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(AoH)[Fiction] Hero Complex

z-Tempest Greer

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Had Tempest not been so angry at her father, she would have realized that her Lexus was almost out of gas. Instead, she slammed the door to her car, wrenched it into drive and then slammed her pedal to the floor. Gravel kicked up with a grinding roar as her car slipped sideways before leaping forward.

“Fucking bastard!” The curses went unheard over the blaring anger rock Tempest had started playing the moment she’d cleared her driveway. She was most of the way to school before the red rage passed and she began to drive at a reasonable speed. That was when she glanced down and saw that she was on Empty. In fact, her needle was creeping toward the bottom side of the ‘E’. “God damnit,” she huffed, pushing her dark hair back out of her eyes. She was going to be late for cheer practice now.

The first station she saw was one she’d driven by occasionally but not one that she had frequented before. It looked run down and dirty and Tempest had always avoided it unconsciously. The station hunkered between two large buildings, leaving it perpetually in shadow. Had she not been afraid of running out of gas, she would have driven on. Instead, she snapped on her blinker, shot across the right lane next to hers and screeched into the lot.

The moment she got out of the car, Tempe knew she was being watched. It was a bit disconcerting; she was pretty but not so dazzling that men routinely eyeballed her. Still, she was also wearing her cheerleader uniform, so that probably had something to do with it. The red and white outfit was typical of high-school uniforms; just short enough to show hints of her toned belly with a skirt that shamelessly flared and showed off her legs. She didn’t hesitate, grabbing her card out of her purse and shoving it into the machine. C’mon, c’mon… gonna be late, she grumbled to herself as she waited for the electronic system to crawl through its programming. She’d just gotten her hand on the pump when she heard the voice. “Hey, baby. Need someone to pump ya?”

Tempest put on her haughtiest expression and turned, gas handle in hand. There were actually three of them. Most teen girls would have been scared. Tempest was annoyed. They were wasting her time. Talking them out of their stupidity would take time; kicking their asses would take time and risked revealing her. Instead, she gave them a look that communicated that they should feel free to expire where they stood and turned back to her car.

“Hey, bitch. I’m talking to you!” The same man spoke again and he compounded his crimes by grabbing her arm. “You need some manners.”

Tempest paused a second, trying to decide the best way to handle this. In her moment of indecision, all hell broke loose.

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  • 2 weeks later...

With great power, comes...

Uh, the ability to swing by the hot chicks house you've had a crush on for the last five years, just in time to see her storm out of her house and peel out in her nice Lexus while jamming Norwegian death metal and screaming at her steering wheel.

From his perch atop a utility pole a block away, The Crimson Spider watched the morning argument unfold up to its explosive, emotional conclusion. Today was going to be the day, he'd told himself. Today was going to be the day that he would swing by, meet up with her 'accidentally' outside her house and work up the courage to introduce himself to the woman of his dreams. Yes, introduce. He'd known her for five years and she still had no idea who he was, let alone how he'd felt about her for like... oh, I don't know... ever.

"Hi Tempest, I'm Devin." He mumbled to himself as she sped off down the road. "I see you despise the modern steering wheel. You know what? Me too! Control freaks, really, that's all they are, honestly. Making the pinion rotate across the rack to the tie rod so the tires dance to their little tune. It's sickening, if you ask me. What, Tempest? What's that? I'm a complete loser and you'd like for me to go die in a fire now? Okay... I think I can squeeze that in right after your boyfriend and his jock buddies battering ram my crotch into the flagpole at lunch... again. It's been great talking to you." He lowered his head and fell forward off the pole, pushing off with just enough strength to land on the back of a passing semi-trailer that was bound for down town. "Who am I kidding? Out. Of. My. League."

Sure enough, a couple miles later after he'd disembarked from his public transportation and was swinging through the down town alleyways and side streets, (swinging low enough for the occasional high-five, of course) Tempest was still going strong and seeing red. While he certainly appreciated her zeal towards fighting the on going oppression of the steering wheel regime he couldn't help but notice that her choice in gas stations was in a shady part of the neighborhood and could lead her into some trouble. It also didn't escape him that he was now border-line stalking her, and it was creeping him out.

"I'm not stalking," He justified it as his webline found purchase on a fire escape and in a low arc he launched himself across the street a block away, perching on the ledge of the roof. He could see her at the pump and began watching the three guys gather each others' with casual points in the sexy cheerleader's direction. "This is not stalking. This is me being a concerned citizen and looking out for the safety and well being of a fellow Bay City..." He tilted his head as she bent into the car and scooped her card out of her purse. The skirt flared up enough to expose where her long, toned legs met the teasing the curves of her rear. His teenage hormones went buck wild and provided him with a startling epiphany... "Oh. My. God. I am totally stalking her. Crimson you pervert, hang your head in shame, you dirty, dirty.." he tilted his head one last time and stole another look, but didn't see what he'd hoped. "Oh, crap... jerk alert."

Meanwhile, at the pump...

Tempest put on her haughtiest expression and turned, gas handle in hand. There were actually three of them. Most teen girls would have been scared. Tempest was annoyed. They were wasting her time. Talking them out of their stupidity would take time; kicking their asses would take time and risked revealing her. Instead, she gave them a look that communicated that they should feel free to expire where they stood and turned back to her car.

“Hey, bitch. I’m talking to you!” The same man spoke again and he compounded his crimes by grabbing her arm. “You need some manners.”

Tempest paused a second, trying to decide the best way to handle this. In her moment of indecision, all hell broke loose.

Her eyes widened as she prepared the throttle the whole lot of them in response to her failed assault on the steering wheel regime when from behind her a wad of goop swished past her hair slamming the spokesman for the morons square in the mouth. It hardened almost immediately, forming a tight, sticky, webbing that sealed his mouth shut. In a panic the man let go of Tempest and staggered away, clutching the webbing in a vain attempt to pull it off. "Woah, woah, woah, pump the brakes there Sugar Dumplin'." And with a dramatic entrance (Tempest had seen better, but it was quite dramatic) The Crimson Spider swung in past her and landed with himself between her and the goons. "Let's keep this "Super Hero, beats up Goons" moment rated PG-13, okay? The pretty lady obviously has places to go and things to do." He pointed to the gagged goon. "Oh, and dude, I wouldn't pull at that webbing bro, seriously, you think duct tape hurts? Man, have I stories to tell."

"Mruph umph bmph ugh!" The webbed goon huffed at his two mates while pointing at Crimson. They gawked at him, shrugging slightly.

Crimson stepped forward, putting some more distance between the scene and Tempest, making sure she remained a safe distance from what could transpire. "Allow me, I have some experience in this area. I can translate R-tard, he's saying," Crimson's voice dropped to a chastising monotone. "'What are you waiting for... get him. Get him. Kick the crap out of him." He shrugged. "Or something along those lines. If you were smart, you'd just take your buddy, cut your losses, and just walk inside." The tingle in the back of his head warned him a split second before the punch came at him and Devin simply arced his back slightly, dodging it completely without taking a step. "But why would you be smart... right?" He turned to Tempest. "Do I ask for too much? I mean really?"

And it was on like Donkey Kong. With sheer skill and a dab of panache... okay a lot of panache, Crimson went to work battling the three goons and working them up into a brawling fury with taunts and jibes that almost made Tempe forget she was in a foul mood. It was like trying to stay angry while watching a really funny stand up comic; eventually, you have to give in and laugh, no matter how pissed you might be. He was all over the place, flipping about and combining a series of punches and kicks into aerial combos the likes of which she'd never considered. It was like watching another acrobatic master at work save where she'd spent years mastering her craft and relying on her awesome skill, everything for the Crimson Spider was instinctual; a lightning calculated response to external stimuli, like dodging a punch. He was showing off and she knew it, but it was almost borderline endearing in a sick and twisted, and mingled with a sadistic violent sort of way, that here was a super hero showing off, for her. Plus, he called her pretty. (What?!? Chicks totally dig compliments.)

Devin had taken a few hits, but near as she could tell he didn't possess any blind spots, most of the hits were just distractions from taking on multiple opponents. He could fight, but she could tell he wasn't trained, this guy was just winging it. She felt the urge to help him when the gagged thug suddenly wrapped his hands around Crimson's neck and lifted him into the air. She noticed how relaxed and casual Crimson was, not realizing that Devin flexed his neck muscles to the point where them man couldn't squeeze hard enough to choke him, just lift him up. "Seriously?" Crimson asked, a bit raspy from the way he was flexing his neck. "Choking out the dude in the red pajamas? Not cool, bro."

And then the combat came to an abrupt halt. Everyone stopped and clamped both their hands over their mouths while turning away in abject horror. With a casual tug, Devin simply yanked the webbing off the man's mouth. His feet touched the ground in milliseconds as the man slipped away clutching his face. His Don Johnson five o'clock shadow was completely gone, transformed into five o' clock mutton chops. On the bright side, his skin was as smooth as a baby's bottom. With that they were done. Scrambling to their feet they bolted inside the gas station and flipped the 'Open' sign to 'Closed'. "Wow, you guys are cool in my book, really, I mean that. If we weren't on like, totally opposite ends of the moral spectrum, I might even invite you guys over for Halo night. Peace out! Call me."

He casually walked over to Tempest, thumbing towards the station door behind him. "I don't think they're going to call." With a scrunch of her nose she shook her head in agreement. "Well, look at that. Our first date and we closed the club together, we gotta do this again sometime Temp-" It suddenly dawned on him that he wasn't supposed to know her name and he thought fast. "-Orarily distressed damsel whose name I don't know." Just not fast enough, it seemed. "Are you hurt? Your arm okay?"

I'm talking to her! I'm actually talking to Tempest Greer! He thought to himself as he took in the visage of what he considered his goddess, his muse, the object of his stalking. OMG FFS I'm not stalking her!!! Note to self: Fire the narrator of my life. And why did I just use a text acronyms in my private thoughts?

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Halfway through the fight, Tempest started laughing.

She couldn’t help it! The tumbles, the tricks, the jibes—all of them combined to have her leaning against her car, giggling. The fight turned serious when the thug grabbed the red-suited man by the throat; Tempest’s humor fled and she balled her hands into a fist, ready to leap to his aid. When he spoke, she relaxed and resumed the image of the damsel-in-distress. If he could talk and make wisecracks, he was fine. She’d be in trouble in that situation, and a shiver of jealousy roiled through her. She’s love to not have to worry about breathing while working.

Her jealousy was ripped away—literally—by the webbing coming off the man’s face. Even though the thug had called her names and assaulted her, even a ‘sheltered princess’ like Tempest could empathize with his pain. She winced, her pretty lips pursing in pure sympathy. “Ouch,” she whispered, the word covered by the sounds of the goons retreating into the station. That left her alone, with her hero.

The irony made Tempest want to laugh, but she just grinned and resumed her lean against her car. She wasn’t worried about being late anymore; she was late and with Coach Breakers, it didn’t matter if you were one minute or one hour late. Besides, this story would likely garnish her some sympathy points from the cheerleading drill sergeant.

“My arm’s good, and so am I, thanks.” Tempest smiled up at her hero, noticing that he was shorter than her boyfriend. She wasn’t sure why that surprised her, but then Logan was the epitome of a perfect guy. Not that this guy’s height was bad; he just wasn’t over six feet, probably.

That’s when Tempest realized her brain was babbling and she was just kinda… staring. “I’m sorry!” She pulled herself together with a flush and a shake of her head. Her regulation ponytail bounced behind her as she admitted, “You’re the first hero who’s ever rescued me like this.” She paused another moment before adding. “I didn’t think that heroes hung around like this either.”

“I was just doing my civil duty to make sure you were unharmed.” The red-suited man crossed his arms, looking casual about taking down criminals and fighting crime.

“Thank you. I’m Tempest Greer, and you don’t have to pretend you didn’t know.” She offered him a hand but her words seemed to fluster him just a bit before she added, “Lots of people know who I am, or at least know my dad and know I’m his daughter.” Then she realized she’d just offered him a gas handle instead of a hand. “Oh, uh, shi-sorry! I’m… this is not a normal morning for me.” She shifted the gas handle to her other hand and offered her hand again, this time with a big cheerleader-smile, too. “I’m Tempest, and normally, I’m not this dumb. Really. Uh… who are you?”

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"Who am I? Wow, and I thought I didn't get out much." She could see the imprint of a smile beneath his mask. "The Crimson Spider, at your service. Everyone just seems to call me Crimson, though. The media eats it up, and the street vendors just love selling the hoodies." He tugged on the chest of his black hoodie with the emblem of a crimson red spider on it. It looked old and worn out and the sleeves had been torn off. "See? That's the reason I don't do two shows a night anymore, you kids these days are so desensitized by movies, and your interwebs, and your texting... doesn't anyone watch the news anymore?" It seemed his wisecracks never ended.

"It's nice to meet you Miss Greer," He took her hand and politely gave it a few slow ups and downs. "And trust me, I don't think you're dumb at all. Were I off duty and met a lady as lovely as you on the street, I'd not be able to keep all my thoughts together either." She's gonna totally think that was a come on... even though it was, switch it up, don't sound like perv who's trolling for high school cheerleaders! "You've been through a lot, and all for outrageous gas prices no less. There's no justice, I tell ya."

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“I have heard of you, if that makes you feel better,” Tempest said with a grin, ignoring his comments about being through a lot. She hadn’t, in fact, she’d been through far less than she might have, had he not come along. And she didn’t pay attention to how much gas cost – she just put it on her credit card. “I just don’t have a lot of time for things that aren’t cheerleading, gymnastics or school. And honestly, there isn’t much else.” She make a ‘whatcha gonna do’ face, aware that she sounded like a self-absorbed teenager. That’s who Tempest Greer, cheerleader, was.

I wonder who he is? In her mind, there was an image of a handsome young man in his twenties, maybe in college, maybe not. She could tell that he had a good physique; even the baggy hoodie couldn’t hide that he was a very healthy young man. Tempest felt a slight flush on her cheeks she considered the man under the mask.

It took her a second to realize she was staring like a moron. Laughing with a hint of nervousness, she turned to her car and started to pump the gas. “I didn’t know much about you, but I plan to change that.” She gazed up at him through her eyelashes, trying to covertly judge his reaction to her statement. It was hard with his face covered. “You saved my life. I’m going to become a big fan.” Holy crap—was she really flirting with a superhero?

He’d saved her life. He called her pretty. But more than any of that—for the first time, she met someone who didn’t try to shape her how he wanted. He just seemed to like her. Maybe she was wrong. But in these few moments of talking to him, she felt like he cared about her and that wasn’t a common feeling for the young superhero.

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Holy crap holy crap holy crap holy crap holy crap! She's a fan! YESSSSSSSS! Okay, woah... settle. Get it together Devin, and quit doing a Home Alone in your head. She's impressed, this is great! Oh, man, this super hero gig is the bomb! I. Me. Devin Kincaid, the Crimson Spider just totally got the hottest girl in school to be impressed with...

And about that time a certain reality set in and the smart kid with the high I.Q. let all the pieces fall into place.

Crimson. She's impressed with Crimson. Okay, no worries, I can turn this around, hey that other Spider guy whose name I can mention because of trademark reasons hit snags like this before, I'm sure. One hurdle at a time. I talked to her, finally, so it's a start.

"Hey, nothing wrong with that, as long as you're doing what you love, right?" He replied casually to her statement about school and cheerleading. "Well, I'm certainly glad I made a new fan today, and a lovely t'boot! Can't beat that. Most my fans are the geeky sort who play computer games in their mom's basement and dress up like me at comic shows. Mildly creepy, I admit, but endlessly entertaining to say the least."

A few sirens were heard in the distance and she noticed the way he perked up to their wailing. "Well, I better skee-dattle Miss Greer, Tempest, it was my pleasure helping you. Awesome name by the way, you look like a Tempest. That is my cue to leave though, see, I'm less of a super hero and more of a super vigilante... the boys in blue and I aren't on speaking terms right now. Long story. But, hey, have your people call my people some time and we can do fajitas or something. You like fajitas?"

Before she could answer though he was a red blur. Leaping up and flipping backwards towards the neighbouring building and then kicking himself off its wall even higher before launching a webline and swinging off, yelling something about fajitas in a high pitched voice that only caused her to chuckle some more as her tank filled.

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Tempest watched the Crimson Spider flip away with a secretive smile. When he was gone, she turned back to the pump, calmly filling up on gas and finishing her purchase. The goons inside ventured out, but not before the cops arrived. Tempest was safe from them, but she quickly realized she wasn’t the target. The men who came out of the shop weren’t the brazen, ballsy assholes from before; they were scared citizens, complaining about an attack on them.

Tempest listened for about three minutes before marching over and clearing her throat. An officer turned, checked her out quickly and approached. “Ma’am?”

“They’re lying. Crimson Spider was defending me from them.” Quickly, she told them the whole story. Sadly, the guy hadn’t grabbed her arm very hard and it wasn’t red. She didn’t appear to be making much progress—it was three grown men against one teenage girl—until he asked for her name. The second she said “Tempest Greer” the officer straightened a little and his manner subtly changed. Tempest understood. Her father had a lot of pull and if she felt that she was being ignored, she could raise a massive stink about it. Though Tempest wasn’t inclined to use her family’s power (consciously anyway, because she certainly used her family’s power in ways that she never thought about) for her own profit, she’d be damned if she’d let them defame her hero.

“Do you want to press charges against these men?” the officer asked.

“Yes.” And with one word, the three men found their fortunes changing. The three protested when the cops began to hand-cuff them, but that protest died when they found out who Tempest was. They’d realized just how screwed they were.

It was another hour before Tempest got to school. She’d not only missed practice, but she was late for her first class. Despite this, she went right to Coach Breakers and explained what had happened. The coach didn’t seem to want to believe her—Breakers didn’t like it when reality intruded upon the truth she’d already decided. Tempest left one of the cards that the officers had given her, with the case number on it, for her coach to verify. Then she went to the principal’s and did it again, to get her excuse for being late for class. Then she was finally off to Chemistry.

Math and Science were easily her worst subjects. Her father didn’t value math in her training and there were only some aspects of science that he taught her. As a result, she didn’t get much time to study for them, and her grades suffered for it. Mr. Campbell, the science teacher, was disappointed in her and Tempest tried to feel bad at it. She just didn’t have time to worry about it. She was barely keeping her grades high enough to play in her sports.

Today, Mr. Campbell frowned at her when she walked in and handed him her note from the office. He didn’t like cheerleaders in general and she was still in her uniform. He no doubt assumed she’d come straight from practice without a shower, and made a face like she stank. “Ms. Greer, so kind of you to join us for class. Please have a seat and join the other students in the quiz.”

Tempest’s face registered shock at his words; her eyes dropped to the sticky note on the front of her book: Quiz tomorrow. STUDY!!!!! Then her father had demanded that she run through drills with him, and she’d gotten to bed around one. She’d utterly forgotten about the quiz. Mr. Campbell’s expression turned knowing as he handed her the paper; he’d been a teacher for too long not to know that look. “Good luck,” he added snidely.

She was going to fail this quiz and that was going to put her into academic probation. Lips pressed together, Tempest took her seat, struggling to keep her emotions off her face. As she looked down at the first question and realized she had no clue how to answer it, she felt sick. She couldn’t lose her cheerleading or gymnastics; she needed them to keep her sanity. The paper swam in her vision as her eyes welled with tears. Hastily, she pressed her finger against her tear duct to stop the tears before her mascara ran. Chin up, Greer. With only a small sniffle, she shoved away her worries and tears and did her best.

It wasn’t good enough. Mr. Campbell gave her a couple of more minutes but it didn’t matter. She wasn’t going to get a high enough grade to keep her average up. Bleakly she turned her attention to the board, where the next set of equations were going up on dry erase marker. She wrote them down automatically, even though she didn’t know yesterday’s material well enough to understand them.

By the end of class, she had a plan. When the bell rang and Mr. Campbell released them, she gathered her purse and books and shot to the front of the room. “Mr. Campbell, can I talk to you a moment?”

“Yes, Miss Greer?” he asked.

“I bombed that. I know I did. And I know I was borderline with my grades before. I’d like to do some kind of extra credit or make up.”

The teacher leaned back, ignoring the other students filing out. “You could study more and get your grades back up. There’s time left in the school year.”

“I need it fast. I know when you report those grades I won’t be able to do sports anymore, and I need those sports.” Tempest was almost ready to beg.

The older man shrugged. “You don’t need sports, you need to study. Perhaps not having sports will give you time to study.”

Tempest licked her lips and tried again. “Look, the cheerleading and gymnastics, I know you don’t get it. But those are two things I love. They’re the two things that I have.” She wanted to scream at him that this was all her father let her have and if she couldn’t have them, she’d go insane. But she couldn’t explain why so she just begged with her eyes, pleading with him to give her a second chance.

“Fine. We’re going to make a deal.” Mr. Campbell leaned forward. “I’m going to use your unfortunate encounter this morning to allow you to retake the quiz. The score you receive today won’t factor in. You’ll take the quiz again on Friday and you’ll need at least a C to maintain your average. In exchange, you get another student to help you. It happens that Mr. Kincaid is my best student, aren’t you?”

Tempest turned to see a student by the door; she flushed a little as she realized he’d been lingering and had overheard her begging. He was an utter nerd; she wouldn’t have noticed him at all in the hallway. “Uh, I—”

“Can you help Ms. Greer with her chemistry after school?” Tempest hid a flinch. Staying after school would be hard to explain to her father. But she’d manage. She bit her lip and looked hopefully at the nerd by the door.

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It could have been anxiety, maybe nervousness, but when Mr. Campbell asked him if he could help Tempest with her studying, he had that sudden queezy feeling in the pit of his stomach that made him feel like he might both throw up and crap himself at the same time. She bit her lip and he swallowed hard. "M-me? Uh, I... with Tempest... today? Here? A-after?"

"A yes or no will do Mr. Kincaid. Even a nod or a shake if you find your faculties have temporarily stepped out." It was no secret that Devin had a crush on Tempest, and most the faculty found the smart nerds puppy love for the Lead Cheerleader kinda cute wrapped in a candy coating of pathetic. They agreed he needed a girlfriend, but he sure had set his sights a bit high. Hell, it was damn near added to Freshman orientation; 'Welcome to Bay City High, we have an awesome football team and Devin Kincaid has had an uber crush on Tempest Greer for several years now. Enjoy your four years, we expect great things.'

"Is he okay?" She could only look at him with a cocked brow and skeptical look on her face. "Please tell me he doesn't' have a grand mal on his 'to do' list today because my drama needle is on 'F' for the morning."

Mr. Campbell chuckled and smiled at the two of them as Devin slowly managed to shuffle his way a bit closer, still at a loss for words. "Well, I wouldn't worry. It was touch and go there for a moment but I think he just nodded for us. Congratulations, you have a tutor, Miss Greer. Feel free to use my class room you two, I'll let the custodian know you'll be here."

After school...

There's always that awkward feeling that every student gets when they're in the empty halls of their school after hours. It's not like when school is in session and you're just walking the empty halls, no, it's a different kind of feeling after hours because you know the school is empty. It's quiet and for strange reasons that only Einstein's relativity theory could explain the whole building just seems larger. Every word echoes a bit more, every hall is just a bit longer, and every row of lockers seems to have one or two extra that you never noticed before. It's a strange sense of solitude.

Devin felt right at home in all the quiet. He sat comfortably in one of the lab stools, leaning on the large, black topped, table adorned with years worth of senseless graffiti. "No. Uncle Stanley, listen. Listen, please... okay?" He moved his cell phone from ear to his other as he began unloading his books and notes for class to go over with Tempest. "Forget what you see in the movies, okay? Shooting a gas tank on a car with a bullet will not make the car explode, unless the car is already on fire. No. No, the spark caused by a bullet usually will not do the trick either, statistically you're not going to get a spark. Huh? Well, no, not really. See gas really isn't all that flammable, it's the fumes that you have to look out for. You can drop a match in gasoline and it'll fizzle out like water. Yeah, oh, yeah, trust me. Nope, gasoline wouldn't do the trick, have you tried a chemical analysis for acetone and peroxide?"

He was so wrapped up in his conversation that he didn't even hear Tempest close the door quietly behind her. "Trust me on this Uncle Stanley, I know what I'm talking about. Gasoline, acetone and peroxide separated but linked with an electronic transmitter with a one mile radius and the bomber could've been anywhere. Have them narrow their search, they're looking for a bomber but you said it looked like arson, those three chemicals will give you one heck of a fire bomb. Hey, don't mention it, I'm just glad I could help. Pass it along to your guys at the precinct and I hope they catch the guy."

With a thumb tap his smart phone ended the call and Angry Birds was back up on the screen. He spun about to go back to his unpacking when his limited vision caught the barest sight of Tempest's cheerleading outfit and it about scared the hell out of him when his brain tingled a warning that he was about to run into something. He dropped his phone, staggered back and knocked several lab stools off the neighbouring table in a startled panic to catch his footing (which he could have done, but he was in secret identity mode and had to sell it). "Jesus... oh... god... you scared me." He rummaged in his hoodie pocket and took a long hit off his inhaler (that had been empty for over two years). "That was... umm... embarrassing. Uh, hi, I'm Devin... science nerd." And I'm madly in love with you but not in the creepy way. Would you mind dumping that douchebag boyfriend of yours and try dating a guy who actually would care about you. Oh, and did I mention that I'm an incredibly awesome super hero? That'd be great, kaythanks. That'd go over like a tone of bricks.

Who knows, if he actually built up the courage to express how he felt, he may have gotten somewhere with her years ago, before she hooked up with Logan, the boyfriend from hell, but in the wonderful world of Devin Kincaid, pouring his heart out always came across more like "So, uhh, where'd you wanna start? We have a lot to go ever by Friday and chemistry is no joke. Mostly because all the good chemistry jokes argon." He laughed like it was the funniest damn thing ever. Tempest got it, she was just firmly rooted in reality to find it funny, especially with the day she was having. "Get it? Argon. Yeeaah... shutting up now."

Oh, Devin... you Casanova you.

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The day had dragged on for Tempest. She wasn’t looking forward to the tutoring session after school, or more accurately, the call to her father to explain why she wouldn’t be home at her usual time. In the end, her teenage courage had failed her, and she’d done the safe thing: she texted him.

After sending the message, she tucked her phone into her purse and entered the room. Her tutor was talking on the phone with someone about making bombs; Tempest was sure she had some kind of bomb ring to investigate now. Figures that my chemistry tutor would be a criminal and I’ll have to arrest him. Maybe I can hold off until after the quiz… When he finished, she actually smiled with relief. The call had been absolutely innocent—more than that, it had been helpful to the cops. Like she was, or so she liked to hope.

When he jumped, so did she. She watched him fumble around with both dismay and pity; she wasn’t sure she could handle his high-anxiety antics today. Putting her books on the table, she bent and scooped up the dropped phone, handing it to him. At the same time, her phone rang. Tempest ignored the soft buzzing; that would be her father. Her mind wasn’t really on the other student or his ramblings; she was thinking about how furious her father was going to be when she didn’t answer. When her tutor started to giggle, Tempest realized she hadn’t been listening to him. Rewinding the last few seconds in her brain, she managed to at least come up with an answer to his question.

“Yeah… um, let’s start with the stuff that’ll get me the C I need.” At his look, Tempest frowned, “You just took the quiz I have to pass; just cover that stuff and I’ll be fine.”

The kid hesitated before asking, “What about later stuff? Wouldn’t it be more ethical for me to give you the foundation you need to keep passing classes?”

Her phone started to buzz again. Tempest rolled her eyes—at the phone, not him, though how was he to know that? She took a deep breath and said, “My primary concern is to pass that quiz. Anything else is just extra.” Her phone stopped for a second, only to start again. “Ahmigawd, I’m gonna kill him!” The sad part was she could, too. “Hang on, David, I need to take this before my dad has a bitch fit.” Digging out her phone, Tempest left the deflated Devin feeling like shit as she snatched up her phone and answered it.

“Tempest, get your ass home.” The harsh voice of Archibald Greer filled her ear and the teenager quailed—for a second.

“Dad, this is for my grades. I have to get them up.” She was aware she was whining, but Tempest didn’t really know any other way to communicate with her father. She cast an apologetic glance at ‘David’ before turning her back on him, to have a modicum of privacy. “Look, I’ll work extra-hard tonight, when I get home. But I do have to at least pass classes, right? You wouldn’t want to hear people talking about that, right?”

There was a moment of silence as Arch pondered over how it would look to have his daughter fail her classes. Image was important to her father and it was Tempest’s best tool when fighting to get her way on something. “Very well. But next time I call, answer your phone.”

“Yes, Dad, sorry, I was talking to someone and didn’t hear.” She winced at having to lie to her dad, but she’d been doing it for years now, mostly because she was a teenage girl. He grunted and hung up, while she rotated her neck from side to side and sighed. She took a second to compose herself; when she turned back to ‘David’, she was smiling. It was her public smile, the one she wore when she couldn’t show her real expression to the world. It was fake, but it thankfully didn’t look fake.

“Sorry about that, my dad’s a control freak.” Walking back over, she smoothed her skirt over her legs and sat on one of the lab stools, still smiling. “Thanks for putting up with that. And sorry about getting off to a rough start, you would not believe the day I’ve had. Can we just start over? I’m Tempest Greer, I don’t think we’ve meet before.” She offered her hand to him, that false smile still on her face.

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"D-Devin. Devin Kincaid." There was a part of him that felt like saying: 'Actually we've met several times, unofficially, but Logan kicks the snot out of me for looking at you.' But, he kept quiet. Logan, Tempest's 'boyfriend', was a walking stereotype wrapped in a cliché. He was the star quarterback, ruggedly handsome, his family was well off, he was dating the lead cheerleader and we was a complete jerk and a bully to anyone not on his social strata. Devin had been the subject of Logan's abuse for years, even before Tempest moved to Bay City, the bullying went back to elementary school. When your the town loser and bully magnet and you wake up one day to discover you punch a hole in half of an inch thick steel plating you find yourself faced with choice dangling from a very thin line. Devin, despite his super powers still found himself being beat up by Logan on a near daily basis.

It helped his cover, seriously, what better way to hide a brawl with a super villain than to have your own personal bully to blame for the bruises. There were several reasons he tolerated it, most of which was his promise to his late parents that he would do what he could to protect the people of Bay City, but the closest second would be that Logan and Tempest were a social icon. He didn't care too much for Logan's social standing, but he knew how important it was to Tempest. With Logan on her arm she would lose a lot of face in the digital high school community and that would seriously damage her reputation. She wouldn't be happy, and that didn't sit well with Devin.

"It's cool," He managed in his low barely audible 'social' tone. She noticed the difference in his voice between talking on the phone and now talking to her. The life, the inflection, the passion of confidence in his knowledge of the topic were all gone, like he was afraid of her. He shook her hand and she could feel the nervousness in his grip. "I'm sure he means well, parents are like that. My dad was a detective and used to always be really paranoid about where I was or who I as with. I mean, not that I claim to understand your life, or anything, I'm just saying... I can just relate, to an extent, is all."

He sighed, feeling more and more sick by the second. He'd waited years for this opportunity, a moment where she and he were alone with none of the outside world around to mess up their moment. Yeeaah... 'their' moment... whatever moment that could have been, Devin had nary a clue, so he sucked it up and slid over his science notes. She was about to see a side of Devin that he was sure would foster her hate for him for an eternity, but he felt it needed to be done. He liked Tempest too much to allow her to just 'get by', she was better than that.

"What's this?" She asked, lifting up the composition book and opening the cover.

"That's your 'C'." He replied softly, not paying any attention to her and inspecting his phone for damage. "You don't need me for a 'C', everything you need is in that notebook, I high lighted the pertinent notes so by Friday you should have everything you need for your 'C'."

"What? That's it? No studying?" The gorgeous teen looked a him sceptically. This was usually the part here the perverted nerdy guys would extort a kiss or inappropriate pictures of her in her bra or request to cop a feel, something to level playing field in the nerd/privileged hierarchy. "What's the catch?" She asked, plopping the book back down on the counter.

Devin smiled and pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. "No catch. The only way you could get less than a 'C' with those notes is if you came to class in a coma. Consider it my way of thanking you for your new found interest in spending a lot of your future time with us nerds."

"I'm not here because I want to be." She fumed. Devin was almost to the point pissing her off and he could tell. She wasn't in the mood for his games. "Look, I'm not really in the mood for this, okay? I've had one hell of a day and the last thing I want to be doing is sitting here getting lectured by you. I've no interest in spending any more time than is necessary with you, or any or your buddies. So, thanks for the notes." She scooped up the notebook and headed for the door.

"And when the next test rolls around? And the one after? Who do you think will be tutoring you, hm? Guys like me." Devin stood from the stool and walked a few steps closer to her where she'd stopped to hear him out. "Every guy in this school Tempest sees you as a '10'. A '10'. All you see yourself as is a 'C'. Just a 'C'. Really? Just a 'C', Tempest? The students see you as just a number to refect how popular or beautiful you are, to the teachers? You're nothing but a grade in a book. Pass or fail they still get paid. I don't see you as a '10' or a 'C'. I see the woman who delivered one of the finest reports on Aaron Burr I'd ever heard. You were passionate with your words you were passionate about the topic. Every guy in the class didn't hear a word you said because they were too busy ogling your cleavage while all the ladies were too busy being pissed because they're real. No one heard you, Tempest, because this school, it's people, they don't care about you, it's all a popularity game to them." He placed his hands in his pockets and gave her a look. "I know you're better than a 'C' and you know you're better than a 'C'."

He turned and waked away, heading back to the table. "You have my book, but I hate seeing people doing just enough when they're capable of so much more. You can walk out and settle for a 'C' and we can hook up next test and you can settle for a 'C' then too, and then again... and again. Before you know it, you're settling for anything people hand you. Or you can come back over here, we can put our respective cliques aside, treat each other like just Devin and Tempest and I'll help you get to where you don't have to settle any more, you can get 'A's' all on your own. Not because you had to, but because you wanted to."

"Hate me if you want, Tempest." Devin sat back in his stool and flipped open his book to begin his homework, confident that she wasn't going to stay. He glanced up at her giveing the woman of his dreams one last once over before she walked out of his life, forever. His hormones didn't manage to make it past her chest, however. "I'm not trying to be a jerk, I'm just saying... y'know... I think you're bigger than a 'C'... I mean better! Better than a 'C'... I meant better."

His forehead 'thunked' into his book, cursing his teenage hormones.

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With Devin’s face in the book, he didn’t see the moment where Tempest’s face fell. It was probably for the best; if the young man had realized how much it had hurt her to have the truth rubbed in her face like that, he probably would have swallowed his own tongue before saying it. The sad thing was, this wasn’t news to her. She knew who fake and empty her ‘friendships’ here were, how little everyone cared for her. But this was the way it was; this was her reality. Changing it would mean losing Logan, who did care for her. Changing it would take emotional effort she didn’t have to spare right now. And changing it would take a courage that few teenagers ever possessed; not the courage to swing through the city fighting crime, but the courage to be cast out. For a bleak second, Tempest thought she was going to cry for the second god-damned time today.

She didn’t want to cry though, so she got mad. And she didn’t just get a little pissed, she got full-on righteously outraged. Devin’s head popped up as she slammed her books onto the lab table, just in time to get a first-person view of her fist coming toward his face. He had a fraction of a second to decide what to do, and like with his fights with Logan, he rolled with the punch, just enough that it didn’t break skin or bone—on Tempest. He was a bit tougher than that.

Devin had always wanted a special moment with Tempest, something only they shared. A brief touch, a moment of completely understanding; perhaps discovering that they shared a secret desire, or perhaps just a secret about her that only he knew. He got his wish when he learned that Tempest Greer knew how to punch. It wasn’t even a girly but firm punch; no, it would have rattled his teeth if not for a close encounter with a radioactive spider.

Tempest didn’t normally lose her temper, but after today, she had just had it. She wasn’t joking when she’d told Mr. Campbell that her drama needle was on ‘F’. So when she got mad, it boiled over to fury. Devin’s head snapped backwards and he fell off the stool, collapsing with the hollow thud of a human-sized body hitting the floor. Tempest’s second of satisfaction was followed by horror. She’d just hit another student. “Oh my god!” she gasped, her hands flying to her mouth. “Devin!”

She was going to be suspended. Her father was going to be furious. Her mother would fight with him over it, and her home would be hell. Nathan would get upset and cry, and have another fit, and it’d be her fault. Dropping to her knees, she leaned over and cupped his face, her eyes scared. “Oh, god… are you all right? I’m sorry… I just was almost mugged today and my father is an overbearing jackass, and when you started into me, it was about all I could take.” She paused, her eyes beseeching him. “Please don’t tell anyone I hit you…”

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There were some really cool advantages to being a super powered spider-guy. Yup.

Not feeling pain,however, didn't seem to make the cut. (Pardon the pun)

He wiggled on his back for a second trying to get his eyes to focus and his senses to get themselves all sorted out. Hit been slammed into cars by hyper strong mutants gentler than Tempest socked him. He tightened his eyes closed and then opened them wide as the world tried to come back into focus. He could taste the blood in his mouth and knew that the open sore would mean no pizza for a weak, the acids in the sauce would irritate it. Then he captured it: their moment.

Him lying there on the floor tasting his own irony blood completely dazed and confuse beyond reason while she lovingly cradles his head in her lap in a self-centered attempt to save herself a lot of person grief both at home and within her social clique. She was beautiful, if still a bit blurry, but her scent seemed mystical, her voice like a choir of angles (in panic and a bit off key) and her gentle caress felt as soft as fresh out of the dryer sheets (you know the feeling). No moment could have more clearly defined their love and ensured them a delightful future of disdain for each other and copious amounts of domestic violence. Who knows, maybe they could renew their vows one day on an episode of COPS.

"I'm not going to tell on you." He said, sort of mumbling as his tongue rubbed the inside of his mouth to check for a cut. "Hell, it's par for the course for me." She certainly noticed the self-pity in his comment, and it was true to an extent since of all the dork in school Devin was the one who seemed to have the biggest bull's eye on his back. She felt some pity, I mean, she did just of perpetuate his problem. But he deserved it!

"You know, you try and open someone's eyes to the harsh and cut-throat world around and try to encourage them to live up to their own potential on their own terms," His guard was still a bit down and a touch of the Spider's wit tripped to the surface. "and what do I get for it? Undying adoration? No. Showered with hugs, kisses and maybe a box of assorted chocolates? Another big no. Hell, I'll settle for pirated porn. But I'll tell you what a guy does get for trying to be a friend... he gets a right hook."

"Look, Tempest, I'm not your dad, and I'm sorry I made you mad, I know it was harsh." He rubbed two fingers on the inside of his mouth, pulling them out produce red covered finger tips. He was taking his time, her lap was comfy. "I'll help you in any way I can, but you have to gimme a break here, I can't make you want to better than 'barely getting by'. That's all I was saying."

He wiggled his head a bit to get more comfortable, nesting in for some quality time with his new found boxing champion of an aquantance. "So, about the mugging this morning, obviously you're okay, but wanna talk about it?"

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  • 2 weeks later...

“No, wait. You don’t know what I want.” Tempest accented that remark by dumping his head to the floor. She rose to her feet, getting mad again as she grabbed a papertowel and wet it with cold water, then handed it to him. “Put that against your lip. I’m sorry I made you bleed.”

Tempest waited until he’d pulled himself to his feet and reclaimed his stool before she took her own seat. “Devin, I… appreciate you trying to help me. But you don’t know what I want. You don’t know that I want to barely get by.” She expected him to remark, but he seemed to be just listening, his eyes attentive and on her face.

The cheerleader hesitated, feeling the need to speak but trying to pick her words carefully. “My father has his own plans for me. He homeschooled me until I talked him into letting me come to school. He thinks that public school is teaching me crap, which is why he’s so angry that I’m here. When I go home, he’s going to start schooling me in what he wants me to know.”

“What’s that?” Devin asked softly.

“History. Archaeology. Politics. Business. Everything that will make me just like him, but a girl.” Tempest’s eyes were troubled and sad as she talked about her home life. “So I’m going to go home and do whatever he wants to do until one or two, then get up and come to school. I don’t have time to spend a lot of time studying anything that my father isn’t drilling into my head. Do you really think I like people thinking I’m dumb? Or that I paid someone for my grades in History? Anyway… don’t assume I don’t want to just get by.”

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"I'm not assuming anything," Devin wasn't one for standing up to people, but Tempest appeared to be his special case in just about everything. "You sort of conveyed that with your first comment to me." He shrugged and tried to smile as he dabbed some blood off his lip. "Before the butt kicking that is."

He hopped up on the table, still dabbing away as he swung his legs back n' forth. "Look, I just want to help. If you don't like people seeing you in a particular light, then change their perceptions. If you want to sit and study, we'll study. If you want my notes and go after that 'C', by all means there they are." He motioned to his notebook lying the table one row ahead of him. "Hell, Tempest, if you'd rather just sit here and talk and vent a little, we can do that too. You seem like you're carrying some burden and feel you have to shoulder it alone. Stress'll kill you if you don't let it out, just, y'know, not on my face. They say time wasted among friends is never wasted time."

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  • 2 weeks later...

“Friends?” Tempest asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Yeah, you know, the people who don’t care about your looks or your wealth or whether you’re a cheerleader.” Devin’s statement was delivered very casually and matter-of-factly.

Tempest didn’t realize it, but her look communicated that she didn’t really have anyone like that in her life. Still, she attempted a joke. “Friends don’t typically punch you in the face, do they?”

“No,” Devin admitted, “they don’t. But you seem a bit new at this, I guess you got confused. Now. What about that mugging?”

Despite herself, Tempest smiled. “I stopped for gas and three guys tried to make trouble for me. Then…” Her voice trailed off and her face softened as her smile became sweet and goofy. “Then Crimson Spider saved me. He dropped out of the sky and he beat them all up and they ran away. I’ve never had anyone defend me like that before.” She paused and bit her lower lip. “It was… very cool.”

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"Really?" Devin seemed a bit too enthusiastic. "Uh, I mean... really? He just swooped in and saved you huh? That's awesome. I'm glad you weren't hurt." He added, not knowing that Tempest could have single handedly mopped the floor with the three goons, even they'd brought two buddies each as back up. Ignorance was such a blissful thing.

"Oh, no," She added. "He got there just as one of them grabbed my arm, but that was about it." She rolled up her sleeve and showed hi ma slight bruise from the thugs abusive grip.

"Ouch." Devin winced. "Sorry about that."

Tempest shrugged it off, having endured injuries far worse than a manhandled bruise. "I looks worse than it is, really. Besides, it's not like you were there, so you don't have to apologize. I'm okay." He still gave her a worried glare that informed her that he wasn't convinced. "Honest, Devin, I'm fine."

"Okay," He conceded. "Look, don't take another swing at me, but uh... judging by the doey look in your eyes, and the lower lip biting... does Tempest Greer have a thing for her savior?" The glare she shot him was a mixture of embarrassment and shock, both at his audacity and his near spot-on appraisal of the situation. "I'm just saying! I mean statistically speaking relationships that start under stressful circumstances... they never last."

The ear to ear grin on his face told her he was just teasing her in some attempt to share a laugh. "And what would the school paper think?!"

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