Peter Parker's Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

February 13, 2017:

Peter Parker shows up to work only to find himself face to face with uncomfortable questions and an unnerving visitor.

The Daily Bugle

A bastion of journalistic integrity in the heart of New York City.

Characters

NPCs: J. Jonah Jameson (played by Jessica Jones), Mr. James Wesley (played by The Winter Soldier)

Mentions: Six, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, Sorceress, Luke Cage, Iron Man, Trish Walker

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

The newsroom of the Daily Planet is always a crazy hub of activity. There are deadlines to meet for everyone, from the reporter to the ad sales teams; the phones are always ringing and a dozen voices are chattering away. But today there's more activity than usual. It's all a bit more frenetic in a way that will trigger Peter Parker's secret spider senses, a hint that there's something subtly wrong beneath the surface. Interns are diving in and out of the archives room with carts which they are rapidly thumping cardboard records boxes on top of.

Nearby, J. Jonah Jameson stands with an unfamiliar man, gesturing rapidly around his newsroom with a cigar and a grin, the conductor of the manic energy. "They'll have most of 'em, but hopefully the man of the hour will get here soon. I swear the boy dawdles. Back in my day we didn't dawdle, we just got the job done when our elders wanted us to do things. Hey! Irene!" He grabs one of the reporters. "Did you text Parker like I told you to?" It isn't her job to text Parker, but she has apparently been ordered to do so anyway, and indeed a text would have gone through the line.

"'Bout time someone else started taking an interest in that webbed freak. So what are you, writing a book? Funding an expose?"

Said unfamiliar man seems patient enough despite the dawdlings of youth, standing easily beside J. Jonah Jameson with a polite half-smile fixed on his features. He's the type who doesn't look like he's ever been a youth, himself: his image projects the kind of competency that suggests he sprang to life fully-formed as someone who Gets Things Done, down to his perfectly-tailored suit and dark-rimmed glasses.

What is he? Writing a book? Funding an expose?

"Neither of those," he remarks. "Merely a concerned citizen with an equally concerned employer."

Something's wrong.

Peter Parker notices it the second he steps inside the Bugle. This is normally his time to simply shut off during any given day; send in his photographs, get screamed at by J. Jonah Jameson for a while, maybe get something thrown at him (one time, it was an entire computer monitor; don't ask), maybe do some work on the Bugle website for some more money, and that's that. The busy bustling of the newsroom has become a pleasant white noise. A buzz.

But this time, that buzz comes from someplace entirely different.

It's an underlying tension that comes at the back of his mind, that feeling that something is off made manifest in a more concrete manner. It's a tingle that makes Parker's hairs at the back of his neck stand on end as he walks through the newsroom, wedging his way past excited reporters and frantic employees. He stops, for a moment, to stare at his poor, dinky excuse of a phone again, and the text message on it. His eyes shut. He sucks in a breath. Something feels wrong here.

But what else can he do?

An so, it is with subtle tenseness in the muscles of his shoulders that Peter Parker enters J. Jonah Jameson's office, wearing a blue parka, brown, long-sleeved collared shirt and jeans. Rubbing at gloved hands his hazel eyes lift, briefly lingering on that strange, bespectacled man before looking at Jameson.

"You wanted to see me, Mr. Jameson? Sorry I'm late, I'm just… er… school," he begins tentatively in an awkwardly half-formed thought, and continues, hoping Jameson'll say 'okay, sure' to what he says next even though he knows in his gut it's not the answer he'll get, "Uh. If you're busy, I can come back later—?"

Please say okay please say okay please say okay please—

"No I don't want you to come back. What kind of time waster do you think I am, Parker?" Jameson snaps gruffly. "Do you think I just call young men to my newsroom, stand around, watch them walk through that door over there, watch them walk up to me and then say 'hey, Parker, come back?'"

He stabs the air with his cigar to show what he thinks of that notion.

"I want you to meet this guy. This is Mr. James Wesley. Wesley, this is Parker. He's our number one photographer in the Spider-Freak department. Don't breathe on him too hard, he'll fall right over and cry like a baby."

He then offers a broad grin to Parker around the cigar, which has now made its way back to his mouth. "But you'll grow a backbone eventually, won't you Parker? I'm teaching him. Mentoring him. Young man, making his way up the world of news with nothing but a camera and some grit. That's the way it should be. Not over-priced degrees. Just elbow grease! That's the way of the world."

Then he seems to realize he's just letting the sound of his own voice take over everything, the way he so often does. He swirls his hand around, leaving smoke signs in the air.

The so-named Mr. James Wesley looks Peter Parker up and down in one searching glance, in the time it takes J. Jonah Jameson to ramble on, realize he's rambling, and shut up. That glance takes in Parker's youth, his casual clothes, his dinky phone, and his awkward never-finishes-a-sentence demeanor all in one inscrutable look.

Gears start turning behind those dark eyes.

"A pleasure, Mr. Parker," he says when introduced, offering a hand. His handshake is precise, firm, exactly correct. It is assured that he will judge Parker's. "Mr. Jameson was just telling me what a fine young photographer you are."

His stare is as inoffensive and bland as freshly-fallen snow. "We're very interested in your prowess in capturing images of this Spider-Man, in particular, as you might have gathered." It's fairly obvious what with all the intern ants scurrying around.

As Peter Parker has gradually learned to do over time, his brain gradually turns J. Jonah Jameson's words into "Adults From 'Peanuts' Trombone Sounds," interspersing it with a few carefully timed "Uh-huhs," and "Yeahs," and "I appreciate it, Mr. Jamesons" at locations where the man punctuates his remarks.

It's a finely honed talent that one learns to survive here. … and even that's not a guarantee.

But, there's really only one thing Parker takes away from that rambling tirade of relevance: 'No I don't want you to come back.' Great. He grimaces internally, even when it was expected; his hazel eyes, then, return to James Wesley just to see him — what? Staring at him? Slowly and methodically critiquing his attire?

Yeah. That's creepy.

Said creep-factor is registered only in the slight uptick of Peter's brown brows as that hand is offered. He blinks, before a simple, "Ah — right, sorry Mr. … Wesley—? Right, Wesley, yeah. Nice meeting you, sir." That hand is taken, and Peter's handshake is… unimpressive. Maybe meek might be a good word for it. Or tired. Either way, the strength of his grip is nothing to write home about. It's a handshake that would send J. Jonah Jameson into an hour-long rant about ethics in handshaking.

"Peter — Parker, but you already knew that, uh — I'll shut up now." A humble smile to go with that lackluster handshake, when his hand retreats back, he clasps it at the back of his neck, rubbing gingerly. "I — seriously?" he asks, incredulously, when he hears Wesley referencing JJJ speaking his praises. Then he remembers JJJ is still there. "I mean — uh, right! Yeah. Thanks. I'm — I'm pretty good. He's been mentoring me," not really, "it's really — paid off." Not really.

The small talk, though, is just setting him more on edge. It's the way this man looks, those eyes that look like they're just scrutinizing him… that buzz at the back of his skull, never quite leaving. And then it comes. Spider-Man. Pictures of.

This is not even remotely good, is it?

"I… really? I mean… d'you need some photos for something?" the young man remarks, head tilting. "Most of my pictures of Spider-Man are already in the Bugle's articles. In the archives, and… whatever, if that's what you need?"

For Jameson's part, he puffs up like a rooster when Peter talks about what a great mentor he is. "He's just being modest! He's the foremost expert on Spider-Man around here. Sure don't get much else from him." He stabs at Parker. "There were more costumed and un-costumed freaks down in Hell's Kitchen; one of 'em even got arrested, didn't get pictures of that, that's my mentorship for the day, you see a giant robot stomping around 46th Street you get pictures of that too. But he does get the A-list Freak that keeps papers flying off the shelves. If you had a reporter's bone in your body, you'd of course have some information to go with those pictures."

To Wesley, as a casual grumble: "I keep telling him to do it, he's smart, he goes to Columbia, it's like I'm out here like those guys in the orange vests down at the runway," he pauses to let his hands slash through the air, walking backwards, directing the traffic, no doubt for the meteoric 10,000 foot rise of Parker's real career, screw all that science, he could be a journalist if he'd just cough up the goods.

Really…

Wesley could be forgiven if all he hears is 'Wah wah wah' too.

There's really just something about James Wesley that is, at a baseline level, very unnerving. It's not a disquiet that is felt at the conscious level, because there's nothing Wesley does that is wrong, per se. His every action is perfectly polite and inoffensive, neat and precise, and even those searching looks don't last long enough to cross the boundary over into rude.

It's something more understated and elemental than that. Something that presses lightly on the reptilian back of the brain. Or— perhaps— on the Spider-Senses.

Maybe it's that he's too precise. Maybe he's too polite. Or maybe it's the way he smiles blandly, reclaims his hand after a depressing handshake he'd maybe rate as a 2 out of 10, and inquires, "'Most' of your pictures?" The emphasis is slight, but obvious. "Yes, we're packing copies of those up as we speak. Mr. Jameson intimated you might have more that we missed."

His head turns. "I have to say, this Spider-Man really seems quite a public menace." He's facing Jameson, though his eyes are still resting on Parker. "It's lucky you just keep happening to grab photographs of him, isn't it, Mr. Parker? Really building up a body of evidence. I'm not authorized to speak too in-depth about it, but there was an incident recently that was very concerning. With a train, I believe."

He finally turns his eyes back to the esteemed Mr. Jameson. "Your cooperation is really very appreciated."

They're packing up his pictures of Spider-Man.

His pictures. Of Spider-Man.

Really building up a body of evidence.

Something about a train.

Peter Parker's thought process during James Wesley's explanation, expertly weaved between J. Jonah Jameson's rambling, can be summarized as such:

Oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap oh

crap.

"I've got a source," is his first reply, to both of them, rubbing the back of his head and looking back Jameson's way. "It's not like I — can just ask the guy questions, or something," is his insistence, proving perhaps how terrible a reporter he'd actually be. " — There was a giant robot stomping around 46th Street — ?" And how completely in tune to the pulse of the community he is. Truly.

But the rest of it? The rest of it just kind of drones out in the face of what Wesley has to say. He's so screwed. No, he can think of a way around this. He's so screwed. Does this guy think he's Spider-Man? -He's so screwed-. Just — be calm. Be calm and hope you're not -so- -screwed-.

"I have some duds and — Spider-Man moves around really fast, y'know, it's just — tough, to get a clear photo of him so — I've got those, the ones Mr. Jameson didn't buy," he answers, and to his credit, does an extraordinary job of sounding natural. It's not the first time someone's prodded at his photographs. Just… the first time it was this guy. Mentioning things involving -messing with government agents oh my god he's so screwed- —

"Are you a detective, Mr. Wesley…?" He doesn't look like a detective. Or talk like a detective. And Peter is fairly sure no one with the last name Wesley would ever be allowed to call themselves Detective Wesley. "I don't know if I — like I said, the rest are kinda duds. I dunno if they'd — they'd be any help with a case, or something."

Later, he'll pat himself on the back for being so composed and not breaking into a cold sweat.

Once he's done, like. Panic-vomiting.

"Of course I'm cooperating! The Daily Planet is a bastion of sanity and civic-mindedness in a town full of crazies."

Parker's question sets J. Jonah Jameson off on more rambling. "Yes! Some bank robber in a giant metal suit. I thought Iron Man was the only one with a giant metal suit. This guy was on Stilts. He stepped on a car. He brawled with some floating lady, and some black dude, and some guy in pajamas— we're still tracking those down— and some freaky PI lady, Jones. Got herself arrested, but she got off. Knocked a guy clean into an apartment building, I wanna know why she gets off for that? But can we print the story? No, cause this woman Walker calls in a dozen favors and suddenly all our advertisers want to sit on it. Sit on it! I ask you! If we'd had the story sooner we could have broken it. Trish Talks. Paugh!"

He seems to have forgotten what he was saying. Oh yeah. Exasperation as he paces about. "If you have a source you ask him questions. Or tell a real reporter. Tell Ulrich. Tell me, tell someone, so they can follow up; confidentiality just means we're not printing his name. Tell Wesley! We don't break the law to protect sources, if this source knows about government train robberies! Train robberies! Why don't you have pictures of Spider-Man going all freaky Wild West all over the place, Parker, Jesus H. Frog, what do I pay you for…IRENE! Spider-Man robbed a train; just…photoshop something with one of Parker's old photos, we gotta run that."

"Sir, I'm working on the merger story, I'm a business reporter…"

"Nobody cares about some musty old acquisition, you can run that tomorrow, today I wanna read about a train!"

James Wesley watches Parker blandly as he speaks. He has a certain, uncanny way of holding his head at just the right angle for ambient light to shine off the lenses, obscuring sight of his eyes.

It is impossible to tell whether he suspects anything off about Peter Parker or his explanations about having 'a source.' About Spider-Man moving around really fast. About — is Wesley some kind of detective?

"I'm not with law enforcement," he answers, sounding faintly amused. "There are higher echelons than local law enforcement who now have… concerns about these sort of events." He smiles more broadly, more amiably, this for the benefit of the rambly J. Jonah Jameson's ego: "Which is why it's so pleasant to have the assistance of the press on this very important issue."

They're kind of duds, though, Parker feebly explains. His other photographs—

James Wesley waits, with glacial patience, until J. Jonah Jameson distracts himself in yelling at Irene about something. Then he steps a little closer— not uncomfortably so, but enough that the blustery Jameson can't hear. His voice lowers: a little more kindly, a lot more conspiratorial and sotto voce. "Of course, we won't ask for something for nothing. That would be crude. So could make it very worth your while, son, if you did happen to have additional photographs you haven't yet released. Either of Spider-Man, or… say, that other super who was on the train, if you could capture shots of her. We have some security footage if you need a reference."

He cants his head. "Very worth your while. Columbia's a very expensive school. Smart kid like you, you probably have a scholarship, but you do have your aunt to think of."

Jessica Jones got into a fight with some kind of Stilt Man.

Distantly, Peter Parker makes a note to make fun of her for that.

Maybe gently sidestep the jail thing.

It's a distant thought amidst a general sea of panic that he, admittedly, does a good job covering up; it's easier when you have people like Tony Stark barreling into your life. Easier, however, is a relative term which here means 'easier than it normally would be for an overly emotional college freshman to deal with some creepy nerdy guy pincer-attacking him with the ever-ranting J. Jonah Jameson.' He takes the clearest angle:

Expressing his disappointing normalness by being utterly baffled by Everything J. Jonah Jameson is, Forever.

"I — what?" begins poor young Parker, looking at Jameson with the cock of his head and the youthful brow furrow of consternation. "I can't — I can't catch a speeding train, Mr. Jameson, how was I supposed to -" And let yourself be drowned out by the ranting right… … here. Roll eyes up to the ceiling. Heave a sigh. Offer creepy guy an apologetic stare that doesn't let him know how much you think he belongs in a music video involving John Waters…

… perfect!

Or would be, if creepy guy weren't stepping closer like he took the wrong message out of that apologetic look. Ah — crap. So. Screwed. Forever and ever and — what? "You want to pay me for my photos…?" he asks, brows furrowing. That other super. Capture shots of her. Her. Things he clings to in an increasing pit of desperation. "You want me to get pictures of who-? I — I mean, I can try, but it's…"

Columbia's a very expensive school. Make it worth your while.

— do have your aunt to think of —

The blood in his veins turn to ice water at the mention of Aunt May. He pauses, and it's only barely in him to make it look like he's considering that offer. How could he know about her? Did he look into Peter's life? Maybe he asked Jameson. Or anyone around the office mentioned it. Maybe — maybe — maybe this isn't so…

"I'll… I'll think about it, sir."

… completely and utterly horrifying.

They're spared any more ranting for now, Jonah has grown impatient. He's picked up the desk phone of a secretary, who wisely just pushes back from her desk. It sounds like he's talking to train people. His cigar is little more than a stub. He puts it out right on the counter and tosses it at the garbage. It misses, and an intern desperately picks it up. It's not the first time he's tried to turn his beloved news room into his own personal ash tray. It probably won't be the last. He doesn't even notice as he stalks back and forth.

The questions he's asking are pointed, good questions, designed to shake out every last detail, demonstrating why the man was one of his generation's best field journalists himself before he threw everything he had into building his beloved Daily Bugle.

It should be noted that he doesn't hate Peter. If he thought the kid were in trouble his mood would turn on a dime, and he'd be blustering his way into Parker's rescue. But he's oblivious to that, because he's too excited by the other thing. He even gives Parker a cheerful thumbs-up and a smile, assuming things are going just peachy great for him, before someone else coming on the line sets him off again.

There is still no indication whether Parker has successfully dissembled away how NOT OKAY he is with this entire conversation. No indication whether there actually is any subtext to Wesley's inquiries that runs any deeper than 'some government agency(??) presumably now taking an investigative interest in noted criminal, Spider-Man.' No indication whether Wesley has even drawn any conclusions from this interaction.

If any.

He only pulls out a small silver card case, flicking it open, and extracts one of his cards to hand to Peter. It has the man's name, and his contact information, but nothing about where he might work or who his employer might be.

"Please," Wesley smiles, "do think about it. You're clearly an excellent photographer, to capture so many shots of someone like Spider-Man. Let me know if you're interested in our offer."

The card case clicks closed with a snap, and vanishes. Wesley turns away, back towards Jameson, clearly finished with the transaction. "Well, I have taken up enough of your time and operating space, Mr. Jameson— and that of your young photographer. I have another appointment to make, but we'll see the photographs get where they need to go."

He doesn't know; he doesn't know how bad this is.

Which means it's really, really bad.

Peter can't get a read on this guy at all, and all his vagueries seem custom-tailored towards a level of obfuscation that would make any lawyer green with envy. All he knows, right now, is that he's making that spider-sense of his buzz.

And that's enough for him to know that, either way, he can't trust this man.

And he is in a really crappy situation right now.

That silver case flicks open, and when that card is produced, Peter takes it and looks down, as if hoping to see a company name, a government branch, anything. Nope. Of course not. Thank you, Mr. Business Card, for letting your Eggshell White sense of impending dread sink down into his very soul. He manages to take that card, at least, with a steady hand, and without gulping, or anything. Good job, Peter!

"Yeah, I — uh, sure. Yeah. I'll do — I'll do that. I mean… yeah." Peter's eloquence leaves something to be desired, however, as he rubs idly at a forearm and just stands in lingering, awkward silence afterward. Lost enough that he remembers, almost as an afterthought —

"Thanks!" he practically yelps. "Er. Uh. … thanks. Appreciate it. Mr. Wesley." And now he has to take that name seriously, too!

THIS IS THE WORST DAY

And so, Mr. Wesley makes his farewells, clearly settled here, Peter Parker's mind goes a mile a minute. He looks at that grin, and thumbs up, from JJJ.

His is considerably weaker with a smile that looks more like a question mark.

"Is that — all, Mr. Jameson? I told my aunt I'd be making dinner tonight, I don't really wanna… y'know, uh — push my luck with traffic."

He didn't tell her that. But regardless of where he was originally going this evening, that's where he's going now.

Once he finds a paper bag to breath into.

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