Chapter 1: Go Home
May shot a web-blast, propelling herself forcefully away from the creature. The normally thick and sticky fluid slid right off its torso, splattering all over the rooftop.
"Not again!" she cried in dismay. "Doesn't anything work on you?"
May "Mayday" Parker, known as Spider-Girl to the rest of New York, had been desperately trying to stop the advance of this strange creature for the last 30 minutes. She had been swinging toward home, exhausted, after a day of school and patrolling…
May's spider-sense suddenly flared. Really? she thought, tired after another long day at school. I have two tests tomorrow, and I haven't even started studying… She sighed, swiveling in mid-air. May had been fighting crime for over a year now, and knew from experience never to ignore that feeling. That was one lecture her father didn't need to give her anymore. Even in her short career, terrible consequences had followed whenever she neglected the responsibilities that came with the webs.
The feeling led to the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Oh, great, she thought, an art theft is keeping me from my studies.
She alighted gracefully, and looked carefully around. Her spider-sense led her to an empty spot on the roof. Not the roof access, not an air vent, not the skylight… Just how tired am I?
If one thing could be said of May, though, it was that she was stubborn. She would figure this out, one way or another.
She began to turn in a slow circle, keeping her senses alert. A strong smell of sulphur hit her, and she took a step back. Under her mask, her face screwed up in revulsion. She spun toward the source of the foul odor. A strange being rose impossibly through the hard concrete at her feet.
The creature appeared to combine several qualities. Its 'skin' looked like ceramic, while its blank eyes glowed a faint blue. And wow, the smell was overpowering. As it rose, it grew to a height of…. well, four feet tall. Okay, whatever this thing is, I think I can handle it.
"Hey, you know, you might be new to New York…" She called out to the mysterious creature as she waved her hand across her face in an exaggerated gesture of disgust. "But you have heard of deodorant, right?"
The thing began moving in her direction, as if it had just noticed her. "That's right, I'll lead you to the nearest drugstore, if you'll just come with me. I hope you don't mind heights…"
She shot a web, intending to wrap the creature around the middle, and carry it to the street below. Although what she would do with it after that, she had no idea. The web seemed to simply disintegrate on contact. The creature was not affected in the slightest. It kept moving toward her. It was now only a few feet away.
"All right. Now you're getting a little too close for comfort," she said glibly, aiming a spin-kick at the creature's 'head.' As her booted foot connected, she felt an intense power jolt that sent her flying backward. She crashed heavily into the railing at the edge of the roof.
Not one of your smartest moves, Parker, she thought dazedly. Shaking her head to clear it, she looked up to see the being moving inexorably toward her. Whatever its original purpose, she had now attracted its attention. I think it's time to call for backup.
May clambered to her feet and shot a web-line to the nearest building. She planted her feet on the side and quickly removed her cell phone from its place in one of her wrist shooters. Looking up quickly, she was surprised to see the creature melt through the railing, and float into the air.
She started to type a few digits… then closed the phone. Who did she know that could help with this kind of foe? Uncle Phil? Her father's co-worker, Phil Urich, had always been a help to her as trainer and colleague. As a "good" version of the infamous Green Goblin, the Golden Goblin, he loved to get involved. But even with all the gadgets he had found in Norman Osborn's old stash, this was way out of his league.
And the New Warriors team that Phil still belonged to wouldn't be much help either. Not one of them had meta-abilities…
The creature was floating steadily toward her. She swung over to another building. This thing must have some sort of supernatural power. I have to keep it in sight, but I can't let it touch me. If anyone without superpowers comes into contact with it, it could kill them!
Who next? The Avengers? Most of them were as skilled at dealing with other-worldly creatures as she was – which was not at all…
The Fantastic Five? They were used to fighting enemies on a cosmic scale…
Darkdevil? His abilities seemed partially supernatural…
Wait, that's it! She gave herself a mental slap to the forehead, as she tried to keep a step ahead of the creature. She flipped open the phone again. I hope it's not too late to call…
Stinger answered after a couple of rings. "Avengers Mansion, this is Stinger."
None of the Avengers were aware of her identity, but Stinger had always been a good friend and ally. This time though, she needed to talk to someone else. "Hey, Stinger, is J2 around? This is Spider-Girl. It's kind of urgent…"
"Let me see if I can get him on the line," she promised, and the line went silent. The creature had increased in speed during their game of chase. She found herself leapfrogging from place to place. Every time the thing passed a solid object, it would either phase through or burn a trail.
"J2 here. What do you need, Spider-Girl?" J2 was the son of Juggernaut, who had decided to use his powers of invincibility for good.
Suddenly, a bolt of power shot toward her, knocking a good-sized chunk out of the wall on which she had just been perched. "Whoa!" She dodged sideways, thankful that her spider-abilities kept the phone fastened to her hand.
"What's going on!" J2 said, alarmed.
"Hey, can you get a hold of Doc Magus for me?" She careened between two buildings, trying to avoid the next blast. "I don't exactly have him on speed dial…"
"Sure, I'll call right away. Can I help out in any way?"
"Not unless you have – ack!" The creature gained a burst of speed that sent the quip right out of her head. "Just ask him to meet me on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art!" She flipped the phone shut and quickly stashed it back in her wrist holster.
She had been making a rough circle of several city blocks. This thing had come out of the museum, so she suspected that it needed to return there. She sped back toward the museum, unencumbered by extraneous phone conversations.
Not too long ago, she and J2 had visited Doc Magus, the protégé of Dr. Strange. He had helped the two of them get rid of some nasty invisible demons. She had heard a few stories from her dad about working with Dr. Strange, but nothing had prepared her for the weird nightmare dimension they had entered. She had played it cool, but she still shivered just thinking about it.
This creature did not belong here, and she had no idea why it wouldn't leave her alone! Between the phasing, the way it could melt stone, and the power blasts, she was having a hard time staying one step ahead of it, not to mention that every few minutes, it seemed to develop a new ability.
Reaching the rooftop of the museum once again, Spider-Girl spun to face the creature. She tried webbing it to the concrete, but it just phased through. She tried firing her web-stingers, a trick borrowed from Ben Reilly's old arsenal, but they bounced right off. She grabbed a few large chunks of concrete loosened in the struggle, and hurled them at the creature, but they turned to molten rock.
The thing came within inches of her outstretched hands. I'm toast…
A golden glow suddenly engulfed the creature, freezing it in place. May could feel a prickle of power emanate from the bubble of coruscating light. It made her hair stand on end, not easy when covered by a mask...
She let out a breath she didn't know she'd been holding. Turning, she breathed, "Thank God, you were just in time…"
Doc Magus stood a few yards away, an eerie beam connecting his hands to the ball of energy. He was in his usual costume, full-body black, including his mask, save for a crimson-lined cape and matching icon on his chest. She had never asked what it stood for…
"Where did you come across this?" he asked her calmly.
"Right here. I was passing by, and my spider-sense flared… I think I got on its bad side."
"More likely you simply attracted its attention. This being was undoubtedly mystically linked to one of the artifacts inside."
If he hadn't just saved her butt, she would probably be annoyed at his condescending tone. But she was humble enough to know this kind of thing was not her strong suit. "Can you, you know… send it back?"
He simply nodded. He murmured a few words in a language she didn't understand, and then the circle of light expanded. She jumped back, but not before the edge touched her fingertips. "Hey!" she complained.
"One would think that you would have cleared the area by now," he said unapologetically.
Okay, now she was annoyed. "Thanks for the warning, Magey."
The glow abruptly imploded, and she was left staring at an empty spot on the concrete. "What did you do?" she asked curiously.
"In layman's terms, I told it to, ah, 'go home.' It had dissociated from its host, so I sent it to its original dimension." He then made a formal bow, and vanished.
"Not one for small talk, is he?" She shrugged and leaped back into the air. It was time to study for those tests!
May crept quietly into her bedroom, not wanting to wake her parents. After all, it was late. She glanced toward the textbooks stacked on her desk. These can wait a little bit longer…
She would have taken time to get into her PJs, but she felt an overwhelming desire to look in on her family. It was amazing how a terrifying experience could help a person appreciate what they had.
The door to her parents' bedroom was ajar. She poked her head in. Her mother, Mary Jane, murmured and turned over. Her father, Peter, opened his eyes and lifted his head to look at her questioningly. Even after all these years, his spider-sense was quite active. She blew him a kiss and mouthed the words, "Good night, Dad." He smiled and laid his head back on the pillow.
Her next stop was her baby brother Ben's room. She looked down on him in his crib, arms outflung above his head. I want to pick him up and give him a little kiss, but I don't want him to wake up… ah, what the heck. She lifted him to cradle him in her arms…
Whoosh! There was a flash of light, and her head started spinning fiercely. She blinked. Ben was still asleep in her arms, unaffected by whatever she was feeling. She gave him his kiss, and started to gently lay him back in the crib.
Suddenly, she realized something was not right. Looking around quickly, it dawned on her that this was not Ben's room. The room had tall plate glass windows, with a view of downtown. There was a crib, but it was cherry-colored instead of white. Yet this little boy in her arms was clearly Ben! But had he been wearing this white sleeper, decorated with ducks?
The door opened swiftly, just as her spider-sense went off. A man rushed into the room and froze, instantly wary of the intruder in his home. A woman came right behind him, sleepy, but frightened.
"Peter?" the woman said frantically. "Is Ben all right?"
May couldn't move, couldn't process what she was seeing. The people in front of her, they were… No, it couldn't be. They were at least ten years younger than they should have been…
Almost unwillingly, still clutching her baby brother, May spoke in a strangled voice. "Mom? Dad?"
Chapter 2: Intuition
"Mom? Dad?" the disoriented teenaged girl spoke in a voice full of confusion. She stood before them, her back to the tall windows. Her short dark brown hair topped a trim, athletic frame. She was wearing a hooded sweatshirt and jeans, hardly kidnapping apparel. But it was her face that had really struck Peter. That face was clearly a blend of his and Mary Jane's; in fact, it was the face he imagined that his daughter would have had if she had lived long enough to become a teenager. The shock at this strangely familiar girl's presence in his son's bedroom immediately gave way to suspicion. "Who are you?" he demanded tersely.
The girl pulled his son in close toward her body and swallowed nervously. He was totally unprepared for what came out of her mouth. "Um, it's me, Dad, May. Don't you know me?"
A rush of anger filled him. How dare she? My daughter was kidnapped years ago! I catch this girl, red-handed, trying to do the same with Ben, and she has the audacity to… "Is this some sort of sick joke?"
"No, I…" An odd look passed over the girl's chiseled features. She looked at the sleeping infant in her arms and suddenly seemed to understand why her presence unnerved him so profoundly. "Oh, my God!" she gasped, startled. "You must think…" She gently, but quickly, laid Ben back in his crib. Mercifully, he had not awakened.
Peter stalked slowly toward her. Somehow, despite all the security and surveillance in Stark Tower, this child had made it all the way into the bedroom of his only son! Perhaps she could teleport, but surely there were safeguards in place to prevent that. My spider-sense only detected her presence a few minutes ago. So how else could she suddenly be here?
The teenager slowly backed away from the crib, clearly confused and upset.
Mary Jane quickly scooped Ben up and carried him, still asleep, to the doorway.
The girl continued to stammer, "I… I don't know what's going on… I was in my baby brother's room, giving him a kiss goodnight, and now I'm here… I went back in time once before, but you were just starting out, like me…" She looked around. "But we never lived in an apartment downtown…"
None of this made any sense. All Peter knew was that he needed to apprehend her without letting her harm his family or letting on about his abilities. She might look harmless, but he knew well enough not to trust appearances.
He sprang toward her, intending to grab her arm, but she twisted away a split second before he could get her in his grasp. Damn, she's fast, he thought, shocked at the speed of her reflexes.
"No! D-Dad…" She didn't seem to have any trouble saying the word. "You don't understand…"
"The only thing I understand is that you are in my home, uninvited, and in my son's bedroom, no less!" He put on a burst of speed in what would prove to be another vain attempt to wrap an arm around her, but again she jumped, no, leaped out of the way.
Mary Jane spoke. "Peter, maybe we should listen to what she has to say."
He turned to his wife, questioningly, and saw a sort of assurance on her face. She nodded.
In his fear for his son, and anger over the intruder, he had not really noticed that, though his spider-sense had triggered when the girl first arrived, he was feeling no danger at this moment.
He looked directly into the girl's pleading eyes. "All right. Tell us again. Who are you?"
The teenager swallowed, and began in a cautious tone, "My name is May Parker and I am the daughter of Peter and Mary Jane Parker. But I can see that you are not my parents. In… my world… my time… the two of you are a bit older. My dad has a shock of gray up here," she ran her fingers through her widow's peak, "and has a prosthetic leg." She tilted her head to look at Mary Jane. "Actually, my mom still looks about the same… just as beautiful."
In her world? Peter turned toward Mary Jane and saw her lips twist in amusement. MJ's still beautiful, but I'm a gray-haired cripple?
Inwardly, he was wavering between disbelief, suspicion and astonishment. Mary Jane started to come forward, but he held out an arm to halt her. "MJ, you know the kind of craziness we've been through…" His voice turned hard as he addressed the intruder. "Our daughter May was taken from us several years ago by an enemy of mine. Even if she were still alive, you can't possibly be her. You're too old. So stop playing around with us, and tell us the real reason you're here."
"But I am May," she asserted pleadingly, "just not your May…" May realized that although she didn't know how she got here, she must be in some alternate version of reality. May had experienced it before, through a portal in the Avengers Mansion. Her face took on a determined expression. "I guess there's only one way to prove who I really am."
In a blindingly-fast motion, she whipped off the hooded sweatshirt, revealing the red and blue costume beneath, and leapt into the air. Her feet stuck to the wall, and she shot web fluid from the web shooters on her wrists.
She then swung to the opposite side of the room, executed a tight flip-twist in the air, and landed lightly on her feet. "In my world, I go by 'Spider-Girl.' I know it's not the most original of names…" She gestured to the logo on the top half of her costume. "Mom gave this to me. You probably recognize it as Uncle Ben, um, Ben Reilly's old one."
Peter's jaw fell as he stood there, transfixed as the impossible made itself plain before his eyes. MJ touched his arm gently. "Tiger, she has an awfully convincing argument. She has Ben's old costume, your web shooters, and your abilities…" She smiled teasingly and added, "And your stubbornness."
He ignored the playful jab and pressed on. "These things are all true. But who's to say that she isn't just one of Nick Fury's SHIELD lackeys? Or somehow related to one of the many Spider-Women?"
If I get personal, maybe he'll believe me. "In my family, there is a running joke about the first time the two of you met. How many people know what Mary Jane said to you that day?"
"Only a few," he said skeptically.
"You had avoided meeting her for months, and when you finally did meet, you were blown away. Mom said to you, 'Face it, Tiger, you just hit the jackpot.' I must have heard that story a hundred times."
May could tell by the look of astonishment on both of their faces that she had struck gold. "It's absolutely critical that you two believe me," she said anxiously, a tone of desperation plainly evident in her voice. "You may be my only chance of getting back home. I'll submit to any lie detector test you want. And if you still don't believe me, I'll take a DNA test. Please," she begged, tears starting to form in the corners of her eyes. "Believe me."
Peter seemed conflicted, but willing to listen. And then, just as in her own household, it was Mary Jane who sealed the deal. "She's telling the truth, Peter. I can feel it in my heart."
May had seen that look pass between her parents more often than she could count. Although Peter still had his reservations, he would trust his wife's intuition and accept her assessment of the situation. May smiled.
"I wonder what Aunt May will think of all this," Peter said, shaking his head.
Now it was May's turn to be surprised. "Aunt May is still alive?"
A/N: This story is set in a slightly AU version of The Amazing Spider-Man, in which Peter and Mary Jane have had little Ben. Otherwise, I will try to stay true to the core titles.
Chapter 3: Breakfast
Tony Stark straightened up from peering at the display. "The results are conclusive. Young May is indeed a genetic combination of the two of you." As Stark had been working, May had perched quietly on the examining table. She couldn't help but compare him to the version from her world: Stark's jet-black hair was perfectly groomed, but his face was hardly touched with the tiny scars he bore in her dimension. "And furthermore, her cellular structure shows no sign of accelerated aging. Scientifically, she is what she claims to be: the 16-year old daughter of Peter and Mary Jane Parker."
Peter scrabbled a hand through his hair. "Well, that settles it, then. Thanks, Tony."
May breathed a sigh of relief. What luck that her 'parents' were living with the Avengers! Although, to tell the truth, she could never have imagined the close, collegial friendship between Peter and Tony Stark. The two men were so different. Stark was serious, self-assured and a bit pretentious. Peter seemed the opposite with his clownish behavior as Spider-Man. She knew from experience with her own father that the wise-cracks covered a deeply conflicted soul. But their similar intellect and strong sense of justice had made these two brothers in the fight.
"You know, you could have done this yourself, Peter. You have full access to the lab," Stark assured him.
"Yeah, I know. But I wasn't sure if I might somehow read what I wanted to see into the results. I needed an unbiased opinion."
"Any time, Peter, any time." Stark turned to May. "Any idea how you got here, young lady?"
The dimensionally displaced teenager shook her head. "I wish I knew," she said ruefully. "This is actually not the first time something like this has happened. The first time I got caught in a time-travel portal that Spyral had created. He accidentally sent us both about 20 years into the past."
"Spyral?" Peter asked, looking at Tony for wisdom. The older man gave a slight shake of his head.
"Well, he claimed to be from another dimension – I guess it isn't this one, then…" She moved on to her second experience. "The other time was more recent. I was helping out the Avengers," both men's eyebrows rose, "a whole new lineup..." she hurriedly went on, "and we used a portal at the mansion… to save Captain America and Stormtrooper. They had been imprisoned there by some pretty evil versions of my dad, and the Fantastic Five."
"Your dad?" Peter asked worriedly.
"The Fantastic Five?" Stark mused.
"Let's just say that this dimension is much closer to what I'm used to," May continued. "What I can't figure out is why it seems to be about 10 years ago as well as an alternate reality."
"Maybe it'll make more sense on a full stomach," Peter reassured May. "I think we're going to head upstairs. See you later, Tony."
With a distracted hum, Stark patted Peter on the shoulder and turned back to the display, engrossed in studying May's genetic material.
May stifled a yawn, and rubbed at her temples. A slight headache was coming on, probably from lack of sleep. Mary Jane and little Ben had gone back to bed hours ago, but May and Peter had stayed in the lab all night long, talking and trading war stories while they waited for the test results to come in.
Peter turned to her. "Would you like to come back to our place and get some coffee?" he asked, already experiencing a feeling of fatherly affection.
May nodded enthusiastically and hopped lightly off of the examining table.
As they walked through the metallic corridor toward the elevator, May shut her eyes tightly and gave her head a little shake to clear it. That's probably what I need, a little caffeine.
They stepped into the elevator, and the heavy doors shut with a whoosh. Everything about the place spoke of fabulous wealth and advanced technology. It made her wish briefly that she were more than a 'reserve' Avenger in her world. A barely audible hum was the only indication they were moving.
There was a slightly awkward, somewhat uneasy silence between them. May could not help wondering whether Peter was still wary of her, despite the overwhelming evidence supporting her claim of who she was.
"So, does your dad like it?" Peter asked, breaking the silence. "Being retired?" he added, when she gave him a curious look.
"I think he does. I mean, I never even suspected any kind of superhero past when I was growing up. When my abilities developed, seemingly overnight, Mom and Dad basically had no choice but to fill me in."
"So, you had a pretty normal childhood, then," he commented, a little wistfully.
"Yes," she admitted. "You know, at first he was dead set against me carrying on the webs." She ticked off the reasons on her fingers. "I was too young, too inexperienced. I was in it for the wrong reasons." She bit her lip, guiltily. "I hid my 'extracurricular activities' from him for a long time."
"Like father, like daughter." He grinned knowingly. "Still, it must have been nice having your family know about you from the beginning. For the longest time I had no one. Now I don't know what I'd do without Mary Jane and Aunt May."
"I know what you mean," she agreed. The elevator doors slid open to reveal a large living area, surrounded by windows on three sides. As they walked into the room, she continued. "And it's been nice having someone who knows what this life is like. But as much as he likes being retired, that hasn't stopped him from trying to suit up a couple times…"
They turned the corner to go into the kitchen. May halted at the sight that greeted her eyes.
Mary Jane sat at the table, feeding Ben, who was looking very comfortable and content in his high chair. Seated directly opposite of Mary Jane was an elderly lady whose sparkling eyes belied her frail appearance. May recognized her instantly from the numerous photographs and videos her parents had taken. In her world, this woman had been deceased for years.
"Oh . . . my . . . God . . ." May murmured, her feet frozen to the floor. her eyes widening in shock. That face . . .
An older man, white apron tied about his waist, stood at the stove frying what smelled like bacon. His back was to her, but he turned in greeting as they came in. "Good morning, sir, miss. What will you have this morning?"
Is that Jarvis? May thought, amazed. His hair was a little darker, but otherwise, he looked exactly the same.
"Good morning, Jarvis. We'd like some coffee, if you don't mind," Peter told him. He headed toward the table to give his wife and son a good morning kiss.
"Certainly. I'll just…"
"Don't be silly, Edwin. I'll get it. You tend to the stove…" the older woman reproved. Her short gray hair swung into her face slightly as she stood up from the table.
Peter suddenly noticed that May had not moved. His eyes traveled between May's odd expression, and that of his Aunt, who had just looked up from pouring coffee.
Their eyes locked. My namesake, May though nervously. We met when I traveled to the past in my world, but she never knew who I was. None of them had known. It would have been too hard to explain. What will she think of me? But she need not have been concerned. Mary Jane had briefed Aunt May on the situation the minute she and Ben had returned from the lab.
"Oh, my heavens," Aunt May exclaimed, raising a fluttering hand to her chest.
The stillness broken, both Mays rushed to close the gap between them. May the Younger wrapped her arms around the older woman's frail body, while May the Elder raised a hand to touch her grandniece's face. "It's like a dream come true…" she whispered, awestruck. "You look exactly as I'd always imagined you would."
The older woman's touch should have bothered her, but instead she felt a joy she couldn't even begin to describe. So, this is what it's like to have grandparents? She finally found her voice. "You look like the pictures I've seen, except – when did you cut your hair?"
Aunt May stepped back, and sifted the ends of her hair through her fingers. "Oh, a couple of years ago. I was tired of fussing with that silly bun." Smiling, she took young May's hand in hers and led her to the table. "Come. Have some breakfast."
"Everything check out all right, hon?" Mary Jane asked her husband.
He gave her an embarrassed smile. "Just like you knew it would."
Aunt May set a plate of sizzling bacon and eggs in front of her teenaged namesake. The food smelled so good… She started to eat hungrily.
His duties finished for now, Jarvis took a seat with them at the table, but not before giving Aunt May… a peck on the cheek? Aunt May smiled fondly at the older man.
"May?" Mary Jane began.
Both Mays looked up and answered simultaneously, "Yes?" although younger May had a mouthful of eggs garbling her response.
Younger May giggled, covering her mouth. Older May said, "Oh, dear, we're going to have to think of a way to distinguish between us."
The teenager swallowed her food, and chimed in, "Actually, I often go by 'Mayday' around my friends and family. You could call me that instead."
"'Mayday'? As in 'look out, here comes trouble'?" Peter teased.
She blushed a little. "Probably. I think I was a handful as a toddler."
"Mayday it is, then," Aunt May pronounced.
It was quite amazing how comfortable she felt sitting around this table. Her 'parents' seemed so in love, Aunt May was as welcoming as she had hoped, even Jarvis seemed 'part of the family.' She needed to get home to her own family somehow, but for now, she could enjoy the company of this family.
A weight of worry seemed to lift from her shoulders. Even after the coffee, the slight headache and full stomach combined to make her suddenly very sleepy. She rubbed a hand across her eyes.
"Mayday?" Mary Jane asked. "Are you all right?"
"Yes, Mom, just a little tired… Oh… sorry." She smiled sleepily at Mary Jane to show she recognized the name slip.
"That's all right, sweetheart," Mary Jane replied with a warm, motherly smile. "I kind of like the sound of it." She was already developing an emotional bond with the transposed teen. In a way, it really was like her long-lost daughter had finally returned.
"Oh, my dear," Aunt May interrupted. "I'm sure we can find you a bed easily. What a time you must have been through. Edwin…?"
The butler was already on his way to make arrangements. "Of course we will, miss. A member of my staff will attend to it right away."
By the time May had crawled into the soft, beautiful bed, she could hardly keep her eyes open. "Don't let me sleep too long…" she murmured at Peter and Mary Jane, who had come to see her to the room.
"It's like she's always been a part of the family, isn't it?" Mary Jane mused, as they closed the door quietly.
"Yes, it is. But I can't help of think of the other Peter and MJ, who must be sick with worry wondering where their daughter is right now." Peter knew that he would have been, and he had only known her a few short hours…
"Peter…" a voice called from down the hall. Tony Stark walked toward them purposefully.
"Would you join me in the lab? I would like your opinion on something."
"What is it?" Peter asked, concerned.
"I have been studying young May's DNA since you left, and her being here may be more of a problem than we realized…"
A/N: Happy Birthday to me! I was hoping to have this done today to celebrate another chapter. My DH is taking me somewhere tomorrow for dinner - should be fun!
Chapter 4: Fantastic
The walk up to Mayday's floor went one slow step at a time. Peter had taken the stairs purposely, so that he had more time to think.
Should I worry her? Maybe I need more time to process the results… The last couple of hours, while she slept, he had analyzed and re-analyzed the data…
"When you compare the two side by side, the latest sample has clearly degenerated from the first," Tony commented.
"Yes, it has." Peter agreed worriedly. "Is it possible that this could be an anomaly? Could the second sample have been contaminated somehow?"
"I find it highly unlikely, but you're the one with more training in genetics. My specialty lies more in engineering and robotics."
They both turned toward a beeping on the console. Tony touched the intercom button. "Yes, Stark here."
Jarvis' voice, sounding as clear as if he were in the room, announced, "Mr. Stark, Director Hill for you in the videoconference room."
"Inform her that I'll be right there." He turned back to Peter. "I need to take this, excuse me."
"Of course," Peter nodded and went back to studying the samples. The metal doors slid shut with a quiet hiss behind Stark.
"Well, Mayday said this is what I do for a living in her world," he thought aloud. "Let's get to it…"
In fact, I could probably use the other me's help right now, he mused. He had decided the only way to know for sure whether her cell structure was really degenerating was to take a fresh sample.
For the second time in as many minutes, he wondered, Should I worry her? We're all just barely getting to know her… During the time Mayday had been with them, all of the emotion he had suppressed at the loss of his baby daughter had come flooding back. And there was the predicament. He had hoped to have at least a few days with her, to have some small recompense for the years he had lost with her dimensional twin. But if her very existence here was putting her in danger, then she absolutely had to leave as soon as possible.
He stopped halfway up the last flight of stairs before her floor, and rested his head against the smooth wall. My little girl… how can I lose you again, so soon?
He closed his eyes, and took a deep breath. Feeling a surge of fatherly protection, he decided that he would find a way to return her to her home, and soon. But she deserved to enjoy her time here, and so he would not bother her with these problems yet.
Quickly covering the distance between the stairwell access and her room, Peter knocked softly on the door. Almost before he had finished, Mayday opened it, leaving his hand hanging in mid-air.
She was dressed in the clothes Mary Jane had lent her: a long-sleeved top and low-slung pants. They looked to be a perfect fit. "Hi! Did I startle you?" She grinned at his amazement, then gestured for him to enter.
"A little. I barely left the stairwell – how did you know I was coming?" he asked curiously as he stepped into the room.
She closed the door behind him. "My 'spider-sense' has always been pretty sensitive. My dad used to comment that it was more fine-tuned than his was."
Peter suddenly wondered – he had just developed a set of new powers, and a more sensitive spider-sense was part of it. Did she have any of the others…?
She anticipated his next question, as she continued, "The other power that is different from my dad's is a sort of 'magnetic' ability. I can attract and repel objects – kind of like a heightening of our ability to stick to walls."
That was a new one to him. But it would sure be a nice power to have… "Anything else?"
"No, not really. Just small things. My dad was a lot stronger than me in his prime, but I am probably more agile. It's a little hard to really compare, though. With my dad's missing limb, he'll never be able to show me everything he could do…" The way Mayday looked at Peter was almost like a challenge.
Spider vs. spider, eh? "Well, I was thinking that we could go see Reed Richards this afternoon. He has more experience in inter-dimensional travel than Tony or I do. Do you want to take the 'Spider Express?' We could always take the subway…"
She was suddenly at the window, her long-sleeved shirt already partially unbuttoned to reveal her costume. She flashed him Mary Jane's brilliant smile and asked, "What are we waiting for?"
"HOO – HA!" Mayday's cry rang out across the canyons of skyscrapers. "Catch me if you can, old man!"
Hoo – Ha? He would have to ask her about that one, later. She certainly had exuberance, and a fluid grace to her web-swinging that was distinctly feminine. And she wasn't kidding about her agility! It's like seeing the gymnastics of The Black Cat, times ten. "Don't get so cocky! And hey! Who are you calling an old man!" he called after her.
Her laughter was infectious. They raced all the way to the Baxter Building. Apparently, the place was in the same location in her dimension, because she never once asked for directions.
They touched down on the rooftop, with Peter barely behind her. She looked around curiously for an entrance. He nodded to an access door. "They know we're coming. So we can skip reception this time."
"Great." As they entered the doorway, Mayday nonchalantly slipped her mask off of her head.
"Hey, wait a minute!" he said, alarmed. "Maybe it's not such a big deal where you come from, but here, identities are pretty necessary, even among friends!"
"Oh, I'm so sorry," she flushed scarlet. "The Storms, the Richardses and the Grimms have always been like family to us. I figured we'd be meeting them in regular clothes, not in costume." She started to replace the mask.
"Well…" he regretted overreacting. He peeled his mask off as well. "Actually, our families are close here, as well. They all know my identity, except the children… Johnny only a little while though… It was quite a funny story…"
"My dad and Mr. Storm are pretty tight. I think the only one who's never seen me out of costume is Franklin… Is there a Franklin?" she asked, a little strangely. They both began to remove their street clothes from their web packs.
"Yes, and baby Valeria," he added, slipping his shirt over his head.
"Baby Valeria…" she murmured, pulling her pants over her tights.
Within moments, they were ready. They opened a door into the main laboratory. Mayday looked around curiously. Reed Richards was across the room, working on some project. It probably seems old hat to her. From her descriptions, technology is considerably more advanced among the superhero set in her world.
"Web Head!" a voice called from the other direction.
"Flame Brain!" Peter called back jovially to his best friend.
The two men embraced, patting each other on the back. Johnny Storm turned on the charm as he addressed his 'daughter.' "And this little lady must be Mayday. Well, we know where the looks come from, don't we?" Johnny smirked, elbowing him in the ribs.
"At least there's a woman who'll have me…" Peter shot right back.
"Can I help it if I can't decide between my blondes, brunettes and redheads?" he boasted. "Tell me, Mayday, which kind finally captured the heart of the Fabulous Human Torch?"
"Um, none of those…" Mayday answered with a barely repressed grin.
"Huh? I thought you told me she said I had kids in her world?" Johnny accused Peter.
"Oh, you're married, Mr. Storm… to a Skrull shape-changer named Lyja." The smile was full-blown now.
I'm not the only one who likes to take the wind out of his sails! Peter laughed heartily at the look on Johnny's face.
After the shock, his face darkened. "Lyja…" He recovered quickly, however. "I guess you're right, Pete. Things are pretty different where she comes from."
"You're still married to the Skrull woman, but I'm missing a leg…" Peter balanced his hands as if they were scales.
"Peter! You're here already." Reed Richards finally looked up from his work. He walked over with a purposeful stride. "Young Mayday. I'm very interested in studying your genetic makeup."
"Oh, okay, I guess I can be poked and prodded a little longer," she said. "Actually, doc, I think I might be coming down with something. You got any Tylemol?"
"Tyle – MOL?" Johnny said curiously. Peter winced inwardly – she was already experiencing symptoms…
"I think we can find something suitable – excuse me, gentlemen. This will only be a few minutes." The scientist and the teenager moved back over to the main work area.
Peter and Johnny walked toward the windows. "It's easy to believe that Reed would find it easier to function through a robotic substitute," Johnny gestured back with his thumb. "The guy practically is one already."
"It's funny how many things are so different yet the same," Peter started.
"Well, from what I can tell, everything in her universe was exactly the same as ours, until about the time of her birth. Then, it seems everyone's lives took different courses."
"That's odd. Have you pinned it down to one particular moment in time?"
Peter nodded. "Did I ever tell you about 'The Gathering of the Five?'"
Johnny screwed up his face in thought, and then shook his head. "Doesn't sound familiar."
"It happened a few months after we thought little May had died. The Green Goblin had brought together five people bearing mystical objects for a strange ritual. He was trying to gain some sort of ultimate power… the usual thing, really. I defeated him, but the Scriers got him away before the police could. That day I discovered that my Aunt May was not really dead, but had been kidnapped and drugged. An actress, who had been pretending to be my Aunt May, was the one who had really died." Peter spoke with difficulty. It seemed that most of the horrific events of his life had been engineered by Norman Osborn.
"I wish I could say, 'This stuff only happens to you,' but we both know that's not true," his friend commiserated.
"I tried to retire for a while after that. But one thing led to another, and I was back in the game again." Peter sighed.
"I remember that…" Johnny affirmed. "So what was different about it in her world?"
"Well, she tells me that my double stopped the ceremony, but not without cost. A resulting explosion killed the Green Goblin, and took his leg as well. The other Peter had no choice but to retire." He looked over the city, his eyes not focusing on anything in particular. "A sometime enemy slash ally of mine named Kaine returned baby May to them. However, Aunt May is not alive in that dimension."
Peter's eyes closed. "Is it terrible that I'm envious of that other me? I love my Aunt May dearly, don't get me wrong. I don't know what I'd do without her. But seeing the girl, no, woman, Mayday has become…"
"Hey, buddy, it's natural to wonder what might have been. You're lucky that you can be with her now, even if it's only for a little while." Johnny placed a gentle hand on his shoulder.
"But that's not all. Johnny, I'm really worried about her. I mentioned to Reed over the phone that there seem to be some serious problems with her cellular integrity. It seems to be degenerating at a more accelerated rate than normal."
"Hang on, brainiac," Johnny tried to lighten the conversation. "Slow down a little. I get enough of that from Reed. What's going on?"
"I wanted Reed to verify what Stark and I found out. It looks like being in this dimension is tearing her apart. The longer she stays, the more serious it will become."
A light went on in Johnny's eyes. "So the headache…"
"Is just the beginning, I fear." With a note of pleading in his voice, Peter added, "Don't say anything to her. I hope we can get her home before the damage is irreparable."
"You will, you always find a way, somehow."
"Uncle Pete!" A young boy shot toward him, tackling him around the legs.
Peter determinedly wiped the worry from his face, and lifted the little boy high into the air. "How's my favorite little superhero?"
"Great! Did you get any pictures of Spidey today?"
"Not today, Franklin, but the day's still young." He looked behind Franklin to see Susan Richards, carrying her little girl Valeria, and Ben Grimm, the Thing.
"Nice ta see ya, pal." Ben gestured with his oversized hands. "Where's the girl?"
"She's still with Reed…" But just as he said the words, the two came into sight.
As they came close enough for conversation, Reed gave his analysis. "You are right, Peter, she is a fascinating subject."
"Reed," Susan chided. "She's a human being, and a lovely girl at that." Susan smiled warmly at Mayday and held out her free hand. "Hello, dear. I'm Susan Richards. This is my daughter, Valeria, and the little boy who would like to be Peter's shadow is our son, Franklin."
"Nice to meet you," Mayday said distractedly. For some reason she was staring at Franklin, almost as if she were memorizing every detail.
"And I'm Ben Grimm, or as most folks like to say, 'the ever-lovin' blue-eyed Thing.' Uh, Mayday?"
She seemed to snap out of it. "Oh! I'm sorry. I'm not really feeling like myself today. We've met before, Mr. Grimm, in my world." She looked around at everyone. "Our families are pretty close…"
"Well, dear, it looks like some things are the same no matter what dimension." Susan guided Franklin over to her a little reluctantly. "Franklin, honey. Say hello to Mayday. She is Uncle Pete's 'daughter' from another world."
The two looked at each other, Franklin with mild interest, Mayday with intensity. I wonder what she finds so fascinating with him? Peter thought, filing it away for later.
"Nice to meet you, Franklin. The 'you' of my world is older than me, though."
He brightened. "And taller, too?"
This seemed to please him. "Are we friends?"
"Yes, and we work together often, too."
"Cool. Does your other dad know Spider-Man, too?"
She grinned. "About as well as your 'Uncle Pete' does."
"He's the greatest! Do you know him, too?"
"Oh, yes. And I agree, he is the greatest," she said proudly, looking askance at Peter.
The adults in the group watched this exchange with amusement. Peter felt a pressure on his heart. He sent a silent message with his thoughts to his other self: Peter Parker, you lucky bastard…
The conversation continued around him, unheard, until Reed came close and murmured, "Peter, if you don't mind…"
They moved away from the group. Reed handed him a disc. "This contains my findings. But I am afraid your original analysis was correct. Based on the results you sent over earlier, her body is suffering from stresses that are only growing by the hour."
"My God. Is there anything you can do?"
"We have a portal we use to go into the Negative Zone. Perhaps I can tune it to her dimension… I have enough of a sample for a preliminary trial. But it might take several days to calibrate it correctly."
"Right now, you are our only hope. Do what you can."
Reed nodded gravely, and headed back to his workstation.
As they swung home, he watched for signs that she was feeling worse. If he didn't know better, he would say that she was in prime condition. She seemed in high spirits after their visit. But if she was his daughter in any way, he knew how much physical pain could be hidden from loved ones…
A strong tingling jerked him back to reality. Mayday had also staggered in mid-swing. They turned as one, and caught sight of a pair of heavy green wings flashing in the setting sun.
A/N: I want to thank jenskott for clueing me into the fact that the 616 and 982 Marvel Universes diverged with "The Gathering of the Five." The scene between Peter and Johnny is a tribute to Spider-Girl #49.
Also, if you haven't already read it, I highly recommend the 5-part limited series Spider-Man / Human Torch published in 2005. It is a hilarious look at Peter and Johnny's evolving rivalry/friendship.
Chapter 5: Teamwork
Mayday almost did a double take. Green? Really? What her mother would think of that fashion choice, she had no idea. And what kind of threat could a bald old man like this really be? But the guy feels like trouble, and the way Peter reacted to him, I'd bet on it.
As if they had been in battle together for years, the two web-slingers glided toward the man in the winged suit. "Vulture!" Peter called out to him, almost exasperated. "Can't we go even a few days without seeing each other? I mean, really! We've tangled at least three times in the last couple weeks alone!" Sweeping in from the side, he planted a forceful two-footed kick in the man's side. "It's really getting embarrassing…"
The teenaged superhero wondered if her dad had been this way years ago. Is it always smackdown first, and ask questions later? Still, the spider-sense was rarely wrong…
"Gah!" the aging bird-man cried… did Spider-Man just call him… Vulture? "Don't you have better things to do than interfere with my business?" He recovered quickly, twisting in mid-air. Not bad for an old geezer, Mayday thought, impressed. At that moment, he finally seemed to notice her presence. "Hey, is that Felicia under there?" he cackled. "Or did you trade her in for the latest model?"
"Felicia? We're ancient history, pal…" The older web-slinger shot a web-line to try to entangle the Vulture's wings. "And she'd scratch your eyes out for that crack, and you know it." They traded insults with practiced ease.
Mayday decided it was time to join in the action. She shot her own web-line to race ahead of the fighting pair. "They call me Spider-Girl," she turned her head to acknowledge Spider-Man, "and no offense…" her attention returned to the aged super-villain, "he's a bit too old for me…"
"None taken," her partner called back smoothly.
"Anyway, I'm just visiting, and Spider-Man here was taking me sightseeing…" She made a dazzling double flip in front of him.
"How nice for you," the Vulture said in a sickly sweet voice. His tone then turned icy. "Now, just let me through!" Using the tips of his powerful wings, he slid between the two spider-people, pushing them aside.
Mayday was surprised at how powerful he was. In her battles with Raptor, she had been able to overcome the girl fairly easily. Not that she was a pushover, mind you, the girl could fight! She was glad that Brenda was on the right side of the law now, and that she had become a pretty good friend.
Get your head in the game, girl! Now is not the time to reminisce! She joined Spider-Man in speeding after the Vulture. Show the boys what you can do!
If the Vulture's suit was anything like Raptor's, the most vulnerable spot would be his head. While Peter whipped around in a tight circle, she aimed her stingers just so…
"Aigh!" Vulture cried at the multiple points of pain blooming all over his upper body. He had no time to recover, however, as Peter completed his circle with a punch to the abdomen.
"Way to go! You set 'em up, I knock 'em down!" her 'father' quipped.
Green wings folding in on themselves, the super-villain crashed against the windows of the building opposite. He came out of his fall, and shot skyward with a growl – directly toward her.
Vulture tackled her forcefully. They turned end over end, tumbling through the air high above the streets. People below were beginning to take notice.
"Awfully forward for a first date, aren't we?" Mayday wrenched her arms free of his grasp. She planted her palms on his broad chest. "Hands to yourself, buddy!" With an almost-palpable crack of energy, Mayday repelled him upward and away from her.
The look of surprise on his retreating face was priceless. Not such an easy target, am I? She landed quietly on the corner of a building.
The Vulture's arc took him right into Spider-Man's path. She heard a snikt and saw a flash as the setting sun hit some sort of foot-long spike protruding from Spider-Man's forearm. What is that…?
He slashed downward at the Vulture's back, directly into the power source of the mechanized suit. Electricity crackled harshly, and the winged man began to drop.
Working quickly, Mayday spun a web a few stories below to catch his fall. The criminal landed in it heavily, twisting violently to break its bonds. It was no use, however. With the two web-spinners to either side, he didn't stand a chance. Layers of webbing stiffly bound his arms and legs to the sparkling web beneath.
"I hope you're not ticklish, Vulchy," Peter drawled, searching the suit for any clues to the man's foiled errand. Mayday stood to the side, arms folded haughtily across her chest, but she was secretly grinning beneath her mask.
"You're lucky you had this little brat with you, or I'd be long gone," Vulture snarled.
"Just keep telling yourself that, friend…" It didn't take long to produce a flash drive from a compartment in the lining of the suit. "I'm guessing someone will be upset to lose whatever information is on this thing."
"You little m-…" A stream of web-fluid quickly shut him up.
"Please!" Spider-Girl lowered her wrist. "My delicate ears!" She looked at the horizon, where the sun was setting completely into evening, then back at Peter. "Are we going to leave him here, or make a special delivery?"
After what should have been a routine drop at the police station (she hadn't seen people so curious about her presence since she first started fighting crime in her dimension), they began to make their way home, just a couple of hours later than planned. Mayday hoped that Mary Jane was as used to it as her parents were. Otherwise, they might need to make a pizza run…
She turned toward Peter. "We make a great team, huh, 'Dad'?" she said proudly.
"No doubt about that!" They fired web-lines almost in sync.
"It's too bad we can't do this on a regular basis. It would be fun to just patrol, father-daughter," Mayday mused.
"Bad guys, beware!" he joked. But did she detect an odd tone to his voice?
She started to ask, but as web-fluid was shooting from her web shooters, it sputtered out, far short of the amount she needed to reach the next anchoring point. Oh, crap. And it's not like I have any spare cartridges with me! Note to self: pack for interdimensional trips a little more carefully…
She seemed to hang in mid-air, almost comically, and then she plummeted straight downward.
"Mayday!" She could faintly hear Peter cry out above her as she fell, her mind working frantically, looking for a way to slow her fall. But whatever brilliant idea she might have had, all thoughts fled as a wave of vertigo hit her. "Ohhh," she groaned. That's never happened before…
Muscled arms suddenly encircled her waist, carrying her upward once more. "I've got you," Peter's voice reassured.
Faintly, she managed to say, "And what about my stomach?" before blackness overtook her.
A/N: Sorry about the longer wait for an update. But thank you to all who reviewed in the interim. You guys are so great!
And of course, tons of continuing thanks to Georgia Kennedy, Mark C and Jenn1.
Chapter 6: Boys
As he lay in bed, Peter's mind was running in overdrive. The Merker case, I think we're close to a breakthrough. Maybe I should run the samples through a second time…
A tickle at the back of his neck snapped him back to the present. He looked at the clock on the bedside table. 11:00 PM? Cutting it close if you're going to study for those tests tomorrow, huh, May? He couldn't give her too much of a hard time about it, though. Before he retired as Spider-Man, he'd been exactly the same, after all. Suddenly, he sensed her presence at the doorway. Did she need something? He lifted his head in a silent question. MJ stirred beside him sleepily. May gave an imperceptible shake of her head to show nothing was amiss. She mouthed the words, "Good night, Dad," and blew him a kiss before continuing down the hall.
Peter closed his eyes contentedly. She wasn't much past sixteen, but already she was more grown up than a lot of twenty-somethings he knew. He really was proud of his little Spider-Girl.
At that moment, his spider-sense virtually screamed. He sat up with a shout. Mary Jane was startled awake. "Peter… what…?"
In the next room, Ben let out a piercing cry. He began to wail piteously. The two of them stumbled out of bed. Peter seized his cane by the bedside purposefully, and set off.
When they entered the nursery, Ben was flailing his arms upward in the crib, as if he were trying to grab a hold of something above him. Mary Jane lifted him and placed him on her shoulder, patting him on the back while bouncing him gently.
"There, there, little man. It's okay. It's okay," she murmured comfortingly. MJ turned to Peter. "Is May home, yet?"
While MJ had been comforting Ben, Peter had been extending his senses all around for whatever had triggered the violent reaction in his spider-sense. "She was just here. I could have sworn that she was heading for Ben's room just a minute ago…" A feeling of dread stole over him. "Now, she's just… gone."
Clack. Step. Clack. Step. Clack. Step. The steady rhythm punctuated Peter's pacing of the kitchen tiles. Every once in a while, as his frustration built up, he would wave the cane in the air as he made a point. He held the cordless phone to his ear. "You're sure. You never saw or heard from her yesterday at all?"
"No, Pete," Johnny Storm explained. "We were on a mission yesterday. We haven't heard from her in a few days."
"Thanks, Johnny. If you hear anything, let us know right away." He ended the call abruptly, but as politely as possible.
Peter's colleague, Phil Urich sat at the kitchen table, simultaneously using his cell phone. "No? Well, call me if you hear from her, okay? Bye." He ended the call with a beep, and crossed another name off of his list. "I've checked with the members of my team," he told his anxious friend, who hadn't stopped pacing. "No one has seen her for a couple days."
Mary Jane was balancing Ben in one arm with yet another phone in the other hand. "Not since yesterday at school? Davida, do you think she may have gone to some sort of study group?" She had called all of May's high school friends, and even Normie Osborn, but no one had any idea where their daughter had gone.
Between the three of them, they had called nearly everyone ever connected with May in either persona. They looked at each other helplessly in the ensuing silence. Well, silence except for Ben's quiet whimpers. His young son had been unable to sleep since he had awakened with a scream late last night, and it was now 7:00 AM. Phil had come over first thing in the morning to help out.
There was only one number left to call. "I could do it… I mean, in my guise as the Golden Goblin. They wouldn't necessarily suspect anything," Phil offered.
"The technology they have in the Avengers Mansion comes directly from Tony Stark. I'd be too afraid they'd have call tracing, or GPS tracking as a standard feature. May is a reserve Avenger. She's the only one of us with a direct line. Do you think anyone contacting them through the usual channels would get through to any one of the team members without a good explanation?" Peter sat heavily in a chair, taking a rest at last. "You know as well as I do that May's identity would be compromised if they linked her to us."
He looked into Mary Jane's haggard eyes. Mirrored in them, he saw his own worry and frustration. She had suffered this very situation a thousand times over when he had been active as Spider-Man – not for the first time, he thanked God for her strength, thanked God that he had always come back to her. He fervently prayed that their daughter would do the same.
He turned back to Phil. "Do you think you can handle the caseload today? I think I'll be calling in sick." He looked toward the bedroom, where his old costume was stored in a locked case. "It's time to make a house call."
It was Mary Jane's turn for the bedside vigil. Ever since Peter had carried Mayday in, he, Mary Jane, and May had taken turns watching over her. When… and if… she wakes up, she'll probably suspect what we need to tell her…
While Mayday slept, Mary Jane had had time to think about this strange twist of events fate had dealt them. She had never really gotten over what had happened to their little May – she had buried it deep down. It was the typical way she had always dealt with her problems. Push them down deep. Behave as if they don't exist. It was the way she had dealt with her parents' problems, her knowledge of Peter's secret before it became too much to keep to herself any longer…
They hadn't spoken two words about baby May's disappearance in years. It was as if the event had never really happened. As a seasoned actress, she had little difficulty concealing her pain and anguish. And as for Peter, well, it was a good thing he wore a mask. Once you knew him, it was very easy to read the thoughts roiling just below the surface. But he had somehow managed to file the tragedy away… to add to a long list of tragedies…
Mayday began to stir, ending Mary Jane's reverie. "Uhhh…" she groaned. She looked over at Mary Jane groggily. "Mom…? Where am I, what happened…"
Mary Jane took the teenaged girl's hand and squeezed it gently. "You're in bed, sweetheart. Peter brought you home last night after you passed out. You are still with us in the Tower… we haven't figured out a way to send you home, yet." Mary Jane was not sure whether Mayday even remembered that she was not at home. But it didn't really matter. Mary Jane couldn't help but think of Mayday as her own daughter. Hearing herself being called "Mom," was the most natural thing in the world. And soon, she'll be gone... MJ had to blink to keep the tears at bay.
The girl shook her head, clearly disoriented. "I… right… I know where I am now…" She turned her eyes on Mary Jane, imploring her to be truthful. "There's something really wrong, isn't there?"
Her 'mother' nodded sadly. "Peter and Tony noticed something amiss in the samples they took yesterday," Mary Jane explained. "Your body is slowly breaking down."
Strangely, Mayday didn't seem surprised. "I knew there was something wrong… I just couldn't pinpoint it." She smiled slightly. "I thought maybe it was just something different in the air here…"
"They'll figure this out, don't worry," Mary Jane reassured her. Even though Mayday had been trying to make light of the situation, MJ could see by the sagging of her shoulders, and the crease between her eyebrows that the girl was fighting very hard to keep from panicking.
Mayday started to get out of bed. MJ tried to forestall her, "Wait a minute, don't you think you should be resting?"
The young woman's face took on a stubborn look. "Will it really help? Lying in bed won't change what's happening to me. I'd rather be out trying to help find a solution…" She strode purposefully toward the dresser, where some clothing had been laid out earlier. As she was pulling a shirt over her head, an embarrassingly loud rumble came from her stomach. Blushing slightly, she turned to MJ. "But maybe we could find some lunch first?"
I'm glad the weather is good today, Mary Jane thought. This café is so much more pleasant on a sunny day… The three of them, MJ, Mayday and little Ben had a good table, set back a little way from the street.
As she strapped Ben into his highchair, Mary Jane couldn't help but notice the way he squirmed. Generally, he was a good-natured baby, with a healthy appetite. Getting out of the apartment to go to a restaurant was one of his favorite activities. In fact, he had been acting strangely for the last few days. Maybe this isn't such a good idea. We could have stayed and eaten lunch at home… but Mayday seems to need cheering up.
MJ shrugged off her worries. "So Mayday, with everything that's been going on since you arrived, we haven't had much time to talk." She searched for a light topic, hoping to take Mayday's mind off of her current problem. "Tell me, do you have a boyfriend?"
The girl's eyes rolled heavenward, and she took a deep breath before letting it out noisily. "Oh, where to begin?"
MJ laughed. "That big a topic?"
"You have no idea…"
Still chuckling, she disagreed. "Oh, believe me, I might. If your father was anything like my Peter was, his love life was quite a roller-coaster. Am I warm?"
"Are you wearing sunscreen?"
"Ouch. Go on." She nodded as she started to open a jar of baby food for Ben.
"Well, okay, here I go…" She took another breath. "First, there's Brad Miller. I had a crush on him for ages, and this last year, he actually seemed to like me back."
"Oh? So what happened there?"
"Well, he's not as great as I thought. We had a student at our school who had mutant abilities. There were a lot of people who wanted her to leave, and Brad was one of them. He and some buddies threatened her, and I had to protect her as Spider-Girl. Brad doesn't know I have seen that side of him. I'm just not that interested in him anymore – I mean, what would he think of me if he ever found out my identity?"
"I guess people are no more tolerant of mutants in your world than they are here," Mary Jane responded. "That's too bad."
"Tell me about it. I mean, I inherited my abilities. Maybe I have the X-gene, maybe not, but it doesn't matter when you get right down to it." She took a sip of her water. "I need someone who understands that. Anyway, moving on… next comes J.J…" She looked over at MJ and tilted her head. "Jack Jameson."
Mary Jane, who had been in the middle of feeding a spoonful of pears to Ben, stopped still at the name. "Jameson? Of the Jamesons we all know and love?"
"The very same. He's Jonah's grandson. He was new to our school this year, and started flirting with me immediately. But unfortunately, he flirts with all the girls. A player through and through. Still, that didn't bother me as much as the other thing I found out about him."
At that moment, the waitress came to the table to take their order. Mary Jane had to wait until the woman had left to get the next part of the story. "Don't leave me hanging - what did you find out?"
"He's also a costumed superhero called The Buzz. He has a powered suit that helps him fly. Apparently, Jonah created it for someone else, and J.J. stole it. The guy was murdered, and The Buzz is still blamed for it. But how can he clear his name without revealing who he is?"
"Peter's had the same problem over and over again."
"I know. Anyway, I defended him for a long time, and then I made a mistake in judgment while crime-fighting. The Buzz called me on it, and has been acting like a jerk about it ever since. I mean, really, it was a big mistake, but I made it right in the end."
"What was the mistake?" MJ asked curiously.
"There is a criminal named Funny Face, totally bonkers, by the way. He broke his mother, Angel Face, out of Ravencroft. I believed them when they said they'd turn away from crime and leave town. Oh, they left town – but only to go on a multi-state crime spree. I was too trusting, and innocent people paid for it." Mayday's eyebrows drew down in self-criticism.
"But you said you took care of it?"
"Yes, everyone's put away now, but… The Buzz and I can't work together anymore without this tension between us." She grimaced. "Although lately, it has been a little better… If only I was still in the dark about who he is, the way he is about me. J.J. talks to me at school, and I know he wonders why I give him the cold shoulder. But all I can see and hear is that blue costume and condescending voice."
The way Mayday ended the sentence, Mary Jane could tell the story wasn't over yet. "I take it there's even more…"
"Would I be Spider-Man's daughter if there weren't?" Mayday joked. "There's another guy at school I dated, Chris Jarkoer. He's a really sweet guy, but it didn't work out. He came with me to an engagement party, and there was all this mess – too much to go into – and he was scared spitless. Actually, if I didn't have powers I would have been, too… but he actually had the nerve to brag about what a hero he was later! He would have been twice the man if he had just owned up to his fear. Boys!"
MJ laughed again. "It's not just the boys, I fear. Whoever you choose is going to have a real tough act to follow, compared with your dad."
"Don't remind me," she continued with a sigh, "that's probably why I've had a few crushes on…" Mayday lowered her voice, "older guys."
MJ got a concerned look on her face, and started to speak, but the younger woman held up a hand. "Now, don't worry. They've only been crushes, I promise. I'm only sixteen, and I know it all too well."
She continued, "I have always had a little crush on Psi-Lord…" She paused before saying the name, "um, Franklin Richards."
"Little Franklin?" MJ had been wiping a little food off of Ben's chin, when she stopped, surprised yet again.
"I know! I met him yesterday, and it was so weird, but cool at the same time to see him as a little boy." She smiled and sighed. "He probably has never thought of me that way…" She shook her head, and gave a self-deprecating laugh. "He's older for one, and has so much more experience than me. I'm afraid to let him see me out of costume. I don't want him to dismiss me as a little girl."
Mary Jane placed some finger food on Ben's tray, just as their meals arrived. They waited again, until everything was served before Mayday continued her rather compelling narrative. "You said older guys. Who else?" Mayday seemed to hesitate. Mary Jane started to pick up her fork, and then thought better of it. "Should I start eating, or do you have another bombshell?"
Mayday began, "Just one more – well, it's… you know, this is going to be harder than I thought. My parents don't really know about this one, though I think my mom suspects. And seeing you and Ben sitting across from me…"
"Go ahead, honey. How bad could it be?" Still, she kept the fork on the table.
"It's Normie Osborn," she said in a very quiet voice.
"Osborn?" MJ exclaimed in a voice slightly too loud. She lowered her voice before continuing. "No wonder you haven't told your parents! Peter would have a conniption!"
"I know. My dad already doesn't trust that Normie has truly tried to put his family's Goblin past behind him. And now that V-…" She choked on whatever she had been going to say, and went on. "Never mind. I thought I loved him, but he rejected me. Said he was too old for me – which was true. I'm embarrassed about the whole thing now. We're still good friends. You remember that engagement party I mentioned? Normie and my friend Brenda are getting married pretty soon. I hope they'll be happy."
"Is it safe to eat again?" MJ asked, a little bit seriously.
"Yes, go ahead." Mayday looked at her food – a soup and salad combination – and turned a little pale. "You know, maybe I'm not as hungry as I thought. Do you want me to entertain Ben while you eat? I've gotten pretty good at it."
Gratefully, she said, "Oh, yes, please. I've almost forgotten what it is like to eat a meal without a hundred interruptions…" She dug into the food with a smile.
Mayday got up, came around the table and lifted Ben out of the highchair. She placed him on her knee and began to bounce him up and down. "Who's a good boy? Do you like to play horsey?" she coaxed in a high-pitched voice.
Usually Ben loved these types of games, but whatever was bothering him suddenly doubled. He began to cry.
"Oh, I'm sorry. I forgot. I'm a stranger to him, poor guy."
Mary Jane took him in her arms gently, and rubbed his back until his crying faded into sniffles. "He usually isn't afraid of strangers," MJ explained, puzzled. "But he hasn't really been himself the last few days…"
They all stilled abruptly. Mary Jane felt a tingle pass through her, and she shivered. What was that? She looked around, but no one else in the café seemed to notice anything out of the ordinary. Ben and Mayday were another matter. Their attention seemed focused on a point a few feet above the table. She looked up… and saw a ghostly green image of a man in a tall collar and cape.
Chapter 7: Hope
From the top of the building opposite, this place seemed like a highly unlikely front for a superhero: a comics shop called Deacon's Den. After talking with Jarvis at the front gate of the Avengers Mansion (he probably could have easily gotten past the security, but why bother?), he had learned that Spider-Girl had contacted them late last night. Over the intercom, J2 had told him that she had needed to get in touch with Doc Magus. A sorcerer? Why did you need his help, May? Peter had worked with Dr. Strange a time or two in his day, and it worried him.
Well, do I just walk in the front door? If I didn't have this artificial leg, I could really make an entrance… Shrugging, he shot a web-line and swung gracefully down to the entrance doors.
As he walked inside, a few customers looked up from browsing the boxes. Most did a double take, but then went right back to browsing. Peter chuckled inwardly. Bet it's not that uncommon to see a costumed fan walk in the shop… As he approached the counter, the clerk barely looked up.
"May I help you?" the young man drawled unconcernedly.
Spider-Man took in his jet black hair, scraggly goatee, spare frame – all as he kept his eyes focused on a comic book in his hands. The superhero cleared his throat, amused.
The clerk sighed, and put the comic on the counter. Finally, looking straight at Spider-Man, he said, "Yes?" with a touch of impatience.
The wallcrawler lowered his voice. "I'm looking for Doc Magus. Is he around?"
The clerk straightened up in incredulity. "And who are you?"
Spider-Man gestured dramatically to his costume. "One guess."
The young man huffed in flat disbelief. "Yeah. Right."
If his mask had had eye cut-outs, the guy would have seen Peter's eyes roll expressively. "Do I always have to give a demonstration? Geez…"
In the blink of an eye, Spider-Man zipped a strand of webbing to catch the comic in every customer's hand, including the one that had been sitting on the countertop. Gasps echoed around him. He started to flip through the one the clerk had been reading. "This one any good? … Man, the artwork in this leaves nothing to the imagination…"
Jaw a little slack, the clerk searched for the words to say. Spider-Man addressed the other people in the shop. "Hey, don't worry, folks. The stuff dissolves without a trace in about an hour or so." He turned back to the clerk. "Now about that question I had…"
The young man's jaw shut audibly with a click of his teeth. His eyes narrowed. "Just a minute…" he grumbled, and opened the door to the back room. He soon disappeared within.
As he waited, Peter keenly felt the shocked stares of the shop's patrons. He spun to face them and held out his hands. "So, how 'bout them Yankees?"
Before anyone could answer him, however, the door behind him reopened. The clerk nodded his head sharply toward the room behind him, as if to say, Back there. Then he returned to sit on his stool, grabbing a fresh comic to read. The kid was distinctly… unimpressed.
What a … The guy probably sees heroes in here all the time, but still – show a little respect! Bet the owner would be interested to know his workers are so friendly… Peter thought as he vaulted over the counter, taking care to land on his good leg. It wouldn't do for the artificial leg to come loose in public. He waved cheekily to the customers and entered the room.
An odd sort of mist emanated from the floor. He found the sorcerer in Dr. Strange's classic pose – arms and legs crossed, levitating a few feet from the floor. Doc Magus' red and black cape swirled unnaturally around him. Stephen always went a little lighter on the parlor tricks…
A large blue crystal glowed eerily in a bronze stand directly in front of the mage. His hands traced patterns in the air above. After a long pause, he finally turned toward his visitor. Spider-Man didn't know what he was expecting when the sorcerer finally addressed him, but it wasn't: "Hey, good to meet cha, Spidey. Whazzap?" He uncurled, floating to a standing position. "I guess you must need me to bail you out of something…" he said cockily.
This is the next Sorcerer Supreme? I'll eat my mask if he's a day over twenty-one… "Actually, Mr. Magic, I need to find out what you know about Spider-Girl. She's missing."
"Huh. You two related?"
"People always ask that…" He shifted away from the subject. "Have you seen her?"
"I saw her last night – that thing giving her trouble again?"
"What thing?" Spider-Man asked worriedly.
Doc Magus shrugged. "One of the artifacts at the Met Museum came to life, and she needed my help to get rid of it."
At the sorcerer's words, Peter was filled with unease. Was this the cause of her disappearance? "When?"
"About ten at night," he said nonchalantly.
"Ten…" Peter muttered to himself. Ten? She was home at eleven. What ever happened to her, happened then. Maybe Magus has nothing to do with it, but I can't shake the feeling that this kid is involved somehow…
As Peter mulled the problem over in his mind, Doc Magus began to mutter in a language unknown to Peter, and pass his hands back and forth above the blue crystal. "I am casting a location spell. If Spider-Girl is anywhere in the known universe, I will find her," he said, with a touch of haughtiness. As the minutes passed, the look on his face shifted from cocky arrogance, to puzzlement, to concern.
Peter watched him anxiously, fear growing in his gut. Where are you, May?
"I … I don't understand… this tracking spell usually works…" Doc Magus said, truly surprised.
"Are you sure you cast it correctly?" Spider-Man asked.
The sorcerer rounded on him in a fit of pique. "Of course I did, old man! I'm Sorcerer Supreme, no matter what you old guard types want to think!" he declared vehemently.
A flash of youthful righteous anger suddenly overtook Peter. "Spider-Girl is missing, dammit! You were the last person to see her before it happened – and my spider-sense tells me she's gone because of you!" He stepped close, mask inches from that of Doc Magus, and grabbed him by the collar. "Finding her is more important than some blow to your precious pride, boy!"
"Me! How could I be responsible? She asked for my help, I gave it, end of story!" He yanked his cape away from Spider-Man and stalked toward his bookshelf. "Sheesh, as if I don't get enough of this crap from Strange…"
"Maybe that's who we should call, then," Peter commented, still angry.
Magus didn't respond, but shot an icy glare in Spider-Man's direction. The younger man pulled a large tome down from the shelf, and it landed with a dusty thud. He flipped through the pages until he came to the one he wanted, and ran his gloved finger down the edge. "Dimensional banishment spells… ah, this is the one…" He read what was there quickly and suddenly stilled. "Uh oh…"
"What?" Spider-Man covered the distance to the shelf in a moment. "What?"
He raised his eyes and looked at the web-slinger with chagrin. "We may have to call Dr. Strange after all…"
The unmistakable tingle of her spider-sense caused Mayday to look up from her conversation with Mary Jane. Ben quieted as well, eyes fixated on the ghostly green presence before them. Mary Jane followed suit. She wasn't positive, but the teenager thought this was some sort of astral projection…
"Do not be alarmed," a confident voice emanated from the air around their table. "I have need to talk to you, and the other diners will not notice anything amiss." The presence focused on Mary Jane. "Mrs. Parker, your husband and I have worked together many times over the years, but I do not believe we have had the pleasure. I am Dr. Stephen Strange, Sorcerer Supreme."
Mary Jane hastily swallowed her nervousness, and handled the introduction with aplomb. "Pleased to finally make your acquaintance, Dr. Strange. Peter speaks highly of you."
"I have long admired his courage and strength in the face of adversity, as well as his devotion to those he loves," he nodded in recognition. "But my errand concerns your guest here. May, you should not be here."
If the projection was true to his actual appearance, this Dr. Strange was years younger than his counterpart. This must be the Dr. Strange of this dimension. But… "How do you know who I am?"
"A lucky guess." The astral form smiled slightly. "Actually, it is a simple thing for one with my training to find these things out. Normally, I do not pry into others' affairs, but your presence in this dimension is cause for grave concern." At the surprised look on her face, he elaborated, "I learned of your presence here earlier today. As a matter of course, I seek out disturbances in the fabric of reality and do my utmost to correct them. I found a… dissonance… in the harmony of our two planes of existence. When I traced the source of this dissonance, it led me here, to you."
"Can you help me get home?" Mayday felt a stirring of hope.
"My dear young lady, it is of the utmost importance that I do so, both for your sake and the sake of your reality. For reasons I have not yet determined, your existence in your own world is key to its very survival. When I look into the future, I only see darkness for that world without you in it."
"What can we do to help?" Mary Jane asked.
"Come to my home as soon as possible. Peter will know where it is located. I will make sure that my manservant Wong is prepared for your arrival." He looked deeply into Mayday's worried eyes. "Do not delay, young heroine." With an implosion of light, he was gone.
Chapter 8: Catalyst
"By the way, thanks for the refill," Mayday called toward Peter as they made their final approach to Dr. Strange's mansion. Mary Jane had decided to stay behind at the Tower, since Ben still didn't seem to feel well.
"No problem, I guess I made web fluid for so many years that I'll never forget how. Don't forget to bug your father to give you the formula. What if you get separated from your family again?" he admonished.
"Don't worry, 'Dad.' I never want to go through that again." She touched down on the sidewalk beside him. "Though it would sure be nice not to have to mess with it at all. What's it like to have them… built in?"
He shrugged. "It feels a little weird, to tell you the truth. It kinda grosses people out…"
He pressed the doorbell, which rang with a deep tone.
A wizened oriental man opened the door to them. "Please enter." He gestured toward the entryway. As the door closed behind them, the two web-slingers removed their masks. Without a word, Wong left, presumably to inform Dr. Strange of their arrival.
For the next few minutes, Mayday and Peter waited in the foyer. The place was fascinating – the walls and shelves were covered with interesting arcane artifacts. Her attention was drawn to a small jade figurine. Covered in oriental symbols, it depicted a woman with flowing robes, arms outstretched. She found herself reaching a gloved hand toward it…
"I would not handle that, Miss Parker. Its attractiveness belies a dangerous nature." She quickly retracted her hands and turned toward the voice guiltily.
The Sorcerer Supreme stood majestically before them. His imposing height and powerful body were made more impressive by a sapphire blue collared cape and a full head of black hair, shot through with white. His years of experience were obvious in his very bearing. "Please come into my Sanctum Sanctorum," he invited, holding the door for his two guests.
After they entered the study, Mayday pulled the web-pack from her back and began to tear into it. "I brought the clothes I was wearing when I first arrived here. Do you think that might make a difference?"
Dr. Strange waved his hand dismissively. "No, inorganic material should have no effect on the transition between dimensions. Don't worry, May. All I will need is you." He guided her to stand before him.
She felt quite nervous. I'm not even sure how I ended up here. How will he know what the best way is to send me back? And what if the world I return to is not my own but a close replica? Will I need to seek out the Dr. Strange of that world? Will he even exist?...
The churning thoughts in her head must have shown clearly on her features. Dr. Strange's face took on a stern but understanding expression. "Now, May. I said not to worry," he chided. She flushed. "It will not be difficult to tune my spell to your dimension – but we do need to work quickly. As the dissonance grows ever stronger, it could warp the fabric of your reality in such a way as to make it unreachable."
And he says don't worry! she thought queasily. She bit her lip as he passed his hands through the air in front of her. Peter stood to the side, seemingly unconcerned. The sorcerer began to add phrases in an arcane-sounding language, and suddenly a shimmering bubble of energy appeared several feet to the left.
The sparkling soon coalesced into a visible picture of her house. "That looks like my house! How do I get from here to there?" She suddenly remembered her earlier worry. "Are you sure this is the right dimension – that could be yet another set of Parkers…"
Strange's face remained impassive as he kept the spell active, but his tone was full of confidence. "This dimension resonates with the same dissonance I detected in you. I am certain it is the correct one."
Shrugging, she accepted his assessment. Stepping close, but not too close to the bubble, she asked, "What now? Do I just… step through?"
He smiled slightly. "Essentially, yes. You will probably experience a flash of light, and possibly a tingling sensation. These are normal, pay them no mind." The mage nodded toward the portal. "When you are ready," he invited.
She looked toward Peter who was nodding encouragingly. But as she took a deeper look, she could see a glistening in his eyes. Mayday quickly realized, With all the rush, I never had time to say a proper goodbye! Maybe it's too late for everyone else… She took a few rapid steps and threw herself into her 'father's' arms.
"Dad," she whispered into his shoulder, "Thank you so much for taking care of me while I was here." She pulled away slightly to look directly into his face. "You've been every bit the father I've always known, in all the ways that matter. Ben is so lucky to have such a great man to follow after." She sniffed. This was harder than she thought it was going to be! "Tell Mom and Aunt May I love them and will never forget them…" she trailed off, voice faltering.
Peter's voice was a little unsteady as he pulled her in for a final hug. "And we will never forget you, Mayday. Your parents are so lucky to have a daughter like you." He stepped away and wiped a tear from the corner of her eye. "Now, go. I'm sure they're worried sick."
She nodded and stepped close to the bubble of light. "All right, here I go…" Mayday took a deep breath and stepped forward. She was expecting a flash of light and tingle… but instead, it felt like she was bouncing off of a rubbery membrane. "What….?"
The light dissipated like an extinguished flame. "I was afraid of this. The portal will not let you pass through." His brow wrinkled in thought.
"Is it too late?" Her stomach clenched. "Am I stuck here forever?"
The older sorcerer swept into the room, graying hair detracting not at all from his imposing physique. He may be retired, but he still knows how to make an entrance! Peter thought. Doc Magus seemed small and insignificant in the presence of the master. Maybe that's why he feels the need to bluster and make smart remarks.
"Hello, Spider-Man," Dr. Strange greeted. "Have you been well since our last encounter?" Stephen had known Peter's identity for decades, but in the presence of the younger man, he kept to superhero etiquette.
"Yeah, Doc. Just peachy. Except that your protégé here seems to have gotten Spider-Girl into a mess." He was more than a little irritated, and didn't bother to hide the fact.
To his credit, Doc Magus didn't deny it. He explained, "She accidentally touched the edge of a dimensional banishment spell I cast. And if I have read the situation correctly…"
"She has been transported to a similar dimension," Dr. Strange finished for him. "Do we know what the catalyst was?"
"I haven't yet determined the source. The energies are difficult to read. I believe I need your help to increase the power of the tracking spell."
"And you shall have it."
Genetics, quantum physics… these were things he understood. But magic? Peter could hear the words, but he needed to cut through the mysterious language to get to the point. "Gentlemen," he interrupted. "Break it down for me, please."
Doc Magus began to speak, but then deferred to the other mage. Dr. Strange tried to clarify: "Spider-Girl should have been unaffected by the spell, since she was not fully enclosed in the bubble. However, there must have been a reaction, a metaphysical 'catalyst' if you will, to something that she touched that sent her out of this dimension. If we are able to determine what that was, we have a much better chance of finding her. Otherwise…"
"It'll be like finding a needle in a haystack," Peter surmised.
"Probably more like finding a single grain of sand amongst the quadrillions of grains of sand on all the beaches of the Earth… but, yes …an extremely difficult task."
Mayday pressed a hand to her middle and staggered a step. Oh, my God! I'll never see my family or friends ever again! And if what Dr. Strange said is true, how long until that 'darkness' overtakes them? She felt physically ill.
Peter caught her by the arm and held her. He looked to Dr. Strange. "Is there another way to send her back?"
The sorcerer frowned. "There must be a specific reason you are unable to get through the portal. Hmm…" He walked over to a large, aged spell book and began to read. "Hmm..." He came over to stand by her again. "I'm sorry, young May, but do you mind?" His hands began to crackle with power.
She could only nod numbly, still reeling with the possibility that everyone she loved might soon be forever beyond her reach. He passed his hands in an arc around her body. When he was finished, the tips of her fingers glittered with silvery light. She wiggled them slightly, sparks dancing among the ribbed fingers of her gloves.
"As I suspected. May, were you touching anything at the moment of your transfer to this dimension?"
"This is Ben's room, Dr. Strange." Peter led the Sorcerer Supreme into the nursery. "She had just stopped by our room to check in on us. After that, I was sure May went to kiss Ben goodnight… and then my spider-sense went crazy. Ben started screaming – when we checked to see what had happened, she was just gone."
Mary Jane came behind them, carrying Ben in her arms. He had needed nearly constant attention the last few days, and the pediatrician had found nothing physically wrong with him. That worried Peter, but he was thankful MJ had devoted her energy to their son, so that he could focus on finding their daughter.
Dr. Strange had come alone to the house, without Doc Magus. Strange may have known Peter's former identity for years, but not the younger man. And I hope I never have to deal with that arrogant jerk again! he thought.
"If this was indeed the place from which she disappeared, then I should be able to detect a trace of energy here. From that starting point, it will be much easier to trace her current location." Without further explanation, Dr. Strange raised his hands, palms facing outward. A shimmering light slowly enveloped the room as he turned in a complete circle. He stopped with a satisfied look on his face. "I think we have found our catalyst."
The events of the night Mayday arrived in this world suddenly clicked into place in her mind. "I touched the edge of a spell!" She wiggled the offending fingertips toward him triumphantly, sparks beginning to fade away. "Doc Magus helped me get rid of an artifact that seemed to be possessed by a spirit."
"A spell? You touched a banishment spell?"
"Yeah. But the doc acted like it was no big deal. In fact, he blew it off like it was my fault that I got too close…"
"Amateurs…" Dr. Strange said under his breath. "And then you were transported here?"
"No, actually. And that's the funny thing. It didn't happen until about an hour later. I came home, said goodnight to my folks, and went in to kiss my baby brother." She stilled, coming to a realization. "I came here after I touched…"
"…Ben?" Both Peter and Mary Jane were incredulous at Dr. Strange's words.
The baby boy giggled, finally out of his funk, as he watched the sparkles rise from his middle into the air. He swatted the air a few times, making the motes swirl and vanish.
Chapter 9: Memento
"He's here, Mayday." Peter walked into the room she had been using here in the Tower these few days. Far too few, he thought sadly, wondering whether he would make it through these next few hours without losing it.
May straightened up from filling a backpack that Mary Jane had given her to use. "Just about ready." She began to zip it up.
"Wait – don't zip that up quite yet." Peter held out his right hand with a restraining gesture, and in his left he held out a wrapped package. "Since Dr. Strange said inorganic material wouldn't affect the transfer…"
As she took the present, May looked up with a questioning expression.
"You can open it now, if you like," Peter confirmed.
She smiled at him, winningly, heart-breakingly, and then tore into the gift. "Oh…" Her smile changed to surprise before settling in a small grin. "Thank you," she said, giving him a quick hug around the shoulders. They had decided to give her a framed photo of the three of them, as a memento of her stay. As she pulled back from the hug, she studied the picture again. Her fingers gently touched the glass and they subconsciously lingered on Aunt May's face. "I love it."
Mayday placed the photo carefully into the pack, rezipping it and hefting it on her back. The two of them went into the hallway, Peter closing the door behind her. In minutes, he was opening the door of the nursery for her as well.
"…and you're sure that he won't be harmed," Mary Jane was asking Dr. Strange as they entered.
"Absolutely sure, my dear lady. Ben's presence is necessary for the spell to work properly. But he should suffer no ill effects from the process," the sorcerer replied smoothly.
Most of the Parker family was displaying various stages of nervousness. Mayday bit her lip and rocked on her heels, glancing back and forth between Dr. Strange and Ben. Mary Jane fiercely clutched their baby boy, unwilling to place him in the cradle just yet. Aunt May stood quietly, wringing her hands ever so slightly. Jarvis, ever beside her, had a comforting arm around her shoulders. And as for Peter, the failed attempt to send Mayday home earlier had only increased his fear and worry for her.
Dr. Strange's commanding voice broke into Peter's thoughts. "Are you ready, Miss Parker?" he addressed the teenager.
"Almost." She walked quickly over to Aunt May, and wrapped her in a hug. "Now I have a face and personality to put with all those great stories. My dad doesn't know what he missed out on by keeping his own Aunt May in the dark all those years." Mayday gave her namesake a kiss on the cheek. "I hope you'll be there to take care of them many more years."
"I don't plan to go anywhere," May said warmly. "You stay safe, do you hear? Focus on your schoolwork, and have fun with your friends. And let some of those superhero friends of yours take care of the bad guys every once in a while." She shot a pointed look at Peter. He winced. May turned her attention back to the girl in front of her. "You are a fine young lady. Your parents should be very proud of you."
"Thank you, Aunt May," she said, giving the older lady another quick hug.
Mayday turned to Mary Jane next. She took one of her hands in her own. "I wish I could stay longer, so we could have more great talks. Maybe my mom and I will be able to do that someday."
Mary Jane handed Ben to Peter to hold, before responding. "You'd probably be surprised at what she would understand. Don't wait too long, honey. You never know how much time you have…" At those last words, her voice broke, and she pulled Mayday close. "It's so unfair to finally get our baby back only to lose her again. I just don't know if I can handle it…"
Mayday patted her head and soothed, "I know, I know…"
They silently held each other until Mary Jane was able to find words again. "You keep showing them what a girl can do, Mayday," she said, trying to lighten the tension they were all feeling.
"Hey, that's my main purpose in life," the young heroine teased back. She then looked to Peter. "I guess it's goodbye again…"
"I guess it is," he agreed sadly.
"I said it before, but this little guy couldn't have better parents than you two. I should know!" She rubbed a playful hand through Ben's hair. "And when… not if… when he gets his powers, promise you'll be supportive?"
"I guess if your parents could do it, we'll have to give it a try," he said with a grin.
She gave him another hug and stepped away from them. Turning to Dr. Strange, who had been waiting patiently during the goodbyes, she said, "Okay, now I'm ready."
"Very well." He turned toward Peter. "Would you please place Ben in his crib?"
Peter complied, and then put an arm around Mary Jane. She sank deeper into his embrace, clearly still anxious, still struggling to keep from breaking down.
"Now, young May, please take Ben's hand."
Peter could see as she slowly extended her hand, that she was still a little nervous. But as she placed the tiny hand in her own, her shoulders straightened, and she faced Dr. Strange with resolve.
The sorcerer began to speak quietly, using words of a language only known to himself. A bubble of light flowed from their clasped hands, growing quickly into a human-sized portal.
What they saw on the other side of the veil of light, no one could have expected. Peter found himself looking at a strange mirror image of Mary Jane, Ben, Dr. Strange and himself. The shocked faces on the other side reflected his own astonishment. He saw himself – older, bearded, graying – arms around a red-haired Mary Jane, who was holding an exact duplicate of little Ben. Mayday had been right. The years had clearly been kinder to her mother than her father. Mary Jane had stiffened beside him. The two stunning redheads were looking at each other with a mixture of wonder and fear, like long-lost twin sisters encountering each other for the first time. Aunt May had gasped at the sight – she hadn't been around his superhero life long enough for something like this to be commonplace. Ben squealed in delight at seeing himself in his mommy's arms. Only the two Dr. Stranges reacted with calm assurance. They nodded to each other in recognition.
Their counterparts on the other side suddenly recovered from their state of shock. Older Peter's mouth moved, forming the words, "May? Where are you?" But no sound could penetrate the opening.
"I'm coming, Dad…" she called. She turned back to Peter, Mary Jane and May. "I'll never forget you guys."
"And neither will we. Now, don't keep them waiting." He waved toward the gateway.
She nodded, and raised a hand in farewell. She then reached through the glowing light and grabbed the hand of the other Ben, who was reaching toward her eagerly. For a moment, she seemed poised between two worlds. The girl looked through to them one last time, and let go of her 'brother's' hand. The bubble dissolved in a cloud of sparkles.
Ben chortled and chased the sparkles with his chubby hands, completely unaware of the powerful magic of which he had just been a part. Mary Jane held him close, quietly sobbing. She and Peter stood there, very much needing to comfort each other long after the last sparkle disappeared.
"Oh, my God, May!" Mary Jane threw her arms around her daughter as she emerged from the portal of light and solidified. Her eyes were filled with tears of joy and relief. Peter was next in line, hugging her so tightly that it was good she had inherited his super-strength.
"Thank God, you're home!" he exclaimed. He pulled back to look into May's eyes. "Where was that? Who were those people? Were they… us?" he asked curiously.
"Yes… and no," she tried to explain. "I was pulled into an alternate universe by a spell that…"
"Doc Magus cast, right, we figured that out," he finished.
"Oh." She blinked twice, and went on. "Anyway, it was you, Dad, but younger." She turned to look at Mary Jane. "And you, Mom, also younger. But Ben was exactly the same. He seemed to be the one constant between the two universes." She reached silently out for her baby brother, and her mother handed him to her. "Did you miss me?" she cooed.
"It is very likely that Ben's presence in both dimensions triggered the spell," Dr. Strange broke in. "It is very fortunate that you were able to enlist my counterpart's help in returning."
"No kidding. He found me, actually. He said there was some sort of… what did he call it?... dissonance… between our two dimensions that could warp reality if I didn't return home soon." Her happy expression changed slightly as she added, "I was terrified that I'd never see you again."
"I will take my leave of you, now." said Dr. Strange. "I am glad to see you home safe, young lady."
"I am glad to be home, sir." May said, nodding in thanks. He raised his hands in a grand gesture, and disappeared.
"No one is more glad that you're home than us, honey." Mary Jane put an arm around her shoulders. "Did they take care of you . . . feed you?"
"Oh, yes, Mom, very well. 'Dad' got Tony Stark and Reed Richards to start working on getting me home immediately, and later took me to see the other Dr. Strange."
Peter cut in, surprised. "Reed and Dr. Strange I can understand. But Stark? But that would mean he knows…"
"Yes, Dad. Mr. Stark knew the identity of the other Peter. They were all living in Stark Tower – and he was part of the New Avengers team."
"New Avengers? Who else was on this team?" Peter wondered aloud.
"Well, let's see. Iron Man, Captain America, Spider-Woman, Wolverine, The Sentry… although I never actually saw him around… and some guy named Luke Cage."
"Power Man? Did he and Iron Fist have some sort of falling out? No, never mind…" Peter's mind was reeling. All of these people knew my identity in this other world? And my family is living among them? What a difference. He had often wondered what it would be like to really be part of a team, and not be such a loner. But he had always worried that it would be too dangerous for his family. I hope the other me can make it work…
Something else suddenly came to him… "And was that Aunt May I saw with them?"
His daughter smiled. "Yes, such a sweet old lady. You were right, she was a treasure. One of the best parts of my time there was getting to meet her."
Mary Jane spoke up next. "And she knew everything?" May nodded. Looking askance at Peter, she continued. "Your father was sure that his aunt would have a heart attack and die if she ever found out about him. It's good to know she was made of sterner stuff." She took Ben back from May and began to hustle her out of the room. "You must be exhausted from all of that mess! Are you hungry?"
Peter gestured toward her backpack. "May, let me take that for you. I'll put in your room and meet you girls in the kitchen."
"Sure, Dad." She shrugged it off of her shoulders and left the room with her mother. "And about Aunt May, Mom, you'll never guess who she was seeing…" her voice trailed off as they went down the hall.
Since the moment May had arrived, there had been a tickle in the back of Peter's mind… could it be…? He opened up the pack, searching for the source. He removed a framed picture of the other Peter, Mary Jane and May. Nice gesture, he thought. But that wasn't what was setting off his spider-sense. Deep within the pack, in a small zippered pocket, he found what he was looking for. A tiny spider-tracer attached to a folded note. He opened the note, and read:
If you found this note, then I guess we really are alternate versions of the same person. Mayday told me that she needs to use a transmitter to pick up the signal, so I figured the only person who would find the tracer would be you.
I want you to know how lucky you are. MJ and I lost our little baby May years ago, and I have never really recovered from it. You have a beautiful daughter. She is funny, bright and warm-hearted. Any father would be proud to claim her, so treat her like the special girl she is.
Over the last few days, I have wondered about the life you have – a normal job, a house, two kids. These things are all I dream about sometimes. But I know that life is not my life, at least for now. But I thank God every day for MJ and Aunt May, and now I have hope that I might someday be able to have that simpler life.
-- Your Friendly Neighborhood You-Know-Who
Peter folded the note back up, lost in thought. The sound of laughter from the kitchen broke his reverie, and he swallowed heavily. He placed the note in his pocket, grabbed the backpack, and went to join his family.
As Peter sat down at the breakfast table, Aunt May poured him a cup of coffee. "Good morning, dear. Did you sleep well?"
"I didn't sleep much, I'm afraid. I ended up going on a swing around the city, hoping to get my mind off of her. But it was pretty quiet, unfortunately…"
May patted him on the shoulder. "I'm sorry, dear. I know it's difficult."
Mary Jane came into the kitchen a few minutes later, carrying Ben. "Morning, May, Tiger. Did you come to bed at all last night?"
"I tried laying down a couple times, but… you know…"
"Yeah, Tiger, I do." They drank in silence for several minutes, each lost in thought. Even Ben seemed to understand the mood, and quietly sat in his highchair, drinking milk from his bottle.
Noiselessly, Jarvis appeared at his arm, bearing a silver tray. He discreetly cleared his throat. Everyone at the table looked up curiously. "Mr. Parker. Miss Mayday asked me to give this to you today." In the center of the tray was a small white envelope.
Peter picked it up off the tray. "I guess you're not the only one who slips secret notes to people," Mary Jane teased. "Go on, open it."
Mayday had written To Mom, Dad and Aunt May on the front. He opened it to find a note and two photos. He placed them on the table, to study later, but Mary Jane got to them first. As she and May looked interestedly at the photos, he read the note:
I asked Jarvis to help me with this, so don't give him a hard time. He's a sweetheart under all that professionalism. And pretty good with a digital camera!
I realized that with me leaving so soon, that you needed something to remember me by. Promise me you'll keep them someplace where you'll see them often.
Peter smiled inside. They were so alike, even being from different worlds… He passed the note on to MJ, and took the photos himself. One of them had a close-up shot of Mayday, smiling her impish smile, the auburn highlights in her brown hair catching the afternoon sun. The back of the photo read:
Mayday Parker, Sweet 16.
The second one was even more striking. There she was, in full costume, clinging to the wall. She was striking a pose meant just for the camera: one hand touching the wall, one hand with two fingers extended in the classic web-shooting gesture. He turned it over. On the back, she had written:
Hoo-Ha! From Your Spider-Girl
Peter opened his eyes just as the morning sun was beginning to come through the bedroom window. The light caught the edges of a group of picture frames placed on the dresser. The sunlight slowly moved across the polished surface, and as it touched each one, he reflected on all the people who had been dear to him over the years... Uncle Ben… Aunt May… Mary Jane… Gwen… Harry… Felicia… and finally, Mayday. He smiled, snuggled closer to his sleeping wife, and went back to sleep.
A/N: Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who read and reviewed this story. Of course, special thanks to Georgia Kennedy, Mark C and Jenn1 who influenced all sorts of details along the way.
And since this is the end, if you have been reading all along, but not reviewing, please do! I invite any and all comments… even flames (although I can't imagine you made it all the way to this chapter if you didn't at least like it somewhat). :)