art by ectology
Fury gave them all a big speech before they left, and finished it with a finger pointed square at the team.
“Do not touch that portal, if it is the last thing you do,” he said.
“Because it might be!” Iron Man sang out. Fury’s one eye narrowed.
“Yes, Stark,” he said. “Because it might be. We still don’t know what happened to those missing civilians. Do not voluntarily add yourselves to that number.”
“Okay,” Miles said to himself as the team filed out. “Don’t touch the portal. Don’t touch the portal. I can do that.”
Turned out that was easier said than done. The last thing Miles heard before he was sucked in by blinding violet-blue light was Captain America shouting, “Someone grab him!”
Spider-Woman’s hand shot out, reaching toward him. Their fingers brushed, and then the portal closed in around Miles.
Miles came to as he was falling and promptly handled the situation in a manner appropriate for a young superhero just debuting on the biggest hero team on the planet: he freaked out.
“No, no, no,” he said, twisting in the air. He reached out, fingers snagging a ledge, and that wasn’t exactly much better, dangling a good fifteen stories above street level. He flipped himself up, balancing on the narrow ledge, and cast an eye out for his team.
They weren’t anywhere in sight. The busy street beneath him was familiar but – not, at the same time. He squinted at landmarks that were just a little off.
The window to his left squeaked open and a little girl poked her head out. Her jaw dropped. Miles waved at her.
“Hi,” he said. “Just your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man dropping in for a visit! Hey, have you seen a group of superheroes lately?”
She shook her head.
There was a crash and a scream from what sounded like a block over. Miles immediately perked up – if there was one sure sign there was a superhero team in the vicinity, it was explosions – and scrambled in that direction.
“Gotta go!” he said, waving over his shoulder at the little girl. She waved back.
“Bye, Spider-Kid!” she said, giving him a gap-toothed grin.
“Spider-Kid?” Miles repeated under his breath as he swung himself up onto the roof. He leapt out across the edge and hit the next building running. He leapt over the edge, arms outstretched, and caught himself on the side of the building before he could ruin anyone’s awning. Miles turned on the camouflage and leaned out to get a better look.
There was a man wearing brown fishnets attempting to knock over an armored van. Miles huffed a sigh and sprang into action.
The guy in the fishnets seemed to have some sort of electrical powers – Miles watched as he grabbed a guard and shocked him – though whether it was a superpower or part of his equipment, Miles couldn’t tell.
It was time to play What Would Peter Parker Say.
“This is so embarrassing,” he said, launching himself at Fishnet Guy. He sprang upwards at the last minute, vaulting over him with his hands braced on the man’s shoulders. He gave him a quick sting. “I almost wore the same thing today!”
“Who?!” Fishnet Guy said, spinning around as Miles landed neatly behind him. “Oh, don’t tell me he got a side –”
He seized up, jaw clamping shut, and then fell over. Not immune to the venom stings after all.
“Good to know,” Miles said to himself, and set about stacking the scattered bags of cash in a neat pile. There were sirens in the distance, which meant it was nearly time to make his exit. Besides, he still had to find his team. He didn’t want to give Captain America any excuses when it came to his place with the Ultimates.
He turned to go and nearly ran smack-dab into a woman standing behind him. She was wearing black and yellow and had her hands on her hips.
Her face was sort of familiar.
“Okay, I know I’ve been out of the picture for a while,” she said, squinting at him. “But is it just me or did Spider-Man get shorter? Did he get a sidekick while I was gone? You guys have to tell me these things.”
“Um,” Miles said. “I’m sorry?”
“You should be,” she said. “But I have to say, I like the costume.”
“Janet,” a man said, coming up from behind them. “Give him some space.”
Miles turned to look at the man. He was huge and the trenchcoat he wore obscured most of his outfit, but there was something familiar about the strength and ease of his movements as he dragged Fishnet Guy over onto the sidewalk and out of the way. He looked up at smiled at Miles.
Miles’ jaw dropped.
The hair was different and the expression downright foreign, but that was Captain America standing there smiling at him.
The pieces fell into place.
“Now tell if I’m wrong here, son, but you’re not our Spider-Man, are you?” the other universe’s Captain America asked kindly.
“Something tells me I’m not in Kansas anymore,” Miles said softly to himself, swallowing around the pit in his stomach.
It was evening when Peter Parker ran into the Avengers’ training room, hair sticking up at all angles and one shoe untied, and Miles was getting a combat lesson from Captain America.
“What happened? What’s going on?” Peter asked, skidding to a stop at the edge of the arena. “Why’d Wolverine leave me a message about a Mini Me?”
Miles looked over his shoulder at him; Cap cleared his throat sharply.
“Don’t drop your guard,” he said. “Distractions are everywhere in a fight. You have to stay focused.”
“Right,” Miles said, squaring his shoulders. He brought his gloved fists back up.
“What are you doing?” Peter asked, peering through the ropes at them. He narrowed his eyes at Cap. “Are you training my alternate reality successor? Really?”
Cap flashed him a brief smile. “Apparently my alternate self made a promise. I’m just following through.”
Miles narrowed his eyes and wondered if it would be cheating to take a swing at Captain America while he was distracted. It seemed wrong, somehow. Still, he had just finished telling Miles never to let an opportunity pass him by… Miles sprang.
He hit the ropes face-first.
“Nice try,” Captain America said, amusement clear in his voice. Miles twisted around; Cap’s smirk was not unfriendly as he crooked his fingers in Miles direction. Come at me, bro! the little bit of his mind that always sounded like Ganke supplied helpfully. “Again.”
“Hey, whoa, no, not again,” Peter said, flipping himself gracefully over the ropes and into the middle of the ring. He put his palm flat on top of his other hand and said, “Time out. That means you, Stars and Bars.”
Cap threw him a bemused look but backed off, grabbing his water bottle from the edge of the ring. Peter watched him for a moment, eyes narrowed, before he dropped to one knee in front of Miles, fingers twitching like he wasn’t sure whether or not to grab him by the shoulders.
“Miles?” he said. “My successor from the alternative universe where everything was the same except really not Miles?”
“Hi,” Miles said, giving him a little wave. Peter made him feel shy like the first day of school.
“How did you get here?” Peter asked. “I thought Fury and Tony agreed to disable the portal from the other side.”
“They did,” Miles said. “I didn’t – I don’t know what happened. This big thing appeared in the sky – Iron Man called it a portal – and the next thing I knew I was here.” He smiled, nervous. “Superhero problems?”
That startled a laugh out of Peter. “Superhero problems,” he agreed. “Hey, listen, we’re going to get you back, alright? You’ll be home in no time. Did you call anybody?” The last part he directed to Captain America.
“We made the calls,” Cap said, nodding. “I’m waiting to hear back. Worse comes to worst, we’ll lock Tony and Hank down in the lab. We’ll get him back where he belongs. Now…” he squared his stance. “You’re interrupting a sparring lesson.”
“Cap, c’mon,” Peter said. “I’m sure he knows how to fight. He kicked my butt when I was over there.”
Miles shook his head. “I learned from videos,” he said. “Of, um, you. Security footage and cell phone videos and stuff on the internet.”
Peter squinted at him. “Okay, I stand corrected. Go, spar away. I’m just going to go crawl into a corner and question my career.”
An hour later, Peter threw his hands up and declared that he was taking Miles home with him to get food, and that if anyone called with a dimensional travel solution they could just page him on the Spider Signal.
“There isn’t really a spider signal, right?” Miles asked, hurrying alongside Peter. “Because I don’t have a spider signal back in my, uh, you know, universe.”
Peter settled a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. “There’s no spider signal. If there was, I’m pretty sure it’d only be used to lure me into elaborate traps.”
“Where are we going?” Miles asked him. Peter grinned at him.
“You, my young spider friend, are getting a tour of Chateau Parker,” he said. “It has cable and an a/c older than both of us put together.”
Peter Parker’s apartment was small but cozy with clean windows and clothes thrown over the back of the couch. A few pictures dotted the walls – Miles recognized a few of the faces. He wandered over, looking at a faded wedding picture – May Parker, and a man Miles had never seen before but knew must be Ben Parker. They looked happy. The photo next to them showed a smiling redheaded woman with her hair up in a messy ponytail, waving to the camera.
“Is that Mary Jane?” Miles asked. Peter hummed an assent. “She looks pretty.”
“That’s my favorite picture of her,” Peter said. “She hates it.”
“You don’t have any of Gwen,” Miles noted. Peter hesitated, then unwound his scarf from around his neck. Miles could see the edge of the red Spider-Man suit peeking out from above the collar of his sweater.
“I do, just not in the hallway,” he said. His hands landed on Miles shoulders and he steered him into the small kitchen. “Want something to drink?”
“Um, no, I’m okay,” Miles said, distracted by the view of New York from just beyond the windows. “Wow,” he said, putting his hands up against the glass and leaning forward so he could take in the big picture. It looked like his New York – it even smelled like his New York – but it wasn’t. The big differences – a billboard where there wasn’t one, a different building – weren’t nearly as distracting as the little ones.
There, across the street, was the building Miles had been thrown into fighting a guy in a scorpion costume the other week. There was no boy-shaped hole in the concrete and no missing windows. It was weird to think that, where he was now, that whole fight had never happened.
“Here,” Peter said, setting a bottle of water down in front of him. “I know accidental interdimensional travel made me thirsty. And hungry, too,” he said, opening the fridge. “I’ve got, uh, leftover Chinese from two weeks ago and – mustard. Yeah.”
“Oh, uh, I’m alright,” Miles said. He was thirsty; he gulped down half the bottle in one go.
“You sure?” Peter said. His smile had a nervous sort of edge to it; it looked like how Miles’ stomach felt. “It’s really good mustard. Dijon mustard.”
“I’m sure,” Miles said. He looked at Peter through the clear plastic of the bottle neck, avoiding his eyes. This was Spider-Man. The original flavor, Ganke would say. This was a world where there was only Peter Parker, Spider-Man, and he was an adult and Miles didn’t know if he would ever be as good or as strong or as graceful.
He wanted, suddenly, to go home, and his chest clenched when he realized that home might not even exist where he was right now. Even if it did, it wouldn’t be his – it would belong to some other Miles Morales.
“It’s weird, right?”
Miles looked up. Peter was smiling ruefully.
“Yeah,” Miles said. He gave a tentative smile in return. He fiddled with the edge of one of his gloves. Peter’s eyes caught the movement.
“You’re wearing webslingers,” he said.
“Oh.” Miles turned his wrists over so Peter could get a better look. “Yeah, your aunt – um, the one in my universe, she gave them to me. I’m not really good with them yet, though. I keep smacking into buildings.”
“These look just like the ones I had when I was sixteen,” Peter said, grinning. He ran a finger over the metal, gently, careful not to set it off. Awe crept into his expression. “They’re better than when I was sixteen. These, wow, I’m a genius.”
Was, Miles thought with a pang, watching Peter’s face close-up. It was easy to imagine a younger version with the same grin, bent over a pair of webslingers in May Parker’s house.
“Hey,” Peter said, tapping Miles on the wrist. “Want a lesson from the master?”
They raced to the top of the Empire State Building; it was the first place that came to mind when Peter asked him where he wanted to go.
“That, or the Statue of Liberty,” he added. Peter laughed, the sound carried by the wind.
“I get interrupted when I’m up there,” he said. “Besides, less places to swing from.”
It was cold all the way up at the top, evening just starting to creep across the skyline. When Miles had been little, he’d always looked up at the biggest buildings and imagined what it would be to stand at the very top of them. He’d always felt like he could stand up there and stretch his arms way over his head and brush the sky with his fingertips.
(“Of course you could,” his mother had said, laughing, the one time Miles had confessed at age seven. She took his face between her hands and smacked a kiss to his forehead and said, “That’s why they’re called skyscrapers.”
Uncle Aaron caught him staring up at the tops of buildings when he was twelve. He’d laughed and said, “What’re you staring at those for, kid? There’s nothing up there worth looking at,” and settled one big hand on top of Miles head, making his hat slip into his eyes.)
Miles knew better now, and besides, Peter was right next to him, so he kept his hands at his sides as he peered out over the edge, down at the cars below. There were nervous butterflies in his stomach and suddenly everything seemed a bad idea.
“Don’t be nervous,” Peter said, crouching down beside him. “All you’ve got to do is aim, shoot and swing.”
“Right,” Miles said, tearing his eyes away from all the lights beneath his feet. Aim, shoot, swing – that seemed easy enough. He fixed his gaze on the building across from them, narrowing his eyes against the wind’s chill.
“On three,” Peter said, a warm solid presence by Miles’s side; someone who’d done this before, and a lot and never once dropped himself eighty stories onto the roof of a taxi in a different dimension. Like a teacher. “One … two…” Miles pressed down on the release and the webbing hit his target, glittering in the darkness as the lights caught on it. “Three!”
Peter leapt first and Miles sucked in a breath: he looked like he was flying.
“Swing,” Miles said to himself, watching Peter twist and turn and spin. He grabbed a hold of the webbing and let the ground fall out from beneath his feet.
Miles’ fingertips tingled from the cold and his breath fogged up on the inside of his mask. He swung onto the ledge where Peter was waiting and crouched down, letting the webline fall away, and then he was laughing.
“That was amazing!” he said in between gasps. Peter was grinning behind the mask, Miles could tell.
“You got the hang of it quick,” he said, and Miles looked out back the way they’d come, at the glimmering spiderweb strands still hanging onto the building. “I knew you would.”
“It was fun,” Miles said, smiling so hard his face hurt. He could still feel the rush of every upswing, the nervous flutter of butterflies in his stomach on the freefalls.
“You didn’t have fun before?” Peter asked.
“Mostly I swung into buildings,” Miles admitted. “And, um, supervillains.”
“That kind of thing happens to everyone,” Peter said. He shot a strand of web across the street. “Ready for round two? Race you back downtown!”
“Wait a second,” Miles said before Peter could swing off. The buzzing was back, and Miles’ experiences with it so far told him that something was probably about to smack him in the face. He moved on instinct, scaling the building to the rooftop. He could hear Peter following behind him.
There was shouting coming from the alley down below. Miles didn’t wait; he shot a line of webbing across to the fire escape and then let himself fly. He took in the situation on the way down: two men attacking a third with a book bag held protectively over his head.
The heel of Miles’ boot connected with the nearest attacker’s face.
“Whoops!” he said, using the man’s shoulders to vault off of him and onto a nearby garbage can. “My bad! I wasn’t watching where I was going. Hey, can you give a guy directions? I think I’m in the wrong neighborhood.”
The first man fell back with a wordless shout, hands cupped over his face. His companion reached for something in his back pocket – a gun or a knife, Miles wasn’t going to wait to find out. He sprang.
“Seriously?” he said, delivering one quick venom strike. “Nobody’s got a map? Do the busses stop this late? Help a guy out, I’m not from around here.”
The guy with the book bag over his head slowly lowered it, peering at Miles.
“Didn’t you used to be taller?” he asked.
“Wow,” said Miles. “Rude.”
Something rustled behind him; Miles turned, venom strike at the ready, but found the first thug all webbed up. Peter was dangling upside down from a webline.
“You quip!” he said. “You’re a quipper! I’m so proud I could plotz.”
“Oh great,” the webbed up thug said. “Now there’s two of them.”
“Prepare for trouble,” Peter intoned, then turned his masked face towards Miles. “C’mon, if you leave me hanging, I am going to feel really, really old.”
“And make it double,” said Miles. Peter held out a hand for him to high-five.
“Speaking of doubles,” said Peter. “How do you feel about burgers?”
Peter led them past countless fast food joints and burger chains, swinging across streets and crawling over buildings. Miles felt like he must have lost him half a dozen times, only to look up and find Peter hanging from some streetlight.
Finally they stopped at a tiny hole in the wall. There was no sign out front, but Peter breezed through the door like he’d done it a thousand times before. Miles followed fast on his heels.
Inside the place was just as tiny as the outside suggested, with three small tables and a cluster of plastic chairs. There was a menu mounted high on the wall behind the counter. The place was deserted.
“We’re closed,” a voice called out from the kitchen. “Can’t you read the sign?”
“C’mon, Frank,” Peter said, leaning on the counter with his chin on one hand. “Can’t spare a few burgers for your favorite regular? I swear, I’ve got cash this time.”
An older man stuck his head around the corner. “Spider-Man!” he said, a huge grin breaking across his face. “I should put a bell on you.”
“And ruin my crimefighting career? Frank, I thought we were friends.”
“Yes, yes, very good friends. That’s why you eat me out of house and home, no?” Frank said, raising one bushy eyebrow. His eyes landed on Miles. “You brought a friend?”
“Yep,” Peter said. He snaked a hand across Miles shoulders, pulling him in close. “Say hi to Frank, kid.”
Miles waved. “Hi, Frank.”
Frank’s eyes traveled from Peter to Miles and back again. “He your kid?” he asked, solemn. “It’s very irresponsible, taking your kid out to – wham, pow, bad guys.”
“Frank,” said Peter. “Do I look old enough to have a kid?”
“How would I know, every time you come in here you’re wearing a mask,” said Frank.
“I’m not his kid,” said Miles. “He’s being very responsible?”
Frank eyed him; Miles fidgeted under his steely gaze. “You promise? You can tell me the truth. You say no, no burgers for him.”
“How did this become another round of Belittle the Spider-Man?” Peter asked, throwing up his hands.
“He’s being good,” Miles said, smile sneaking its way onto his face. Frank extended a hand and Miles shook it. “Promise.”
“Then you wait here. I’ll go make dinner.”
Dinner was a pair of burgers with extra cheese and a fried egg on top. Miles poked at it, unsure, until Frank clapped him on the back and urged him to “just take a bite.” Miles had been taught never to be rude, so he rolled his mask up over his nose and took a bite.
He ended up with egg and cheese on his chin. Peter laughed at him, but he pushed a napkin across the table.
“Best burgers in town, and also the messiest,” he said.
“Is better that way,” Frank said, wiping his hands off on his stained white apron. “Can’t have good without a little messy. Right, Spider-Man?”
“I found this place when I fell through the three floors above it,” Peter said, grinning.
“With a giant lizard on top of him,” Frank said, shaking his head. “This city, sometimes. So, you are his sidekick?”
Miles opened his mouth to answer, but then wasn’t sure what to say. The truth -- no, I’m the Spider-Man from another universe -- seemed a little too much even for someone whose restaurant got crashed by giant lizards.
“He’s just visiting,” Peter filled in for him.
“Hmm,” Frank said, sounding suspicious, but he didn’t push for more information.
Miles was doing fine right up until he swung the wrong way on their trip back to Peter’s.
“Hey, kid, where are you going?” Peter called out, and Miles nearly swung into the side of a building. He caught himself last minute, fingers sticking to a window ledge.
“Um,” he said, staring down the street. Embarrassment crept into his stomach; he felt his face heat up. It was the same street he’d turn down on his way home from school, if he walked it.
Peter landed next to him.
“Miles?” he said quietly.
“It’s my way home,” Miles admitted. “In my universe.”
“Oh,” Peter said. The mask’s blank eyes shone briefly in the light from a passing car, unreadable. “Miles…”
“I know it’s a bad idea,” Miles said quickly, before Peter could get there. “But can I just swing by? I won’t – I won’t go in, but I just want to see if it’s there, you know?”
“I went to my aunt’s house,” Peter said. He closed a hand on Miles’ shoulder and squeezed tight. “I think I know. Come on, one quick trip, coming up.”
Swinging home was much faster than walking. Before he knew it Miles was perched upside down on a streetlamp, looking at his family’s apartment. The windows were dark; there was nobody moving inside. Disappointment fought with loneliness; Miles tried to swallow them both down.
It wouldn’t have made it better, he told himself. There was no way his mom would be waiting on the doorstep for him. No way his dad would give Spider-Man a hug, not in this or any other universe.
“It’s only going to get harder the longer you stay,” Peter said softly. “Trust me on this one.”
“Right,” Miles said, swinging himself right way up. “Maybe they don’t even live here in this universe. Or maybe they do but they have their own me in there. Or maybe I’m at school…”
“Maybe,” Peter agreed. “Hey, you still hungry?”
Miles was, which was ridiculous, given the food he’d devoured less than an hour ago. “Spider-metabolism, I guess,” he said. Peter laughed.
“Come on,” he said. “We’ll get pizza and watch bad movies and before you know it someone will have a way to get you back to your world.”
Miles threw a look back at the dark windows as they swung away.
Peter was true to his word; Miles was kind of amazed at the way he managed to balance pizza boxes while webslinging. He changed in an alley, pulling clothes on over his spider-suit, while Miles switched on the camoflauge and simply crawled through the window, somersaulting over the sill and onto the couch down below.
There was a laptop resting on the coffee table. Miles almost reached for it, wondering what he’d find if he googled his name, but he heard footsteps in the hall. The door clicked open a minute later and Peter maneuvered his way in, pizza boxes balanced on one palm. Miles wondered how everyone didn’t know he was Spider-Man; the way he moved was different from everyone else.
“Right,” Peter said, setting the pizza down and grabbing the remote. “Bad sci-fi movies, coming right up.”
They were halfway through the second movie and Miles’ eyelids were heavy. Somewhere along the line his head had ended up on Peter’s shoulder. Peter didn’t seem to mind. He was warm through the double layer of his shirt and uniform.
“You can conk out if you want,” he said. “It’s been a long day.”
“Yeah,” Miles agreed. On the television there was an infomercial playing, and someone was telling him to buy a nonstick skillet and he could get a recipe book and a set of mini-cutting boards for free, run don’t walk, act now and they’d double the offer.
They had the same infomercial back in Miles’ world. He knew because his dad had ordered the skillet, and then his mom had gotten mad about it. It was still in the box, underneath their kitchen sink.
“Did you ever worry you were never going to get back to your world?” he asked Peter before he could stop himself.
“Maybe a little,” Peter said. “But there are so many smart people in my – in our community. And I knew that if someone could build a machine to transport me to another universe, then somebody else could build something to bring me back.”
“Okay,” Miles said, his voice smaller than he’d meant for it to be. He closed his eyes and hid his face in Peter’s shoulder.
Miles woke up to the sound of the doorbell. He was lying sprawled on the couch, face pushed against one of the pillows. At some point Peter must have put a blanket on top of him; it smelled musty, like mothballs and somebody’s attic, and it had a fringe that tickled Miles’ nose.
“No, everything’s fine,” Peter’s voice drifted from another room. “I’m fine. The job’s fine. I’m just – taking a day off. I can do that! It’s not weird, I’ve done it before, I – no, come on, that was an isolated incident. Okay, okay. How’s Boston? And the new Mr. Parker? Aunt May, I think we all know who wears the pants there.”
Miles dragged himself into a sitting position, yawning. He was still in his costume; his mask lay draped over the sofa’s arm. Peter leaned around the doorway; his hair stuck up at all angles and he had a phone trapped between his shoulder and his ear. There was a greasy paper bag in his hand.
“Aunt May, I gotta go, okay?” Peter said into the phone. He shook the bag in Miles’ direction. “Love you too. Bye.” He hung up the phone and stuck it in his pocket. “Okay, so, breakfast – I figured mustard and baking soda probably wasn’t a balanced part of a daily breakfast, so I found a place that delivers. But I just got a call from my job – my day job, not my Spider-job – so I have to run out real quick.” He paused. “Or you could come with me?”
“Um, no, I don’t want to intrude,” Miles said. He pulled at the neck of his costume and smiled. “And I don’t have any good work clothes.”
“Well, okay, but I’ll try to be back as soon as I can,” Peter said, “and there’s a television with a thrilling thirty-something channels at your disposal. Or you can go swinging. Just watch out for supervillains, okay?”
He grabbed his scarf and a jacket as he spoke, flashing Miles an apologetic grin, and then he was gone, the apartment door slamming behind him.
The laptop still rested on the coffee table. Miles bit his lip, thinking about what Peter had said -- trust me, sometimes it’s better not to know -- before curiosity won out. He sat on the edge of the sofa, feeling jittery, and opened the laptop with ginger fingertips.
He searched for Ganke first, and found a half dozen articles and a networking profile that proudly boasted a picture of an adult with his friend’s face, smiling next to a giant Lego model of a superhero battle.
“Wow,” Miles said, brushing his fingers against the screen. He thought about trying Nick Fury next, but figured googling him might land Peter on some kind of list. Not exactly best guest behavior. Judge turned up similarly impressive results – the fact that he had the same glasses made Miles smile.
He hesitated a long moment, then typed in his own name. Results sprang up instantly; a lot more than he’d been expecting. More than for Ganke and Judge put together. The top result made his heart thud hard in his chest.
THE PROWLER ON TRIAL.
Miles Davis aka Miles Morales aka the infamous supercriminal and mob enforcer, pictured below, on trial this week.
Miles hadn’t realized how much time had passed until Peter slammed the door. Miles blinked, sitting up straight. Peter stood in the doorway with guilt written all over his face.
“We got a call,” he said. “The other night the police picked up a couple of people shouting about how they were in the wrong world and, well, they called some of our guys. The Fantastic Four checked it out and they’ve got the same energy signal that clung to me after I came back from your world. They’re working on a way to reverse a portal back to your home universe as we speak. Miles…”
Miles opened his mouth to say something. The only words that came out were, “Did you know?”
“I looked you up as soon as I got back here,” Peter admitted. “I didn’t want you to find out but – I guess that wasn’t fair. Look on the bright side – at least you’re not dead?”
The joking tone fell flat. Miles shook his head, staring down at the laptop screen. There were plenty of pictures of this world’s Miles Morales, in court, in handcuffs, grainy pictures of him in a sleek black costume. There was even a picture of his dad, sitting in the courtroom. He looked sadder than Miles had ever seen him, sad and disappointed and angry with his head hung low, and just looking at him made Miles want to apologize.
Uncle Aaron was nowhere to be seen. Miles supposed he shouldn’t be so surprised.
“You were right,” he said. He closed his eyes and saw his face, but older, meaner. “I should have listened.”
“You did what I would have done in your situation,” Peter said, sitting down next to him. “What I did in your situation, actually. Miles, it’s okay. He’s you, but he’s not you.”
“He could be me,” Miles said, shaking his head. Peter reached over and closed the laptop with a click.
“No, he couldn’t,” he said. “You’re a hero, Miles. I’ve seen it.”
“You don’t know,” Miles said, dropping his head into his hands. The words rattled around in his head: this is who Uncle Aaron wanted me to be, and he’s the one who made me Spider-Man. Peter touched his wrist, gently.
“You saved me, when I fell into your world,” Peter said. Miles snorted.
“I beat you up,” he said, peering through his fingers. Peter was smiling at him.
“And I’ve been Spider-Man for how long? About a hundred times longer than you,” he said. “And you beat me up. You’re Spider-Man. You’re not the Prowler.”
Miles swallowed hard.
“I know I’m not the Prowler,” he said. “I think I killed him.”
Peter was quiet for a long moment.
“Okay,” he said. “That’s… metaphorical, but I guess you could put it like that –”
“No,” Miles said. He grabbed the laptop and propped it open, trying to find Peter a picture of Uncle Aaron, but Aaron Davis was a common name and his search turned up a dozen or so unrelated strangers. “In my world, the Prowler, he – he’s my uncle. And he wanted me to work with him. For him. He wanted to be the next – do you guys have a Kingpin here?”
“We have a Kingpin,” said Peter. “We have enough Kingpin for the entire multiverse.”
“Right, um. My uncle, he wanted to be that guy,” Miles broke off, licking his lips. They cracked under his tongue. “He stole the spider that bit me. And he’s my uncle and I – I don’t know why he had to be a bad guy.”
He looked to Peter, but Peter just shook his head, quiet for once. Miles sucked in a breath through his teeth.
“We got in a fight. A real fight, I mean, not like – not like a normal family fight. I hit him with my venom strike, just to stun him, and he – his suit exploded. SHIELD said it malfunctioned, but I… he was my uncle,” Miles said. “And that’s who he wanted me to be. That’s who he said I was.”
Uncle Aaron had bought him ice cream and let him watch movies that his parents definitely wouldn’t have approved of and sometimes afterwards had shown how to do all the “badass kung fu” moves. Uncle Aaron had said his door was always open and that Miles was his favorite nephew (“It doesn’t count if I’m your only nephew.”) and was the only adult in his life who’d ever said Miles needed to take a break from his homework and have some fun.
Miles missed that Uncle Aaron.
“Hey,” Peter said, breaking him out of his thoughts. He was wearing an odd smile. “I’m going to tell you something I’ve never said to anybody since I was about your age, but – uncles aren’t always right all the time. I had an uncle who thought I was going to be a little league star, and he was really wrong about that one.”
“But my uncle told me something once,” Peter continued. “He said with great power comes great responsibility. Taking responsibility is what makes you a hero. You took responsibility, Miles. You’re taking it right now – and that’s what makes you different than the other you, the one here.”
“I don’t feel so different,” Miles whispered. Before he knew it, Peter had pulled him in a brief hug.
“That’s okay,” he said. “Big hero protip: sometimes you don’t really feel like one. That doesn’t change the fact that you are one.” He pulled back and looked Miles in the eyes. “You ready to go home?”
Miles gave him a watery smile. “Can we make one stop first?”
Miles “the Prowler” Morales was sitting at a bench in the prison yard wearing orange and a scowl. Miles, perched on the wall, stared down at him and ran a hand over his mask, trying to figure out if his own face had ever worn that expression. He didn’t think so.
“We can’t stay long,” Peter said, sitting next to him. “Luckily this isn’t the kind of prison where they house the guys who have really inexplicable hatecrushes on me, but still. Prison’s not really a good place for masks.”
“Okay,” Miles said. “I just want to look at him for a minute.”
Miles “the Prowler” Morales looked more like Uncle Aaron than Miles had ever thought possible. He wondered if that was what he’d look like when he got older: mean, mostly, and angry, and like someone his mother wouldn’t like.
“I don’t think he looks too much like me,” he said in a quiet voice.
“He doesn’t look like you,” Peter confirmed. “I promise you, you’re not going to turn out like him.”
“Yeah,” Miles said, eyes burning. “Okay.”
“Remember,” said Peter. “No fate but what we make.”
“Right,” Miles said, nodding. “Did your uncle say that too?”
“Really?” said Peter. “I’m going to pretend the major difference between our universes is that yours doesn’t have Terminator, because I am so not as old as you are making me feel.”
“We’re not allowed to watch action movies at school,” Miles said, and he could see Peter rolling his eyes even with the mask in the way. He flexed his fingers and his toes, the rough concrete scratching through his spider-boots. He breathed in deep, the air chilly in his lungs, and took one last look down at Miles “the Prowler” Morales.
“Okay,” he said. “I’m ready to go now.”
The Baxter Building was big and white and clean like his mom always complained their living room wasn’t. Franklin Richards rode the elevator up with them. He stared at Miles.
“How old are you?” he asked.
“Um,” said Miles. “Thirteen.”
Franklin’s face lit up.
“Cool!” he said. “My mom says I’m not allowed to be a superhero until I’m thirty. Do you have spiderpowers? Is your universe cool?”
The elevator doors dinged open before Miles could answer any of those questions. A pair of long arms snaked through the doors and hefted Franklin high into the air. A face Miles had only ever seen on the news smiled down at him.
“You must be the other Spider-Man,” Reed Richards said. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“You too,” Miles said, taking an instinctive step back when one of Mr. Fantastic’s hands stretched out to take his.
“He doesn’t bite,” Peter said, hand on Miles’ shoulder as Mr. Fantastic led them through his labs.
“I know,” Miles said, ducking his head when Reed Richards twisted around to smile at him.
“I get the feeling you recognize me,” he said. He had safety goggles dangling around his neck and smudges on his face, like a mad scientist in a movie. Miles shuddered, remembering pictures of a young man with a scar on his face on one of Fury’s screens. “Or a me, rather.”
“Oh,” Miles said, startled out of his thoughts. “No, I’ve never met him.”
“Come to think of it, I didn’t see you when I was over in that universe either,” Peter said to Reed. “Maybe the you over there doesn’t do dimension stuff. Or maybe that version of Tony Stark doesn’t like to share his toys.”
“I can believe that one,” Reed said, smiling and shaking his head.
“You’re a lot younger in my universe,” Miles said to him. “And, um. Evil.”
There was a pause.
“Ah,” Reed said. “Yes, well. That seems to happen in alternate universes with alarming regularity.”
“My Uncle Ben’s keeping score,” Franklin told Miles, surprisingly blithe about the whole evil alternate universe dad thing. Reed cleared his throat.
“Yes, well, we won’t tell Ben about this one,” he said, giving Miles a small smile. “Three more and I owe him a boat.”
Peter, who had been bent over a screen making interested noises, straightened up. “Reed? Is everything ready?”
“Just about,” he said. “We’re waiting on Sue and Johnny with the last few, and then we can start sending everyone back.” He smiled at Miles. “Are you ready to go home?”
Miles didn’t recognize any of the people gathered on the Baxter Building rooftop, but something about them felt familiar, like home.
“You ready?” Peter asked, nudging his shoulder. Miles nodded.
“Yeah,” he said. “No offense. I just really want to go home.”
“I get it,” Peter said. “Not your universe. But it was great having you around, kid.”
Mr. Fantastic slid his goggles back onto his face, looping himself around to a small workstation. “You’ll need to stand on the platform with the others, Spider-Man,” he said. “Err, other Spider-Man.”
Miles nodded and took one step forward, then looked over his shoulder at Peter. He hesitated, then turned and threw his arms around Peter’s middle. He squeezed, his face buried in the middle of the spider insignia. Peter wrapped his arms around Miles’ shoulders and hugged back just as tightly.
“I’m gonna miss you,” he said. Miles nodded, then let go. He pushed his mask up over the bridge of his nose so Peter could see his smile. Peter laughed and copied him. “Go,” he said. “Don’t miss your ride home.”
There was an older woman at the edge of the platform, and she held out her hand for Miles to take.
“You’re our Spider-Man,” she said kindly, “aren’t you?”
“Uh-huh,” Miles said. The platform hummed beneath his feet.
“You swung by my husband’s shop last week,” she said. “He was so excited he took a picture and put it in the window. He’ll be jealous when he hears about this.”
“I think he’ll just be happy to have you home,” Miles told her, happy that his mask hid his blush. She chuckled and squeezed his hand.
The Invisible Woman flew by overhead with two teenagers perched on one of her force fields. It was even weirder to see her than Reed Richards – she was on the Ultimates and Miles had even spoken to her once or twice, even though she was usually busy with her experiments. This older version of her had her hair up in a high ponytail and a smile on her face; she looked relaxed and happy.
“Special delivery!” she said, swooping down and depositing her passengers with the rest of the group. “That should be the last of them, Reed.”
“All systems are go here,” Reed said, looking up. “Is everybody ready?”
There was a chorus of confirmation. Peter stepped forward, standing just beneath the platform.
“Are you ready, Spider-Man?” he called up to Miles.
“Ready, Spider-Man,” Miles replied, even as butterflies flip-flopped in his stomach.
A man standing behind Miles leaned forward, fiddling with his glasses.
“Is that him?” he asked Miles in a hushed tone. “Peter Parker? It’s his costume.”
“Oh,” the woman holding Miles’ hand said in a hushed voice. “Is it?”
Miles looked at Peter, who only shrugged, so he nodded. “That’s him.”
“Look at him, he looks so tall,” the woman said, shaking her head. “He’s all grown up.”
The two teenagers behind Miles cupped their hands over their mouths and shouted, “We love you, Peter Parker!” The others picked up the cheer, adding in “you’re a hero” and “you make us proud,” and Miles joined them, grinning around the words. Peter stood stock still for a long moment before he ripped off the mask and smiled up at the crowd with his hair standing up on end.
“I’ll remember!” Miles shouted down to him as Mr. Fantastic started pulling levers and tapping at devices. The edges of the platform lit up bright; Miles had to squint down at Peter through them.
“Remember what?” Peter shouted back. A whirring noise started up, almost drowning out the words, and with a jolt Miles felt like his stomach had plummeted to about his knees. He was reminded of reading Harry Potter under the covers and wondered if this was what disapparating felt like.
He hoped they all made it to the other side in one piece.
“With great power comes great responsibility!” Miles called, right before the world whited out.
Miles hit the floor hard with somebody's elbow in his ribs and somebody else lying over his feet. He blinked once, twice, dazedly up at the sky and wondered why it looked like Spider-Woman’s mask.
“Kid? Kid?! Can you hear me? How many fingers am I holding up?”
“Huh?” Miles said. Looking around, he saw Iron Man and the Falcon helping the civilians sit up. “Spider-Woman?”
“Not actually an answer to my question,” she said, grabbing Miles’ hands and pulling him to his feet. “But I’ll take it. What happened to you?”
“I fell into another universe,” he said, looking around. It was dark outside. “How long was I gone?”
“A few hours, give or take,” she said, making a move like she was about to try and dust off his shoulders. She caught herself and pulled her hands back, crossing her arms over her chest.
“Oh,” Miles said. “It was longer for me.”
“All the civilians are accounted for,” Iron Man said, clapping Miles on the shoulder. “Good job, kid.”
“Oh, uh, I didn’t,” Miles started, but Iron Man was already walking away. Spider-Woman fixed her hands on her hips and tilted her head to the side like she was studying him; Miles shifted uncomfortably under the blank gaze of her mask.
Finally she sighed, hands falling to her sides. She swiped her hair back from her face and tilted her head back, saying, “Where did you even hear that, anyway?”
“Hear what?” Miles asked.
“You said something, when you fell through,” she said, “and – it was … never mind.” She shook her head and placed a hand between his shoulders, herding him towards the waiting helicopters. “Come on, Spider-Man. Let’s go home.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Home sounds nice.”