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Gotta Get a Gimmick (if you wanna get ahead)

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It all starts on an otherwise perfectly calm Saturday morning. Gwen, Glory, Betty, and MJ are floating around the apartment in various states of alertness, eating breakfast, texting, and generally ignoring the others. Until MJ breaks the comfortable silence.

“Are you shitting me?” she shouts suddenly. She jumps up from her seat on the couch, sending her laptop flying to the floor. She stares at the others, like she’s appalled by how calm they are.

“What?” Gwen says, almost afraid to ask.

“Our sales,” she says, shock and anger gone, replaced by flatness.

“What about them?”

“They’re down.” she gives the other girls a look that could kill. “Obviously.”

“Let me see.” Glory picks up MJ’s laptop from the ground and reads whatever is on the screen. She frowns. “Damn. Yeah, that’s down. Way down.”

Betty peers over Glory’s shoulder and nods. Gwen doesn’t move, satisfied with the confirmation from the other girls.

“What happened?” Glory asks, turning to MJ.

“I don’t know.” MJ says quietly. “I’ll be back, okay?”

She doesn’t wait for a response before heading for the door, coat only half on when she leaves. Gwen, Glory, and Betty look at each other. Betty shrugs, and they all go back to what they were doing before, outburst and shocking revelation almost immediately forgotten.

Mary Jane returns to the apartment about an hour later like a whirlwind, full of energy, red hair swirling, cheeks flushed from the cold outside, and a wide smile on her face. A cold breeze follows her into the apartment as she slams the door shut behind her.

There’s a distinct lack of appreciation for the force of nature that has just entered the room. Gwen glances up from the newspaper she’s been pretending to read. Glory looks up from her phone and then glances at Gwen, rolling her eyes. Betty doesn’t even pull her head out from the fridge.

MJ seems upset at their lack of acknowledgement, which isn’t exactly surprising. On a more surprising note, however, she doesn’t look upset about the earlier disappointment at all. In fact, she seems excited. “Guys. I had the best idea!”

“Oh god, not again.” Glory deadpans, not looking up from her phone.

MJ glares at her. “I’m serious.”

“May I remind you: Taylor Swift on vinyl.”

“God, when will you let that go?” MJ snaps, mood shifting slightly.

“Never,” Betty says, walking past the other girl with a bowl of cereal in her hands and flopping down on the couch next to Glory. Milk spills out of the bowl and gets on her shirt, but she shrugs and shoves a spoonful in her mouth. There’s a long silence. MJ is obviously waiting for them to ask about the idea. No one takes the bait.

“Anyway,” MJ says, smile back in place, “I had an idea. We get Spider-Woman to play with us.”

She pauses, like she’s waiting for applause. There’s no reaction from the other girls, aside from Gwen freezing and her eyes widening, but luckily no one else notices that.

“Play what? Twister?” Glory asks, voice dry.

“Drums. Obviously.” MJ shrugs.

“Huh.”

MJ can see they aren’t convinced. She tries again. “We need something big. We need to make a statement. It’s perfect. I mean, Spider-Woman showing up at a gig is what put us on the map in the first place. She can do it again.”

Betty and Glory exchange looks, but Gwen can’t tell what they’re thinking.

“I’m not sure that’s a great idea,” Gwen mumbles, raising a hand slightly and wishing she had some of Betty’s cereal to shove in her mouth just so she’d have something to do.

“What are you talking about?” MJ says, betrayal written on her face. Gwen cringes.

“Um. The Spider-Woman thing. I don’t know if that’s a good idea,” her voice gets stronger as she speaks. She feels bad, because her reasons for disagreeing are less than pure, but, in her defense, she’d think this was a terrible idea even without the conflict of interest. And she’d guess Glory and Betty agree with her.

“And why not?” her voice is cold. Gwen can think of a whole lot of reasons why not, but can’t really say them.

“We’re not a circus act. We’re a band. We don’t need a superhero on stage. We just need to play good music.” Gwen says, nodding when she finishes.

“Yes. What she said,” Betty says, pointing at Gwen, mouth full of cheerios.

MJ shakes her head. “It doesn’t matter how good our music is if no one’s listening. This will get people listening.”

“Hmm,” Glory says, and Gwen can’t tell who she agrees with.

MJ lets out a harsh breath, blowing her hair out of her face. She’s done with the argument, Gwen can tell. “Oh, come on, Gwen. You’re just jealous there’d be another drummer onstage. You think she’d upstage you.”

“She’s a superhero.” Gwen says flatly. She is definitely not worried about Spider-Woman upstaging her. Not at all.

MJ nods, fake thoughtful. “And you’re just a girl. I get that. You can’t compete. But something like this could be a game changer for us.”

Gwen shakes her head. “No, I mean I’m sure she has better things to do.”

“Maybe she needs a break,” MJ responds without pause and shrugs.

“I don’t know.” which is a lie, because she does know for a fact that Spider-Woman could really use a break. However, this is not the break she had in mind.

“If you have any better ideas, now’s the time to share, genius.”

Gwen doesn’t say anything, just stares at MJ. She shrugs.

“You know what? If you can find her and convince her, I’m in.” Glory’s tone makes is clear how unlikely she thinks that is. She nods, like now it's all settled, then stand and walks over to the kitchen. She’s also clearly done with this line of conversation.

MJ looks at Betty expectantly.

Betty shrugs. “Sure. Do you think she’ll show us that web stuff she has?” she flicks her wrists and makes a ‘thwip’ noise. “How long do you think it lasts?”

MJ ignores the questions and turns to Gwen, single perfect eyebrow raised. Gwen looks at Glory, hoping for an out, but her back is turned as she picks out a bag of chips.

“Um. If you can convince her, yeah. I’m cool with it,” Gwen says, deciding there's nothing lost by going along with it, considering it's still up to her in the end whether Spider-Woman agrees or not.

Something in her tone obviously throws MJ, because the other girl narrows her eyes at Gwen. But she accepts the agreement. “Well, I will convince her, and everything will be great.”

She says it like she’s going to personally fight the universe if things don’t work out exactly as she has planned. And then she stomps back out of the apartment, shutting the door with a noise that snaps the remaining band members out of their bored, confused, or worried stares. (Glory, Betty, and Gwen, respectively.)

“Okay. I guess we’re getting a new drummer. Sorry, Gwen,” Glory says, the lack of emotion in her voice betraying how unlikely she thinks the whole situation is.

Gwen sighs loudly and drops her head into her hands.

---

Slipping out of the apartment and finding her way to the roof, Gwen pulls out her phone and calls her dad. Like an adult. She taps her fingers against her leg as she listens to the ringtone.

“Hi-” she starts as soon as he picks up.

“Hey, Gwen. Wasn’t expecting to hear from you today. Something wrong?” he asks, cutting off her greeting. He sounds a little like she’s interrupted something. She feels bad for a second and considers hanging up.

“Noooo. Why would you think that?” Gwen knows she sounds way to hesitant to be believed.

“What’s the problem? Something with the band? Your job?”

“Um. The band, kind of. Our sales have been down a little, and MJ wants to get Spider-Woman to perform with us to get attention.” she says all of this as quickly as possible.

“Spider-Woman. On stage, with you. She wants to get a member of the band to play with the band to get more attention,” he summarizes, and she can just imagine the expression on his face as he works through the situation like it’s a case.

“Well, she doesn’t know that.”

You could tell her.” Dad sounds like he doesn’t think this will be taken seriously.

“Or I could not.”

He takes a breath and it comes as buzzing through the phone. “You could skip the show entirely. You could just show up as Spider-Woman. You could tell Mary Jane no. Either as Gwen or Spider-Woman.”

“Yeah, but what should I do?”

“I don’t know, Gwen. Follow your heart?”

“Dad. Seriously. What do I do?”

“Gwen, honey, I don’t know. When you called, I thought this was life problem. Or maybe you just wanted to talk. I don’t know anything about- superpowers, or secret identities, or,” he trails off and there’s a second of silence. “any of that stuff.”

“So, no ideas, then?” she sighs and runs a hand through her hair.

“I guess, as life advice in general, be honest. It will make the whole thing so much easier. You care about these girls, they care about you, I think being honest with them would be good for you. You need more people who you can talk to about all this. People your age. Who aren’t related to you.”

“You just want to go back to watching dad cop.”

“Sure. But that doesn’t mean I’m wrong.”

Gwen laughs. “I’ll leave you alone. Thanks.”

“And Gwen? I think it’d be nice to see Spider-Woman on stage. But it’d also be nice to see Gwen Stacy.”

“Is this your way of telling me not to be late to my own concerts?”

“No. But that don’t be late either.”

“Dad, what do you mean? What should I do? Come on, I need some help here,”

“You’ll figure it out. You’re a smart girl,” he says, and even though it signals the end of the conversation, it isn’t cold or rude. He really trusts her to deal with this on her own. Which she’ll appreciate just as soon as she stops being annoyed about having to deal with it on her own.

She turns her phone off and shoves it in her pocket, then turns goes back inside to grab her backpack. Maybe swinging around will help her figure this out.

---

“Spider-Woman! Spider-Woman!” MJ has been standing on the roof yelling for the past hour. Gwen has swung by her twice. She can’t believe the redhead’s voice still works, or that she isn’t frozen. She also can’t believe that she’s seriously considering answering MJ’s shouts.

“Spider-Woman! Hey! Help!” MJ clearly sees Gwen perched on the building nearby watching her, and begins to wave her arms. Gwen curses internally. She’s been spotted.

And, oh shit. She pulled out the help card. That’s cold.

Gwen sighs. It would be so much better to just say no to her now and get this over with. But also, procrastination. And she really doesn’t want to deal with any of this now. She was just nearly mauled by koalas. She is not in the mood. But the stress of MJ hunting her superhero self down is beginning to mount.

“Fuck it,” Gwen says suddenly, startling the pigeons next to her.

She throws out her arm, shooting a web and swinging over in a smooth arc to fly above the roof MJ is standing on. It all looks very impressive. She disconnects from the web a little too slow though, and her landing isn’t as smooth as she would have liked.

And when she hits the roof, her foot catches on a crack and she pitches forwards. She flails her arms the tiniest bit and rights herself as fast as she can. Gotta look cool in front of MJ. She’s a superhero, dammit. She does not fall on her face.

“Nice,” MJ says flatly, and Gwen is pleased to note that her sarcasm isn’t at all lessened by being in the presence of a superhero.

“What do you want?” Gwen asks, voice sharp.

“Hi, I’m Mary Jane Watson,” MJ says, sarcasm gone and a wide smile on her face. She holds out her hand to shake and Gwen takes it, trying not to think about how weird it is to be reintroduced to her friend. “I’m part of a band, The Mary Janes. Have you heard of them?”

Gwen shrugs vaguely, realizing a little too late into the conversation that MJ may recognize her voice. MJ frowns just slightly, and Gwen thinks she’s a little disappointed that Spider-Woman didn’t just admit to owning every one of their songs.

“You crashed one of our gigs once. There was this huge grey guy. I think he was Russian or something. And he was trying to kill our drummer’s dad, and you stopped him. Remember?”

Gwen nods, and MJ frowns again. She was probably expecting her superhero to be a little more talkative.

“And that kind of put us on the map. So, I was thinking, it would be pretty cool if you would show up at another one of our shows and play with us. You know, full circle,” MJ says all of this as fast as possible, and if Gwen didn’t know what was going to be asked already, she would have needed the other girl to repeat herself.

The cold feeling of anxiety slips through Gwen’s veins (which had faded seeing MJ on the roof, red hair flying in her face and eyes bright), and she doesn’t say anything. MJ waits a second, but notices that no response is coming.

“So, do you want to?” the question is hesitant and badly formed. MJ probably there wouldn’t be a need for it, that Spider-Woman would just agree. She wasn’t even considering the possibility of failure. Gwen is the tiniest bit jealous of that ability.

“Um.” the honest answer would be “I don’t know,” but this is not a situation where Gwen can be honest, or where that’s an acceptable answer.

MJ crosses her arms, and raises an eyebrow, clearly waiting for an answer. A heavy weight settles in Gwen’s stomach as considers what to say.

And, because Gwen can be amazing at avoiding her problems when she wants to be, what comes out of her mouth next doesn’t doesn’t surprise her at all. “Um. How about I get back to you?”

MJ stumbles just the littlest bit, barely noticeable, but quickly recovers, Gwen can see her trying to resist the urge to argue and push.

“Okay, sounds good,” she says, in a tone that says the exact opposite, “thanks.”

“So, uh, see you around, I guess,” Gwen says, jumping off the roof before she can make anything about this even worse.

“The show’s the 21st!” MJ shouts after her.

----

Gwen stumbles back into the apartment at nine that night, trying to sneak past Betty, Glory, and MJ, who are practicing in the living room.

It doesn’t work. The music squeaks to a stop as soon as she shuts the door. Gwen winces.

“Hey, Stacy,” Glory says, staring at her, and Gwen can read the disappointment even without a change in expression.

Gwen wonders if MJ has told the other two girls about the meeting with Spider-Woman or if she plans to tell Gwen.

“Well, at least if Spider-Woman agrees to play with us, then you’ve got a gig you don’t have to worry about being late for,” MJ says, a slightly bitter smile on her face, and Gwen flinches a little. The words hurt, but they aren’t exactly unjustified.

“Sorry, guys,” she says quietly, before disappearing into another room.

“Really, MJ?” Glory asks once Gwen has left, a bite to her voice, and Gwen wants to hug her.

---

“Okay. I’m going to do it. I’m going to do the whole Spider-Woman thing at our next gig.” Gwen says into the phone, leaning against the edge of the roof. Just to psych herself up and get used to the plan, she says, “I’m gonna shred the drums. Like a superhero.”

“Why? What made you decide that?” Dad asks, and he just sounds curious. And also a little tired. It is 6 in the morning on a Saturday. She feels a little bad for calling him, something that she experiences almost every time she types in his number.

“I’ve let the band down a lot because of Spider-Woman. Like, missed shows and stuff. I feel like I need to come through on something. And I guess this could be it.”

“So you told Mary Jane yes?”

“Um.” she pauses. “Not exactly.”

“What does that mean?”

“Well, I told her I’d get back to her.”

“Will you?”

“I was kind of planning on just showing up. What do you think? Yay or Nay?”

He doesn’t say anything for a bit.

“Show up early.”

Gwen grins. “Of course. Duh. When am I ever late?”

“I’m going to assume that was a rhetorical question,” he says, with a noise that is half laugh, half cough.

She smiles. “Looking back, yeah, that’s a good idea.”

“Well, good luck. I’m glad you figured it out.”

“Yeah. Thanks for your help.”

“You figured most of it out on your own. But you’re welcome.”

She ends the call and looks out at the view of sunrise through the city, phone in her hands. She nods to herself.

“Do not be late. Do not be late. Do not be late,” she repeats under her breath to make sure it sinks in.

----

“Did Gwen say if she was coming?” MJ asks, unloading stuff from the car outside the venue.

“No, she didn’t tell me anything.” Glory pauses, resting the amp she’s holding against her hip, and pulls out her phone. She scrolls through it for a few seconds. “No, nothing.”

Betty walks past the two of them, carrying part of the drum set. “Haven’t heard anything.”

“Great,” MJ says flatly, and it isn’t annoyance in her voice, it’s disappointment. “Okay. So Spider-Woman didn’t really give me an answer, and we don’t know where Gwen is, so I guess we’ll just hope somebody shows up.”

Betty doesn’t acknowledge the words, just walks inside. Glory nods and shifts the amp back into her arms before heading inside after Betty. MJ crosses her arms and looks up and down the street maybe hoping she’ll see Gwen or Spider-Woman running up to save the day. People walk past, but no one is who she’s looking for. She pulls her beanie down over her hair and crosses her arms over her chest. pulling her jacket tighter.

She sighs and turns to head inside after Glory and Betty, when she’s almost thrown to the ground by Spider-Woman swinging in for a landing right next to her.

Spider-Woman skids to a stop, heels against the sidewalk and catches MJ before she can face-plant into the pavement. It would all be very chivalrous, her out of breath from surprise, with a superhero essentially holding her in a bridal dip, except for the fact that it was Spider-Woman’s own landing that caused the near spill. And it would bring to mind scenes from at least half of the rom-coms out there, except for that fact that MJ has no idea who Spider-Woman is.

Spider-Woman looks about as surprised by their position as MJ, like she just caught her on reflex. This makes it easy for her to pry herself from Spider-Woman’s arms and stand up.

“Nice of you to show up,” she says, voice cold, and crosses her arms.

“What?” Spider-Woman asks, looking around, “I’m not late, am I?”

MJ is about to snap ‘yes, you’re very late’, but she catches herself and checks her phone, only to find that Spider-Woman is just on time. She curses internally at having lost some of the justification for her anger.

“No,” MJ admits, “but a little warning would have been nice.”

“Sorry,” Spider-Woman shrugs, and manages to sound at least a tiny bit apologetic.

“Whatever.” MJ shakes her head and walks inside, trusting that Spider-Woman will follow her.

---

Gwen bounces after MJ, full of nervous energy, the memory of the other girl in her arms a second ago still fresh in her mind.

“I’m totally on time this time, I swear,” she says. Even though MJ already said, she feels the need to repeat this, just so it’s out there. She curses at the this time, but MJ doesn't seem to react to the possible slip.

“Yeah, I got that, thanks,” MJ says, voice flat, but Gwen spots the smallest bit of a smile on her face when she turns. “We were thinking of having you play the drums, that cool?”

“Well, I can’t sing, so that’s probably for the best, yeah,” Gwen says, a wide smile on her face.

“And I’ve seen you play, on tv, before-” MJ pauses, “before the whole lizard thing. You’re good.” She waves at Betty and Glory as they reach the stage where the two are setting up. “This is Glory, and this is Betty,” she says, pointing at them in turn. “Does suck that Gwen’s not here, though.”

Gwen doesn’t say anything, just reminds herself that no one else can hear her pounding heartbeat.

“Our drummer,” MJ add, to clarify, “she’s not here. I guess ‘cause you’re here. ”

Oh, you have no idea, Gwen thinks, wincing internally. She opens her mouth before she can give brain the chance to talk herself out of it. “Um. Speaking of, I kind of have something I have to tell you.”

“Yeah? What?” MJ asks absently, not looking at Gwen. Betty glances at her before going back to tuning her instrument. Glory’s eyes stay steady on her.

“Ummm,” Gwen thinks about how to say this. And whether she really wants to say this. MJ turns, phone in one hand, eye bright. Glory raises a single perfect eyebrow and taps her fingers against her leg. Betty grins and turns one of the tuning keys, letting out a high pitched squeak that makes the rest of them flinch.

Gwen lets out a deep breath. This whole situation is so weird. But god, she needs to be there. She needs to show up for these three. As Gwen and as Spider-Woman. Because, God, they’re amazing, and they’re her friends, and this is one of the first times in months that she hasn’t been late to a show, and it’s not even as Gwen, and God, she needs to take credit for that. (plus, maybe Dad’ll be proud of her for the honesty)

“About why Gwen isn’t here. Well, technically she is here, because I’m here and I’m her, and, yeah-” she flips her hood down and pulls off the mask, shaking her hair out, because at this point that’s a much easier way to explain all this, especially since the girls look a little confused.

“Shiiiiiiit,” Betty breaths.

“Huh,” Glory says. She smiles at Gwen, making her heart jump in her chest. “Nice, Stacy.”

MJ doesn’t say anything.

“Well?” Gwen asks after a few seconds, when she feels sure no one’s going to yell at her, and MJ blinks, snapping out of thought.

“Uh. Wow.” she shakes her head. “I don’t know what to say.”

“Well, that’s a first,” Glory says snarkily, seizing the opening, and looking back and forth between Gwen and MJ, a smirk on her face. MJ rolls her eyes.

“I guess this explains why you’re always late,” she shrugs, blinking.

“Wow, you guys are really focussed on that. Maybe I just never know the time, maybe I’m irresponsible. Have you thought about that? Huh?” Gwen asks, a tentative smile sneaking onto her face.

“Oh yeah, we thought about that. But now that we know this,” Glory waves a hand at Gwen’s costume, “we’re giving you the benefit of the doubt. Appreciate it.”

Gwen laughs. “I do. Appreciate it, I mean.”

“So. Those webs. Do they, like come out of your wrist, or what? And can you take me swinging on them. How long does it take before they dissolve?” Betty asks, rapid fire, and Gwen struggles to keep up.

“Well, they definitely don’t come from my body. That’s gross. Ms. Van Dyne gave me these things that shoot them,” Gwen walks up and holds her wrist out for Betty to see. “And I guess I can take you if you’re sure you’re not afraid of heights or anything. I don’t want anyone throwing up on me,”

Betty nods sagely.

“And I don’t really know exactly. A couple of hours, I think. I’ve never stuck around and watched, and I kind of tuned out that part of the presentation.”

“Oh, shit,” MJ says absently, looking down at the floor.

“What?” Gwen asks, turning back to the other girl, worry rising.

“You’re still cool with all of this?” she asks.

Gwen nods. “I mean, it feels vaguely unethical, but not too much. As long as we don’t do it every show. The band’s good enough that once eyes are back on us, the music’ll speak for itself, right?”

“That was the idea,” MJ says.

“Why are you asking again?” Glory asks. “That’s not like you.”

“I just, it felt different when I was asking a stranger for a favor, instead of a friend to be someone else. I just don’t want it to seem like Spider-Woman is the version of Gwen I like best. I don’t know. I guess it seemed like that before too. But-” she cuts herself off and shrugs, before squaring her shoulders and staring Gwen down.
“Oh,” Gwen says. Glory smiles.

“I, um. Yeah.” Gwen makes a face. MJ can be kind of rude sometimes, and yeah, this whole thing was a little bit of a mess, but she knows they’re friends. Still, it feels good to hear that MJ likes Gwen over Spider-Woman.

“Does this mean you like me?” Gwen asks, taking the joking route, a wide smile on her face.

“Yeah, I guess. Ugh.” MJ says, “Yeah. I like you.”

The two stare at each other.

“I like you too,” Gwen says quietly.

“Well, great. Now that that’s been established,” Glory interrupts. “we’ve got a show in an hour. Can we get back to the music?”

“Please,” Gwen says with a smile, hands twitching for her drumsticks.

“Our friend is a superhero,” Betty sings, off key and warbly, before playing another painful, badly tuned note.

---

The show draws a bigger crowd than the Mary Janes have ever seen before. They see a pretty solid sales boost after, too, even without Spider-Woman becoming a regular band member.

And if fans see Spider-Woman kissing the lead singer, well, it just generates more buzz.