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with great power

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At this very moment, Michelle Jones is fifteen years, two months, eleven days, three hours and forty seven minutes old. Her classmate and the love of her young life, a boy named Peter, was fourteen years, eight months, two days, five hours, and seventeen minutes old. And not a minute older.

 

The facts were these:

Michelle Jones was a curious child with an active imagination. Where other children her age surrounded themselves with other children, young Michelle surrounded herself with books.

She found the people and events within the dusty pages of her borrowed library books a good deal more interesting than the people and events her elementary school could provide. (With the exception of a boy named Peter who caught her imagination the way an automatic camera catches an audacious driver running a red, unforgiving and unrelenting.)

Now, six years, one month, ten hours and seven minutes later, Michelle Jones, a curious young adult, is ready to uncover a new story.

Michelle is on a scheduled school outing with the rest of Midtown High School’s freshman class to one Oscorp Industries, a subsidiary of one Oscorp Incorporated owned by one Norman Osborn, thirty seven years, eleven months, twenty two days, fourteen hours and eighteen minutes old.

Norman Osborn was known to some as an entrepreneur and known to others of the more realistic and cynical variety as a dirty businessman.

Michelle Jones was that of the later group. And possessing a curious mind and an active imagination and a WordPress blog with a few hundred follows, she abandoned her peers in a more physical sense rather than emotional sense during their brief lunch break.

The hallway past the ladies restroom lead Michelle over to an empty laboratory with mysterious test tubes and display cases. She noted one case of large arachnids and one larger habitat filled with honey bees and made her way to the computer towards the center of the lab.

Michelle believed that somewhere on this computer, if she managed to navigate it correctly, would be evidence of Norman Osborn’s wrongdoings. Only despite her several beginners courses in computer technology, this was a job for an intermediate computer programmer.

Instead of uncovering the dirty secrets of one Norman Osborn, she accidently uncovered the lid of an undergoing radioactive reaction in the laboratory’s center station.

Like most labs with a reasonable safety procedures, the presence of VitaRay radiation and the non presence of protective wear on Michelle resulted in an automated alarm.

Michelle, who did not know what reaction she had set off, but did know the reaction an alarm from an abandoned room would set off, swore like a caricature of a sailor would and abandoned her investigation.

And although she did not uncover Norman Osborn’s dastardly affairs, she did unknowingly uncover something else. The display case of arachnids closest to the door.

 

And five minutes, thirty two seconds later as Midtown High School’s freshman class, newly reunited, is herded into a large exhibition area, and as Michelle Jones is lurking by the boy named Peter to lift her lowered spirits, no one notices one escaped arachnid. And so at fourteen years, eight months, two days, five hours, and seventeen minutes old, Peter Parker is bitten by a radioactive spider and dies.

***

Disappointed and bored once more, Michelle stands adjacent to Peter, not next to, as he studies one of the experiments being demonstrated.

Watching Peter is like watching an endangered species of bird. It's very entertaining and she learns a little more every day until she'll eventually be able to truly understand how he works.

Everybody else is bored out of their mind, her included, except for Peter who listens in on these explanations of middle school science like they’re something brand new, like he’s learning about the world for the first time.

He feels so much and she wonders if all that emotion will rub off on her, moving closer to him, but keeping a distance just in case. Not sure which would be worse.

She exists in these moments sometimes, right on the edge of Peter, emotionally and physically, always near him but never close.

It’s just that… some days he’s like her antithesis. He’s sincerity when every word out of her is some untruth, some sarcasm, some joke, some witticism that she carefully crafts in seconds. He wears his heart on his sleeve and his soul in his eyes. She misplaced her soul about three years ago, probably in a Taco Bell parking lot.

She's been dead inside for a few years going strong, and Peter is so alive, so full of energy and heart and a part of her wants to keep that shit away, while another part wants to make him share.

And he's literally the cutest, all scrawny bones and sloppy smiles and she wants to get on that before anyone else catches on.

In the meantime, she'll stick to stalking him.

He lets out a sharp little gasp and she looks over at the demonstration they're standing near, away from the rest of the class. Only there's nothing even remotely interesting going on, even by Peter standards.

He’s staring at his hand, says, “Ow.”

She glances at him, raises an eyebrow. He smiles back sheepishly, rubs the back of his neck with the other hand.

“You good, Parker?” She asks, managing to come of halfway between concern and apathy, her sweet spot.

“Yep, I'm good,” he says, squeaks really. She'll fight anyone who makes fun of his voice cracks. They're endearing. “Great, thanks for asking. Um, how are you, Michelle?”

Call me MJ, she wants to say, but they're nowhere near close enough for that, and who knows maybe they never will be.

And then, before she can even formulate a quippy answer, Peter’s face goes deathly pale and he collapses on the ground.

“Shit,” she says, eyes widening.

He's sprawled out on the floor, unmoving, pale and stiff. His eyes are open, glassy and unseeing, and her heart gives a sudden painful jump, like it's about to give out as well.

He can't be dead.

He was just standing there, totally fine, awkward as always.

He's fourteen, he can't have had a heart attack.

He's not dead.

He just passed out.

Only he's not breathing. His chest doesn't move and his eyes are lifeless and she feels a deep, sickening dread in her chest as she crouches down next to him.

“Parker,” she says, pokes at his shoulder under two layers, scratchy sweater and button down shirt. He doesn't move. “Come on, quit it, you nerd.”

Something like bile is rising in her throat.

“Parker,” she says again. But he's not moving, not breathing, not blinking, not anything.

Flee the country, the voice in her brain says.

“Are you kidding me?” She mutters. To Peter, to the voice in her head, to the uncaring universe. “This is not happening. Are you kidding?”

And then because suddenly it's feeling real, really real. Peter Parker is dead at her feet, not breathing, not moving, not Peter-ing. She feels like she might throw up, like she's having a panic attack, which sucks because she's been trying not to catch feelings and this can't be what does her in.

“Peter,” she whispers. He looks really small, like smaller than usual. She may vomit. “Peter, come on.”

She grabs his hand, curls her fingers around his.

Something zaps.

Something zaps through her, from her bones and her gut and zings through her like an electric current, but also something warm and tumbling, sowing warmth and more in her veins. Glowing at the tips of her fingers and then glowing at Peter's.

His chest moves. He takes a breath in and his chest moves and she can feel it, feel his heart beat and for a moment it matches hers. He blinks once, twice, eyes focusing slowly like he's just waking up.

She yanks her hand back and doesn't know it's the last time she'll ever touch him.

 


Everything goes black for a while.

One second he’s trying desperately hard to not look like a dork in front of Michelle, trying to ignore the burning pain in his hand.

And then nothing.

He feels weird and light and floaty. He hears everything and nothing. He thinks he’s in the stars, shooting past nebulae and supernovas. For a moment it’s calm, quiet and Peter can breathe, only he can’t and then it’s just cold and lonely and oppressively empty.

He starts to think too hard about it, and panic just a little, the absence of feeling overwhelming and destructive.

But then he feels, a hand on his, a soft tap as fingers close around his, warm and real.

When he opens his eyes, Michelle Jones is there, staring down at him, lips pursed tight, eyes narrow, worried and relieved and horrified and stunned and a million other fleeting emotions he couldn’t hope to name.

She’s blocking the florescent lights, her hair lit up from behind. Or maybe she is the light. It’s hard to look right at her, his eyes burn and his chest feels warm.

She looks like an angel. A grouchy, sarcastic angel, with flyaways and a scowl.

His head hurts.

The hand on his his is gone, but he knows it was her. He reaches for her, because she’s just there, her baggy shirt and her jacket and her dazzling eyes. She moves back, nearly falling over as she stares at his hand with a tight look, and he feels like a complete idiot and his head still hurts and he slowly realizes he’s on the cold linoleum floor of a lab and everything is faintly soar but also not.

“What-?” he asks, because he gets the sudden, sure feeling something terrible has just happened.

Somebody in the room screams and Michelle moves back again, glancing around wildly but it's not them.

“Shit,” she mutters staring at the panic erupting through, face suddenly pale, but not betraying a single emotion.

***

Halfway across the room most of their class is gathered around another body on the floor, that of one Otto Octavius, fourth three years, seven months, eight days, and thirteen minutes old, collapsed on the ground, dead of what will be classified as early onset heart disease but should be classified as a case of being at the wrong place, at the wrong time.