, so how could it be put into words?

“Peter,” May said. “I remember, when I was in the hospital, and you dashed into my room and said you’d phoned MJ’s house and her parents told you they didn’t know where she was. You looked so panicked…and of course we found out later you had more than a right to be, but I’ll never forget your face. You looked as though you’d die just to be certain she was safe.”

Peter looked away. He remembered that all too well…and he was astonished that the lie about MJ’s parents had come to him so fast. As it was, her parents hadn’t even been there the night she was kidnapped, and he hoped and prayed May wouldn’t speak to Mr and Mrs Watson and find that out. It would get him in huge amounts of trouble, and not just for lying.

“I went to the bridge,” he said, using the story he’d used as his alibi so many times before. “I saw the news, I knew that was where she was…I couldn’t do anything, I was so, so scared…” Well, the ‘scared’ part was true. May nodded sympathetically.

“At least it’s behind you now,” May said. “And Harry…the poor boy.”

Peter nodded.

“Have they got back together, do you know?”

“No…they’re just friends. I think. Harry’s…er…he’s still really upset about what happened, I saw him yesterday, he’s just…throwing himself into his work, his father’s company…”

May pursed her lips. “I don’t like to speak ill of the dead…”

Peter knew what was coming.

“…but Norman Osborn, he just gave money to that boy, and so little genuine love.” She gave a heavy sigh. “I don’t know what will become of Harry, but I think you should keep an eye on him.”

“Yeah, I will.”

“Anyway,” she said. “Let’s open our presents, then. Here you go, kiddo.” She went to the Christmas tree…she must have decorated it completely on her own, Uncle Ben used to help her…and took a gift from underneath it. She gave it to him, and Peter took hers from his bag.

“Let’s open them on the count of three,” he said. “One…two…three.” He tore the wrapping off his, and he grinned like a madman…it was a pair of physics books, similar to the ones he hadn’t been able to afford. “Thank you, Aunt May. How’s you know I wanted these?”

“Educated guesswork, Peter,” May unwrapped the last of her present- it was a glittery ornament of two horses, he’d seen it in a shop and it reminded him of the house, although they’d never had an ornament like that- and she smiled at him.

“Thank you very much, Peter,” she said. “Now, if you go into the dining room-” She led him in there, and Christmas dinner was spread on the table. Dinner for two, Peter thought with an internal sigh.

“It looks lovely,” he said.

“Thank you, dear,” she answered. “Now, sit down and we’ll say grace.”

Peter remembered the last time she’d said that. So many terrible things had happened since then. He sat down, closed his eyes, and hoped that things would get better for them all.

*****

MJ really, really wished she’d gone to Peter’s house. Been allowed to go to Peter’s house, whatever.

Why had they bothered to say grace?

She glanced out of the window, into Peter’s back yard. It’d been so long since that night…that night where they’d just talked. Since then they’d graduated from school, dated other people (well, she had), had people they knew (or loved) die, and she had almost died herself…twice

Sometimes she wondered just what it was they were caught up in. It was strange, whatever it was…she’d kissed Spider-Man, that one night which now seemed like a lifetime ago, but now she loved Peter and not him, even though he’d saved her life and Peter had not…

“Girl,” her father grunted, “what’re you staring off into space for?”

She didn’t say sorry, but she resumed eating. Her father took a long drink of beer. Her mother looked at him, and gave a barely audible sigh. Clearly, her father heard it….he slammed the glass down on the table, snapped “It’s Christmas, for God’s sake, can’t a man have some alcohol?”

“Wouldn’t be a problem if you didn’t drink it all the time,” MJ muttered.

Her father growled at her -that was the noise that used to scare the life out of her when she was eight, because it would have led to screaming, insults, and her mother sobbing quietly. “Go to your room, girl. Go to your room now!”

“No,” she said flatly.

“Phil-” her mother injected. “Phil, it’s Christmas…”

“I don’t care,” he said. “Go to your room!”

“Make me,” she said, and she got up, about to grab her coat and go next door-but her father caught her.

“Oh no you don’t. We’re your family, and the Parker kid isn’t-you stay right here.”

“You’re a bastard.”

“Finish your dinner!”

You said go to my-”

“FINISH YOUR DINNER.”

No-one spoke a word for the remainder of the meal.

*****

As soon as dinner was over, she did go to her room, storming up the stairs and slamming the door behind her. Her mother followed her, and knocked on the door.

“I’m not spending another Christmas with him, Mum.”

“I know, dear,” she said. “I’m sorry. But don’t you want to come downstairs and open some presents?”

“No, Mum, I don’t.”

Her mother waited by the door for a moment, then walked away, going slowly down the stairs.

MJ looked out of the window at Peter’s house, then picked up the Cinderella book and began to read it.

*****

An hour passed, then another hour. She tried not to feel sorry for herself, she wasn’t that sort of person. She heard doors being opened and closed, heard talking, but thankfully no yelling. Eventually she put the book away and went downstairs.

Her mother wasn’t around. Her father was sitting on the sofa, beer glass still in hand.

“Your mother’s gone for a walk,” he said, and it occured to her that he had always, for as long as she could remember, referred to his wife as your mother. It seemed like such an innocent thing, and he probably didn’t think about it, but why didn’t he call either of them by their names?

“Okay,” she said.

“Turn on the TV.”

“Why, so you can not talk to me?”

“I said, turn on the TV.”

She turned it on- it seemed simplier then arguing. It was the ending of some Christmas movie, an irritatingly upbeat one. MJ watched in glum silence, wanting her mother to return, she wanted to talk to her now…but as the credits rolled, her father suddenly turned to her and said “MJ.”

She nearly fell of her seat. Hearing her nickname…the name her friends used for her…come out of her father’s mouth seemed like the most incredible thing. “What?”

“I’ve been thinking…” he muttered, his speech as slurred as usual. “I’ve been thinking…maybe I’ve been a bit…” He muttered something that was both incomprehensible and laden with profanity, and MJ didn’t especially want to ask what he was describing himself as. “Just so you know…I know you hate me…”

MJ said nothing, but she realised she’d regret it later, so she muttered. “Only sometimes.”

“I didn’t ‘tend for my life to turn out like this…” her father groaned to himself. “It’s just…s’ not that I didn’t like your mother…hell, s’ not that I don’t like you, just I never expected a daughter, didn’t know what to do, never even knew what a kid was gonna be like…you get it, right?”

“Yes, I get it,” she said quietly.

“And I can’t get round it…what happened to you at the bridge…you could’ve died, I’d have never forgave myself…your mother, she’d have never forgiven me neither…I wanted to say sorry, I tried, so ‘shamed I didn’t want to look at ya…” His speech was coming out all jumbled now, she was used to that- it wasn’t like he’d never drunk himself into a stupor before- but this was something new.

“Apology accepted,” she muttered.

“What?”

“Apology accepted.”

“Oh,” She wasn’t really on his register anymore. “I gotta go and take a piss.” He wandered off in the direction of the bathroom, and Mary Jane suddenly felt a crushing sadness.

“I’m going to Peter’s house.” she said.

“Alright.”

She ran outside and to the house next door. She pressed the doorbell rather more urgently than she’d intended to-and Aunt May answered the door.

“Mary Jane! Peter said you were celebrating with your parents…”

‘Celebrating’ perhaps wasn’t the word, but she nodded anyway. “I…was. I was wondering, Aunt May, if it’s alright…can I come in and see Peter?”

“I’m sorry, dear, he’s just left.”

“He’s just left?”

“Yes,” May sighed. “Can’t be in one place for too long anymore, it seems. I imagine it was schoolwork he had to attend to, he gets a lot of it these days.”

MJ could think of nothing to say, and so said simply, “Oh.”

“Would you like to come in anyway, dear? The turkey’s all gone, but I think there may be some pudding left, I’ll heat it up for you…”

MJ turned her head and saw her mother walking quickly down the road. “Thanks, Aunt May, but I can’t. My mum wants me…wants us to spend christmas together. She’s been trying to hard.”

“I know, dear, I know.” She tutted. “Very well, then. Give your mother my best regards, and if you still want that pudding later I’ll save it for you.”

MJ was touched by all this kindness. “Thank you- very much.”

“Merry Christmas, dear,” May said in response.

“Merry Christmas to you, too.”

The door was closed, and MJ went to meeet her mother, slightly less dejected.

She wasn’t going to be here next Christmas, though. She just wasn’t.