Chapter Twenty-Nine: Don't Drink and Swing, Kids
After being reminded of his best friend's fate, Peter became desperate to clear his mind of the troubles that weighed him down. Usually that would entail a tub of ice-cream and a Mythbusters marathon, but that idea was briskly tossed aside when Annabelle noticed his sullen mood and insisted that they go to a pub.
Peter rarely drank. In fact, he could count on one hand the amount of times that he'd actually gone inside of a pub. It had simply never interested him...and no one wanted to see a wigged-out Spider-Man falling off his webs. Today, however, Peter would have done anything to silence his own guilt.
The place Annabelle had dragged him to was drab and tasteless. Dim bulbs behind red-tasseled lamp shades barely illuminated each of a dozen maroon vinyl booths, which marched along one wall towards the murky front windows. Chipped tables anchored the booths in place. Opposite this was a long, scarred wooden bar with uncomfortable-looking stools. Behind which, sitting on glass shelves in front of a cloudy mirror, were endless rows of bottles, each looking as forlorn as the folks for whom they waited.
Peter was suddenly consumed by the strong odors of liquor and tobacco smoke, along with the weaker scents of cleaning chemicals and vomit. He then spotted a scrawny bartender with droopy eyelids picking his teeth and chatting quietly with a woman seated at the bar.
"What's your poison?" Annabelle asked, readying her bright pink credit card. Peter had no idea where she had managed to find a pink credit card, but he liked to imagine that she had somehow spray painted the whole thing.
"Uhh... I don't really know." Peter admitted sheepishly. Due to his previously modest consumption of alcohol, he wasn't particularly knowledgeable on all the different beverages available at a bar. He did, however, recall a fond memory of his Uncle Ben - who would allow Peter one single sip of beer every Christmas from the age of thirteen. "Beer, I suppose. I don't really care what brand it is."
"Ew...okay." Annabelle shivered, obviously not keen on his choice. "I'll get the drinks while you find us a booth."
Mentally preparing himself for the effect this night was going to have on his mind, Peter opted for a booth right near the door (so that if he embarrassed himself, he could swiftly escape without drawing too much attention). With that in mind, Peter had almost started reconsidering this whole venture until Annabelle returned with two pints of beer and two colourful cocktails. She managed to place them all on the table without spilling a single drop.
"I buy the rounds in sets of two, hope you don't mind." Annabelle answered before Peter even got the chance to ask. "It means I won't have to keep getting up to get another drink every few minutes...and two's an even number. I like even numbers."
"Yeah, all good." Peter replied, though he wasn't entirely thrilled at the idea of drinking double his usual limit. "Won't the second one get warm though?"
"That's why you gotta drink it fast." Annabelle stated simply, and with a playful wink, she picked up her Midori Splice and downed half of it in less than five seconds.
Peter tried to mimic Belle's large gulp of alcohol, but the beer coated his throat in a way that he simply wasn't used to. He gagged on the bitter beverage and shivered as he placed it back down.
"So...your best friend's crazy, huh?"
Ouch. Peter didn't exactly know what he had expected, but this certainly wasn't how he pictured this conversation starting. Annabelle had always been oblivious to her own bluntness, but come on, comforting people had never been her strong suit. We don't need an 'Et Tu, Brute' reminder, do we? No. We don't...and if you do then you'd better backtrack a few chapters.
"Uhh..." Peter was speechless. On one hand he wanted to berate her for speaking about Harry so facetiously, but on the other hand...she was right. There was a third hand popping into this scenario as well, and this one wanted to ask her how she could be so clueless to her own harsh words, but the fourth hand clawing out of Peter's chest reminded him that he really really REALLY liked her. Now, being part spider, Peter had four more hands to count through...but that would be way too much effort for the poor narrator. So, let's just say that he listened to his fourth hand. The one that was staring at the two pigtails tied ontop of her head. "Well, he's at a mental hospital...so I'm like ninety-nine percent sure."
Annabelle leant in and whispered to Peter, "That's pretty...insane, don't you think?" She reeled back and stared at Peter expectantly, as if she had just said the funniest thing ever said by anybody. Seconds passed, and she couldn't contain herself any longer. Hyena-esque cackling permeated the air, soon followed by snorted laughter.
Peter blinked rapidly, then glanced around to make sure no one was looking at them.
Annabelle swallowed and finally managed to calm herself down...slightly. "Sorry." She said through some more inappropriate laughter. Peter was pretty sure that she was apologising for the laughing, not the insensitive comment but alas; Spider-Man was a crusader against crime, not slightly hurt feelings.
"You want a peanut?" She asked abruptly.
Peter's ears twitched. "Peanuts? This place has peanuts?"
"No." Annabelle answered sweetly. She reached into the pocket of her jacket and retrieved a zip lock bag full of peanuts. "They're covered in chicken salt."
Going anywhere with Annabelle seemed akin to being subjected to a volley of machine gun fire - it was constantly one thing after another, and always at random.
"Okay, fine. More for me." She dismissed. The girl popped open the bag, raised it, then poured all of its contents directly into her mouth.
Peter, quite understandably a little confused, blinked rapidly and took a very, very, very long swig of his beverage. In no time at all he had finished both beers, and Annabelle had brought him two more. This continued on for at least four hours. Annabelle would say something weird (which, if Peter wasn't horribly depressed over Harry's situation, he definitely would have found adorable), then Peter would drink to avoid even thinking about a response.
Obviously, it wasn't long until Peter started feeling the affect of the alcohol. His head was filled with fog and his sorrow drowned in it.
Annabelle was in a similar position. She downed way too many cocktails, then as they left the pub, she stumbled through the streets - occasionally stretching up to touch a star in the black ice cap of a sky, shaking her hand and blowing on her fingers when it burnt her.
Peter was laughing now...though he wasn't entirely sure why. It didn't matter either. He hadn't felt so carefree in years.
"Got 'nymore of those pean...uts?" Peter slurred through his own giggles as they tripped back into the apartment.
"You didn' wan' them." Annabelle retorted with an air of amusement.
"I didn' say that." Peter huffed. "You ate them before I could reply."
Annabelle shrugged, almost knocking over one of the weird artworks near the door. "Gotta be fastah if you wan' these nuts."
There was silence...and then, like two immature hyenas, they both fell into hysterical laughter. Finally, with the alcohol seizing any negative thoughts, Peter could fully appreciate Belle's quirky cackling. She snorted, wheezed, and turned so red in the face that she was starting to look like a lobster. Albeit, a very cute lobster with pigtails and slightly crooked bottom teeth. Wait, lobsters didn't have teeth...ignore that last part.
The main point was that he could enjoy her strangeness again whole-heartedly...and that was like seeing the moon again on an otherwise pitch dark night.
His glances mustn't have gone unnoticed by Belle, because her laughs slowly died and she was soon tilting her head curiously at the drunken mess that was Peter Benjamin Parker.
"Do...I have somethin' wrong with me face?" Annabelle asked almost inaudibly. Peter had been staring for a while...even during their outbursts of laughter. Actually, now that she thought about it, he was always finding ways to glance at her from across the room.
Peter flushed a vibrant pink and stuttered, "N-No! Of course not...you have a v-very nice face...I mean, wai', no. No' in a weird way. You have a face, but there's nothin' wrong with it."
Finally, after what felt like centuries (or twenty-nine chapters of an extremely tedious fanfiction), realisation struck Annabelle like a clock at midnight. Ironically enough, with all that alcohol in her system, her mind had never been so clear. Peter was acting much like she had in 9th grade; when she had that crush on her ridiculously attractive friend, Amanda Nguyen.
With this in mind, Annabelle subtly analysed Peter's expression. He looked so nervous that he could rival a bull rider seconds before being bucked off. He always seemed to look that way when he was near her, and quite honestly, Belle felt like an absolute dimwit for not noticing it sooner.
The only question that remained now was whether Annabelle was interested in the stuttering science major. The answer was not immediately clear. You see, Annabelle had a type. This type involved heavily tattooed men or women with loose buns and an attitude problem...but, despite being painfully distant from her usual catch, Peter had somehow grabbed her attention.
Never being a woman to consider her options or delay an action, Annabelle slipped closer to Peter and pressed her lips against his so fast that the blushing boy almost fell backwards in shock.
At first, Peter thought he might be dreaming...but her touch was far too real. She was like a living flame and with every passing second she consumed him and rendered him to ash. Something melted inside of his chest that hurt in an exquisite way. All of his longings and the secrets that slept deep within him came awake. Everything was transformed and enchanted, everything made sense.
When Annabelle finally broke the kiss, they were still close enough that she could feel the hurried beat of Peter's heart. She could sense his indecision in every word that he didn't say and every move that he didn't make. He was tense with uncertainty, quivering with irresolution.
The world was all heat and electricity now in Peter's eyes, thick with tension that was only one spark away from exploding around him. He was balancing on a precipice, which wasn't easy to do whilst drunk. Then, discarding the little voice inside of his head that screamed at him to run away, Peter leaned forward and captured Annabelle's lips once more.
Time skipped by too quickly for Peter to comprehend after that. One second he was in the hallway with a whispered kiss tingling against his mouth, and the next he was in Annabelle's bedroom tugging at fabric and trying not to trip over on his way. The room was spinning, but that hardly mattered with Annabelle in his arms.
The back of Peter's legs hit a mattress, and he fell onto it with Belle still securely wrapped in his embrace.
The weight of her body on top of his was extraordinary. Peter felt her press against him, and he inhaled her scent of newly baked croissants and apple pie. It was the most delicious smell he could ever imagine. Her lips tasted like peanut butter, and Peter realised that he'd never truly be able to quench the desire to kiss them again.
Annabelle's hands were everywhere, and it didn't seem to matter that her mouth was already on top of his...he wanted her to be closer. So close that they defied the atoms that made them.
Consumed by these thoughts, Peter forgot about everything else; he forgot about the open window shining a bright beam of moonlight onto the floor, and more importantly, he forgot about the Spider-Man costume hiding beneath his civilian attire...that is, until Annabelle unbuttoned his shirt and drew a sharp inhale of air.
Peter's eyes snapped open, and despite the fruitlessness of the gesture, he yanked his shirt closed again.
"Y-You're..." Annabelle started, but the shock had stolen her voice away. She could do nothing but stare at the panicked boy and allow her mind time to process what she had just seen.
"N-No...I..." Peter stuttered. His skull was pounding and his lungs refused to take in any small amount of oxygen. He couldn't breathe. He couldn't think. "I-I'm a cosplayer!"
Annabelle raised a fairly thick eyebrow at his explanation. "You, the man that takes pictures of Spider-Man for the paper, also cosplay as him?"
Peter gulped. "... M-My pictures aren't real. They're actually just me...dressed as Spider-Man. It's not really him."
Peter realised that this was the stupidest excuse that he had ever made, but he was so anxious that it was the only thing that he could think of. This was a nightmare, one that always repeated itself with the people he cared about most. His alter ego had been revealed, unwillingly, to Gwen, MJ, Harry, and he was desperately hoping that Annabelle wouldn't be added to that list. It never ended well. The danger of that knowledge was too much for anyone to handle, as much as they might try.
"Really?" Annabelle finally replied. It was clear that she didn't believe him. "That costume's a little too good for a cosplay..."
"I...got it made by the same guy that does Spider-Man's." Peter regretted these words as soon as they escaped his throat. No one would believe such a ridiculous fabrication.
"Spider-Man has a guy that makes his costumes?"
Peter could feel his entire body trembling at the disbelief in her tone, but he still forced himself to respond. "Yeah...you didn't know that? Everyone has a guy."
Annabelle crossed her arms in obvious scepticism then shifted a little closer. "Can I take another look at the costume?"
Nerves jolted through Peter's body like adrenaline. Belle reached for his shirt again, but as he tried to block her hand from revealing his secret once more, he accidentally knocked the shooter on his arm and a string of web fluid attached itself to the back wall.
Peter almost passed out at the intensifying panic that ensued. "I...can explain that."
Annabelle blinked at the rope-like web that was now stuck to her neon wall. The stark whiteness of it complimented the paint quite well. She took a mental note to keep it there, but also reminded herself that now wasn't the time to think about interior decorating. "Okay. Explain."
"Uhh...the guy that made the suit was r-really thorough. I told him I didn't need these, but he m-made them anyway."
"Uh-Huh." Belle almost looked amused by Peter's scrambled story, and maybe she was. After all, anyone could admit that his excuses were absolutely ridiculous under any and all circumstances.
"I swear!" Peter sounded desperate now. Every word was like a plea to the gods for help. "I'm t-telling the truth..."
There was a heady silence. One that shook Peter to his core. Then, finally, Annabelle shrugged. "Okay, I believe you."
"Y-You do?" Peter stammered, trying not to sound too surprised by her complete dismissal of any evidence that lurked in front of her.
"Yeah. If you say that you're a cosplayer, then that's what you are."
Peter dared to meet her gaze, and that's when he noticed the slight shimmer in her eyes. She didn't believe him at all, that much was obvious, but she also didn't want to make him any more uncomfortable than he already was. Admittedly, Peter was a little confused by this reaction. People were always so eager when they found out...or angry...or upset. Annabelle, however, didn't seem to care very much at all. It was like the possibility of him being Spider-Man was only a speck in her universe - completely unimportant in every single way.
"Do you have a mask?" Belle asked with a mischievous grin.
Though admittedly bewildered by this question, Peter nodded. "Y-Yeah...why?"
Annabelle chuckled at his clueless innocence and pushed his shirt aside again to reveal the spider symbol below it. Her hands roamed his chest - drawing occasional circles and prisms with her index finger over the red fabric. "Everything's more fun with costumes."