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As it was Peter barely made it back to his apartment. Accelerated healing or no, he'd taken a beating and a half from the Goblin...from Mr. Osborn...
When he landed on his bedroom floor it was with none of his usual grace. Quite the opposite – he stumbled and would have fallen but for the person that caught him.
"Peter! Oh god you're bleeding!"
Peter didn't think any five words had terrified him more.
"Dawn? What are you..."
"Shhh," she cut him off, leading him towards his bed gently. "We need to get you cleaned up. Are you okay? Are you hurt badly?"
Peter collapsed back on the bed, his mind awash with fear. He had to cover himself – he had to hide his costume. It was dark – maybe she hadn't noticed yet – if he could just...
"God Peter, your costume is shredded, what happened?"
Okay. So much for that idea. For a full minute Peter could only gape at the top of Dawn's head as she set abound inspecting the tears in his costume, searching for cuts and bruises. When he finally found his voice, his first question rose unbidden.
"How long have you known?"
Dawn paused, for the first time since he'd crashed through his bedroom window. Peter was surprised to see apology in the look she turned up at him.
"Since high school," she said quietly. If possible Peter gaped more as Dawn rushed to explain. "Well, not knew
knew. But I suspected...I mean you did take down Flash that day in the hall and the web and the tray...when Spiderman turned up it was only really a case of connecting the dots..."
Peter collapsed back on his bed with a groan.
"You've known this whole time?" he cut her off, propping his somewhat battered self up on his elbows. Dawn seemed to shrink under his gaze as she nodded.
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have come," she said suddenly and Peter was almost amazed with how quickly she'd gathered her jacket he hadn't noticed draped over his desk chair.
"I just wanted to make sure you were okay and you're okay so I'm going to go and I'm sorry. Sorry..."
She was out the door and down the stairs before Peter had even gained his feet to go after her. It was only as he reached the doorframe himself that he realized he was still in costume. Dammit. This was not supposed to happen. Of all people. Of all people to discover his secret – he would never have thought it would be Dawn Watson.
Peter gazed down at his Uncle's headstone trying to make sense of the mess that was his life. This was getting more than a little ridiculous. He hadn't taken his eyes off her throughout the funeral.
Dawn Watson. Mary-Jane Watson's younger sister. She had always been there as he grew up – just as MJ had been. But while he'd found infatuation with Mary-Jane, with Dawn he'd found a sort of childhood friendship. They'd never been close in the traditional sense. There was no building tree houses or playing tag. There were however those times when her parents fighting had become so loud that it had woken even him and he'd gone outside to find her hiding behind his shed. In those times they were perhaps as close as two people could be.
She was a year younger than him and he'd always felt the need to look out for her. Even after they hit high school and he became a nerd while she followed in her sister's popular footsteps, he'd never stopped keeping an eye on her. It was just one of those things that always was. By the time he'd graduated they hadn't spoken in years, despite living next door to each other. She'd grown out of hiding from her parents fighting and he'd learned to sleep heavier. Even so he'd always taken note of the youngest Watson sister, not so much the same way he took note of the elder but he took notice just the same.
When she'd turned up in New York six months ago with MJ Peter had been a little surprised at how happy he was to see her. Sharing an apartment with her sister and working her way through college, Dawn had grown into a very capable young woman. They'd become friends. Proper friends this time. In her Peter had found the sort of companion he hadn't realised he'd been looking for. Someone to share ideas and theories with – someone to not only nod indulgently as he went off on a nerdy tangent but to join him. He'd been a little amazed at how book-smart Dawn Watson had turned out to be, given her station in the high school hierarchy. How sharp as well if last night's little revelation was anything to go by.
Almost of their own accord his eyes slid up until they rested on the subject of his thoughts. She was still standing by Mr Osborn's grave, staring downward as if lost in thought as people dispersed around her.
Peter sighed. It was at times like this he missed his uncle the most. A little advice at this juncture would be most welcome.
Spider sense or no spider sense, Peter very nearly missed Mary Jane coming up beside him. It was only as she sighed, just a tiny bit as she drew level with him that he registered her presence. When he glanced over at her he was a little surprised to find her eyes resting on the same thing that had just held his own attention. This was of course nothing to his downright shock at what she said next.
"I missed my chance with you didn't I?" she said with a small sad smile. Peter almost swallowed his tongue. For a full moment he floundered for words. When he found them he was vaguely surprised with how calm he sounded.
"Why would you say that?" he asked quietly. Mary Jane's soft smile never left her face, even as she looked back at her sister across the cemetery.
"Peter, you have this way of looking at certain people. You look at them and you don't see any of the bad things – you don't see their mistakes or their faults. You watch them and in your eyes they become...perfect."
Mary Jane turned to him then and he was struck once more with how beautiful she was. Her hair shone auburn in the sunlight and her eyes met his with the sort of resolve he'd since come to associate with both the Watson sisters.
"You've always seen me like that Peter, I know you have. I used to be the only one. But now," MJ took a deep breath and took his hand in a gesture that both warmed his heart and broke it a little. "Now you're catching sight of someone else."
For a full moment Peter actually froze before his eyes were drawn inexplicably back towards the girl that was the center of this major rift that had become his life – and for once it wasn't MJ. Dawn looked back at him for a moment, her expression unreadable before she dropped her gaze and turned away.
"I do love you Peter Parker," MJ said finally, squeezing his hand and letting it go. Peter watched as she fussed with her jacket and fought with himself to say something – to tell her how much he loved her. But something held him back – and for the life of him he was rattled to discover it wasn't what he thought it would be. The need to distance himself to protect those he cared about had been in the fore of his mind for some time now. And yet this wasn't all that kept him from the words. Mary Jane tied off her jacket and looked up at him, her eyes the same captivating blue as always and yet now reminding him of another.
"Don't break her heart or I'll have to kill you," she said with another of her heartbreaking smiles. Reaching up, she stood on tiptoe and pressed her lips fleetingly to his cheek before turning and walking away.
And Peter watched her go.
Dawn stepped out into the night wrapping her jacket around her uniform. Bar work wasn't the best of jobs but if it paid the rent and kept her in school she wasn't going to complain. Downside was she got off shift at ridiculous hours of the night.
It was funny, when she'd first taken the job she used to fantasize about being mugged on the way to the train and having Spiderman save her. She used to imagine him swooping down and taking out the bad guys before asking her if she was okay. In those daydreams she was always a little prettier and bustier as she breathlessly assured him she was well, right before she let slip that she knew who he was. The imaginings always ended the same way. The same way they'd been ending since high school.
She'd spent a great deal of her life harboring an enormous crush on Peter Parker. Living next door to the boy growing up had been both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because she got to be close to him – a curse because she got to be close enough to see him pining for her sister.
Dawn loved her sister. But sometimes she envied her to the point of physical pain. Her only consolation was that MJ had never seen in Peter what Dawn saw. Dawn didn't think she would have survived seeing them together.
She had halfway deluded herself into thinking she'd gotten over him when he moved away. A few months later Spiderman started showing up in the newspapers and suddenly Dawn was remembering a very specific day in the caf. Her suspicions only grew when she moved to New York herself and ran into Peter there. There was a difference in him somehow – in the way he carried himself. Dawn had fallen right back in love, this time with Peter Parker the superhero. When they'd started hanging out it very nearly killed her. Being around him – talking to him – joking with him...it was almost torture but it was also something infinitely special to her. Peter was the sort of friend people rarely found. And he had become the sort of friend to her that she would do anything for...even perhaps step aside for her sister.
The night Mary Jane had come home, soaked through and practically glowing from what she called 'the kiss of her life' Dawn had cried herself to sleep. But she had been happy to see the same sort of glow in Peter the next day. He did deserve to be happy. The next night she'd started carrying a stake in her pocket when she walked home from work. She still didn't know why a stake – pepper spray would have been the logical choice perhaps – but a stake just seemed comfortable.
Hitching her bag up on her shoulder Dawn made her way quickly through the dark streets. One thing about letting go of one's rescue fantasies – it made the streets a lot scarier at three in the morning. It also made a lot of little things stand out...like the shadow detaching itself from a street corner and falling into step a few yards behind you.
Dawn stepped up her pace and jammed her hands in her pockets, palming the stake in her right hand.
"Where you off to in such a hurry darlin'?" a voice said beside her and Dawn yelped as she backpedaled away from the alley-mouth where a second man was just emerging. She didn't even think – she just turned to run but ended up face to face with wide, dirty chest. She screamed when strong hands grabbed her shoulders and tried to twist away. Dry laughter filled the air as the first man caught up.
"Oh this one's a fighter here," grunted the man who had a hold of her as her elbow caught him in the stomach. His grip didn't slacken but one of the other two men stepped forward to grab at her as well. Dawn panicked. Spinning in the grip on her shoulders she slammed herself bodily into the approaching goon. At first the move seemed to have little effect. One of the men even laughed again. But then the goon was staggering back, a circle of red blossoming on his side as his face drooped in shock.
"What the hell?" The man holding her growled.
Dawn used the distraction to squirm out of her jacket and made a break for it.
She'd always considered herself a fast runner. It came from having long legs. Unfortunately she didn't even get to make it to full sprint before one of the guys was on her. With a grunt he shoved her unceremoniously into an alley mouth and she stumbled against a dumpster with a bang, skinning her palm painfully. God and to think she used to dream about this. She managed to turn just as the other two men caught up, one of them still clutching her jacket while the one she'd managed to wound held his side gingerly.
"Who the fuck," growled the first man, "Carries a fucking stake around in their pocket?" he said, pulling the wood from the bloodstained pocket of her jacket. She hadn't even needed to pull it out – she'd managed to stab the guy clean through the material of her jacket.
"Seemed to do the trick," she pointed out sarcastically, nodding at their bleeding friend. The bleeding goon replied with a snarl as he pushed his way up to her pulling a knife from his own pocket.
"You made a mistake with that little stunt there sweetheart," the first goon said calmly, tossing her jacket to the side as his friend backed her up against the dumpster, the knife at her throat. "See, we were just going to rob you before – maybe threaten you a bit to be going on with."
Dawn flinched as the knife pressed down into the side of her neck. Oh god she was going to die. She looked up, desperately blinking back tears and froze even as the goon continued.
"But now you've made my friend here angry. You know what they say about wounded dogs."
Dawn's eyes narrowed even as the blade bit deeper into her skin.
"Yeah well, you know what they say about trapped flies," she said.
"They tend to attract spiders," a new voice said from above.
All three goons looked up but never even had a chance to run as Spiderman dropped down on them. Dawn was struck with the thought, as she watched the would-be robbers get their arses handed to them, that she'd never actually seen Peter as Spiderman up close before. The night Harry's dad had died hardly counted as he hadn't had his mask on anyway. Somehow it was...well it was kind of strange. She knew it was Peter under the mask and yet she couldn't really wrap her head around him doing what he was doing in front of her as Spiderman.
It was a matter of minutes before all three goons were wrapped securely around a fire-escape ladder, all unconscious and bound tight with web. Dawn swallowed heavily as Spiderman landed in front of her.
"Are you okay?" he asked.
Dawn nodded, studiously avoiding looking at him as she scooped up her coat and bag.
"I-I'm fine," she said, hating the shake in her voice.
"No you're not," Peter said.
Dawn sighed, finally looking up at him. Which didn't really help all that much because she couldn't see his eyes anyway.
"I am, I promise. Thank you for..." she faltered, gesturing up to the spectacular hanging goon display at a loss for words. "Just...thank you."
This was ridiculous. She couldn't even talk to him anymore. She wished now she'd never gone to his stupid apartment no matter how worried she'd been. Dropping her eyes again, she turned to go.
"Don't. Please," Peter said behind her and something in his voice made her stop. "Let me take you home."
"You don't have a car..." The moment the words were out of her mouth she wanted to sink into the ground for embarrassment. She could practically feel Peter smirking at her.
"Well...no. But my way's faster," he said, stepping up to her and holding out his hand. Dawn stared at it with abject terror.
"I couldn't," she said.
"You're not afraid of heights," Peter said gently, taking another step towards her.
"Well...no," she said meekly. Clutching at her jacket and still staring at his hand like it was going to bite her.
"Then what?" he asked.
Dawn thought she may be on the verge of hyperventilating. How did you tell a superhero that you didn't want to fly home with them because you were afraid of how good it might feel being held against them? Dawn made a slightly pathetic noise in the back of her throat as she took Peter's hand and stepped into his arms.
"Hold on," he said softly in her ear. Dawn shivered right before the world dropped out from beneath her.
They landed on wooden floor with a soft thump and for a full moment they stood, Dawn still wrapped around him before her arms did what they were told and unclenched. She really didn't know what she'd been worried about because hey, flying through the air at mind-numbing speeds, not so romantic. Terrifying and exciting yes. Romantic, a big no.
"Dawn are you okay?" Peter asked, gently.
"I'm okay...I'm fine...just give me a sec," she said a little hurriedly.
"Okay...it's just you haven't opened your eyes yet."
"It's okay, I think they froze shut somewhere over Moray Street," she said before blinking and opening her eyes. The first thing she noticed was Peter had taken his mask off and was sporting a faintly amused expression. The second was that she was definitely not at her house.
"Peter, we're at your place – why are we at your place?" she asked confusedly.
She watched as Peter raked a hand through his hair and sat down on his desk chair.
"I wanted to talk to you," he said in that infuriatingly quiet way of his. It was the sort of tone that made it almost impossible to be mad at him no matter the circumstances.
"Please sit down," he said, gesturing to his bed across from him.
Dawn took a deep breath before padding over and sitting gingerly on the side of the mattress. So. Not. Good. She was fairly sure her heart was about to explode out of her chest and do a tap-dance on the floor.
"The other night," Peter started quietly. "You didn't really give me a chance to make sense of anything."
For the life of her Dawn couldn't seem to make her voice do anything. Even a non-committal 'mm hmm' seemed to be out of her grasp.
"You...I mean you've known everything, from the very beginning. Dawn why didn't you say anything?"
Dawn wanted to die. God damn him he was using his puppy eyes. That was just all kinds of not fair.
"I...I wanted to. I just..." Dawn huffed suddenly and pushed herself off the bed. She always had been a pacer. "I mean what was I supposed to say? 'Hey Pete, nice day, by the way I know you have a penchant for spandex and saving people'?" Dawn missed the slightly comical rounding of Peter's eyes as she continued on what was fast becoming a rant.
"I mean, in what messed up world would that have gone right? There would have been freaking out and awkwardness, kind of like this and then everything just would have-"
She was so well into her tirade it was no surprise she didn't notice Peter getting to his feet and stepping up behind her. As it was she very nearly had a heart attack when she turned in her pace only to come face to chest with a Spiderman uniform. Peter was quick. She very nearly pitched backwards before he caught her wrists and held them gently in front of her.
"Dawn, breathe," he said lightly, no little amusement in his voice. Dawn swallowed heavily and looked up, suddenly finding herself unable to breathe for an altogether different reason. Did he realize how close he was standing to her?
"I'm not mad," Peter said quietly, obviously oblivious to how his proximity was affecting her. "I'm actually-I'm actually glad you know."
"Well yeah, now I have someone to repair my costumes when they get ripped," he said.
Dawn gaped at the look of blatant mischief on his face before slapping him with a playful growl.
"Oh that one'll cost you Spider-boy."
And it was at that moment, as Peter laughed and ducked her blows, she knew. Everything was going to be okay. Her and Peter were friends and that was what mattered – the fact that she knew he flew around righting wrongs in a red and blue costume wasn't going to change that. They were going to continue on as they always had. And who knew, maybe one day she would get up the courage to tell him about the ginormous crush threatening to burst her chest. You know, when she was on her deathbed or something. Yeah. Totally.