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Burning Matches

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             It was horrifying. It was dizzying. His mind spiraled in a million different directions, his body pressing against hard concrete as he desperately attempted to draw breath into his lungs, fingers scrabbling at the building, seeking something, anything that he could use to ground himself. He closed his eyes, tilting his head back, trying to focus on the roughness of the concrete that he could feel, ripping his gloves off in order to be that much closer, barely remembering to shove them in a pocket as he did so. He didn’t even notice the fact that his fingers had dug into the rough edges to the point where they were starting to bleed.

             His breath was still rattling in his lungs, his body still tense, but if he kept his eyelids closed, he could at least pretend that nothing had changed.

             What had happened?

             One moment, Peter had been swinging after some two-bit crooks, intent on putting them on ice after they had shot up one of the poorer localities…and in Hooverville, that was saying something. The next, he had somehow swung into something that squeezed him tighter than the Sandman, and hit harder, too. When he finally was spat out of whatever it was that caught him, he found himself here. This…this…

             Peter didn’t know what this was. He didn’t know what was surrounding him, had no idea what was happening, why he was here, where here even was! What was happening? Slowly, slowly, Peter peered out through his goggles, his eyes squinted as narrow as he could make them and still be able to see.

             It was like an icepick was driving into his skull.

             Peter closed his eyes again, heaving a breath in, and letting it whistle out.

             He was having a panic-attack, pressed to the side of an unknown building, and all because he didn’t know what he was seeing. What an absolute clusterfuck. This was stupid, this wasn’t him. He had adjusted to being bitten by a spider and seeing a Spider-God before him, he had adjusted to being able to shoot webs out of his own wrists, and climb on walls - he could do this.

             He could do this.

             He opened his eyes and kept them open against the searing brilliance that pierced him and forced himself to actually look at what surrounded him. It made his eyes water and his pupils kept sliding over everything, unable to focus on what he was seeing. Eventually finding it too much, he instead turned his attention up, away from the flashing of…whatever it was. Was he having a stroke? A seizure? What the fuck was going on?

             Focus on the sky, Pete, focus on the sky, he thought to himself, heaving in another deep breath. The sky was…the sky was odd, too. It was as open and as big as his own, but the…he didn’t even know what to call it. He didn’t know what it was that was spread out over him, that was tinting everything… Peter focused on the big fluffy clouds that drifted across the sun, taking in their appearance, the way they were so normal, and finally closed his eyes again.

             Maybe this was it, maybe he was dying.

             A sudden pain lanced through his head, a sharp and sudden feeling that was like his spider-sense was on overdrive, giving him the feeling like there were a million spiders crawling up his spine. His eyes flew open and there was something else over him.

             Peter’s first thought was to reach for his gun, to shoot the thing that was between him and the semi-familiar sight of the sky, but the thought faded as quickly as it came. As soon as he made…eye-contact? with the thing that was above him, the feeling of spiders changed to something else. Something familiar. It almost hurt, but it didn’t, a feeling of such strong connection it was almost like he was looking at himself in the mirror.

             “You…” he started softly, distantly recognizing another softer, distorted, and certainly more feminine voice say the words at the same time, “you’re like me…”

             A…hatch for lack of a better word, opened up in the strange metallic thing that rested over him, blocking the sun, and a…little girl stared down at him, her eyes wide and…he hadn’t ever seen eyes like that before. A little too big, a little too bright, but at the same time he still felt like he knew them. He felt like he knew the one that was looking at him, like he was connected to her. It was an odd thought and he wasn’t sure how much he liked it, but it stuck. Because she was like him.

             “Are you okay?” the girl asked him, those eyes changing, becoming even bigger, if it were possible, worry in their depths.

             “I…” he started, and then shook himself. Peter saw the way that she kept glancing around her as though waiting for someone to spot them, he saw the way that she pressed into the torso of her…machine, even as she asked how he was. This odd little girl was scared, and he didn’t want to cause her anymore fear. He took all of his fear, all of his pain, and all of his confusion and balled it up internally before shoving it deep under his ribs, to be ignored until he got a spare minute (the fact that he never got a spare minute was ignored).

             “I’m sorry, kiddo, I’m fit as a fiddle, just…a little disoriented.” He focused on her face, focused on those eyes, fighting to ignore everything else. “Are you alright? Are you…from here?” He pushed himself away from the building, watching as the…robot? backed up a few paces as stood up before it, allowing them to stare at each other roughly eye-to-eye. She was covered in…whatever everything else was covered in, her clothing an odd light tone, and her face shaded much differently than he thought it should be. She looked as though she could have belonged…perhaps…if everything else wasn’t so…bright.

             Sure enough, she shook her head.

             “I was pulled here, I…don’t know what happened, exactly, but I think we’re both in an alternate dimension,” as she spoke her voice sharpened, and her expression cleared, all of her focus on him. The fear had left her in her rush to explain, and Peter knew immediately that this was her element. “You obviously don’t belong here, you’re completely in black and white which goes against everything around us, and everything that I have seen. I also don’t belong here, see, this is the year 2018, and I’m from the year 3145.”

             “Woah, back-up, it’s 2018 here?” Peter asked, finding something else to trip him up. This was shortly followed by the realization, “You’re from 3145? Who are you, kiddo, what’s your name?”

             “Yes,” she responded before straightening up and reciting, “My name is Peni Parker, and I work with the SP//dr mech, my father’s mech,” she patted the interior of the…mech she was in, said mech making a pleased-sounding chirp and putting its ‘hands’ on its ‘hips.’ “Before…before he died that is. I connect to it through a psychic link with a spider that lives within the robot and together we protect New York.” She grinned, and as she spoke Peter watched as a rather large spider crawled into view with a feeling of trepidation clawing its way up his spine, watching as it perched on her shoulder and gave a brief cheer. When it did nothing else he slowly allowed himself to relax, but couldn’t keep his gaze away from that spider. “We’re a great team!” She called out and held up a finger that...the Spider tapped back with one of its legs. What the fuck. After a moment of thought he resolved to leave it alone unless it got too close. Peter had been bit before. He wasn’t going to be bit again. “I love to hack into mainframes and I love New York!” She called out brightly and broke his train of thought, and the triumphant pose they had both fallen into after their...tap...held for another few seconds before breaking and she gave a slight frown. “What about you? I know you’re like me, I can feel it, but…”

             “Well…” Peter paused, trying to think of a way to condense everything he had gone through into something that would be kid-friendly and wouldn’t make the kid either pity him or…be traumatized. “My name is Peter Parker. Where I’m from the year is 1933, and I’m a Private Investigator… I got bitten by a magic spider that gave me spider powers and I’ve been using them ever since to put a dent in the crime that plagues New York. I like…” he hesitated on what he could say that he liked, looking into those wide and interested eyes and fishing through the possibilities. “I like egg creams, and I like to punch Nazis.” He paused at seeing the way that she seemed to dim, not at the idea of him punching Nazis, he could tell, but…almost at the lack of enthusiasm, and spat out something else, “I like to let matches burn down to my fingertips, sometimes, so I can…” he let his voice die out.

             Her expression had only turned sadder, somehow, the robot lowering itself from its proud pose into something more somber.

             Smooth.

             “So, you can what?” she asked. And even her mech looked upset, which was even smoother. How the hell did he fuck it up this much?

             “So, I can feel something,” he answered finally. “But that’s not important. If you’re not from here, and I’m not from here, why are we here? And where is here?”

             “From what I’ve managed to gather, which isn’t much, admittedly, the technology here is all so…old,” she griped, “it doesn’t connect well with my SP//dr. But I do know there is a Spider-Man! I was in the middle of seeing if I could track him when I felt…well, I felt like there was someone I had to see around.” She ducked her head slightly. “I had thought at first that it might be him, since…well, I thought he’d be the only one from here. But I’m okay with finding you!” She grinned, a bright and happy expression. “I’m just…glad to not be alone.”

             Peter nodded and kept his eyes focused on the little girl before him, watching as she shrunk slightly at the admission, her foot gently circling the metal floor of her pod. He idly wondered if she could stick to walls on her own, or if she was simply at the mercy of the robot’s abilities. The idea frightened him in an idle sort of way. Being that dependent on anything, even a mech that had a link with him, was not something he had any desire for.

             He also had no idea how to answer her admission. He saw the moment that she realized this, an odd…flush spreading across her cheeks, but he couldn’t think of anything to say to make it better. Peter internally cursed his lack of people-skills and wondered how many ways he could kick his own ass.

             “We…we need somewhere to stay!” she finally called out, regrouping remarkably well in the face of Peter’s own inability. “Maybe we can find the Spider-Man of this reality. I bet they’ll be able to help us! They might even know how we got here.”

             “Knowing the Spider luck, he’ll probably be right in the middle of it.”

             The gripe got a brief laugh from Peni, and Peter smirked to himself proudly.

             “Alright, so we have to find Spider-Man. Do you have any ideas?” Peni asked. “I can connect to another mainframe and try and hack in, but…I kind of stand out.” She paused. “You definitely stand out. I don’t think they’d notice me if I just walked up to somewhere, but you…” She didn’t say anything else, and she didn’t have to. Peter hesitated, standing up and looking out at the city before them, thinking.

             “You’re a Parker, right? Peni Parker?”

             “Yes,” Peni responded, beaming. “And you’re a Parker, too! A Peter Parker.” She frowned slightly. “Do you think that there’s a Parker here that’s running around as a Spider-Man?”

             “I don’t doubt that in the least. Two spider-people pulled out of alternate dimensions and brought to another universe with a Spider, both named Parker? Once I’d call coincidence, but this feels too focused.”

             “I think so, too!” She grinned. “Alright! I’ve got something to look for now, this will make things so much easier!” Peni hunkered back into the torso of her robot, which closed before her. “Come on!” she called out, and Peter watched as she leapt to another building, the leap something that made his entire body flinch backward as he followed her movement with his eyes and simultaneously took a better look at his surroundings. It hurt, and he found himself covering his eyes, ducking down.

             It took a second before Peni seemed to realize he wasn’t behind her. He felt it when she landed before him, the hatch opening again, and he forced himself to open his eyes. Her wide and worried eyes stared at him, and Peter forced himself to straighten.

             “I’m sorry,” he managed softly, “I…it hurts,” he finally admitted. “I don’t know what I’m seeing, and it really…it just hurts my head.”

             “All the colors are really freaking you out, huh?” she asked him, but before Peter could ask what she meant, her robot reached out. “Don’t worry! I’ll help you out, just hold still.” Peter found himself grabbed, before being positioned in such a way that he could cling to the back of her robot. He hunkered down against it, holding his hat with one hand, a terrible mixture of shame and disgust welling up within him.

             Pathetic.

             “I’ll just carry you! We’ll get there soon, just try and get your eyes to adjust, okay? I know you can do it!” She cheered, the face of the robot staring at him with a bright smile blinking across its ‘face’, which was odd. Peter resigned himself to being carried and felt as she adjusted herself to his weight, and then leapt.

             For a moment they were in free-fall, and then her robot thwiped its wrist out, webbing shooting out and swinging them up and out. It was a familiar experience, even without the control he usually enjoyed. It also allowed him to get used to the sight of the world zipping by him, the…colors blurring together as they swung.

             He had to get used to this. He had to be useful.

             Peter forced his eyes to stay open and trusted in Peni to get them where they needed to go in order to gain information. They would figure out what was going on, and then they would figure out how to get home, Peter was certain. This was just another strange pothole in the road he called life. He’d been hitting them so often they were almost expected by this point.

             What else could happen?