It had taken just over three years, but the people of New York had finally stopped throwing trash at him.
Well, most of them. There were still some people that despised him and the entire super community—and yes, this very much included a certain loud-mouthed, moustached Bugle editor. Those kinds of people would never be pleased, though. They were the people that stuck their nose up at the entire super community, that hated Captain America. Who hated Captain America? Assholes, that’s who.
So. Peter didn’t let them get to him.
The majority of New Yorkers had enthusiastically taken to Spider-Man after three, long years of mistrust. The past 6 months had illustrated that; police officers were thanking him, waving at him. Shops were selling I <3 Spidey sweatshirts right next to I <3 NY ones, and talented graffiti art of Spider-Man swinging around, or spray painted ‘thank you, Spidey’ or ‘go Spidey!’ or uplifting ‘stick to it, lil spider!’, starting appearing around New York.
Spider-Man had been adopted by an entire city. America (and the globe) had the big shots; the Fantastic Four, the Avengers. Mutants had the X-Men, and New York? New York had Spider-Man. New Yorkers would point when they saw him, nudge tourists in the side, and say proudly, “That’s our Spidey!”
Peter didn’t let the fame get to his head, though, not really. Whenever his ego seemed to get out of line, the universe decided to throw him a humiliating situation. (Like that one time, when his spandex pants ripped to reveal his undies patterned with tiny pictures of Captain America’s shield and Thor’s hammer…. on national television. Peter still squirms with embarrassment remembering that one.)
The fame was kind of a hassle, sometimes. He had a higher risk of being unmasked, of someone stalking him and snapping a picture, or connecting Peter’s injuries, his disappearances, his weird behaviour, with Spider-Man.
It’s a good thing Peter’s moved out of Aunt May’s and into his own apartment. Good thing his good friends have gone to different universities or turned into super-villains or are dead (ow, ow, ow), so now, outside of his Aunt, all Peter’s friends are mere acquaintances, unlikely to delve too deeply into his personal life. No one to endanger, or annoy. Or spend time with. No one.
Good thing… Right?
“Evening, fellas!” Peter called. The trio of officers were crowded together, chatting beside a parked cruiser. Usually, when Peter swung past police officers, they’d smile, wave, maybe shout a greeting. Tonight though, only grim faces greeted him, despite the lack of criminals or super-villains in the immediate area.
Peter swung closer, landing gracefully on his toes on the roof of the car.
“What’s up, buttercup?” Peter asked.
“Spidey,” the closest officer said, “have you seen any super-villains tonight?”
“Not super ones, no.” He moved to sit criss-cross on the cruiser’s roof. “It’s been amateur hour, tonight. Just muggers, couple of half-hearted hold ups. Sad, really, the lack of effort some people put into villainy.”
One of the three cops smirked, the other shaking his head ruefully. The first kept frowning, looking severe under his ridiculously thick eyebrows.
“Keep an eye out,” Eyebrows told him. “There’s talk someone’s going to drop diseases somewhere in the city.”
“Diseases? How can I possibly help—”
“Disease whats—? What even is that?”
Eyebrows was solemn, his deep-set eyes staring fixed at Spider-Man’s googles. “When infectious, fatal diseases that have the ability to wipe out thousands are released into an overcrowded, germ filled city. Like New York.”
“Oh,” Peter said dumbly. “That… That sounds very bad.”
“Very bad,” Eyebrows agreed. “So, try and stop that from happening then?”
Peter jumped to his feet and rocked back on his heels, saluting Eyebrows playfully. “Aye, aye, sir!”
“I’m serious, Spidey,” Eyebrows said. “This could wipe out a million people.”
“I know,” Peter said. He stopped rocking, let his hand drop to his side, and squared his shoulders. “And I’ll do everything in my power to stop that from happening.”
“See that you do,” Eyebrows said as Peter shouted a quick ‘laters!’ before leaping from the cruiser and shooting a web that pulled him away from the trio.
Peter’s timing was (always) terrible.
He’d been busy with muggings and consoling their almost-victims; he didn’t hear about the commotion on fifth avenue until the battle had been raging for over 20 minutes, and a small cluster of civilians and bleeding cops were already downed (no corpses, though, thank god).
The police were attempting to shoot down down the villain that was reeking so much habit, but he kept dancing out of range or throwing down colourful (likely poisonous) smoke bombs. The bombs covered the area in thick smoke, keeping the villain safe under the hazy cover.
The villain himself was like something out of history textbook.
He’d donned thick, dark robes and gloves; he was nothing but a swirl of black fabric in the plumes of rainbow smoke. The man wore a balaclava underneath a top hat, and a weird gas mask, the mouth pointed like the beak of a bird. Peter crept closer to the scene, earning gasps and smiles from fleeing pedestrians as they saw him, and snorted when he saw the villain properly.
“Nice outfit,” Peter called, snickering. “Are you seriously cosplaying as--as some kind of 14th century plague doctor?”
“Thank you,” the other man said, voice coming out tinny and weird under the mask, “and yes.”
“Oh, my god,” Peter said. “You sound like Darth Vader, dude, are you trying to be purposely cliche—”
Peter inched forward as he spoke, arms coming up, ready to web Darth Va-dork to the pavement. The villain caught the movement, and threw down a glass orb full of red smoke. Peter's vision clouded over with red.
Peter choked on the thick air, and stumbled out of the hazy cloud, blind.
“Where’d he go…?” Peter muttered, looking around for his target just in time to see a green cloud erupt a few metres from the red one. The smoke swirled, red and green dancing together. Peter wasn’t sure if it was stylish, or overdramatic.
A cop frantically waved Peter over. He obeyed, bounding over to the woman and ducking behind the police car she was crouched behind. A sobbing teenager shook beside her, his eyes clouded and white, mouth thick with blood.
“Is he okay?” Peter moved to help him, but the cop shook him off.
“Paramedics will be here any minute,” she told him. “He was hit by a white sphere by Mr. Gas Mask over there. The white and black ones are toxic.”
“Don’t let anyone get hit by them,” Peter said, nodding. “Got it.”
Peter moved to go, but she pulled him down, still talking.
“He’s trying to load a bunch of them into that thing.” She gestured to the plague doctor, who was ducking out of a purple plume of smoke, his hands shoving white and black orbs into a larger globe. Why were Peter’s villains always so weird? “The guy’s not very stealthy, and his plans have already circulated through gossip—”
“Oh, that disease bomb thing?” Peter guessed. “I heard, but I’m still kind of sceptical ‘bout that one. What, the guy’s trying to give all of NY runny noses and tickle-y throats?”
“Think death fevers and vomiting blood.”
“Oh,” Peter said for the second time that night. Gotta stop underestimating these cops, Parker.
“Yeah, oh is right,” the police woman said. “We’ve been trying to distract him from it, but we can’t get close enough.”
“Leave it to me,” Peter said. He leaned forward, and gave the semi-conscious, trembling teenager (who might actually be older than Peter, come to think of it) a sympathetic shoulder squeeze, before leaping back into the smoke strewn battlefield.
The sonvabiscuit (Spider-Man’s a role model; Peter refuses to swear) was fast.
Peter was fast, too, but every time he darted forward, the doctor would move just out of reach. The smoke made everything near impossible.
But then, the doctor just. Stopped. Stood still in the middle of the pavement, hands cradling his orb, head thrown back in triumph.
“It is done,” the doctor said. He lifted the large orb, filled with white and black and mixed grey smoke, up into the air. It was ticking and quivering, ready to explode.
Peter’s stomach sank, and he was filled with the sickening, familiar feelings of guilt; he hadn’t reached the doctor before he completed his bomb.
The bomb began to glow and tick like a real explosive bomb. The cops shouted, voices desperate and panic-high, and pedestrians turned tail and sprinted (though distant would not save them from this). Some onlookers were still, frozen, eyes wide with panic.
Peter reacted automatically. He threw the villain back with a high kick, and caught the sphere in both hands, holding tight to what might be the death of thousands.
“It’s too late,” the villain said, cackling manically. “Too late to save your precious city, Spider-Man!”
“I’ll say it once, I’ll say it twice,” Peter said. “Cliche.”
The sphere was still ticking in his hands, trembling and pulsing, and bursting with light. It began to move, shrink, until it was just a tiny, plastic ball in Peter’s grip, barely half the size of his (admittedly, rather small) palm.
What the hell.
The villain laughed harder as the sphere shook. The cops were still screaming. Peter stared dumbly down at the object.
“Throwing it will do no good,” Gas Mask told him. “Putting it on a building will do no good. In the sewers, sending it a mile away—the only way to stop it is to let the plastic covering dissolve and the bacteria to infect the open air and all of New York!”
“Then I choose Option Three,” Peter said, and lifted his mask to his nose, and swallowed the sphere.
Silence greeted his action, replacing the previously panicked chaos with a stunned quiet.
“That’s going to hurt coming out the other end,” Peter said lightly, pulling his mask back down. The villain was motionless, staring.
“Do I have something on my face?” Peter asked. He tried to huff out a laugh, but a tiny explosion ripped apart his stomach and the sound became choked, turning into a tiny scream as he slumped to the pavement, hands wrapped tight around his torso.
It felt as though his stomach was a too-full, his organs burning. His mouth was flooded with blood, staining the bottom of his mask. He couldn’t breath, could only wrap his arms tighter around the mass of agony that was his insides, and curl tighter on the ground.
Peter was distantly aware of the pandemonium around him. People were shouting, touching him, trying to get him to sit upright, but Peter refused to budge from his curled position on the ground. There was shouting, too, panicked voices arguing above him. Trying to speak to him?
“Spidey?!” A man was beside him. The stranger’s broad hands and deep voice made him sound older, like an adult, but the fear in his voice made him sound like a child trying to comfort a terrified parent. “Spidey, come on, try and sit up—”
Peter tried to moan in pain, but there was too much blood in his mouth, and he could only gurgle weakly. He didn’t have enough air.
The voices grew louder. The words were thick with panic, and jumbled together into one blur of sound.
“Spidey, hey, pal—”
“What do we do?”
“An ambulance is on their way, they have the antidote.”
“Oh, god, oh hell—”
“He’s throwing up blood, shit—”
“Spider-Man.” The din of voices washed over him as Peter shook apart. “Can you say something? C’mon, talk to us.”
Peter was shaking, limps twitching sporadically. Words were beyond him.
The pain was consuming, blinding. There was hands on him, more shouts, more mouthfuls of choked blood until someone moved his mask to his nose and helped him turn and spit it out. Two sets of hands helped to move him into a sitting position. They touched his left arm, and pressed something that stung into his skin.
Peter moaned and tried to flinch away.
“Shhhhhh, hey, shh, it’s just a needle.”
“We need to get him to a hospital, this antidote won’t do it, not with the amount of poison he took.”
“A superhero, in a hospital—?”
“His mask will have to go, but if it means saving his life—”
That—That, out of everything else being said, Peter understood.
Peter immediately froze, pain forgotten in the face of bone-cold fear. Adrenaline rocketed through him, and he jumped back with sluggish, slow movements (though still faster than the average human).
“N-nuh,” he slurred, “hos-pt.”
“Hey, it’s alright, Spidey.” A blurry figure began to approach him, their arms held out carefully, like Peter was an injured animal. Ha. Injured spider. Ha-ha-ha.
Peter almost tripped in his haste to move away from the approaching people.
“It’s going to be okay,” someone said placatingly. Whether they were a paramedic or a police officer or even his Aunt May, Peter couldn't tell. “We’re trying to help you, the mask will need to go, but—”
Peter took off on shaking legs.
“Spidey, wait!” they called after him. Peter did not wait.
He managed to scale a building. He sloppily swung half-way across the city and crawled to his apartment, fuelled by panic and adrenaline, doing everything by muscle memory.
Peter fell into his apartment at 2am. He ripped the curtains shut, his mask off, and curled on the ground, lungs heavy and stomach spasming. Safe.
The events of Wednesday morning were all over the news by daybreak.
People stopped dead in the street as they saw Breaking News on the huge screens all over New York. In Times Square, a crowd gathered, and watched, horrified, as they played shaky iPhone footage of Spider-Man trembling and throwing up blood.
It was the topic on everyone’s lips. On the subway, people chatted with strangers about it. The people not informed sat wide-eyed and horrified as others recounted the now famous events of the previous night.
He saved us, they said, awed. He might be dead.
There was still hope, as most refused to believe their hero was truly gone. They’d seen their bug survive horrible things; come back after months missing, fight off mechanical rhinos, take down a giant lizard while shot and bleeding.
That didn’t stop the doubt though, or the overwhelming worry that took over the city. Eyes were glued to the sky. People strayed from the main streets to check rooftops, desperate to see a familiar blur of red and blue. There was no sign of Spider-Man though, and people grew increasingly worried.
Channel Five news spent an hour discussing it.
“I’m here with Dr. Kennedy,” a short-haired woman said at the camera, holding a microphone and looking at the smartly dressed Doctor beside her. In the background of the shot was the front of a hospital.
“Doctor,” the reporter said, turning to him. “What is your professional opinion on Spider-Man’s possible condition?”
“Well,” Kennedy began, hands folded professionally behind him, “the serum Spider-Man swallowed was potent enough to wipe out thousands of New Yorkers. It may have taken weeks to kill a person if it had been air-borne, but with how much Spider-Man took, it will be concentrated and working faster.”
The News Anchor pushed the microphone closer to the Doctor, biting nervously at her lip.
“Is there a possibility that he’s dead?” she asked.
“We don’t know for certain, but… yes, the possibility is very high.”
The News Anchor started, eyes wide. “But—but there’s a possibility he’s alive, right?”
“Yes, yes definitely. The fact that he was able to successfully leave and climb walls and swing on ropes is hopeful. It’s also likely that he has an advanced healing rate, along with his higher ability to withstand things.”
“So there’s still hope?”
“Of course,” Dr Kennedy said. His professional smile dropped, lips forming a solemn line, as he continued, “but… this poison is fatal. If Spider-Man doesn’t allow himself to receive help, he will not make it. Untreated, Spider-Man will almost certainly die.”
The police station had been crowded all day. Walking into work that morning had been a shock; people were frantically running about, or trying to calm civilians who had stormed in and were demanding answers. The officers were solemn, as she had been she had heard the news of their residential hero.
Those that had been on the scene when Spider-Man went down—the few that weren’t still out, guilty and searching—were still in questioning, or had their head in their hands, distraught.
She’d been on the force for three years, and nothing she had seen had ever had this much of a profound effect on the station.
DeWolff found a close friend of her’s, Cellanos, in the staff room. There were bags under her eyes, and she was staring off in the distant, eyes unfocused. Cellanos had been on the scene last night, and had just gotten out of questioning.
DeWolff pushed a mug of coffee into the other woman’s hands, who took it, wrapping her hands around the warm cup gratefully.
“Morning,” DeWolff said as she took a seat on the opposite side of the table. “Heard you had a late one.”
“Yeah,” Cellanos said quietly.
“So. How was he?” When Cellanos just shook her head, silent, DeWolff tried to go for reassuring: “He’s tough. He’ll be alright.”
“You didn’t see him…. He’s usually so chatty, y’know?”
DeWolff did know. While she’d never had a personal encounter with him (not yet, at least), she knew that Spider-Man enjoyed puns and dumb jokes, liked antagonising police officers with sass and quips, but threw himself in front of bullets and moving cars and off of skyscrapers to save them. His reputation proceeded him.
Her workmate cleared her throat, eyes downcast: “But last night, he could barely form two words…”
DeWolff reached across the table and placed a hand on her friend’s.
“He will be okay.”
The other woman shook her head. “He was so messed up, though. He was throwing up blood, he was soaked in it. He—he couldn’t breath, and he kept shaking, and I’ve seen him catch trucks, but he could barely stand, let alone run away from us…”
“We’ll find him,” DeWolff promised.
The staff room was silent, empty save for them, and in the quiet, her colleague’s sadness was amplified, her rough breathing and crackling words louder somehow.
“But Jean,” Cellanos whispered, “I’m afraid we’re already too late.”
DeWolff, after ordering Cellanos home to rest, spent the day rather mundanely. She filed paperwork and continued working everyday, non-superhero related cases. The distress from those around her did not wane, but increased as the day went on.
She felt awful.
A young couple who’d been on the scene and had witnessed Spider-Man confront the villain, had just come in despite the late hour, and had left, teary eyed, when the police were unable to reassure them of the hero’s wellbeing. She could only sit, several cubicles behind the front desk, watching, helpless to comfort these people or the city’s lost hero. DeWolff felt useless, and she hated it.
The television in the police station, the tiny one up in the corner, continued to play. The evening news. DeWolff listened with a keen eye as they replayed Spider-Man’s sacrifice and fall.
Dozens of New Yorkers took the streets today in what is being called a Spider Hunt, a news reporter said, hands professionally poised in front of him. After last night’s events, where Spider-Man was gravely injured by someone calling himself the Plague Doctor, the city was swept with concern for the masked hero. As a result, many people have taken to searching for the missing hero —
“That’s it,” DeWolff said, standing to her feet.
“What’s it?” her colleague asked beside her. One hand was fisted in his shaggy, greying hair, and he was hunched over, face lined from stress. Fatigue was a common feature around the station, and her colleague was no exception.
“I’m going out,” she said.
She pulled on her coat and clipped her comm to her belt.
“Why’re you going out?” he questioned, leaning over the desk to peer at her. “Thought you weren’t on active duty ’til tomorrow?"
“I’m joining the—” She waved at the tiny television in the room, “—the Spider Hunt, or whatever they’re calling it. Spidey’s still out there… I can’t just sit around.”
Her colleague leapt to his feet, snagging his own jacket from his chair as he raced to her side.
“I’m coming,” he said. “You’re right—you’re so right, we have to help.”
She stared at him, bemused. “Yeah?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he echoed, already heading for the door. “C’mon, DeWolff. We have a spider to find.”
The first Spider Hunt began at noon on Wednesday, 10 hours after Spider-Man was felled by the maniacal plague doctor.
It was started—like most movements are—by university students.
A group of art students, fuelled by passion and too much caffeine, used the power of social media and word of mouth to rally half their university to action. The young adults met at 12pm, four hours after the art students had first hatched the idea, outside the closest subway station.
The group exchanged phone numbers and twitter handles, before setting off to scour the city.
The students checked nearby alleys, ventured up to rooftops, shifted around in stacks of broken boxes and wood to see if any red and blue limbs moved amongst the piles. They asked strangers for any possible sightings.
Of the two dozen (and a half) students, six of them brought first aid kits in case they found him. All of them brought their phones, and were ready to dial 911 at any moment.
The group used #SpiderHunt on twitter. Within the hour, three dozen people had joined them, twice that had tweeted using the hashtag, spreading the word throughout the city. From there, it developed naturally.
By Wednesday night, people were forming their own Spider Hunts. By Thursday noon, people were wandering down alley ways and peering expectantly in corner. Teenagers took it upon themselves to search abandoned builders, and drug addicts wandered around empty tubes shouting ‘Spidey? You here, Spidey?’
It was dangerous for many of them, especially considering the sudden influx at crime that had sprung up in Spider-Man’s absence.
But that didn’t stop them. That possibility, that their hero might be bleeding out metres away from them, unconscious in that alley right there, was enough to spur them into action, desperate to see that familiar webbed suit.
Spider-Man was downed on a public street on 2am, the early morning of Wednesday. Days had passed with no Spider-Man sightings, no information, no reassurance that their hero was getting help or was remotely okay or even alive.
By Saturday afternoon, hope was beginning to wane. It had been so long. Surely, by now, Spider-Man was…
No one seemed ready to give up the Spider Hunts.
Tensions continued to run high through the city. People were desperate for news, for their hero to be alright.
Alright, that was it.
Brian was nicer than half the landlords in New York. He believed in second chances, and being a good person for the sake of being a good person.
But that Parker kid…
Brian had thought it would be a good idea to give a nineteen year old an apartment. He thought he’d been doing him a favour, helping him get his own space. Brian had thought he’d be rewarded for that, good karma and all that, but Parker had caused nothing but trouble.
He’d been late on rent twice before. Brian had given him a second chance, and then a third chance, and now, this was Parker’s fourth chance.
He was always running around the place at weird times at night. Other tenants often spoke of seeing him all cut up, with bruises smudging his jaw or walking with a limp. And now, after promising to be punctual next time, Parker’s rent was four days overdue. Four days.
Brian stood in front of Parker’s door, knocking furiously on the door. Through the thin walls, Brian could hear the shower running, and he shouted, trying to be heard over the top of the spray:
“Parker, we need to talk!”
There was no answer. Brian rapped on the door again, gritting his teeth when the shower didn’t switch off. No way was he leaving now; Brian, the kind-hearted soul he was, had let that goddamn kid off before when he was behind on rent, given him time to clean up his act. Not anymore, though. Ohhhhhh no, this was the last straw.
“Parker!” He called, louder, banging on the door. “Parker!”
The muffled stream of water continued.
Brain huffed angrily, and slumped down beside the door. Fine, he’d wait the kid out. He had to get out of the shower eventually, and when he did, Brian would let the kid have it.
Ten minutes later and Brian was checking the news (that Spider-Man was still injured, shame), and the weather on his phone, grumbling to himself about the duration of teenager’s showers. Ten minutes after that, and his anger was ready to bubble over.
What, was Parker only pretending to be in the shower? Was he really reading in his room and laughing at his clever rouse to avoid his pissed landlord? The brat.
“Parker?!” Brian yelled, pounding his fists on the door. “PARKER! I will KICK THIS DOOR DOWN!”
“Alrighty, then,” Brian said, backing up from the door. He used to be fire-fighter, before his back gave out. Kicking doors down was no problem.
The door gave in with one strong kick. Brian strolled in triumphantly, ready to tell his tenant to pack his bags and get out, but froze.
The first thing that hit him was the smell. The unmistakeable stink of vomit and blood, and the wretched stench of illness.
The wall next to the window, the walls leading to the bedroom and the bathroom, were smeared red, like someone had drenched their hands in paint and then tried to hobble one-legged around the apartment.
“Oh god,” Brian murmured.
On the table was a spilled first aid kit. The kit was equipped for a war; Brian could see medical thread, bandages, a small army of bottles and pills. The table was covered in tipped cups of water, painkillers, more bloody fingerprints.
Brian looked around the apartment; dishes were rotting in the sink (at least a week old), the trash that needed to be thrown out. A red mask sat in the middle of the floor, discarded.
Parker was—woah. Holy shit. A superhero, living in his building.
A superhero that everyone was out of their minds looking for.
Brian immediately leapt into action. He sprinted into the bathroom where the water was still running, and rushed toward the shower. There Parker was, curled into a tiny ball in the corner, shivering under the ice cold stream. He was wearing the suit, and it was wet and stuck to his skin like paint.
He’d been here, like this, for four days. Four days.
All thoughts of overdue rent left Brian immediately as he sunk to his knees, not caring if the water soaked his pants. Parker was nineteen, for Christ’s sake. No teenager should look that close to death.
“Parker?” Brian asked hoarsely. His heart was hammering in his chest. All of New York was looking for Spider-Man, and he’d been here all along. In a dingy apartment. Alone.
“Parker?” Brian tried again. “Erm. Spidey?”
He reached out, placing a tentative hand on the hero’s shoulder. He flinched away from the touch at first, but Brian chased him, moving to place a hand on the washed out face. Parker was burning, red-hot.
“Fuck. Shit, alright—let’s just…”
Brian turned the shower off. A violent shiver wracked Parker, and he curled up even tighter.
“C’mon, work with me here,” Brian muttered as he bent down and wrapped an arm around Parker. The kid lolled loosely in his arms, though didn’t fight him like Brian thought he would.
It was easy to heave him up, carrying him princess style as he hung like rag doll in his arms. Brian laid him down on the small sofa, before running back to get dry towels to pile on the kid.
He patted Parker’s hair dry, patted the suit down best he could before trying to remove the suit. The task was near impossible, so Brian retrieved the scissors from the first aid kit, and set about cutting it from his body (‘kids with their skinny jeans and spandex suits’ Brian thought, then nearly starting crying).
Brian, for all his hyper-masculinity, wasn’t embarrassed, not for a second. The situation was too serious for trifle things like embarrassment.
The top half of the suit came off with a struggle, and with it, the breath was stolen from Brian’s lungs.
Parker’s chest was covered with red, inflamed spots. A rash, a serious one, bloomed along his hipbones, up his chest and clavicle, on his arms, his pits, his wrists and hands. Flaming red, with seeping sores dotting the worst parts.
Brian sat there for a full minute, just staring. Was this shock? Probably.
Spider-Man heaved a breath, face wrinkling in pain and discomfort.
Without thinking, Brian reached for his phone and called the first number he thought of.
The answer came almost immediately: “Dad?”
He’d called his heavily pregnant daughter for help. God, she was an accountant, not a Doctor. She wouldn’t know what to do.
“Dad, are you alright? You’re breathing heavily.”
“I found Spider-Man.”
“I found him,” Brian repeated, staring at the boy unconscious on the sofa. “He’s a tenant in my building, forgot to pay his rent, and when I busted in I… I found him.”
“The whole city is looking for him, and you—! God, Dad, you have to do something.”
“I know,” Brian said. Parker moaned, the sound weak and barely there. Brian ran a hand through the boy’s wet hair, and Parker leaned into his touch. “He’s really sick, Kath.”
“There was blood all over the bathroom. He’s not conscious, his breathing is really shallow…”
“Dad, he’s probably dying. When’s the ambulance getting there?”
Brian closed his eyes. On the phone, he could hear Kath’s husband, Paul, begin to panic, asking who’s dying and why does your dad need an ambulance?
“Spider-Man,” Kath told him. Paul’s panicked noises grew louder. “Yeah, I know, right?”
“An ambulance,” Brian said at last. “I didn’t think of that.”
“Well, you need to call one like, right now—”
Brian looked down at Parker, expecting to see a pale face under a mop of drenched hair. Instead, he was met with wide, terrified eyes.
“Nn,” Parker began weakly, “n-oh.”
Brian had babysat his great nieces many times before. Once, when his nephew and his wife was far out of town, the younger twin had come down with a fever. She’d cried all night, tiny face red and twisted in pain. Brian had had to comfort her while her parent’s travelled back. Brian did what he did that night, instinctually reaching out to comfort Parker.
He placed a gentle palm over Parker’s forehead, quietly whispered ‘shhhh, it’s okay’ and stroking his hair, wiping away the sweat that had begun to gather there.
“Nnn,” Parker said again. His words were slurred, barely understandable, but they held an amazing undercurrent of annoyance. “Msk. Key.”
“Mask?” Brian guessed.
“What?” Kath asked, still on the line.
“Not you,” Brian said quickly. “Spidey. He’s trying to say something.”
“Ye-a,” Parker agreed, pupils blown wide, eyes unfocussed and fever-bright. “Msk.”
“What about your mask?” Brian asked, confused. “You’re not wearing it.”
“HE’S NOT WEARING HIS MASK?” Kath shrieked. Paul’s own shout (“He’s WHAT? Oh, my GOD—!”) was distant, but still loud. Brian winced, holding the phone away.
“Msk,” Parker stressed. “Hospit’l. Go’a keep.”
Brian shot up and grabbed the mask.
“I’ll put it on you before the ambulance comes,” he promised. Parker’s eyes were wet, so big and so sad that Brian could only grip the mask tight against the sadness in his chest. “I won’t let them take it off, either.”
“Msk,” Parker slurred happily. His eyes shuttered shut, and when he opened them again, his eyes were cloudy and far off. He wrinkled his nose, confusion taking over. “Hh? Weaess.”
Okay, that wasn’t a word. That most certainly was not a word.
“Kath, I’ll talk to you later,” Brian said quickly, and hung up on his confused daughter.
Brian dialled an ambulance just as Parker’s eyes rolled back in his head and his limbs seized.
Peter woke up twice on the way to the hospital.
The first time was a mere handful of seconds; he blinked up at the ambulance roof and the pair of eyes leaning over him. Hands were moving over him, administering an antidote and going about cutting off his spandex suit.
A face peaked into his vision, old and wrinkled, and worried. Peter was too out of it to recognise the person.
“It’s okay, Parker,” the man said when Peter shifted and made a pained mewling sound. “It’s okay. We’re going to look after you, kid.”
Peter slipped away as a hand brushed comfortingly against his masked head.
The second time, he was being loaded out of the ambulance. He was strapped to a gurney, being jostled around by rushed paramedics, but it wasn’t the movement that woke him up. It was the sound.
As he was pushed forward, the gasps and frantic babbling began. Doctors, nurses, people in the ER. They saw his mask, recognised the tatters of his suit as he was pushed into the ER, and immediately erupted into sound.
There were cries of relief and victory (“They found him! They found him; he’s safe!”), others sounded pained and worried (“Is he okay?!”), or panicked and frightened (“Is he DEAD?”).
“W-ah?” Peter slurred, tipping his head to meet the wide-eyed stare of a teenage girl.
“I’m glad your safe,” she said. She had a cast on her arm and deep bruising along her jaw, but her worry was all for him. “Get better soon, ‘kay, Spidey?”
There was another sharp prick in his arm, the soothing cocoon of numbness, and then, nothing.
Parker was unconscious for eight hours after surgery.
Now, Brian didn’t know what they did to him in surgery, or what all the machines hooked up the kid were for, or even what exactly that super-villain did to put Parker in such a state.
Brian did know that he wasn’t leaving until the kid woke up.
He’d had to fight off half the hospital when they tried to take off his mask. He’d had to raise his voice, almost shrieking, and tell them that they owed Spider-Man this much at least, how much the hero deserved his privacy.
Okay, and he may have lied and told everyone he was a member of Parker’s family, and that was why he was worried for him, but hey, it worked.
Now, Brian stood vigilance over the sleeping hero, curled up in a plastic chair beside his bed.
The mask made it hard to tell if Parker’s eyes were open, but the kid moved his head and groaned deep in his throat, and Brian sat up straight, smiling to himself despite the situation.
“I know, kid,” Brian told Parker.
Parker groaned louder, and reached up and pressed a hand to his hurting head.
“I know,” Brian repeated, “it hurts, but you’re okay, now. You’re not dying alone in some dingy apartment anymore.”
The words were said with humour, but had an undercurrent of annoyance. Who the hell swallows deadly, super-villain bombs and then skips out on a hospital? Who decides throwing up blood and letting their fever reach above normally fatal temperatures was a better idea than calling for help? Idiots, that’s who.
Parker’s hands slipped under his mask. He hooked his fingers at the edge and began to tug at the fabric.
“Woah!” Brian jumped up and grabbed Parker’s hands, struggling to pull them away from Parker’s face. Drugged and diseased, and Parker was still almost stronger him.
“Don’t want to unmask yourself here,” Brian said.
Parker let his hands fall to his sides. The hero took a deep breath and shook his head, trying to dispel the drug induced fog that had settled on his thoughts.
Brian shook his head. “I don’t understand what you’re trying to say,” he said, watching as Parker swallowed and tried again.
“What happ’n’d?” Parker asked. His words were still slurred, but coherent. Progress. “Where…?”
“You’re in a public hospital. There’s police officers here to protect you in case of any possible attacks. They’ve been coming in and out all day. It’s kind of cute, how worried everyone is, especially the more rough and tough cops.”
Again, Parker’s hands rushed to his head. Brian gently moved them back to his sides.
“I made sure your mask was on the whole time,” he told him, voice pitched low, reassuring. “Don’t worry, Parker.”
Parker swallowed. The room was silent, calm, with nothing but the soft beeping of the heart monitor and the congested breathing of the masked hero. It was a nice room. Parker had it all to himself — perks of being a superhero, Brian supposed. There was a tiny television mounted on the wall, and though it was muted, Brian could tell what the news program was saying. Spider-Man safe, the vertical scrawl at the bottom said. The shot changed from a relieved looking news reporter, to an outside shot of the hospital, where a small army of people in red and blue had gathered, waving banners and signs of support.
The beside table was overcrowded with well-wishes; cards, teddy bears, bouquets of flowers, children’s drawings. So many, spilling off the table and onto the floor. More gifts, along with a huge bag of get well soon letters, were piled in the corner.
“You worried everyone,” Brian said. “The whole city has been out of their minds looking for you.”
“Yeah?” Parker asked. His mask was pulled halfway up his nose to allow room for the nasal cannula, so when a small, soft smile tugged at Parker’s lips, Brian could see it.
“Yeah,” Brian said. “Yeah, Parker.”
“It’s Peter,” Peter murmured, barely audible. “And… thank you.”
Peter’s breathing was evening out, shoulders relaxing as he began to fall asleep. Brian watched over him. Peter was thin-waisted, long limbs gangly, shoulders small with collarbones sticking out. He looked so weak, delicate almost. It was ridiculous; Brian had seen footage of Spider-Man lifting trucks, but now, he felt weirdly protective of this kid.
“It’s no problem, Peter,” Brian said, smiling quietly to himself. The TV continued to play as the hero slept, a constant stream of happiness and gratefulness, a city celebrating the safety of their spider. “No problem at all…”