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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?

Chapter Text

            Peni Parker was smart. She had learned how to hack into a mainframe when she was six, and she had been making her own mechanical suits since she was eight. Her father’s death had catapulted her headfirst into the role of pilot at nine, her main motivation for creating those suits fading with the sudden realization that the one that she wanted to pilot them would never be able to again. But there was something else that probably made her more dangerous and more efficient than anyone believed she could be:

           Peni was adaptable.

           When given the information that the only one that could use her father’s suit was her, Peni had gone with it. She had allowed the spider-half of the SP//dr CPU to bite her, and in turn she had gained the arachnid’s presence in her own brain…and she had also gained the ability to use the mech. Peni had taken to it like a fish to water and had been operating the mech successfully for five years. She had learned how to use the SP//dr’s own abilities and make them her own, she had learned how to hack those same mainframes when bullets were fired at her, and she had learned how to go with the flow when under constant pressure. It was why when the world suddenly changed around her in a way that pulled her into a swirling vortex of color, she didn’t panic, she instead sought to gain information.

           It had been harder than she had originally anticipated. The universe she had found herself in had a significantly less advanced information system and it had been difficult to gain access to it. Yet, Peni was adaptable. She made it work as well as she could, until she felt the tugging in the back of her mind.

           Finding the black-and-white man pressing himself to the side of a building had been odd at first. Okay, more than odd, it had been downright mind-blowing. There was nothing to explain why he was able to stick to the side of the condemned building, nothing to explain why he was absorbing all of the multicolored lights from the billboards and reflecting said light as white. He was an anomaly dressed in a trench coat and a spider-mask, complete with large bug-eyed lenses, and it was odd.

           It was also kind of amazing.

           Peni couldn’t stick to walls, she used her SP//dr for that, but here this man was, and he was pressed to it as though he was made for it. Even so, there was a kinship she felt to him, a mutual understanding born from something that she couldn’t quite grasp hold of. Yet, there had been some information that she had managed to glean from this world, and this was something that she actually recognized, even though she had not expected to see it so soon, nor quite in this manner.

           She had seen the information in this world of someone called Spider-Man. Had seen videos of him swinging across New York with webs, stick to walls, and dodge things that he would have no knowledge about, and she thought that perhaps this man was the same. He was simply as out-of-place as her, but in a very different way.

           Peni wondered if whatever had pulled her to this world had pulled him as well. It was what allowed her to do something else she hadn’t initially planned on doing.

           It allowed her to be vulnerable. It allowed a bit of that fear to rise up and display itself before someone who she had no doubt would not take advantage. And besides…whatever fear she was feeling, whatever unvoiced anxiety she was struggling with, she could tell that he was in much worse condition than her. Even still, the moment she opened her mouth and allowed a surprised, almost awed “you’re like me” pass her lips, and heard the answering echo from him, she watched as everything that he was feeling was discarded. He stood before her, booted-feet easily keeping him stuck to the concrete as he stared into her revealed eyes as the hatch opened, and she found herself idly impressed.

           ‘Peter,’ as it turned out his name was, was also proving to be adaptable.

           When he suggested that he was like her, and they both had similar out-of-place stylizations, and brought up the fact that this similarity likely wasn’t coincidence, she was sold. She was sold enough to not mind when it turned out that Peter couldn’t adapt quite quick enough. Peni herself was having trouble whenever she looked at him, she couldn’t imagine the agony of suddenly being hit with an almost infinite number of colors.

           Peni’s tolerance was quickly turned to impressed when he suddenly flung himself away from her mech and threw out his own web halfway to their destination – a taller building so she could gain more signal (the past was weird). The web he threw out was as black as he was, a stark contrast to the white of her own, but she knew what it was as soon as she saw it. He kept pace with her easily, though he had to take two swings for every one of hers. Her extra five feet made up for a lot when it came to swinging, but he still managed to keep right alongside her.

           Peni grinned as she realized that this wasn’t just someone that was like her, this was someone that she could trust. This was someone that would push themselves, would push her, and she needed that. Particularly when the rest of the world didn’t seem to want to stop throwing curve-balls at her.

           The pig was…weird. He was colored, which was nice, but he seemed to disobey every law of physics there was.

           Peter Porker did not adapt to the world around him. Porker made the world adapt to him.

           He came in literally floating in the breeze by his nose, towards a hot-dog stand of all things. The only thing that saved the people from a panic-attack and potential questionings of sanity was a black web that was launched out, catching the pig, and bringing it to them. Peter Porker reacted to them in a similar way to the way that Peter and herself had reacted to each other, and gave his own story as they all stood on top of another building, out of the way of the people underneath as the sun set behind them

           Adapt, Peni reminded herself, adapt. The poor black-and-white Peter looked absolutely boggled when she spared a glance his way. This wasn’t his day.

           “So, I was a spider living in the basement of this wonderful pig named May Porker, right? Well one day she decides she wants to reinvent the hair-dryer and irradiates herself!” He throws his hands around as he describes this, and both Peni and Peter watched him silently, taking in his pacing. “And then she bit me, and I turned into a pig, with most of the abilities I had before when I was a spider! She’s been acting as my Aunt ever since, I think she feels bad for biting me, but it’s not been that bad of a gig! I get to save the world and aside from Pork-Grind, it’s been a pretty nice deal. I guess you can all call me Porker considering there’s another Peter that got here first, and that’s a good way to identify us. But what about your stories? Who are you guys?”

           The explanations they gave had very little difference to the one that they had told each other, and Porker made a bit of an exaggerated “yeesh” sound as Peter finished his own story. “Lighten up a little,” he told him. Peter didn’t give him a response.

           The fact that it was also a Peter that they found, though in this case given the last name of Porker, further emphasized the fact that this seemed extremely targeted. It also made the idea of seeing if this universe had an Aunt May even more appealing to Peni. Pete – something that black-and-white Peter suggested they call him when it became apparent that it was likely the Spider-Man of this universe was likely named Peter, and they couldn’t both be Peter – seemed extremely wary of the idea at first, but at both Porker and Peni’s combined pushing, he caved.

           Peni found Aunt May’s address easily enough once she knew what to search for, as well as the confirmation she needed that it really was a Peter Parker that was swinging around the city. They had their safe-haven found, they had the one that could help them, and likely hook them up with her nephew in order to get them back home, in case Peter lived somewhere else. They would be able to help him fix what was wrong, they would save the world…

           Later, Peni would almost wish that Pete hadn’t caved to their plan of finding Aunt May.

           Peni hid SP//dr as she didn’t want to draw anymore stares than they already did, her spider friend carefully perched on her shoulder.

           The way the door swung open and an older woman stepped out was something that Peni had not expected, nor was the sight of the baseball bat. She especially hadn’t expected the way she locked eyes on Pete and almost sagged. Peni watched as that Aunt May threw her arms around Pete, and how after a moment’s shock, Pete returned the embrace. They were brought into her house before attention could truly focus on them, and that was when they saw the television.

           “Peter Parker found dead at 26,” read the ticker-tape on the news station it was turned to, and Peni felt her heart sink.

           Pete tightened his grip on this aunt that wasn’t his, and the other two took a step back out of respect.

           It was something else to adapt to, and they were good at that.

………………………………

           Adaptability was something that Miles did not seem to have.

           It seemed to be something that he was learning, but for now he didn’t have it. He couldn’t react to Pete’s punches, not even when he loudly announced what he was about to do, he couldn’t react to Ham’s quick-talking, and he couldn’t react to her questions. He couldn’t turn invisible, he couldn’t shock anyone… Miles could barely swing, could barely cling to walls.

           Miles couldn’t get back up.

           Miles was the kid she never got to be.

           Miles was the one that had never been forced to adapt, and while a part of her resented that, the rest of her envied that. Well, now the world was trying to force him, and he just…wasn’t ready. Peni didn’t hate him, nor did she want him to die, and it was with this in mind that she was one of the first to state that he couldn’t be of help to them. Pete’s voice was right there with hers, as was Porker’s, and while Gwen tried to say that she had seen him, knew he had potential, it seemed as though Miles knew he wasn’t ready to adapt either.

           Miles ran, having finally managed to turn invisible, and Peni hoped that he stayed away, if only for his own safety. Miles isn’t like them, he can’t adapt, and Peni doesn’t want him to get hurt.

……………..

           Pete couldn’t be the one to use the Goober.

           When making it she had not considered the fact that he had never seen color before in his life. She had made the Goober with color, had designed it to be simple to use – for ones that had grown up with color, had learned their names and shades when they were growing up, not one that had never seen them. Pete kept trying with the Rubik’s cube, kept trying to name the colors, and he kept failing. He recognized his failure and took himself off the list of people that could stay behind. This was something that he couldn’t adapt to, not in time, and as soon as he recognized it, he stepped away. It was done with a grace she had not expected, even though she could see the way it killed him. He didn’t want to let Peter B do it, he didn’t want to let Gwen do it, his very nature hating the fact that he had to let another life take the hit, but he knew that he couldn’t do it.

           Peter Porker had a similar problem, as being a pig he was used to color, but was color-blind in a way that was different to Pete’s. He reacted to the inability with a similar way to how he reacted to everything else, made a joke out of it. Peni wasn’t sure how to react to the cartoon pig that operated on a different level than they did, but she was willing to see how far he could take his ability to make things adapt to him and see what he could do.

           Peni vowed to herself that as soon as she found something that she couldn’t adapt to, she would handle it like Pete.

           When they finally went together to stop the Kingpin, the fight was worse than she had ever expected. It was also the most surprising. She hadn’t expected herself to suddenly be pinned to the ground as Scorpion hit and hit and hit and… Peni couldn’t do it.

           Peni couldn’t adapt, she couldn’t get him to stop, she couldn’t get away, she was…she was going to die.

           She let go…

           And then she was saved.

           Porker appeared out of nowhere and proved that there was so much more to him than met the eye, something she had known from the beginning. The large mallet he pulled out of his pocket and beat Scorpion with was a wonder, and if Peni hadn’t been struggling to get out of her crippled mech she would have been amazed. Pete came in then after Porker stunned him, and grabbed the Scorpion with his deadly tail, swinging him around in a circle as she finally managed to climb out of her busted mech and pulled the SP//dr’s leg away, holding it like a bat, making eye contact with Pete. Pete let go, sending the Scorpion flying towards her, and she finally hit him with that leg, sending him out into the void, rage filling her and fueling her. Her rage faded just as suddenly as it appeared, taking in the sight of her broken mech. Spider crawled out then, the small arachnid that was her best friend and had been her only companion crawling onto her hand as she offered it. She felt the words that he whispered into her skull, felt the soothing thrum of assurance in her head, and then there was someone behind her. When Pete offered her his shoulder, she accepted as she offered the Spider her own, and Pete swung her out and towards the Goober with the others, for one final goodbye, and she felt a smile stretch her face as she finally caught sight of Miles, a sudden burst of happiness hitting her even in her mourning over the lost mech.

           Miles had adapted.

           They would be okay. They’d all go home, and they’d be okay. Miles knew what he was, he knew who he was. He was Spider-Man. He could do it.

           They said their goodbyes and their last words, and then they were gone.

           Peni found herself in her universe down more friends than she ever wanted to lose, and for once in her life decided she didn’t want to adapt. She wasn’t going to quietly accept it like Pete had, she was going to do something different.

           Peni was going to be like Porker. She was going to force the universe to adapt to her. She was bringing her Spider-Fam back, no matter how long it took her, and the universe, quite simply: could suck it.

Chapter Text

            It took Peni a long time before the collective Spiders could finally make actual physical contact with each other, and somehow longer to finally gain contact with Pete. As their monochromatic friend had never had any real experience with cellphones or any other object that Peni could think to make to allow them to talk to each other, Peni had decided to wait until she had a working method of jumping to alternate universes before attempting to reach him. It was a hard decision to make, Pete had been the one to spend the most time with her, and she missed him dearly, but it made sense.

            It was likely that the sight of the group of them would be a lot easier to take, and likely easier to trust, than some random device that called his name, or otherwise tried to contact him in that way. The fact that he wouldn’t know how to actually use the device helped solidify the decision, and so Peni focused on calling up the others, helping them contact each other, and then buckled down to open up their dimensions without destroying the universe, or their cells.

            It was a good thing that Peni thrived under pressure. Adapt or force the world to bend, and Peni in this instance, had decided to use force.

            Communication came first, and it started with Gwen. While it would have been easier to start with Miles as she had a baseline for what his universe felt like…a part of her had been scared to try it. They had taken out everyone aside from the Kingpin.

            They had taken out everyone aside from the one who had killed Spider-Man, and while a part of Peni really believed that Miles had adapted and knew what he was doing, another part of her was terrified. She contacted Gwen.

            Peni hadn’t spent a lot of time with Gwen, but in that time, she had discovered that Gwen was cool. Gwen was a drummer in a band, had an amazing haircut that Peni would get Grounded-For-Life for if she tried, and her poise and dexterity had been amazing. If that wasn’t a person to emulate Peni didn’t know what was. It also turned out that Gwen’s universe was also very close in structure to Miles’.

            When she finally gained contact with the other girl it was to drop a communicator in the vague shape of a watch into her lap. Naturally it was able to be charged with a USB, which had not been a small feat. Figuring out the proper current as well as the pin size and length had been a chore, but the result was something that Gwen could wear without issue and use to both text and call with. The holographic keyboard was a touch of Peni’s own universe, but also one that she thought would be appreciated.  

            Gwen was the one who pushed for Miles’ universe to be the second, and Peni accepted without any pushback. When Gwen was finally able to open the small portal and drop his own watch onto Miles’ it was a moment of celebration. It had also been a true breakthrough. Passing the watch to Gwen to run some tests, who was then able to rip her own portal through to Miles’ and give him his watch and not having any lasting consequence to either wearer or watch?

            Brilliant.

            Peni had trouble finding Peter B. More trouble than she really expected. It wasn’t because his universe was that different to theirs, but more…his universe seemed to be the norm. There tended to be a lot of Peter Parkers that acted as Spider-Man, and finding the right one was a bit like finding a needle in a haystack. Made of Peter Parkers. Which was weird. When she finally found him, it was to stumble upon the sight of Peter B kissing a very familiar red-head.

            Peni had been unable to contain her squee at the sight, Peter pulling back in shock at the sound, and then reeling at the sight of a portal hovering behind MJ. MJ, for her part, took the rip in space like a champ, and aside from stepping behind Peter as he was the most prepared to deal with the strange and unusual, she stood her ground.

            “You got back with MJ, oh, Peter, that’s so good! I’m so happy for you!” Peni cried out, her hands under her chin, and hearts in her eyes. Literally.

            “Peni!” Peter exclaimed, shock, embarrassment and awe on his face in equal measures. “How…?” he started.

            “Can’t explain, not enough time, take this! There’re instructions on the back! Miles and Gwen are connected, too!” She threw the watch at him with a slip of paper taped to the back, something he caught without trouble due to his literally sticky fingers, and the portal closed on a pair of baffled expressions.

            Peni wasn’t surprised when she gained a frenzied series of texts from Peter B, but she was too busy laughing to care that much. She texted Gwen and Miles and alerted them to the fact that Peter B was with MJ and they had contact. The texts slowed to a halt when the other two immediately started texting Peter B their own congratulations, and it didn’t take long for a very simple, but very heartfelt: “Thank you” to appear on her screen, followed by “MJ says hello, and thanks you, too.”

            Peni felt a warmth spread from the bottom of her toes to the top of her head, and a grin spread as wide as possible on her face as she gave another ferocious squee. She was rocking this.

            Peni immediately set to work contacting Peter Porker, fueled by the success and the thanks she had been given. While it was true that Porker was a bit like Pete in the way that he didn’t have access to a lot of their technology, Porker also operated by this… Porker had called it ‘cartoon-logic,’ and Peni hated it, but that didn’t change the fact that he was absurdly good at making anything given to him work. She didn’t think he would have any trouble getting the device to work, nor did she think he wouldn’t be able to make it adapt to him in the same way he forced everything else around him to change.

            She was right.

            Porker took the watch when she gave it to him and sealed the portal again, and within moments had managed to not only get it to send pictures of his own world, something that Peni hadn’t originally given it the ability to do, but also sent her flowers through it. Two of them were a bright pink, and while one she recognized as a rose, the other took her a bit to learn the name of. It was a geranium she eventually discovered, and came with a beautiful white flower that she also learned was a lily of the valley. In combination, these three flowers turned out to be, not only an expression of friendship, but a return to happiness when she looked up old flower meanings later.

          Peni put them both in water and had to fight back tears.

           She finally took a moment to relax and just texted and talked to the others for what seemed like hours, listening to their voices, memorizing the sounds of their laughter and the quips that seem to never stop from everyone, herself included. It just seemed to be a Spider thing.

            MJ talked, too, and it was so nice to hear her voice, and Peter B’s voice responding to her, and to them. He sounded so much happier, and that made Peni happy, too.

            Spiders Adapt or they Force the world around them to Bend, and Peter B had managed to force his, if only with a good deal of groveling and reevaluation, and promises, promises, promises.

            The only one left was Pete.

            It was time to work on actual prolonged physical contact, because she owed everybody one hell of a hug.

            It was difficult, first because she had to isolate what made them corrode, and then because she had to find out how to fix it all. There was also the danger inherent with that stability being connected to a watch that could either be destroyed or malfunction. If she was going to make this work, she had to make sure that either that watch was going to be near-indestructible, or she had to make them adapt.

            What to do, what to do.

            Eventually, Peni decided that she was going to have to make some serious tweaks to the watches themselves. While it would probably be safer to make either a nanotech injection or something else that would make their cells physically adjust to the other universes, a field wouldn’t have as much physical adjustments, and there was no telling how everyone else would react to the nanotech. That was one thing in particular that would have to be studied later as soon as she had access to the others and they could really dive into it. As it was, a protective field would make it so their own bodies wouldn’t corrode, but would also be a hell of a lot less invasive.

            Peni worked and she worked, her Spider a constant presence handing her tools and whispering encouragement into her brain, until finally…finally.

            Peni took her first step into Gwen’s world, Spider on her shoulder, and the older girl greeted her with a loud cry of happiness, and arms that wrapped around her and spun her around. Peni had brought her tools with her, and she worked on fixing Gwen’s watch while Gwen brought them pizza, the two girls laughing and talking as they ate and Peni modified Gwen’s watch. The entire time Peni never glitched once, nor did she feel the slight wrongness that had always been at the back of her mind when inside of Miles’ universe. When they were finished, Gwen followed Peni back into her universe, so she could properly examine Gwen and see to it that the field worked the same on her, and Peni had access to better tools if it didn’t. 

            It also brought her back to the actual SP//dr mech, the one that she had been recreating at the same time as connecting to the rest of the Spiders, and also the one that had been left behind to finish its own field. The plan with the SP//dr mech was to provide another safe-zone should anyone else’s watches bust. The trickiness of making sure that it could create any field in an isolated manner had left it behind the first time, but now that she had Gwen to help test with it was done faster. 

            When it was discovered that Gwen was able to not only stay in her universe and her own feeling of wrongness wasn’t present, Gwen and Peni both made the leap to Miles’ universe, this time with the entire mech.

            Miles greeted them with all the grateful enthusiasm a new Spider that had been missing his friends could. He also formally introduced them to his roommate, Ganke Lee, who seemed a lot more accepting of them when they didn’t have a talking pig, and also when he knew what was happening. Ganke had talked to them a few times through text and over a…technically seven-way group-chat when MJ had joined the five of them, and Ganke had gotten involved. It was good to see him properly, and…not give him a mini heart-attack.

            When Peni finally managed to properly adjust Miles’ own watch, they said a very sorry goodbye to Ganke, who was not only very understanding, he was also very supportive. They were going to Peter B next, and Ganke knew not just how much Peter B meant to Miles, he knew how much Miles and the others meant to Peter B. They didn’t have enough watches to bring him, regardless, and Ganke honestly wasn’t that sure how sold he was on hopping dimensions anyway.

            Peter B greeted them with a large hug and laughter, holding them all on the side of the building they had leapt out onto as their dimension hopper locked onto him perching there. Peni had leapt out of her mech at the sight of him, Peter B instinctively catching her much like he had the watch, and then simply gathered the other two teens up in his arms and held them. They held him back, laughing, and very much near tears. He was so much happier, so much more whole. He’d even managed to lose some weight, something he was endlessly ribbed for. When Peter B invited them back to meet MJ they accepted without hesitation, and a procession of spiders swung through his New York.

            MJ, who was used to being able to get into places she otherwise wouldn’t have, was waiting on another rooftop after Peter called her to let her know what to expect.

            MJ was sweetness and warmth in equal measures, combined with an unrelenting strength that made them instantly understand why losing her had caused such a strain on Peter. It also made them understand why he loved her so much in the first place. There was a moment when the urge to tease Peter for managing to gain someone so far out of his league rose, but then they saw the way they stood together. That familiarity and closeness that only came from knowing each other, and understanding each other, and above-all struggling together.

            Peni made more heart-eyes and clasped her hands under her chin, sighing deeply.

            “I’m so glad I get to meet you all,” MJ said, and she hugged them, too, and it was… Peni didn’t have the words, but she felt like she didn’t need to. “Thank you,” she said softly. “Thank you so much for…everything you did for Peter. For each other,” the smile she gave them was soft and they couldn’t help but beam back.

            “Thank you for taking him back, he was an absolute wreck!” Miles finally said with a pair of finger guns and a wink, and the moment was broken with a great deal of laughter and teasing. MJ had a wicked smirk and quipped with the best of the Spiders, and Peni idly hoped that she’d have someone like an MJ one day. That would be nice.

            Peter B’s watch was taken and fixed, and with one last kiss, Peter B joined them on their second-to-last dimension jump.

            Peter Porker’s universe was loud and chaotic, and felt a bit like they had stepped into a Looney Tunes episode, not just because of the way everything looked, but because of the contxt. Peter Porker’s position was slightly different. While Gwen had been on the side of a building, Miles in his dorm, and Peter on another building, Porker was in the middle of something else.

            Peter Porker was in the middle of a shower.

            The screaming that exploded from everyone was a mixture of truly horrified and embarrassed. The door slammed behind them as they all dove out of the room, and a moment later a (decent) pig stormed out of the bathroom with his face blushing a very bright red, but he recovered quicker than they did.

             “Ah, relax, that gag’s a staple in my universe, you wouldn’t be the first, and I doubt you’re the last.”

            The hopeless giggling that finally escaped Peni’s mouth was echoed by Gwen, and then finally the rest had fallen into a mixture of hysterical laughter. Porker made them tea, which was…an odd experience to drink. It felt there, but it didn’t feel…real, somehow. It was so surreal, but it also left them with the one watch that Peni had left. Porker finished bringing out chairs from a supply closet that looked like it couldn’t hold as much as it did, and they all gathered around the table in the kitchen as they drank their tea.

            Peni worked on this last watch that hadn’t been given to an owner yet, as well as Porker’s, tongue poking out as she fought to work out the kinks. Finally, it was finished, and the rest looked to her in anticipation as Porker put his watch on his wrist with a smile.  

            “Alright, guys,” Peni said, anticipation building up inside of her like a balloon, a smile on her face as she walked back to her robot. “Last one, are you all ready?”

            “Let’s find Mr. Tall, Dark, and Gloomy!” Porker called out with a fist-pump, and Peni sent them one last series of coordinates.

            The dimension hop was accompanied by the familiar lurch in the bottom of their stomachs as they tumbled end over end through a webbed-void, and then they lurched to a stop as they finally hit smog, black, and gloom.

            They huddled together on the roof of the building they had found themselves on, rain pouring down around them and almost immediately drenching them before Peni’s robot spun into position to protect them from the rain.

            “…Hello, Tall, Dark, and Gloomy!” Ham called out, patting the concrete of the building beneath him. There was a brief snort from Gwen, who immediately put her hand over her mouth.

            “What, it was funny?” she snipped at the rest of the Spider’s combined disbelieving looks. Porker crossed his arms, nodding proudly.

            It was then that the sound of machine-gun fire broke the silence. They immediately went into battle-stances, ready, senses straining as they fought to figure out where it came from.

            Flashes of light from a nearby building that resembled an old-timey speakeasy drew their attention in this world of gloom, and they soon realized that that was where the bullets were coming from. The flock of screaming men and women was another tip-off. They immediately leapt off the building, falling in a formation that they gravitated to without thinking. Peter B was the first to break through the door, flipping to stick to the ceiling above as Spider-Gwen landed on the railing overlooking a much bigger establishment than had been originally anticipated. Spider-Ham was on a table, Miles standing next to him with his hands ready to shoot webs at anyone who came near, while Peni rose behind them in her mech.

            They weren’t expecting the sight that they came to

            Pete was behind a kicked-over table, a tommygun and his usual pistol both held out before him, both aimed at something that a few of them instinctively recognized.

            Larger and more horrifying than they had ever seen or expected, teeth the length of Peter’s hand held in a mouth that couldn’t properly hold them, tongue lolling out between the gums and all held in a scaled and familiar head whose large black eyes focused and reflecting no light. Its hunched-over body loomed over the much smaller man with his weapons, tail whipcord thin and lashing behind it as its claws were bared and ready.

            At the sudden banging of the door and the leap of everyone into position paused, Pete paused in his firing to see who had appeared.

            “You guys-“

            In an idle sort of way, none of them had expected for Pete’s blood to be black. None of them had expected that their sudden appearance would be just the distraction that the Lizard had needed. None of them had expected for that very black and very unexpected blood to be painting the wall behind him as Lizard’s claws dug into his flesh, and sent his body flying limply to hit the wall with a wet-sounding smack.

            In the end, no one knew who screamed, but it was Gwen who attacked first.

Chapter Text

            Not again, not again, not again, was the only thought beating its way through Gwen’s mind, taking in the sight of Pete snapping back, the blood spraying through the air, the sickening crack, and the wet and solid thud as he fell to the ground. The Lizard stood there, the Lizard. The thing that took Peter, the thing that took Her Peter, that took everything from her, the thing that stole her dreams, her thoughts, the thing that took her friend. It took her friend, it took her friend, it took her friend

            It wouldn’t take this one. It wouldn’t take Pete, it wouldn’t take Peter.

            Gwen leapt from the balcony without knowing the scream she was hearing was coming from her own mouth, her thoughts on vengeance and redemption.

…………………………………

            Miles was baptized in the blood of Peter Parker.

            Peter’s last words to Miles were etched into his brain, breathed out in kindness, in reassurance, even though he lied to Miles between his teeth. In a way, Miles as a hero had been born the day that he died, unable to do anything to help, only able to watch as Fisk pounded him into the pavement, as red spread around a hero that had given everything for the city. Had given his life for the city. For him. And all Miles could do was watch him die and then run. Run to save the life that couldn’t do anything to help.   

            The blood on his hands was visible in the red of his fingers, a reminder and a promise to himself to never let it happen again.

            It wasn’t going to happen again. He couldn’t let it happen again. Miles was better, he was more prepared, he wasn’t going to run. He wasn’t going to run no matter how big or how slobbery or how jagged the teeth. Miles was ready. Miles was going to save Peter.

            Miles didn’t recognize that his own voice was crying out, didn’t realize that arcs of electricity were riding up his hands, but that creature was about to find out what happened to people that hurt Miles’ friends.

………………………..

            Porker had never seen blood. Not in the way that splattered across the ceiling and floor, not in the way that seeped from a body as it lay on the ground unmoving.

            Porker had the sudden horrifying, wretched realization that his friends were fragile. He had known it in a way, known it in the sight of a news-reel ticking that Peter Parker was dead, but it hadn’t really hit him until now. They couldn’t take hits to the head with an anvil, couldn’t take falling down a mountain and landing in your own personal crater. They couldn’t survive. They would die. They would die and it was a terrible, gut-churning realization that belonged with the sight of Peni being beaten and beaten and beaten by Scorpion, with no way out.

            Porker needed to protect his friends. He needed to keep that from happening ever again, so even as he leapt out towards the Lizard, as his fingers balled into fists and his voice joined the scream that was pulsing in his heart and in his ears, he vowed to never let this happen again.

            Blood just wasn’t funny.

……………………..

            My fault, my fault, my fault, my fault, rang through Peni’s mind with the beating of her heart, a constant pulse in the background that sped up as she screamed and screamed. Her mech launched over the edge of the balcony, her voice leaving it in the garbled sound produced by the vocal modifier.

            This was her fault.

            She hadn’t looked before she leapt, she had come into a world that she knew nothing about, and she had expected for it to be just like theirs. For the world to be sunny and warm and for him to be waiting for them with a hug and a shout of recognition. She had expected for maybe some tears, but not the kind of tears that were wetting her face now. Not the awful, large tears that swamped her eyes and made it hard to see the face of the thing that had kil-hurt her friend.

            If she had only tried to make contact. If she had only tried to do something to let Pete know they were coming. If she only…if she only…

            Peni refused to adapt to a world where Pete no longer lived. She refused to allow this thing to hurt him again, to hurt any of her other friends.

            Peni had gotten them into this mess, she would get them out.

…………………….

            Peter B moved without thinking, flipping one of the cartridges in his web-shooters out for another with the grace and dexterity of one that had been doing so for decades as he crawled across the ceiling towards Pete’s crumpled body, knowing that if he could get there in time before Pete bled out too much he could seal the wounds with the web-fluid in his wrist. Sanitary, pain-relieving web-fluid, an invention that had taken a while to perfect, but one he never left the house without.

            He dropped down next to Pete’s limp body, soft and gentle words dripping from his mouth without thought, his mind on autopilot, one part of him focused on saving Pete, the other on the battle that was happening across from him. He would join in a moment, but first he had to make sure that there would be someone that they could still save.

            He’d lost too many people for him to be able to move on without knowing he’d done all he could.

………………………..

            Gwen’s blood pulsed in her veins, her heart hammering as she shot webbing on either side of the Lizard, yanking back and using the natural elasticity to send her flying towards the creature. En Pointe shoes kicked out, and Gwen almost cried out as she connected. She was grabbed and thrown before she could recover from the sharp and jarring feeling of hitting what felt like jagged concrete, the scales sharper than she thought they would be, jutting out. The claws of the Lizard had dug into her uniform and drew out beads of blood, but they were ignored as she flipped, landing on the wall in a crouch.

            It was hard to see. Everything was in shades of black and gray and white, almost blending together, the Lizard only visible as the lights above swung, highlighting different parts of its large and crouched body. It was so big. Bigger than her friend, bigger than Rhino, all teeth and scales and claws and death, and Gwen didn’t know if they could stop it.

            Miles landed in the next breath, slamming his hands down on the Lizard’s head, taking the opportunity she had created. Electricity arced out and cast light into the shadows, before Miles was thrown as well, an inhuman guttural cry rising out of the thing’s throat as Porker hit it with an anvil that seemed to come from nowhere. It barely flinched, only reaching out and grasping Porker’s entire body in its clawed hand before flinging him to the side. Porker bounced like a ball, careening back towards the Lizard and making contact with his fist into the thing’s jaw.

            Porker reeled back, shaking his hand that had grown about twice its original size and pulsed red.

            “New plan,” he cried out, “Never do that again!”

            Gwen shot out a web as the Lizard moved to slice the pig with its claws, catching its hand and pulling back. She found herself torn from the wall for her trouble, plywood coming with her in splinters. The yelp that left her mouth was swallowed down, even as she let go and was sent flying. Peter B, switching cartridges once again, shot out his reloaded one.

            “Fastball Special!” he cried out, and she caught the webline he fired instinctively, feeling as he turned on his heel and spun her, speeding up her momentum and sending her flying back.

            She connected once again with a new understanding of what she was hitting, and this time the Lizard moved with her, letting out a shriek as she hit it. She kicked off, flipping back as SP//dr gripped hold of the thing while it was distracted and threw it through a wall. They took a pause to reevaluate and catch their breath, and then it charged back through the wall, throwing off brick and dust and letting out a shriek like nails across glass, like death itself given voice.

            Gwen charged again, screaming back at it, and was thrown to the side by a whipcord tail. Miles was gripped by a clawed hand, only to be released as Peter B kicked it under its jaw, sending teeth snapping together in a way they weren’t supposed to. Peter B was caught by Lizard’s tail wrapping around his leg and slammed into a nearby table. Peter B gave a wheeze and then found himself thrown away.

            “Always with that tail!” he cried out weakly, and grasped the line that Gwen shot out towards him. Gwen swung him around in the move that she had felt and sent Peter B launching back towards the Lizard. He webbed the Lizards’ claws as they launched out towards him, sliding under its reaching arm and driving his foot into its belly. It grabbed him with its other hand and slammed him down, its foot coming down to crush him, when SP//dr tackled it.

            The two of them grappled, Peter B rolling out of the way, shooting webs at the Lizard’s feet as he went. It stretched out its claws, tearing through the webbing and shrieking in annoyance. SP//dr was the one hurled next, slamming into the staircase.

            “Is that all you do, just throw us around?” Porker called out. “I could use some variety!” Several frying pans were launched at the Lizard’s head, bouncing off with an echoing clang at every hit. It shrieked again and charged at him. Porker gave a brief, “whoops,” before he was grasped and repeatedly slammed into the ground, before being sent out again, bowling into Peter B who had leapt forward to help. Miles made the jump onto the Lizard, crouching on its back and hands slamming down over its black eyes.

            Electricity burst into being and the Lizard shrieked.

            Shuddering and shaking it launched itself backwards, crushing Miles into the brick, and stopping the flow of electricity. Miles gave a wheeze, the Lizard moving to tear into his soft belly with its claws, when Gwen leapt again, and was caught in its hand.

            SP//dr leapt onto its back this time, seeking to grasp it, trying to get it to let go, even as its grip became crushing. Gwen wheezed, when the thing gave another pained shriek. Lizard’s scales were peeled off it as SP//dr was thrown away, its grip literally torn away, that tail wrapping around it and pinning it to the wall. Peter B and Porker were grasped in the claws of its foot, slamming them down, and Miles was still catching his breath as it turned back to Gwen.

            Gwen stared up into black eyes devoid of all light, and those teeth spread wide in a maw made for tearing flesh. Saliva and tongue spilled out, flicking across her mask, as it lowered its face down towards her, and the sounds of the other Spider’s screamed into her ears, and she knew this was it. This was how she died. This was her penance for killing Peter, this was her….

BANG

BANG

BANG 

            The sound exploded out of nowhere and the Lizard stopped in its movement, gurgling breath wheezing from its lungs as that black ichor that had splattered from Peter slowly poured from the Lizard. As another Lizard died, holding her, staring down at her, and Peter’s face and his voice and the smiles he would give her, and the light, all that light, snuffed out so soon and…and…

            The grip around her became slack, the Lizard stumbling forward, releasing Peter B, releasing Porker, and Gwen was finally able to shove herself away, just as the Lizard fell to the ground in a cold, dead, heap. Blood poured from its back, from the wounds opened by SP//dr and finished with…with…

            Gwen’s gaze turned to where the shots had come from and found Peter there, one hand forcing himself upright. A black streak of blood trailed behind him from where he had dragged himself to grab his gun, the weapon itself smoking in his other hand as he held it up, the limb wrecked with trembling.

            Peter killed the Lizard, Gwen giggled to herself, a terrible, horrible feeling rising up in her chest. She thought she might vomit at the thought that Peter killed the Lizard. Peter killed her friend. Peter tore him from her life, and it wasn’t fair, it wasn’t fair…

             Gwen focused back on the Peter before her now, forcing herself to focus on what was happening, on the now, fighting back the rising panic. Peter had rolled his mask up to reveal his nose, the sight of that black blood dribbling down from his mouth, from his nose probably the reason, his breath a whistling gurgle between clenched teeth. His skin was pale as chalk, all gray draining out of him with his blood, those teeth still grit, blood staining them and bubbling with his breath.

            “Get…” he gasped out, voice a terrible, mangled little thing, more rasp than tone, “fucked,” he finished, and collapsed in a bloody heap, mouth gaping open and chest barely rising.

            Peter wasn’t dead. Peter wasn’t dead. Peter wasn’t dead.

            She could still save him.

………………………..

            SP//dr moved before the others, its hand carefully opening and flattening into something that could be used a bit like a hospital gurney. “Hurry!” Peni gasped as she pressed buttons and opened protocols like crazy. Her heart was hammering in her throat and she had managed to finally wipe away her tears. She could do this. She could save him.  

            “We have to take him to my world! I have the technology to help him, he’ll be okay!” Peni cried out, and that was enough to get the others moving. Limping and swaying turned to running, Porker the first one next to the limp body. The pig carefully reached out, but before he could roll him over, Peter B cried out,  

            “Wait!” he switched his web-cartridge yet again, carefully webbing the other into a cocoon of whatever made that web so special. “We don’t know if he has any internal breakages or if it’s hurt his spine. We have to make sure that we won’t make anything worse.” As soon as he was properly encased, Peter B helped Gwen and Miles slide Pete’s limp body onto SP//dr’s outstretched hand, Porker underneath Peter’s head and doing his best to keep him completely level.

            SP//dr stood up carefully, metal sliding into place around Pete to keep him stable and changed into its spider-stance at the push of a button. She typed commands feverishly into her mech, inputting coordinates, and crunching numbers to make sure they appeared exactly where she wanted them to. A portal started opening up before them, and each of them grabbed hold of one of the legs, Porker holding onto the same one as Gwen. SP//dr jumped through as soon as it solidified and everyone had a good grip, and they all found themselves back in that void.

            When they finally found themselves back on solid ground, it was to the familiar mechanical and utterly futuristic look of Peni’s universe.

            “Hang on!” Peni called out, and each of them hurriedly braced themselves. Peni launched herself out of her own personal room, the only thing she knew the exact coordinates to, sending scientists and workers on the other side of the sliding doorway out of the way as she cried out a warning. The SP//dr mech rotated to run across the ceiling, Peter’s ‘gurney’ shifting to keep him bodily upright. The people they were running past kept looking up and gasping, but none of them made a move to follow them.

            They knew better by now, knew that if she was running through the compound like this it meant that danger was quick to follow. They wouldn’t be bothered, and Peni would be able to concentrate on saving Pete.

            Peni took them through doors that slid open before them and closed behind them in a long mechanical row, before finally turning off into the medical bay. SP//dr dropped down onto the floor with a smooth and controlled motion, Peter’s body was lowered even smoother, the SP//dr mech moving towards a see-through panel on the opposite wall. It was semi-transparent, made of a strange rose-colored plexiglass, and it was the best thing that Peni had ever seen in her life. The Spiders dropped down around her instinctively, watching as SP//dr reached out with its other hand and began pressing buttons marked in Japanese.

            SP//dr carefully slit her way through the webbing, revealing the bloody and mangled body she was holding. Peni gave a tiny whimper, lowering her hand so the others could reach him easier, biting back her tears. It wasn’t the time.

            “Get everything covering his torso off,” Peni ordered. Peter B was the one to take over in this regard, easily tearing the remains of the shredded leather vest and turtleneck sweater away from him, throwing the torn remains to the ground. The long jacket required a bit more finesse, but he was finally bare from the waist up. The webbing that Peter B had covered his wounds with was soaked through with blood, and she pressed a button to her left as soon as she saw the black. She couldn’t look at the chalk-white skin for too long, couldn’t look at the rest of the wounds that tore into his torso, evidence of sloppy stitching crawling across his chest. A slot opened up at the touch, a tray sliding out immediately, and SP//dr’s head turned to look at Peter directly. “B, I need a sample of your web fluid here, it needs to know what to get rid of. It’ll remove the web-fluid and fix the skin underneath, so we don’t have to worry about it tearing out any clotting.”

            Peter B followed her directions without question, throwing in the whole cartridge with an easy flick. They watched as machines disassembled it as soon as the tray re-entered the slot, pink turning blue. The web-fluid was pulled apart by various machines, a constant oil keeping the web from getting stuck on them, as well as electricity that wired through the webbing and broke it into its base parts. A green light suddenly turned on as the last of the web disintegrated, the machine humming to life, and the doors opened, a plastic ‘bed’ sliding out. SP//dr lowered Pete onto it, and the ‘bed’ slid back into place.

            Pete’s torso was suddenly highlighted in red in a panel above them, the machine finding the source of the wound in an instant. Relief started to spread through them, when suddenly Pete’s entire body was highlighted in red. The machine gave an angry-sounding beep, and a word flashed on the screen:

汚染

Chapter Text

          “No,” Peni gasped at the sight of the warning flashing on the screen, looking from it to Pete. “No,” she repeated, and pressed the button again. At the sound of the warning chiming again, Peni had to swallow back the start of more tears.

汚染

          “No!” she cried out and pushed it again, still trying to fight against the prickling burning of tears at the back of her eyes, back of her throat, under her ribs. “That’s a LIE!” Another warning beep.

汚染

          “He’s not contaminated!” She pressed the button again, and a sob rasped out from deep in her chest. “Shut up!” she screamed as it blinked out:

汚染

          Peni gave another sob, not sure what it meant, what it could be referring to, why it wasn’t working. She had already made sure that there was a field in place for each of them, that it could recognize their cells and what made them different and be able to work around that. Why wasn’t it working? What did it mean? Was the Lizard venomous? But it should have been able to simply take out the venom, why was it acting like…like he wasn’t even…?

          Peni couldn’t even think about it, and her arm reared back as the urge came to punch a hole through the monitor that was lying, Peni’s voice coming out in a stilted scream, and Peter B was suddenly before her.

          Her arm halted before it even came close to touching him. Peter B grabbed her mechanical hand in both of his, and held her tight, bringing her hand down to his level and staring up into her eyes with wide and insistent brown. There was worry in them, but also a burning resolve that fed into her a calm that she desperately needed.

          “Peni, Peni, it’s okay. It’s okay, he’s still breathing, we still have time, he’s not dead yet and he won’t die in here.” Peter B kept his eyes locked on hers in her suit, his voice calm and certain. “Your machine probably just doesn’t recognize the Spider mutate. That’s fine. He’ll be fine. I’ve survived worse, he’ll survive worse, it’s going to be fine, we just…have to take him somewhere else.”

          “But where?” Peni asked. “He…he was…”

          “I got my back broken once, kid, and I’m walking around fine and I definitely didn’t have any access to your…weird medical stuff,” Peter B kept his eyes on hers, voice steady. “If that happened to him it might take a little longer, but I don’t doubt that he’ll be back on his feet eventually. But frankly, we don’t even know that’s what happened. Do you have a way to take an x-ray? Or anything? What did that first image show? Can you get the data off it?”

          “Yes, but…”

          “We’ll take him somewhere they can help. I didn’t have any fancy medical technology, and he definitely doesn’t, but we’re both still here. This isn’t the first time he’s been cut up, either…but he’s starting to bleed around the webbing, and I’m lacking some sanitary webbing. We gotta move.” Peter B’s voice was gaining urgency once Peni stopped panicking and it filled her with resolve.

           Peni felt herself calm, immediately seeking to hack through the mainframe and steal what information the machine could gain before it decided that Pete wasn’t… She still didn’t know what exactly was happening or why it had blocked him out, but it was like the machine decided he wasn’t even human.

…………………………

 

          Peter took a deep breath as soon as Peni turned to her task, pressing the button that he had seen Peni use that released the odd bed. He checked the bleeding and found that while it was definitely still oozing out around the webbing, it wasn’t at life-threatening levels. Not yet at least, but it was getting to the point where it might be critical. He turned to ask for help and found three Spiders staring at him in shock.

          “What?” he asked.

          “That was…that was pretty amazing?” Miles managed breathlessly. “I felt calm and I wasn’t…you weren’t even talking to me.”

          “Oh, well…you learn what to say, kid,” Peter finally said softly. “Lot of experience with that kinda thing. But listen, I need you all to help me move him back to Peni as soon as she has the data. We…we need to take him to Aunt May.” The slight waver in his voice hardened as he said those words, knowing that as a registered nurse, and someone that had experience with her nephew she would be the most capable. As he spoke he went over to the remains of Pete’s shredded coat, and balled it up before walking back to the man. He gestured to Porker as the smallest of them, and wadded up the coat, putting it on his wound and applying pressure to slow the blood-loss even more. Porker caught on quick, and pressed, following the conversation quietly even as he applied all of his weight on it.

          “No,” Gwen said suddenly, shaking her head as she looked up at him with wide eyes. Peter blinked in surprise, turning back from helping Porker.

          “What do you mean…?” he started.

          “She already buried her nephew once, are you going to ask her to take care of him again when there’s the possibility she can’t help him in time, and she’ll have to bury another?” Gwen asked. “Why not take him to MJ?”

          “MJ isn’t a registered nurse, for one, and for two she has to deal with my healing factor. She doesn’t have any experience with people that aren’t exactly like me, I don’t think she’d be completely up to the task,” Peter argued back, which was true, as much as he didn’t want to throw MJ under the bus, he knew that her medical skills were limited.

          “She might be the only one who can help us, even if his healing isn’t as good as yours. Who knows, maybe the sight of him like that also might make her stop wanting kids, so you wouldn’t have to worry about that anymore,” Gwen snapped back.

          Peter found himself stuck between bristling and reeling with the absolute venom in Gwen’s voice. He didn’t know what to say for a moment, various words caught in his mouth, fighting over his tongue, and then another voice:

          “My mom’s a nurse,” Miles interrupted suddenly, and all attention snapped to him that could be spared, Peni still working on retrieving what information she could. “My mom’s a nurse. She could…she could help him. I know she could. She works in the trauma ward, she…she’s good at this kind of thing, she’s seen it happen all the time.”

          Peter took a moment to gather his thoughts again, staring down at Miles closely, taking in the way Miles took a step back under the initial scrutiny, before squaring his shoulders and standing upright. Miles looked up at him with his expression daring him to say no, and Peter finally kneeled down before him. Peter put his hands on the oh-so-small shoulders encased in their black spandex costume and stared deeply into the kid’s eyes.

          “Are you sure, kid?” Peter asked. “This is a big decision and I need to be sure that you are sure.”

          “Yes,” Miles replied, and he met his gaze with all the intensity that the thirteen-year-old possessed, those shoulders squaring. “If it means that Pete’ll be okay, then I’ll do it.”

          “Kid, listen closely,” Peter ordered softly, watching as Miles locked his gaze. “If you decide this is the moment when you show your parents what you’ve been doing and who you are, then alright, we’ll be with you and support you no matter what. But if you decide you are not ready then let me do the talking, okay? No matter what we have your back, but trust me, just let me do the talking.”

          Miles nodded, and that was the moment when Peni finally called out, “I have it!” They immediately set to repositioning Pete. Keeping his body as steady as possible without the cocoon was a little more challenging, but still doable, even with Porker’s added weight. “Where are we going?”

          “My world,” Miles said, straightening and squaring his shoulder’s defiantly. The black of Pete’s blood stained the red on his fingers. “My mom’s a nurse. She can help.”

          “Okay,” Peni agreed, and immediately set to programming. A portal opened again and all of them resumed their places on the mech. Peni leapt through, that weird disorienting feeling lurching through Peter’s stomach, before they were out again. Each of them leapt to the side as Peni threw out her own web, Times Square brilliant and shining before them in the nighttime sky.

          Miles took the lead and they all followed him in an odd parody of follow-the-leader throughout the city, keeping high and out of sight.

          They had to adjust their pattern to make sure there wouldn’t be many people noticing as they finally made it to Miles’ neighborhood. Miles paused before making the final leap to his fire-escape and into the building, and Peter watched as Miles pulled the mask off, before looking up at him with wide eyes. Peter made eye-contact, watching the fear and the uncertainty war within the young man, before making his decision.

          “Say that we need help, and then let me do the rest,” Peter said, and his voice was filled with all of the calm confidence he could inject into it. Miles continued staring at him for a moment, before nodding, and diving into his bedroom. A few moments later he rushed back to the front and began pounding on the door, his clothes changed and fear in his movements.

          A woman stepped out a few moments later, pushing curly hair behind her ear and looking at her son. She was dressed in scrubs, looking like she had just gotten off of a shift, her body still holding all of its stress between its shoulders, and her gaze that had been sharp and almost panicked softened into a mixture of concern and surprise when she saw Miles standing there. She ducked down immediately, reaching out with both hands and taking Miles’ shoulders in her gentle, if not steady grip, and began speaking to him in worried, but mostly soothing Spanish.

          Peter gave a slight nod at the sight, respect building for her already. Miles threw a glance their way, waving, and Peni slid out of SP//dr, the mech ducking low and camouflaging immediately. Peter helped her onto his shoulder in a move he knew Pete had performed first, and the other two moved into position to better hold Pete steady, Porker still applying pressure. Miles made a gesture at his own room, just as a man ran forward into view, and the other three made the leap over to Miles’ room when given permission.

          “Tenemos que ayudarlo, mamá,” Peter could hear Miles saying in Spanish as he led his parents over to his room with hurried feet, the sound of a door slamming a second later, “Por favor, tenemos que ayudarlo, él... él me salvó, y está tan... está tan herido, por favor

          The door was thrown open then, that man that Peter hadn’t really had a chance to glance at before suddenly standing before them all suddenly standing before him. He was tall, broad-shouldered in a way that Peter’s physique could never pull off, particularly now (but he wasn’t thinking about that), and he was definitely the larger threat, the one that was actively going to be worried about what was being brought into his home, what was being brought near his family.

          Peter could respect that intimately.

          It was the reason why as soon as he knew that the man had taken a good look at the five of them, taken in their bedraggled appearance and the costumes, and had finally focused on him as being not only the tallest but the one in the costume that would be so iconic to their universe that Peter stood up slowly. Holding his hands up, Peter reached up to his head, and pulled off the mask. The man’s eyes widened in surprise at the face that was revealed to him, taking in the lines, the gray to his hair, the fact that he knew that face, and Peter took another step forward, his hands still held up. He heard Miles gasp in surprise at the sight of him taking off his mask, but he didn’t acknowledge the kid.

          “Hola, mí nombre es Peter Parker…” he said in Spanish, it having been the language that he had heard as they entered in the door, and the sight of Miles’ as well as his mother and father all boggling was mildly amusing for a moment. He stepped to the side when he knew he had their attention and gestured to Pete lying still on the ground, Porker finally able to move from on top of him, taking the coat with him. “Please, we need your help,” he finished, and Miles’ mother reacted with a gasp.

          They hadn’t bothered to reclothe Pete, knowing that it would eat up too much of their already limited time, and it needed to be removed anyway. It left his chest and the ugly gashes with their black blood and their white webbing visible, as well as the awful discolored bruises on his chalk-white skin. The woman dropped to her knees down next to him, her eyes as wide as possible.

          ”Dios mío,” she started in soft Spanish, “Why is he so white? What…what happened? Why haven’t you taken him to a hospital?” She asked finally, turning her gaze back to Peter, the questions in English, but they were almost…afterthoughts, unimportant, gesturing at her husband with her other hand in a way that he seemed to recognize immediately. Her husband immediately ran out of the room towards another deeper into the apartment, not only showing that he trusted them but also just how closely-knit their bond was. Peter’s respect grew just that much more in the way only another married couple’s could at the sight of such blatant understanding.

          “Alternate dimensions,” Peter started. “He’s from one without color. Like…literally without color, it’s pretty wild. Everyone’s from an alternate dimension.” The woman reached up for his mask to pull it the rest of the way off, and Peter immediately ducked down, “Wait, wait, that’s a no-no. If he wakes up and finds his mask missing, he might think that he’s being held captive.”

          She nodded, and that was when her husband returned with a downright impressive first-aid kit. He dropped it next to her and moved into position to grab whatever she wanted.

          “What about the webbing, does it need to come out?” She asked.

          “No, it’s biodegradable, a bit like liquid stitch, but I…ran out…” Peter blinked.

          “Alright. I don’t have any staples, we need to close it the old-fashioned way, does anyone have a blood count or anything?” she asked. Her husband held out a hooked needle that had already been prepared and she took it with a nod of her head, suture thread pulled out and threaded through.

          “I have the information!” Peni called out and waved her small stack of paper that she had brought with her. She spread it out next to the woman and began talking to her as the woman started her sutures. As her attention turned to that, her husband’s attention turned to them, but ultimately stuck to Peter. Peter did his best to square his shoulders and stand up straight, doing his best not to squirm under the taller man’s scrutiny. He could do this.

          “Who are you?” he asked, squaring his shoulders further and using all of his intimidating height to loom over him. It would probably be more intimidating if Peter hadn’t faced down the Goblin.

          “Peter Parker of an alternate universe.” Peter responded, “Can I…ask your name or are you the one going to be asking the questions?”

          The man paused, taking him in before finally giving a brusque, “Jefferson Davis. If you’re from an alternate universe how did you get here?”

          “Kingpin.” Peter watched the sudden flash of understanding on Davis’ face. “A while back he linked everything up and we all got dragged here. On one hand it was the worst because we were being physically torn apart, on the other…it brought us together, and that was…kind of amazing.” Peter looked to the other Spiders, his expression fonder than he wanted to admit. “We fought to come back together and in particular to get back here because…we had to leave before we were able to help your Spider-Man before we could turn off the collider.”

          “You were there? Why did you…why did you have to leave?” Davis took a step forward, his eyes flashing with some odd mixture between anger and concern, and Peter knew that Davis had obviously bonded with the newest Spider. “Do you know what you left him to? Why didn’t you finish the job?”

          “Because we were literally falling apart. Our cells were rebelling against being in your world and our bodies were…less than happy about it. We left because we were being more of a hindrance than a help, and because…he wanted us to. Because he knew he could stop Kingpin, and we trusted in that. We trusted in him.” Peter saw the way that Miles was staring at him, the wide dark eyes and the awe written on his face and he didn’t say anything more.

          Davis paused, taking in that answer, and finally giving a heavy sigh. “Alright. Alright, I can…I can accept that. But why did you come back?”

          “Because we wanted to be sure, and because learning how to be Spider-Man? It can be pretty tough on your own and believe me, I would know. I started at 15 and let me tell you what, balancing homework and saving the world was a pretty tough gig. I owed him a better lesson.” Peter hesitated. “We all saw what happened to your world’s Peter Parker. We’re trying to stick together more so…so what happened to him doesn’t happen to the others that put on the mask. Or at least…if it does, there’s a support-system in place.”

          Davis paused, obviously thinking, his head lowering as he took a step back. “Alright. Then what…what happened to him?” he gestured at Pete and Peter took a breath.

          “It was a…bad time. We jumped into the wrong spot at the wrong time and...without that warning he wasn’t able to compensate. We were looking for your Spider-Man, but we found your kid instead. Or he found us. When he saw what happened to him and how he was hurt he told us about his mom and about her being a nurse. We…couldn’t take him to a hospital. We couldn’t think of a way to explain the black and white thing, and we can’t exactly be taking off masks everywhere, and…when he promised us it wouldn’t be an intrusion, that you’d help us…we took him up on it.” Peter met Davis’ eyes directly, trying to convey everything, the stress, the worry, and beneath it all the overwhelming gratitude. “I’m very sorry for barging in on you like this, and for asking all of this from you, but…I’m grateful that you were so quick to help us. It means a lot.”

          Peter watched as Davis huffed out a sigh and took another step back and felt a bubble of satisfaction rise in his chest.

          Still got it.

          “Alright, alright. I’m sorry for looming and…I trust you. Miles is a good kid, I’m glad he was there when you needed him, though he shouldn't have been anywhere out and about.” Davis turned to look at his son with a frown, and a look that said they would talk later. 

          “I'm glad that he was there, as well,” Peter agreed without hesitation, turning the conversation and the attention back to him.

          “How old did you say you were?” Davis asked him.

          “I didn’t, but I’m 37. Been Spider-Man 22 years, so I’ve got a bit of experience.” He smirked slightly. “Gotta whip these kids into shape.” Just like that, Davis gives a brief huff of a laugh, and a smile slowly spread across his face.

          “Alright. I…I have some questions I want to ask you later, but…for now I think I’m good.”

          “Good,” Peter returned the grin with one of his own, “Who’s the one helping my buddy?”

          “Oh, I’m sorry, that’s my wife, Rio Morales,” Davis introduced. “She’s good, you won’t need to worry about your friend.” Mrs. Morales looked up from looking at the information Peni gave her just enough to give them a nod before going back to reading.

          “I’m Gwen Stacy,” Gwen said suddenly, pulling her own mask off and looking up at Jefferson. “I…I’m also grateful for you guy’s helping us.”

          “Peni Parker,” Peni said then looking up with her wide and shimmering eyes. “Thank you for this.”

          “Peter Porker,” Porker introduced, pulling off his own mask and holding up a hand that…wasn’t wet, Peter saw with a brief flash of annoyance. “Nice to meet you.”

          Davis stared down the pig for a moment, before finally reaching out and taking the other’s hand, giving a brief shake. “Um…yeah…? Nice to…um, meet you too?”

          Took it like a champ, Peter grinned. He liked these people. Kind of made him feel bad about lying through his teeth, but it was all for Miles. At that thought he finally risked a glance at the teen, catching eyes that were so round and so…amazed they made him feel like he had just moved a mountain, and that was all the confirmation he needed to know that he had truly done good. God, he had missed that feeling.

          “I’ve done all I can for him,” Mrs. Morales finally said, looking up at them, brushing her hair back with a black-stained hand. Pete’s chest had been wrapped in gauze, which matched the color of his skin almost perfectly. It was a very discomforting sight, and Peter shifted slightly. “He has cracked ribs, a great deal of bruising, and has lost a lot of blood, on top of what is likely one hell of a concussion, but he’ll live. Judging from the charts Peni printed, he’ll likely be out of it for another few hours at least, but all that leather he seems to be wearing protected him from anything worse. He was lucky." The gaze that she flashed them all was intense, her mouth in a fine line. 

          The relief that ran through everyone was staggering, Peter finding himself sitting before he even realized what was happening, the other Spider’s dropping into a similar stance.

          “Thank @#%&!” Porker shouted out, his hands over his blue eyes, that blond tuft of hair on his head whipping. “I was gonna have to kill him if he died!”

          The exclamation broke a scattered laugh out of them, something half-hysterical and half-genuine.

          “Watch your language,” Davis scolded, with a slight frown, but he looked happy as well. Mrs. Morales made a sound suddenly, her eyes locked on Gwen's leg. 

          "You didn't mention anyone else was injured..." she frowned, and they stiffened slightly. What began was more mothering than Peter B could remember happening in a long time. The fight with Lizard had been hard on everyone. 

          These were good people, Peter finally decided. He was happy that Miles’ had parents like them. When they invited them all to stay with them for as long as it took for their friend to be up and moving, as well as their own injuries to be healed, it solidified that warmth and made Peter hopeful that Miles would be able to open up to his parents sooner rather than later. Peter didn’t really feel bad about lying, but he knew that the longer it took…the worse the fallout would potentially get.

          Either way, the rest of the Spiders were there for him, and he promised himself that he’d be there, too.

          For now...they would wait for Pete to wake up, and hope that he would forgive them for what had happened. 

Chapter Text

             Jefferson Davis leaned against the doorjamb between the hallway and the living room, looking out at the small pile of vigilantes that he had invited into his home. He never thought he would be doing this a year ago. Hell, he wouldn’t have thought he’d do this a few months ago, but here he was, vigilantes in his home, and he was letting them camp out.

             The whole of them had crashed almost immediately, from what he could tell. Adrenaline from whatever fight they had gotten in cutting out and leaving them in an exhausted mess of limbs. Miles had agreed to stay in his room after a quick discussion, which he was thankful for. While Jefferson was willing to extend a bit of trust to the group of them after hearing from…Parker and seeing just how badly wounded they all had been, he wasn’t quite willing to let them be that close to his family just yet. At least…not without him in the same room. 

             It had been a long process, really, a shift within him sometime between realizing that Peter Parker had been 26 when he died, and seeing the Kingpin pounding on a too-small figure. The idea that the group before him were all of varying experience and were there to help their Spider-Man, his Spider-Man, had been enough to extend that little bit of trust. Miles’ story about what had happened had also added to that trust. That had been a conversation. He idly thought back to Miles’ expression as he admitted to going off to the place where he had spent so much time with…with Aaron. He had looked as though Jefferson would bite his head off for breaking the rules, but…how could he when he understood the desire to just be…he shook off the thought, refocusing on the terror Miles’ must have felt. Miles had spoken of something coming out of the shadows towards him, and how the other man had just jumped in front of him, taking the hit and flying across the tunnel, and… The look on his face when he said that, when he trailed off and couldn’t seem to bring himself to say anything else… Jefferson had scooped him up in his arms, holding his son tightly as he looked about ready to break down.

             Jefferson would always be grateful for the other man, but the idea of his son seeing that hurt his heart. 

             Jefferson resigned himself to a long night, adjusting his posture against the doorjamb so he wasn’t quite so rigid. Movement out of the corner of his eye almost made him reach for his gun, but when he whipped his head to the side and saw that Parker, that slightly overweight, older, and highly-experienced Parker stuck to the side of the wall and crouched as low and as unthreatening as possible, both hands held up, he relaxed. Parker watched him closely, his mouth in a tight line, keeping an eye on where Jefferson put his hands, and Jefferson held his own out as well.

             Maybe he wasn’t the only one having a bit of trouble with trust.

             After a momentary stare-down, Jefferson forced his mouth into something of a smile, and butted his head in the direction of the kitchen. Parker gave a fluid shrug and followed his lead, crawling across the wall to the ceiling easily. Jefferson wanted to comment on it, a part of him mildly disturbed at the sight, but Parker wasn’t leaving any scuffs or marks on the wall, and it was definitely easier than picking his way through the pile of vigilantes, which Jefferson had to do. When he finally made it through the tangle of limbs and blankets and made it into the kitchen, Parker was waiting for him.

             The man was wearing the oddly too-big pajamas the…cartoon pig had conjured out of nowhere after they had all finished being taken care of, and showering, and hadn’t the sight of clothes being whipped out of nowhere been an interesting sight. One that would have sent Jefferson seeking out the mental ward if not for the fact that he’d seen entirely different dimensions exploding out from a single point. Pajamas covered in cartoon pigs and spiders didn’t seem too out of nowhere, particularly when they looked as solid as they did, even though they were just slightly too big. Peter’s collarbone was peeking out which gave the man a slightly fragile look that he didn’t expect to see.

             It wasn’t helped with the way the man kind of stood there, bobbing on his toes, waiting for Jefferson to say something. Kid sent to the principal’s office, was his first thought, and that was just odd. Jefferson sighed and waved him over to the table, Parker sitting immediately, though one leg rose up, curled beneath him. It was a very Spider-Man thing to do, a pose that seemed to be common even across dimensions. Jefferson set to making coffee, and Parker gave a brief happy sound, his eyes lighting up.

             “That’s the good stuff,” he whispered, grin wide across his face, and Jefferson found himself grinning back.

             “Yeah, well. I need it and…you don’t seem like you’re about to go to sleep anytime soon.” Jefferson shrugged slightly.

             “Can’t,” Parker responded, rolling his shoulders. “Gotta look after ‘em.” He frowned slightly as he caught how that comment might have come across and held up his hands, backtracking as the coffee brewed. “Not that I think you’ll do anything, just…”

             “Habit,” Jefferson finished. 

             “Yeah,” Peter allowed after a sigh. “It was…a pretty traumatizing night. I’m mostly on the lookout for nightmares. And for…Pete to wake up…”  That would explain where he had perched, Jefferson suspected, taking in Parker’s body sitting sideways on the chair, ready to move should he hear any sounds of distress. He ran a hand up his neck. “Besides, I think the insomnia’s acting up again. I’d rather have an excuse not to sleep than general restlessness.”

             “I can definitely agree with that,” Jefferson huffed out a sigh.

             “You see a lot,” Parker hummed, rolling those shoulders, more of his collarbone sticking through. It was the sight of that collarbone that made Jefferson realize why the other’s build made him so anxious.

             Jefferson hadn’t been on the scene when their Peter Parker was originally found, but he had been called in for the aftermath. As a Lieutenant it was expected of him to handle a lot of the paperwork and legalities of the running of a police station, and Peter had caused a lot of both.

             Jefferson had seen the younger man, not lying on the ground in front of the Daily Bugle, thrown there like an offering, or a fucking present, but lying on the cold slab of the mortician’s table. He had seen those fine bones busted open like matchsticks, those collarbones snapped like twigs, had seen the pulpy remains of what lay beneath with a grim knowledge that if they did bury him it would be closed-casket. It had filled him with a disquiet and a pity he hadn’t known what to do with. The idea of dying there alone…would he have even had the knowledge of what had killed him? Would he have seen it coming down to crush him and known he couldn’t get out of the way?

             The new Spider-Man, their Spider-Man, his Spider-Man coming up and admitting to what he saw, to the fact that it was the Kingpin who had killed him, crushing his chest in with a… God. Jefferson still hadn’t gotten over that…

             “Yeah,” Jefferson finally agreed softly. “You see a lot.” Jefferson finally put down two mugs of coffee. After a moment, Parker took the mug in both hands and hung his head over it. “Thank you…for saving Miles,” Jefferson finally said. “He told me what happened.”

             “It’s no trouble, really,” Parker said lightly, but his expression was serious. “Pete would’ve done it again in an instant, any of us would have. It just…turned out he was a bit faster. I think it’s because of where he comes from…he reacts to light quicker than any of us do. I’m just glad we were in the right place at the right time. Say what you will about the Kingpin, and I’d agree with you, but his hideouts are usually very well hidden. We thought it’d be a good place to meet up before heading out to find your Spider-Man. I’m happy we found your Miles instead.”

             Jefferson nodded, accepting the explanation, and putting another tick in the box that suggested that they were trustworthy. It soothed his conscious a great deal and he found himself relaxing, idly staring into the black coffee in front of him. He wondered if the other took sugar or milk in it, but the thought was interrupted as Parker cleared his throat. 

             “You a cop?” Parker asked idly, swirling a finger over the rim of his coffee mug.

             “Yeah,” Jefferson agreed, rolling his shoulders forward, his posture shifting towards menacing, that momentary relaxation gone. “Why? That a problem?”

             Parker held both hands up immediately, “No! Well. Not really?” he huffed out a sigh. “It’s not anything to do with you personally, really. Just…the first few run-ins I had weren’t so pleasant. Getting shot at is the opposite of fun when you’re trying to help, and bullets hurt. It was my first introduction to how cops would treat me as Spider-Man and I wasn’t about to tempt fate by jumping in front of them and asking how their day was going.”

             Parker rolled his own shoulders backwards, slumping back in his chair and it took more out of Jefferson than he wanted to admit when he heard the continued, “I eventually got over that whole paranoia enough to swoop down and ask how their day was, and tell ‘em I appreciated what they were doing, but it took a while. Trauma sticks, I guess. It’s funny, honestly. I work with a lot of cops when it comes to crisis situations, but I’ve never sat down and talked to one before.”

             Jefferson was reeling. “They shot at you?” he asked blankly.

             “Well, sure. There was this whole crisis going on and they’re trying to hold back the Goblin, and then I come swinging in out of nowhere…it makes sense that there would be some initial paranoia. Admittedly it took me a while to realize that, but…”

             “They shouldn’t have shot at you,” Jefferson interrupted, leaning forward, not sure why he was getting so worked up, but desperate to impart that knowledge. “That’s not proper protocol, especially not without giving warning."

             “Yeah, well, you know how it is,” Parker responded with a shrug, not looking as though he was bothered in the least. That made Jefferson even more anxious. “New bad guy comes up and you start to panic a little, and then the next thing you know everything is a threat. I don’t blame them anymore, but…”

             Jefferson didn’t notice the way Parker trailed off. He didn’t notice the way that Parker shifted so he was looking at him fully, his head tilting slightly in concern. Jefferson was too busy thinking about his own Peter Parker.

             Did he get shot at? Did Peter come down, fresh-faced and ready to help, only to get a bullet for his trouble? Did a fifteen-year-old, a high-schooler, a kid, come down in front of a group of cops who in their panic started firing at anything that even remotely looked like a threat? God… And how the hell could they think that the kid in his… He closed his eyes as the answer beat in his own soul, a snag that had caught him up for as long as there had been a Spider-Man, listening to Parker give a soft curse as he tried a sip of his coffee and it was still too hot.

             “Why do you wear a mask?” Jefferson asked softly, the question slipping out before he could stop it. Parker stilled across from him, and when Jefferson finally opened his eyes, he found the man still stubbornly trying to drink his coffee, wide brown eyes focused on him, surprised alarm in their depths. Jefferson immediately felt as though he had overstepped somewhere and raised his hands up. “You don’t have to tell me if…”

             “No, no,” Parker responded, waving his hand as he put his mug down. “You’re the one letting a bunch of strangers into your house, you’re giving us a lot of trust here and I…appreciate it. A lot. Really, so like…I don’t mind answering questions?” There was a slight question in his voice, but it wasn’t so much a refusal to answer as it was…something Jefferson couldn’t quite identify. He didn’t know the other man well. He didn’t know the other man at all. He hoped this would help. “So…why a mask.” Parker leaned back in his chair, sighing, his fingers crossing over his stomach as he thought.

             “You know I was fifteen when I got bitten, yeah?” Parker finally started, waiting for a confirmation. “Right, right. So. I was fifteen, suddenly gained powers, and had no idea what I was going to do with said powers. Initially I tried a few…things. That. Didn’t pan out, but. Eventually something happened that was a bit of a wake-up call. My um…my Uncle Ben died, is that the same in your universe?” Parker asked, and Jefferson found himself nodding. “Right. So, um. He died, and I realized that with my power, with what I could do… If I had just been there, I could have… I could have saved him. And I made the further realization that I couldn’t have just saved him. I could…I could save so many more people. These abilities that I had, if I didn’t use them to help people then like, what was the point of them?” Jefferson watched him quietly as Parker leaned forward across the table as he spoke, hands gesticulating, and he had a sudden realization that the other man was nervous. “With powers like these…if you don’t help, then…isn’t it your fault when something that you could have stopped happens?”

             Jefferson felt his heart lurch at the thought of that logic. Of a small fifteen-year-old kid staring at his dead uncle and thinking it was his fault. Of seeing a car-crash or a mugging and thinking my fault, my fault. Responsibility, the word came into his mind unbidden and he found his fingers curling into fists by his sides. His Responsibility. God.

             “So, I came to the realization that I wanted to help people, but then I hit a few other realizations at the same time,” Parker was saying, and Jefferson tuned back in. “If I was going to help people, then I’d probably make enemies. If I made enemies…what if they came after my family? I was just fifteen, you know? I didn’t…the last thing I wanted was to bring my family into it, and the idea of other people realizing I was fifteen? And what would I do if they decided that they wanted to…” he waved his hand then, “experiment on me or something, right?” Jefferson’s heart lurched. “I mean, I have all these weird funky powers, what if they decided that it was…” he trailed off. “Anyway, yeah. I think that explains my fifteen-year-old self’s thought process pretty well.” He looked vaguely proud of himself, and Jefferson looked at his coffee.

             Responsibility and guilt and protection. A scared fifteen-year-old with pain in his heart and a desire to do better. Jefferson felt a headache blooming in his temples, a realization beating in his heart that maybe…

             Jefferson’s thoughts were interrupted when he noticed the way Parker suddenly straightened, his focus on the living room, Jefferson’s head immediately whipping over to look at what had caught his attention. At the sight of his wife hovering over the odd black-and-white Spider-Man she had helped earlier Jefferson immediately stood up, worried. Seeing the way Parker snapped forward faster than he gave the other man credit for, Jefferson immediately followed him.

             “Back, back,” Parker whispered with enough force in the words that Rio listened, her eyes wide, but there was heat in the back of her eyes, too, and Jefferson knew that there was a rant to possibly come. “You shouldn’t be standing over him…”

             “Come to the kitchen,” Jefferson added, waving her to him, to them, and after a moment of hesitation, looking back at the form on the couch, she walked forward.

             “Why are you even up?” Jefferson asked when she finally entered the kitchen with them, “I thought you were sleeping, you had…” Rio ignored him.

             Rio walked over and immediately pointed her finger directly under Parker’s chin, her eyes aflame. “No jodas, Parker. He’s my patient, and I’m going to look him over, no matter what you say,” she whisper-shouted in a way that Jefferson had only ever heard from her, and the word she used then surprised Jefferson and made Parker boggle at her. “I had to go to sleep because I was running for a little over twenty-four hours, but I couldn’t just leave him. I shouldn’t have been asleep, I…I shouldn’t have trusted Peni’s read-out so completely. I should have checked his head.”

             “Hey, hey, I don’t mind you looking him over, or the fact that you’re worried about him, I just…” Parker took a breath. “Look, the last time someone was hovering over him like that he freaked out and punched them through a wall,” Jefferson watched as Rio’s eyes widened, and recognized that his own were as well. “It was Ham, so he was fine…but I don’t think you’d be as fine. He’s got some…seriously messed-up PTSD. His universe is actually based in the 1930s, New York, you know? The Great Depression? I know that sounds weird, but…you’re talking to a dead guy right now, technically, so I’m sure that can’t be that weird. I’m pretty sure he mentioned living in Hooverville at some point. He’s a good guy, but he’s really jumpy and I don’t want you getting hurt.”

             That mollified Rio. It mollified him, now that Jefferson thought about it, and he looked back to the figure lying on the couch that he couldn’t see.

             Hooverville. Great Depression, 1930.

             Shit. What was his life.

             “That might explain some things,” Rio mumbled softly, her head lowered slightly, frowning.

             “What do you mean?” Parker asked.

             “He’s radically underweight, Parker,” Rio responded, a frown tugging at her mouth. “If he’s not careful his body is going to start eating muscle-tissue in order to feed itself. He’s around 5’10”, and if Peni’s readings were accurate he doesn’t have an ounce of fat on him. He’s got those shoulders now, but if he’s not careful….” She rubbed at her forehead, her eyes closed. “Not to mention the old breaks, and the burns and the… I don’t know how he’s still in one piece? Did either of you look?”

             Jefferson wouldn’t admit to himself that he hadn’t. Hadn’t wanted to look at another Peter Parker lying on the ground bleeding out from three scratches that started at his hip and ended at his… Blood and more blood and no. Not now. Jefferson took a deep breath, putting the thoughts aside, and finally walked over to that couch. Parker was following him he noticed, either facing his own demons like Jefferson was, or idle curiosity. There were so many demons. So many dead Peter Parkers.

             Jefferson fought the desire to hiss through his teeth at the sight of the one on the couch, because if he thought Parker had fine bones, the other was worse. The shoulders were thin, if not broad, the collarbones a delicate thing that reminded him of a sick and injured bird. God. He looked like Kingpin could crush him with a finger. Coupled with the complete white of his skin and he looked like death. The only good thing was the lack of red covering him.

             His wife was right, Jefferson finally focused on. Scar after scar laid out in a patchwork of pain and raised edges and he had to wonder idly what caused this man to jump out night after night, wearing a mask, and trying to save his city. He wondered if it was the same thing that drove the other.

             He wondered if it was the same thing that drove his.

             He wondered if it was the same thing that drove him.

             Parker gave a thoughtful hum, looking at his counterpart, and wasn’t that an odd thought… “Don’t miss those days,” he huffed under his breath in a way that suggested that being half-starved was practically normal.

             Was that just how it was with Parkers? Rio’s hand on his shoulder was a sudden but comforting warmth. She always knew when something was upsetting him. He didn’t know what he’d do without her. Jefferson processed the comment Parker had made a little more fully and tried not to look at the other man’s waist, but he knew he failed when the other crossed his arms over his chest defensively. Jefferson looked away. A soft sound suddenly split the quiet of the living room, and Jefferson stepped in front of Rio, recognizing that the sound was coming from the laid-out Spider on his couch 

             It was a soft mumble, inaudible but still there. It made Jefferson’s skin prickle for whatever reason. Parker moved in front of him. Jefferson had an urge to shove the smaller man out of the way, protect him somehow, but he had seen those hands catch speeding trucks, and he knew that of the two of them he was far stronger. Parker also knew the one that was waking up, which might make things easier in the long run. Jefferson resigned himself to watching and waiting for the other man to wake up.

             “Hey, Pete, hey? Can you hear me?” Parker asked, keeping himself out of hitting range. “Pe~ete,” he sing-songed, and at the sound of his voice the other Spiders started stirring. Jefferson watched out of the corner of his eye as Porker awoke with a yawn, flashing pink tongue and white teeth with it, while Gwen pushed herself up with a rough sounding groan. Peni popped up like she was on springs, but at Parker’s look she stood down. Apparently, the whole potential to hit things was well-known to the other Spiders. “Hey, you gotta wake up, bud. We gotta check your head.”

             ‘Pete’ stirred on the couch, and Parker leaned just a little farther into punching range, worrying his lower lip.

             “Pete?” he asked and bent back impossibly far as a bone-white fist flashed out and just narrowly missed making Parker bite his tongue. Parker retaliated by launching himself over the back of the couch, calling out “Pete, wake up!” as he did so. Pete thrashed suddenly, jerking his body back, and even through the mask Jefferson could tell that the other man wasn’t aware of what was happening. He gave another half-flail, almost falling off the couch and Rio gave a loud, worried,

             “Sus puntos, va a abrir sus puntos!!”

             Parker huffed out something under his breath and moved to straddle the other man’s legs, ducking under a few swings and finally managing to grab the flailing hands and press back against him, trying to keep him both on the couch and from hitting anyone in his confusion.

              “Pete, wake the hell up!” he called out, trying to keep the other from bucking him off.  Miles burst out of his room at the sound of the commotion, his eyes wide with a mixture of fear and confusion, pajama shirt sliding off of one shoulder and his body in a ready position.

             “Pete, it’s okay! You’re okay!” Peni yelled out, and the other Spiders immediately began hushing him, calling his name. Still he thrashed, fighting back, and Jefferson winced at the sight of black blooming against the white of those stitches.

Ah, ahi van. Perfecto,” Rio mumbled, and Jefferson flinched.

             The calls became a little more frantic, but none of them could get close to the two Spiders, particularly Jefferson and his family because none of them would be able to match the strength on display. They’d be seriously injured, and Pete would probably hate himself. Pete suddenly managed to twist his body in a way that would definitely pull some stitches, and Parker was suddenly underneath him, the two of them having fallen off of the couch with a thump and a brief cry of pain.

             The neighbors were gonna hate them in the morning.

             “Peter Benjamin Parker, you calm down ahora mismo!” Rio finally belted in her best mom-voice, and immediately, all commotion stopped. Jefferson almost cackled at the sight of both Peter Benjamin Parkers staring at her, one with wide and slightly goggled eyes, the others eyes and face hidden behinds a mask, but likely doing the same thing, both of them looking extremely guilty, their bodies stiff and straight. Miles also stiffened slightly, but the realization of what name had been called out let him loosen almost immediately. Rio gentled, ducking down next to him, still mostly out of reach, and Jefferson dropped down next to her in a crouch, ready to move should the other try anything. Jefferson might not really be much of a fight, but he wasn’t going to let her do this without backup. “Peter, breathe, you’re okay. Look around, what do you see? Come on, what do you see?”

             The bleeding Peter looked around, movements jerky in a vaguely spider-like way that made Jefferson a bit uneasy. The others moved a bit like that, too, but there was something about the jerkiness to it… He didn’t answer the question verbally, but Jefferson could see the way he made connections and came to some realizations when he finally scrambled off of Parker. Parker sat up immediately, crouching in front of him, trying to make eye-contact, even through the goggles the other was wearing. The others moved into similar positions, all giving him space, but all of them there.

             Rio’s voice was a constant touch-stone, telling him he was surrounded by friends, that it was okay, that no one blamed him, that he was safe. Jefferson was always impressed by his wife, but this was something else. Pete’s hands came up to his chest and his breath began coming down from the frantic panting it had been before, head still jerking around to stare at everyone.

             “Fellas,” he finally said with an amazed kind of awe, the word breathed out as though it was a prayer. “You…” he paused, swallowing, Adam’s apple bobbing, “I’m sorry. Is everyone okay? Did...did anyone get hurt?"

             “Nope!” Parker chirped, grinning. “No need to be sorry, I’m just glad that you’re okay. As for us...”

             "We're all okay!" Peni chirped. 

             "All of us," Gwen said, and her eyes had a haunted kind of look in them. 

             "Never better," Porker grinned, giving him a thumbs-up. That was...that was weird. 

             "Miles' mother," Parker said, jerking his head in Miles' direction, before pointing to Rio, "agreed to help us out. You were bleeding out and we didn't know what else to do, so we took you here. Rio's been taking care of you and Miles' family has graciously allowed us into their home." 

             Pete didn't say anything for a moment, processing all of this information, before nodding slowly. "Thank you," he breathed out. 

             “After what you did for Miles you have absolutely no need to thank me. I would have helped you out no matter what. However, you need to uncurl a little so you're not pulling on your stitches. And you’re going to let me redo the ones you broke,” Rio commanded. “You popped them, you’re bleeding. Any chance you’d remove your mask so I can look at your head and make sure Peni’s information was correct?”

             Pete stared at her for a moment, oddly black blood still blooming across his chest, before his hands curled up before his chest and he shook his head.

             Jefferson could tell this was going to be a long night.

Chapter Text

            Miles listened to Peter’s voice as he explained who they were and what they needed with awe building up in his chest. He had already been vaguely impressed when Peter began speaking Spanish, but at every word that trickled from his lips, every carefully crafted lie that blended truth with the small barely-perfected idea that Miles had gone with, that bubble of vaguely impressed had turned into amazement. He hoped that it didn’t spread on his face, but one look at the bleeding mess of his friend helped secure the look to concern.

            Then Peter took off the mask. Peter took off the mask. Peter did the one thing that had terrified Miles, that had made him shake and shiver, and finally stare at Spider-Man in the same way he had before he died, with the same belief and trust that he could make it better.

            This time, Peter had managed to do so, in a way that made Miles’ breath catch in his throat. The mixed ball of guilt and horror in his chest was soothed slightly when his mother and father moved to help, but in the end, it was only tugged tighter, driven into his belly at the sight of every other face that was bared. Every other mask that was taken off.

            Miles felt like opening his mouth, like giving voice to the cry building inside of him, the “I am Spider-Man” that was on the tip of his tongue, the confession that Miles couldn’t speak.

            That Miles wouldn’t speak.

            Miles stayed in the background, watching his friends as they quietly watched his mom, as Peni moved to help, and felt that guilt pull tighter. When his mom finally pronounced that Pete was going to be okay, and the others began to relax, Miles had a terrified moment where he thought that his dad would kick them out. Instead he began offering for them to stay. They agreed, and after some discussion on where to put everyone and what to wear once their costumes were removed, they all began piling up in the living room. They helped Miles clean up the floor of his room, Peter revealing a home remedy that he said he used all the time, removing the blood that had pooled there as though it had never been there.

            But it had been, and the citrusy smell of Peter B’s concoction still hovered in his room.

            Miles wanted to join them in a way, he wanted to join his friends so badly, but when his father approached him, he knew that was unlikely to happen. His dad put his arm over his shoulder, twinging sore muscles as he did so (but Miles wouldn’t flinch), while his other took hold of his mom, leading them back into the hallway and away from the cuddle-pile that was forming in the living room, surrounding Pete’s makeshift-bed on the coach. A part of him knew that he didn’t belong there.

            He was a coward.

            His dad sighed, steering him into the room and closing the door behind them gently. His mom had gone to get showered and changed, having refused to take one until the others were taken care of first. The look that his dad was giving him was gentle, a kind of soft concern mixed with caring in a way that Miles didn’t deserve… He was such a bad son. Lying through his teeth, and he knew as his dad sat down on the bed and stared at Miles, that he would have to lie some more.

            “What happened?” his dad asked, voice gentle, seeming to recognize the way that Miles wanted to hide, wanted to run away and never be found. “Miles, it’s a school-night, why…why were you out of school, where were you where they found you? What…just what happened?” There was a line of frustration there underneath the concern, but his dad’s face was so open, and he had been trying so hard, and Miles…

            “Because I couldn’t stop thinking about Uncle Aaron,” Miles croaked out, “I left and I…I went where we used to go. Where we…he helped me throw up a tag, and I just…I just wanted to see it again.” He gave a shuddering gasp, and it was real, because the burning in his throat just wouldn’t stop. “There was this thing, this awful…it was huge. It came out of nowhere and it… Dad…” Miles sniffed. “It almost killed me, but…but that man, the one that got so hurt…he, he dove in front of me. He took the hit, and it…” Miles shook his head, remembering that awful crack, that terrible sound of tearing flesh, and suddenly there were arms wrapped around him. His dad, holding him close and holding him tight. “He flew, and he hit the wall, and they were suddenly all there, and they took it out before it could hurt me, but…I’m so sorry,” Miles gasped out against his dad’s chest, his own arms wrapping around him in turn. “I didn’t know where else to take them, and I…I couldn’t just leave them there, they…they saved me.”

            “No, no,” his dad whispered, hushing him, his lips pressed against the top of his head in a way that Miles hadn’t felt since he was small. It made him feel equal parts better and worse. “No, Miles, I’m just glad…I’m so glad that you’re safe. I’m so glad that they were there. I could have…I could have lost you and I wouldn’t have known… Oh, Miles, don’t apologize for having a good heart.” His dad brushed his thumb under Miles’ eye, catching a tear and meeting Miles’ eyes with a pride that made Miles want to gag. “I’m proud of you for bringing them here. I’m proud of you for helping. It’s that spark of yours.” His face curled into a slight smile before he looked in the general direction of the living room. That smile faded slightly the longer he looked that way, his eyebrows pinching together, and Miles felt a sudden spur of dread.

            “You’re not going to turn them in dad, are you?” Miles asked, and that spur of dread turned into a spike. His dad turned to him with wide eyes, before he immediately shook his head.

            “Hey, hey, no. You don’t have to worry about that. None of them are from…from here, anyway, so there’s no one that I could turn them in to if I wanted to.” His dad dropped to his knees before him when Miles’ expression shifted, alarm creeping into it. “And I don’t want to”, he emphasized, his hands solid weights on Miles’ shoulders. “They saved my boy, Miles. How could I betray that in good conscience? How could I take their lives when they gave me back one of the lives that matters the most to me? No. We’ll keep their secrets. They’ll be safe in this house, I promise. I just…I want to be sure that we’re safe, too, so I…I don’t want you around them yet without me being there. I trust them, I do, I just…” His dad sighed, struggling to express himself, but meeting his eyes anyway, hoping for understanding

            Miles nodded slowly, giving it to him.

            “Okay, thank you, Miles, that…that makes me feel better.” His dad sighed, and hugged him once again, crushing him to his chest in a way that robbed his lungs of air and made his heart warm all at once. “I’m so glad you’re safe,” he whispered once again into his hair, and Miles hugged him back. Finally, his dad pushed him away, and nodded his head towards the bed. “You get some sleep, okay, kiddo?” Miles nodded and moved to grab some pajamas. As he did so his dad gave one last, “I’m proud of you,” before shutting the door behind him.

            Miles didn’t move for a moment, holding himself still, a too-large t-shirt in one hand, and a pair of shorts in the other. For a moment he thought he was going to drown in guilt, when a sudden rapping against his window startled him. Miles looked up and over to the fire-escape, spotting a hand by his window.

            “Miles,” a quiet voice called, far below a regular human’s hearing, but definitely not his. “Miles, are you decent? Can I come in?”

            Peter B… Miles immediately moved to the fire-escape, throwing the window open and allowing the older Spider to crawl through.

            “Hey, thanks, I just…”

            “You took off the mask,” Miles whispered, his voice pinched and his eyes wide. “You…but I…” he couldn’t catch his breath, a mixture of horror and amazement, and guilt, guilt, guilt all clamoring inside of him.

            “Hey, hey, breathe, kiddo,” Peter B said softly, crouching down before him. He took his shoulders in his hands in a way that his father had before him, brown eyes of a distinctly lighter shade staring into his own. “I did. I thought that if we showed them some trust they might repay the favor. I know how hard it is to tell your own family the truth, kid, it’s okay. Really, it’s okay.”

            Miles choked on tears and found himself clinging to the other Spider. Peter B wrapped his arms around him easily, and Miles sniffed into the strange cartoon-covered pajamas that the other was wearing. 

            “Shh,” Peter B hushed gently, rubbing a single hand on his back as the other held him steady. “It’s okay, you’re okay. It’s normal to be scared of this. It’s okay.” The other continued, his voice a quiet litany of words, gentle and even, and slowly Miles calmed.

            Finally, Miles pulled back, rubbing at his face, whispering out a quiet, “Thanks.”

            “It’s no problem, kiddo, really,” Peter B responded, smiling at him gently. “I wanted to make sure you didn’t have any serious injuries before I hunkered down to wait with the others.”

            Miles shook his head almost immediately but paused when he recognized Peter B’s look of skepticism. “Just bruising,” Miles answered, “I don’t think it cracked a bone or anything.”  

            “Miles, are you sure?” Peter B asked, and his voice was so soft Miles smiled at him.

            “You bet,” he responded, wiping his eyes. “I’m alright, thank you for checking on me…but how did you get past my dad?”

            “I wasn’t in the pile when he originally started looking. I’m gonna talk to him a bit, I think. Get some stuff cleared up.” Peter B smiled at him then. “I heard your cover-story, by the way, solid stuff.”

            “I don’t know what you’re talking about, man, you were…well, you were fantastic.” Miles managed, and Peter B grinned.

            “You learn a few things kid, one of them is how to lie. So, trust me when I say that I know exactly how scary it is to tell your family, and any of that guilt you feel? Choke it and kill it, because you don’t have to feel guilty, definitely not for any of our decisions, right?” Peter B’s expression was as serious as it ever got, those eyes staring into his so intently, and finally Miles managed to give a nod. “Okay, good. Now get some sleep, I’ll keep watch, it’ll be okay.”

            Miles swallowed, but felt himself nodding anyway, a gentle sort of calm washing over him. Peter B crawled out the same way he came, going back to the others, and Miles felt that he could relax.

            In hindsight, Miles should have known it wouldn’t last.

            The pounding of his heart was almost louder in his ears than the scuffle that was happening before him, the calls of “Pete!” and the ringing of guilt and shock and…

            “Peter Benjamin Parker!” was suddenly belted out by his mom and Miles froze, eyes wide and body tense for all of two seconds before he realized whose name got called out. The sight of both Peter Benjamin Parkers staring at his mom with horror on their faces – and for Pete, Miles could feel the horror even through the mask - was almost enough to make up for the near heart-attack he had suffered, and Miles almost wanted to laugh. Pete was finally talked off of Peter B, pressing himself against the couch and trying so desperately to get his bearings. It made his heart hurt.

            When his mom asked him to take off his mask and Pete refused, Miles felt his heart lurch. Pete looked so small. When dressed in his trench coat and the vest underneath, it had bulked him up, and made him bigger, but now, pressed up against his couch with his body curled in a defensive position, head down and surprisingly thin shoulders hunched up around his ears… He looked fragile, he looked… Nothing like Pete. Nothing like the man that Miles had come to sort of know.

            Though really, what did he know about him? What did he actually know?

            Pete using a tommy-gun had been a shock. Hell, Pete shooting whatever that thing was had been a shock, but… It was still a Peter Parker under that mask. It was still someone that Miles knew, and someone that he trusted.

            “Hey,” his dad said, his voice that gentle cop-voice that Miles had only heard a couple of times, usually reserved for either the very hurt or the very scared. Miles supposed that Pete counted as both right now, and that kind of hurt. “Look around, you see all of these people? All of these people want you to get better, we all want to make sure you’re okay, and none of us, you hear me? None of us are going to use your identity against you. It’s okay. You can take off that mask. You can trust us.” His dad took a breath, those goggles turning to fix him in their thousand-yard stare, but his dad simply gave him a slight grin, encouragement and gentleness there within the gaze.

            “You’re Peter Parker, right? Well, my name is Jefferson Davis, but any of you can call me Jeff, okay?” He prompted, those goggles still glued to him, attention fixed, even as his dad turned his attention to all of them, an open expression on his face that made Miles feel warm. “This is my wife Rio Morales, she’s the one that’s taking care of you. She’s a nurse, and a damn good one.” His dad indicated his mom as he spoke, and his mom smiled gently and gave a small wave when Pete’s attention turned to her.

            “Call me Rio,” she said, and her voice was just as soft as his dad’s, her attention on everyone as well. Then his dad indicated him.

            “That kid over there, the one you protected? His name’s Miles, I don’t know if you got to meet him formally before…what happened to you, and I know your friend mentioned his name, but…” His dad took a breath, his eyes closing as he fought for composure. “I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t been there to protect him. But I want you to know that you don’t have anything to fear from me or my family. None of us are going to use your identity or your face against you. Not after what you all did for us.”

            For a moment Miles thought that Pete would voice his confusion, would try and correct the statement, try and deny it, but he didn’t. Pete just swallowed thickly, starting to uncurl from his protective ball. Encouragingly, his dad spoke one more time,

            “No Peter Parkers, or Porker, or Gwen or Peni have anything to fear from us, alright? You’re safe. All of you are safe with us.”  

            Pete stared at him, taking in his posture, the way he was crouched in front of him, and then that mask turned to Miles. Miles watched as he finally made what he thought was eye-contact and Miles made sure to straighten up, squaring his shoulders. There was a promise in his eyes, and in his heart, beating against his rib-cage. Miles knew his family, and he trusted his dad, and he trusted his mom, and he trusted his friends. He tried to impart all of those feelings towards the man in the mask, whose chest was still bleeding so sluggishly, and finally, finally…

            Ghost-white hands went up to that black mask, starting with the goggles, which were lifted up slowly, and Miles found himself holding his breath along with the rest of the room. The eyes that were revealed to them were strange, the iris a clear gray that was piercing, the pupil constricted to a small black dot, either at the light or…maybe just at the color. His sclera was as white as the rest of him, but the dark veins that were just barely visible and the small gray line of his waterline ending in his tear-duct was strange, even as it made his eyes stand-out. There was dark bruising around them, whether from tiredness or multiple hits, coupled by the start of many tiny little scars dusting his skin. His pupils didn’t seem to focus on any of them, flitting too fast from one face to the other, reminding Miles a bit of shimmering fish in an aquarium. Slowly, those hands that removed the goggles began pulling at the leather and mesh of the mask, peeling it back gingerly from his throat.

            That very familiar chin was revealed to them, but it wasn’t covered in the stubble that Miles had expected. It was marked with a scar, however, a scar that ran up from his chin to just above his lips. Miles stared, watching as slowly but surely a face that he had never quite expected was revealed. In a way, he supposed he had been expecting some of it. Miles had been assuming that it would be scarred, and it was, that scar on Pete’s chin joined by one that went across the bridge of his nose, and a few dusted around his eyes that made Miles nervous seeing them clearly without the shadow of the mask itself, and one long one ran just under his hair-line, but…

            Miles had assumed that Pete would be older, or about the same age as Peter B. The face that was revealed to him looked more like his Peter. In fact, it…it might even look younger, and Miles knew that the shock that he felt was mirrored by the rest of them, particularly in the way that Peter B’s mouth fell open. The mask was finally completely pulled off, revealing a shock of black hair that was alarming mainly in the contrast it presented to that white face, but also in the cut of it.

            Miles had thought that Gwen had looked bad when she had first shaved off part of her hair after Miles’ wound up stuck to her, but… Pete’s hair looked hacked at, choppy in a way that suggested he was doing it himself and possibly blindfolded, but it also appeared like it wasn’t going to be seen. Like it was cut for the simple purpose of staying under his mask and that was it. Like Peter Parker didn’t exist anymore in his world, completely lost to Spider-Man. A gray tongue licked at slightly lighter gray lips nervously, those gray eyes still darting between them all.

            For a moment there was silence. Shocked and mildly horrified silence.

            “How old are you?” Peter B suddenly managed to ask, brown eyes still wide.

            Pete finally locked eyes on him, a black eyebrow crawling its way up his face. “Eighteen,” he said, and Miles felt his own mouth drop, a reaction that was mirrored by everyone around him. As the silence continued, that eyebrow lowered slowly, and his mouth scrunched up slightly, and he dropped his eyes when no one moved, and everyone continued to stare. “Alright, seventeen, you don’t have to act like I’m a grifter,” he grumbled after the silence grew too long, and Miles sat down.

            “I thought you were thirty? Or at least…at least in your later twenties?” Peter B managed, his voice slightly higher in pitch, slightly squeaky, and Miles found himself nodding along with Peni, Ham, and Gwen, his parents looking mildly surprised themselves. “The way you act…the…the way you talk I just?” Peter B threw his hands out towards him. “What?”

            “Thanks,” Pete managed, leaning back with a slight smirk, scarred lips shifting almost grotesquely, “it’s the trauma.”

            Miles choked on his own spit. Between Miles’ own sudden loud coughs as he tried to get his breath back, and the other Spiders’ yells of shock and confusion, it took a moment to realize that Pete was beginning to press back against the couch. Those eyes went back to darting and his legs curled up to his chest tighter, and even as Miles managed to catch his breath the thought that Pete might not be joking echoed in his head.  

            Miles was about to say something, when he almost saw the moment Pete began locking the emotion away.

            Miles didn’t think back to the Spiders’ standing around him, knocking him to the ground, and yelling at him with much fondness. While he knew in his heart, then and now, that it hadn’t been done out of any malice, but rather a deep-seeded worry, it had still been a moment of trauma. Trauma that he had needed in a way, and something that helped prepare him for the onslaught of Kingpin and the rest of them, but still trauma. He still remembered Pete’s voice though,

            “Can you close off your feelings, so you don’t get crippled by the moral ambiguity of your violent actions?”

            That statement pounded through his head, and he had no doubt that that was exactly what the other was doing, though instead of fighting moral ambiguity, he was fighting trauma.

            “Thank you!” Miles’ voice finally called out, his voice loud, cutting through the other Spiders’ and his own parent’s voices sharply, anxiety leaping into his throat when everyone turned to face him. But Miles pushed through, taking a deep breath, “Thank you,” he repeated. “For…for saving me. I…” Pete was staring at him, those gray eyes fixed in his direction, black brows pinched slightly together. “I would have been dead, and…just thank you. I’m sorry you got hurt…”

            Pete continued the quiet staring for a moment longer, before that kind of twisted smile pulled at his lips again. “You go up against a lot of hard boys in this line of work, kid, and that comes with a lot of injuries. This ain’t anythin’ new. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”

            “Right, well, in order to make sure you can do it again, do you mind letting me look at your stitches?” His mom asked, moving forward. “I want to redo them and check your head. You seem to be pretty aware, but I want to make sure.”

            Pete turned his attention back to her and after a moment gave a slight shrug. “Alright.”

            “Okay, thank you. I’m going to work on your stitches first, do you mind lying back for me?” His mom asked. Pete hesitated for a moment, before finally began moving into a lying down position. His mom peeled back the bandages and made a few unhappy hisses at the sight before her but seemed pleased there wasn’t as much damage as she had feared. His skin was already starting to heal around the stitches, which was strange to see, but she had a feeling that if they had waited any longer that healing wouldn’t have been able to stick.  

            His dad worked again as an unofficial nurse, handing her things and sanitizing the needle for her, as well as handing her the alcohol needed to clean the wound.

            His mom began pouring alcohol on a few cotton pads to use for sanitizing around the wound, “I wish I could sanitize everything better, and had better equipment…”

            “Better than doin’ it over a sink with whiskey,” Pete replied easily with a slight shrug.

            “Man, I feel that one,” Peter B agreed, scratching at his chest. “Only…with rubbing alcohol. I didn’t realize whiskey was actually that sanitary?"

            “Been usin’ it for years where I’m from,” Pete answered. “Haven’t gotten an infection yet, so I figure it’s worth it.”

            “I wish I’d known about that sooner,” Gwen grumbled. “I couldn’t buy a lot of rubbing alcohol when my dad didn’t know without it looking suspicious, but he had a lot of whiskey. Now I’m able to stock up on everything, but that would have been helpful. I kept seeing it in movies, but I thought it was just a Dollywood thing, you know? I should have looked it up.”

            His mom stopped and stared at Pete, before staring at Peter B, and then finally at Gwen, her eyes wide and almost horrified. “If any of you ever have something like this happen again, you come right to me, okay? If you can hop dimensions to help the new Spider-Man then you absolutely must hop dimensions to deal with your injuries, that is absolutely unacceptable. No puedo creerlo…!”

            “I don’t want to impose…” Pete started, just as Peter B began shaking his head, and Gwen also opened her mouth to reply.

            “No! Absolutamente inaceptable, I will not hear any talk of imposing or otherwise bothering me. You come to me.” She pressed the wet gauze to Pete’s chest as a gesture of both finality as well as insistence. The other Spiders shut up, and fell silent, his eyes closing slightly at the sudden coolness. She began mumbling quietly, wiping away the black blood once again before fixing the stitches.

            Pete didn’t comment or move through the process, even though Miles knew the stitching had to be odd. When she was finally done, she had him put his back to the couch and she sat on it behind him, reaching out and running her hands across his head, frowning down at his hair as she did so. She pulled her hand back suddenly, slight surprise on her face, and Miles blinked at the sight of more blood on her gloved-hand. It blended in with his hair so well he hadn’t even seen it. After careful evaluation from his mom she gave a grateful sigh.

            “It feels like it was just a cut, I can’t find any sign of a crack or movement, and it has clotted well. I think your mask helped prevent it from getting any worse.” She frowned at his hair for a moment before shaking it off, though Miles was still getting over that chop job someone had made of his hair. It looked bad. His mom didn’t press though and moved away from him. Pete relaxed when she wasn’t as close to him, his shoulders rolling slightly. “Alright. I’m going to bring you something to drink, and I want you to drink all of it.” She frowned at him, before leaving for a moment. Miles grinned and sat down, watching Pete stare after her with wide eyes, a tinge of satisfaction in his chest.

            Watching his mother mom someone else was quite entertaining, but also something Miles felt oddly proud of. Pete…didn’t act like he had had much mothering in his life. Miles wondered if Pete had an Aunt May in his world…he wondered if Pete was alone. The thought of that, of being alone in that world with the black and white gloom and fog and those monsters…with no one to help him… To be seventeen in that world and completely on his own. That was just four years older than him. Four years and… Miles snapped out of it at a hand on his shoulder. He looked up and saw Gwen in front of him, her blue eyes worried.

            Miles blinked, before forcing a slight smile on his mouth. Gwen smiled back, her eyes still worried, before butting her head in Pete’s direction, the man still staring up at his mom as though he hadn’t seen anything like her before in his life. Miles inclined his head slightly and she gave a slight nod before her smile turned much brighter.

            “He’s got us,” she mouthed to him, her eyes bright and happy, and Miles found himself grinning back. Pete did have them. He’d be okay. He managed to make eye contact with the other man. Gray eyes blinked at him, slightly overwhelmed, and slightly amused. The expressions were familiar but…muted. Before he had more time to process his mom was finally back.

             “Drink all of this,” his mom pressed, finally pushing a carton of juice and the tablets into his hands. “It helps your body metabolize iron and the tablets are iron supplements, they’ll help with your blood-loss. Judging from the chart you don’t have that much of a difference in terms of biological chemistry, so you still need both vitamin-c and iron.” His mother watched as Pete blinked wide eyes at first the carton and then to the tablets, and then back to her. “Anda, bébelo, Parker!”

             Pete flinched before opening the carton and blinked at the smell. Pete frowned, looking at the carton with narrowed eyes.

            “That’s called orange juice, bud!” Ham called out. “You recognize it?”

             “I don’t know…” he frowned, looking at the carton and then back to his mom. “The whole…?”

             “The whole thing,” his mom confirmed. “Don’t worry about sanitation, and don’t worry about us, I need to go shopping later anyway,” his mom waved off his worry and he finally took a drink. They watched as grey narrowed eyes suddenly opened wider and he looked at the carton again in amazement.

            “Why’s it called orange juice?” he asked.

            “Because the fruit that it’s made of is called an orange,” Peter B responded immediately.

             “Is…is the fruit called an orange because of its color?” Pete pointed at the fruit on the box, holding it up so they could see. “This is an orange…and that’s because it’s orange?”

             “You got it,” Ham gave him a thumbs-up, and then blinked. “I think?”

             “Why is it called an orange?” Peni asked, frowning.

             “I always thought it was called that because of the fruit?” Peter B frowned.

             “Is it because of the color?” Miles asked. “I know that in Spanish it’s naranja…but…that means orange, too?” Miles pulled out his phone and began looking it up as a debate started warring. “Noogle has failed me!” he finally called out.

             “Well what the heck. I don’t know what came first, but for whatever reason, that color and the fruit is known as orange here.”

             “What’s it called where you’re from?” Miles asked, looking to Pete finally, everyone else following his gaze as well.

             “We just call them citrus fruits. They don’t have any particular name…” Pete stared at the carton a little longer. “Oranges.”

             “You don’t know what color…” His dad paused, staring at the black and white man before him, taking in the slow and steady crawl of that black eyebrow over a chalk-white face, before crossing his arms and frowning. “Alright, you know what? That was admittedly a stupid question.”

             Pete’s mouth pulled into that stilted and slightly twisted smile, and Miles had a sudden lurch when he thought that maybe that was his smile. He wasn’t being funny, or teasing, or even taunting, he just…that twisted, and almost ugly thing was his smile. Miles wondered how little opportunity he had to smile and made a vow that he’d do something to change that. He glanced at the others, finding several pairs of eyes meeting his own, a certainty in them, and found himself realizing that he wasn’t the only one who seemed to have made that connection and he likely wasn’t the only one who had made that decision.

             They started chatting amongst themselves as Pete began sipping at the orange juice with a little more fervor. He seemed the most relaxed when their attention wasn’t on him, and Miles was happy to comply with that wish.

             “Did he change back?” Pete asked suddenly, and they blinked.

             “Did who change back?” his dad asked.

             “The Lizard. Did he change back into a human after I shot him?”  

Chapter Text

              “I…uh…love you all.”

              It had been said so easily. Slipping out of his mouth before he knew what he was saying, an honest truth that had gutted him in a way that few things had. Torn him open to the core of his being even as he tried to deflect to the cube he still held in his hand. The cube had been true, too, but that had paled in comparison to the admission that he could sometimes still feel burning in his chest.

              He had told himself, promised himself, that he wouldn’t get attached anymore. That he would step back and stay away and yet… The instant he had found others that were…that were like him, he had cracked. He’d cracked and he’d gotten attached and wound up spilling some of his guts in front of them like an egg. The only thing that kept him from crippling anxiety was the fact that he’d never see them again.

              He wouldn’t put them in danger ever again.

              The loneliness was shoved aside and pushed deep down into his chest, knowing that it wasn’t right to mourn for people that he shouldn’t have been with in the first place. It made it easier to sleep at night, strung up in his web-hammock wherever he could put it, making sure to check his office every day to see if anyone needed his special brand of help.

              The cases his clients left would be stuck in the web that he left in the middle of the room, slips of paper, wrapper labels, whatever they could find that he would examine and choose who to help. That didn’t mean that he didn’t patrol, or he always took pay for the ones that were given to him directly (not that there was much dough to go around), but it kept him from being too closely involved with the clients. It kept him from being around people.

              That wasn’t to say that he never interacted with his clients, or he didn’t spend time staking the joints where they agreed to meet him to make sure they weren’t trying to pull a fast one, but it certainly limited their interactions. It kept him safe.

              It kept them safe.

              For the first few weeks he was okay with this arrangement and this pattern. He was able to swing back into his routine with his usual grace, was able to keep avoiding the people that he knew would be better off without him and remain the ghost that he preferred to be. Almost an urban legend of the Great Depression, the Boogieman that came for you if you crossed The Line. The Thing that was always there watching but was something that you couldn’t get close to. Not, of course, that people hadn’t tried.

              But all those people had died.

              This knowledge burned in him, pounding in his heart alongside a breathed out “I love you all,” and he tried to keep that knowledge forefront. He tried to tell himself that he didn’t need anyone, that he didn’t want to have friends, didn’t want to have anyone he was close to. He tried to tell himself that he was okay like this, sleeping on the streets, wrapped in his uncle’s coat and a web, with just himself for company… He didn’t need anyone.

              He didn’t need anyone. He didn’t need the Spiders who had looked at him with such understanding and such… He didn’t have the words for it. He had buried the words under layers of practiced apathy to the point where he had lost them.

              The only thing he knew anymore was the burning.

              At least it kept him warm.

              The problem came in with the fact that Peter Benjamin Parker was unbelievably and holistically selfish.

              The problem came in with the fact that anytime he was forced to interact with another client more closely, he was almost always unable to stop himself from getting attached. It should have been expected, really. He dealt with the people that Owed, the people that had Nothing, the people that were as Hard-Wrung as it was possible to be. There was a certain kinship that came from working with another in a situation like that, where a person was forced to provide so much of themselves in order to dig the other out of their hole that it didn’t take long until the one trying to do the digging found themselves burying themselves in there with them.

              This had been the way with a certain Scientist and his Wife and Kid.

              Curt Connors, a brilliant man who was studying…who was studying people like him. People like Peter. With a curse and power and… Curt Connors who gave him the possibility of a cure. Of something that could get rid of this thing that was plaguing him every second of every day, something that… Peter had jumped on that before he quite knew what he was doing. Peter had jumped on the opportunity to be a help to his experiments, to see if there was a possibility that some scientific explanation, some sort of scientific cure could be found.

              In the process, Peter had gotten close to the man, had gotten close to Curt’s wife, Martha, and his son, Billy, the whole of them sweet and… So, accepting. They knew what he was, what had happened to him, and they still accepted him. They recognized the dangers and they knew the risks and still… Still. Peter had had a warm place to sleep for the first time since… He had had people that cared about him.

              Martha seemed to sense the fact that Peter had nowhere else to go, it was her that first suggested that he stay with them. Billy had clung to him in a way that Peter hadn’t expected, until Curt had laughed and called him a hero. Billy’s hero. Peter had never seen himself as a hero. Not even with the others. But it was so nice. So nice to be with these people that were so kind and so willing to help, Peter in turn doing his absolute best to help them as well.

              Peter should have known better.

              Peter should have been paying more attention to what Curt Connors really wanted. Should have paid more attention to the way that he spent time on Peter’s healing abilities, on the way that any cut no matter how large or small would eventually heal. He should have spent more time paying attention to what all it was that Connors was studying.

              They had given up on finding the origins of whatever it was that had bit him, but there had been talk of studying other known origins, other known possibilities, and…and… Fuck, Peter should have seen it coming.

              Curt Connors was disabled. A WWI vet that had had his arm blown off, he had always found it hard to provide for his family. He had always been desperate to provide for his family all the same and had worked as hard as he could. But it was hard when you only had one arm, and in a time like this, when jobs were so scarce and competition fiercer… Even Peter’s contributions weren’t enough and considering that his time there was as limited as Curt’s current project as he still wouldn’t give them his identity, it left the family still in that fearful and uncompromising limbo. They were barely scraping by, and Curt was Proud. He was Proud and he was Smart, and so…so…

              Desperate.

              Curt made a Deal. He stretched out to Something, ignoring the research, ignoring Peter, ignoring everything that they had known and…

              Reached.

              Peter only realized what he had done when he found the remains of what had been his friend standing over the mangled half-eaten corpses of Martha and Billy.

              Curt had both of his arms. Curt had none of his body, none of his mind, and none of his soul.

              Curt, who had been there for him, had helped give names to what was happening to him, and been there for him. Martha, who helped patch Peter up, who had helped feed and support her husband and son as well as Peter, someone Peter had started seeing as something like a mother. Billy, who had thought the World of Peter, had looked up to him as something like an elder brother, someone that reminded him so much of Miles… They were all dead.

              Peter really, really should have known.

              Peter had fought against the Thing-That-Had-Been-His-Friend with the only goal being to kill him. It was too late for Curt. Curt was as dead as the wife and child he had eaten, devoured in a similar way by something wholly Evil. Something that promised the World and only brought Death. Something that took advantage of the desperate and the afraid and brought only ruin.

              The battle had taken them across the city, Peter’s bullets not enough to penetrate the thing’s tough hide, and finally he was forced to get more firepower, diving into one of the speakeasies he had hidden a stash of equipment in. He had hoped it would have been enough.

              Even with the Chicago Typewriter in his hand he had known it wouldn’t be, kicking the table over as the occupants ran away screaming.

              That’s when They came.

              They came.

              Peter had stared at Them with his heart in his throat and that burning confession beating in his heart. Then he knew pain. Then he was weightless. Then he was gone.

              When Peter came back, it was to the sight of Gwen trapped in the grip of that Thing that had been his friend. The others were otherwise pinned or out-of-commission, and Peter’s agony ratcheted up as he forced himself to crawl forward, intent on his gun. There was finally a chink in the Lizard’s armor. Finally, something he could use. He picked up the revolver, holding it out with agony in his chest, in his heart, in his mind, because they were here, they were here, they were here…

              And pulled the trigger three times, the loud bursts of sound beating in his ears and drawing all attention.

              Once for Billy, once for Martha, and once for Curt himself.

              Peter collapsed before he could properly appreciate what was happening before him, and for a while he knew no more.

              Peter was drowning. He was drowning and he needed to get out, he needed to get out, get away from all of the legs, all of the eyes, from the fangs… The sudden pressure keeping him from moving was reacted to with force. He fought against the tide, fought against whatever it was that was trying to keep him down, finally managing to flip them.

              “Peter Benjamin Parker!”

              The loud and sudden shout of his name froze everything in him.

              Peter looked up, looked out, staring at this small woman that he had never seen before, a woman that… A woman that shouldn’t have known his name, shouldn’t… It took him a moment to realize why staring at her hurt his eyes. Why staring at anything hurt. It took him a longer moment to realize the person he was pinning was Peter.

              He crawled away, pressing his back against the couch, fighting down the racing of his heart, of the panic trying to claw its way out of his throat. The agony that pulled across his chest was ignored, the pain in his back, in his ribs, in his head pushed back and replaced with one singular fact.

              It was Them. It was Them. It was Them.

              Peter wasn’t supposed to be here. He wasn’t supposed to be with Them. They talked to him, told him he was safe, that they were there, that…that it was okay, their voices blending together in a stream of comfort that he had no right to. It hurt him. His fingers tightened into fists, held against his chest, following the conversation enough to recognize that a cover-story had already been created.

              They were Miles’ parents, they were in Miles’ house.

              They wanted him to take off the mask.

              Peter felt like laughing. He felt like screaming. The mask had stayed on for months, only taken off when he had to wash it, or chop his hair back and out of the way. The mask hadn’t even come off around the Connors. Then Jefferson Davis began speaking, calling him by name, introducing himself and his wife Rio Morales, the one that had stitched him up, the one who had taken care of him, and then introduced him to Miles. Peter listened to the way that he phrased that, recognizing that Miles hadn’t told them who he was, that he had convinced them that Peter had saved him and not Gwen.

              For a moment Peter remained in limbo, listening to the promises and the thanks and the assurances, and once again proved that Peter Benjamin Parker was selfish.

              Peter slowly removed his goggles. He wasn’t quite ready for the burst of color that hit him as soon as the protective eyewear was removed and counted himself lucky his vision was as poor as it was without them. If he had to deal with clear vision as well as all of the color, he thought he might go blind with shock. He couldn’t focus on anything, not just because of the blurriness but because of the smears of color that his brain didn’t understand. It wasn’t as bad as last time, the pounding of a headache didn’t follow, but it was still wildly disorienting.

              He finally pulled off the mask, baring his face to the world in a way that it hadn’t been in… He licked his dry lips, nerves and fear burning in his stomach. When they asked his age, he immediately let slip the lie that he had for as long as he’d been turned at a very early 16. The looks of disbelief were surprising, the fact that no one else had thought he was a liar burning in the back of his mind, even as he hunched, and frowned, and finally spat out the truth with an irritation that he shouldn’t really feel. From there it was easy to fall into a rhythm of quips and light responses that were easy and above all, safe.

              For a while he let himself believe it. Let himself be lulled into the idea that…that… He had missed them.

              He had missed them.

              But he loved them. He loved them and that meant that they needed to know. They needed to know what they were doing, who they were letting into their house, who they were letting around them. And above all, he needed to know. He needed to be sure…to be sure that the Thing was Dead, and that there really had been nothing more of Connors left.

              “Did he change back into a human after I shot him?” Peter asked after they didn’t respond to the initial question. His head stayed bowed, his body-language as submissive as he could keep it. He knew that he was treading on dangerous ground, could see it in the way that Peter B stiffened. The way that Miles immediately turned his attention to his father, horror in his expression. He could see it in the way that Mr. Davis’ entire body-language and expression changed.

              Mr. Davis stood up slowly, his eyes fixed and his mouth in a grim line, his shoulders rolling slightly. His feet moved farther apart, ready, his position at the moment as the tallest thing in the room gave him the most authority. The way the rest stayed crouched and didn’t do anything or say anything until he cemented that authority. It tried simultaneously to keep him less likely to react in violence, as well as to make sure they didn’t seem a threat.

              Peter didn’t want to have to hurt Mr. Davis. He knew no one else did, either.

              “When you shot him?” That simple question seemed to unlock Mr. Davis’ gaze, which flitted to Peter B and then to Miles, and then back to him. There was something like betrayal in their depths, something that let Peter know the others had fed him a story that wasn’t quite lining up with what Peter had just said. That was fine. He could still meet them in the middle in a way that kept everyone happy and kept Peter as far away from them as possible.

              “Yes sir,” Peter replied easily, overriding anything else anyone tried to say, Peter B and Gwen both opening their mouths to respond before he could. Peter kept making eye-contact, a suspicion and a thought building up in the back of his mind with the dull warning of his spider-sense as Mr. Davis kept staring. He recognized the way that the other was looking at him. Peter recognized the way his hands twitched. “I shot him three times. I was trying to kill him.”

              “You were trying to…” Mr. Davis was tense. His fingers twitched once again in a way that Peter recognized from his own fingers.

              The reach for a gun.

              “May I ask you a question, sir?” Peter asked, and slowly stood up, the carton of ‘orange’ juice in his hand, and his other balled into a fist.

              “I think I should be asking the questions,” Mr. Davis started, and Peter spoke over him.

              “If you ate your wife and your son would you want to live?” Peter asked, keeping his gaze locked with the other man’s, his jaw set.

              Mr. Davis froze. “What?” he breathed out, the fight draining out of him at the suddenness of the question. Peter noticed the way that Peter B’s expression fell, horror and grief in the look, even as the rest of the Spiders either took a step back or put their hands to their mouths. Porker’s lower jaw fell all the way down to the ground, somehow comical while still being equally disgusting. They had all put two-and-two together it seemed.

              “Would you want to live?” Peter repeated, turning his attention back to Mr. Davis, his head tilting. “Maybe you would, perhaps. I don’t know the intimate details when it comes to a relationship like that. I don’t know what anyone would really be thinking.” He let his voice trail off, knowing that there was no reason to continue.

              There was a long pause, the other man staring at him, before his eyes flickered over to his wife, Mrs. Morales, whose hand was over her mouth, shock in her expression, and then over to Miles, who was staring at Peter with wide and horrified eyes. Miles looked over to his dad then, his expression edging towards gutted the longer Mr. Davis couldn’t respond.

              “No,” Mr. Davis finally whispered, his voice guttural, almost choked. “I…I’d want to die. Is that…is that why you tried to kill him?”

              “Yes, sir,” Peter replied easily. “Though Curt Connors…the man he was, was really already dead by the time he ate them. There’s no going back once you change completely. Providing, of course, that he really didn’t change back after I shot him?” he looked to the other Spiders then. Peter B shook his head.

              “He didn’t change back, no,” Peter B confirmed, and his voice was thick with something that might have been grief. Peter idly wondered whether Peter B knew a Curt Connors and what his relation to the man was even as he nodded slowly.

              “Good,” he took a breath, sucking it deep into his lungs, and breathing out the excess tension that Curt might not have been totally gone out with it. “Now, you’re going to let me go back to my universe, and you’re never going to contact me again,” Peter said.

              “What?” came the immediate exclamation, shock and horror, and…Peter almost wanted to call it despair sounding from all of the Spiders. The hurt they were feeling was palpable, somehow visible even though he couldn’t really see all of their expressions. It was bad enough that he looked away, down at the thing wrapped around his wrist. It looked a bit like a watch, but not like any watch he had ever seen. The same watch was on every other Spider’s wrist, aside from maybe Miles, he noticed. It wasn’t hard to figure out that the watches apparently had something to do with how they had gotten there, and also why they weren’t glitching. He wondered when they slipped it on. He wondered how hard it would be to destroy it.

              “You’re going to take me back and then I’m going to destroy the goober and…” Peter started repeating blandly.              

              “No!” Peni suddenly shouted out, interrupting his train of thought. “No! You can’t say that, you can’t mean that!” There were tears in her eyes he noticed, when he looked up, heavy awful tears, her nose beginning to run as she planted her feet, hands balled in front of her and head shaking. “You can’t mean that! I worked…I worked so hard to get us all together again!” She took a step towards him, throwing her arm around to indicate all of the Spiders, “I worked so hard to bring us back together because…because we’re family! All of us! I can’t…I can’t lose you! I can’t lose any of you again! I wouldn’t be able to take it!” She hiccupped, but there was anger in her expression, her arm lashing out and wiping away her tears forcefully. “I missed you!”

              “You don’t know me,” Peter responded simply. “You don’t know what I’ve done or what I am or…”

              “You’re Peter Benjamin Parker!” Peni beltedout. “You’re seventeen-years-old, you lost your Uncle Benjamin and you were bitten by a radioactive spider! You don’t know what color is, but you love it, even if it gives you a headache!” She took a breath. “You protected me, you were willing to die for us until you realized you couldn’t, you…you saved Miles’ life! You’re a hero! You…you got up even after that…thing sliced you open, and you shot him before he could kill Miles like he killed his family! We…we know enough about you to know that you’re a good person! We knew enough about you to know that…that you would have a reason for why you shot him! It’s the reason we were willing to let Miles bring you here! We…we trusted you, and you proved us right!” she wiped her face again, fighting against more tears, taking angry steps forward.

              Peter didn’t say anything. He couldn’t say anything, everything caught up in his throat in a way that it never was. He couldn’t remember the last time someone talked to him like this. It was very obvious that Peni took this silence as a dismissal, or maybe even as a challenge. She took his free hand in both of hers, holding tight to the long white fingers that stood out in contrast to the delicate color of her own small fists.              

              “I’m not going to lose you again!” she hiccupped, still staring up at him in a way that made the tears that he could barely see before so much clearer. “You said you loved us! You said you…you loved us, and I never got to hear it.” She wiped her face, and Peter felt momentarily stunned. She hadn’t heard him. She had leapt into the portal before the words had come spilling out. “How can you love us if you want to leave us?”

              “I need to leave because I love you,” Peter found himself saying after the silence grew to be too much, after the guilt that was the last thing he really recognized as an emotion burned too brightly. “I can’t be selfish anymore. I can’t stay here with you. I can’t be the one that hurts any of you.”

              Peni’s eyes widened, shock in her expression, before her eyes narrowed, and she stared up at him. “You…you said the spider that bit you was magic…” she whispered. “Not radioactive.”

              “Yeah,” Peter replied softly.

              “You’re…you’re like the Lizard,” Peni managed, her eyes widening. “You…”

              “No!” Gwen suddenly screamed out, all attention immediately snapping to her. “No! That’s not fair, you…you can’t be! You can’t be! It’s not fair!” She was looking at Peter like she had never seen him before, and Peter couldn’t read her expression clearly, but he could see that she was almost…afraid? “But you’re not! You…you’re…human! You look human, you look…you haven’t changed!”

              “I haven’t,” Peter agreed. “But that doesn’t mean that I won’t.”

              Gwen gave a soft sound, somewhere between a gasp and a sob, her hands going up to her face, even as Peni latched onto his waist, and Miles sat on the ground, his hands over his mouth, Porker having sunk into his own half-crouch, blue eyes focused and so…sad. Peter didn’t know what to do about the one who was holding onto him so tightly. He hadn’t been held like this… His arms remained immobile in the air above her, locked in the limbo of wanting to hold her, and wanting to keep her from getting more attached.

              Why did this have to hurt so much?

              “Wait,” Mrs. Morales suddenly spoke, holding her arms out as though she was trying to calm a raging beast, her attention on everyone around her. “Wait,” she repeated softly. “I…I have some questions. I have a lot of questions. I want…I want you to answer them.” She pointed to Peter. “I want you to answer them and tell me precisely why the one who saved my son thinks that he’s going to become some sort of monster. Did you make a deal?”

              “No,” Peter replied softly. “I didn’t.”

              “Then…why?” she asked, and Peni backed away at the statement. Peter’s heart lurched at the sudden lack of contact, missing her warmth immediately. “Why did you get your powers? If…it wasn’t because you made a deal, why would you change?”

              Peter stared at her for a moment, biting at his lip.

              “What’s your hardcore origin story?” Miles asked suddenly, staring at him, and Peter blinked.

              “Miles,” Mrs. Morales hissed, but Peter found his lips twisting into a semblance of a smile. He remembered murmuring that when Miles began talking about his Uncle being a supervillain. His poor Uncle. “No puedes decirle algo así a alguien! Discúlpate ahora mismo, jovencito!”

              “It’s okay, Mrs. Morales,” Peter said. “I don’t mind.”

              “Rio,” she stressed, turning her attention back to him. “I…want you to call me Rio. And please, drink that juice! You’ve been holding it for so long!”

              Peter blinked, before looking at the juice in his hand. “Oh. I forgot I had it.”

              “Can’t you tell when you’re holding something?” Mr. Davis asked, the first thing he had voiced in a while, exhaustion filtering through the tone. Peter held his hand up, revealing the fact that he wasn’t really holding it, more his fingers were sticking to it.

              “I don’t notice after a while.”

              “…” Mr. Davis stared at that for a moment before shrugging. “Alright. Hardcore origin story, what is it.” His expression was still vaguely challenging, his eyes still fixed as though they could pin Peter to a wall. Or arrest him. Peter almost sneered.

              “Jeff!” Rio snapped, and smacked him on his shoulder.

              Peter gave another slight smile, before sighing and finally bringing the orange juice carton to his lips and chugging it down. It was a weird mixture of sweet and fragrant, something he wasn’t at all used to. It almost got stuck at one point, a cloying sweetness, but he forced it down. He wasn’t about to hack up free anything. He finished it finally, wiping the back of his mouth with his other hand, catching the stray beads of orange juice he had missed and licking them back up before he could truly appreciate their bright color against his white skin. Waste nothing, want nothing.

              “We…have napkins, dear?” Rio put out softly. The endearment struck him in the heart, and Peter hunched.

              “Sorry, I…”

              “Great Depression, it’s fine,” Peter B interrupted immediately. “Totally get the habit. Sit, please.” Peter B gestured to the couch and Peter sank into it, watching as the rest sat around him, their eyes intent. He should really be leaving. He knew that the longer he stayed the harder it would be…

              God, Peter wished he wasn’t so selfish.

              “You…you said you lost your Uncle Benjamin?” Porker asked softly, eyes narrowed slightly.

              Oh. They were going for the big traumas. That was okay.

              “I did,” Peter responded easily, almost softly.

              “Did you live with them?” Peni asked. “Were your…are your parents dead, too?”

              “Dead and buried,” Peter responded. “Considering how they went…I should have known that my uncle was…or my aunt…” His fingers fisted and he suddenly found himself cold. He reached out and Peter B almost immediately handed his Uncle’s coat to him, wrapping himself in it and feeling in the pocket. After a moment of searching he pulled out his thrice-broken, barely-held-together-with-tape, round, wire-framed glasses, and slipped them on. He fought against the familiar stabbing in his skull for a moment as he stared out at them all, taking in the surprise in some of their faces, the shock in others.

              They all had such color to them. Colors he couldn’t name, but wanted to, painting them all such interesting shades, so different, but so beautiful all at the same time. He loved it, the way they contrasted and complimented each other. The different shades of hair, of eye-color, even the way their skin changed. Smatterings of darker colors on light. Beautiful.

              And yet it still gave him a headache.

              “This isn’t pretty,” Peter whispered. “The only two constants in my life have been death and hunger. I didn’t want to…because it’s…”

              “I’m sure we can take it,” Peni said, her eyebrows pinched. “It’s you. We…care about you.”

              “If it’s too much…” Peter whispered.

              “We’ll get you to stop,” Mr. Davis said, and Peter focused on him. Would he really.

              “I grew up in Hooverville,” Peter finally said, biting the word out through his teeth. “When my parents were killed my aunt and uncle took me in.”

              “Killed?” Peter B asked, his eyebrows pinched together.

              “Murdered, maybe,” Peter shrugged. “I don’t know what you call it when a bunch of coppers were the ones that killed them.”

              Mr. Davis jolted in the way that Peter had expected, Miles jerking his head in his father’s direction in a way that Peter had also expected. The horror immediately covered up by suspicion was also expected, and Peter had to force himself once again not to sneer.

              “Why did they shoot them?”

              “No good reason,” Peter responded easily, leaning back. “Unless you count the peaceful organization of a Strike a good reason.”

              “But…” Mr. Davis started, leaning forward, eyes wide, that suspicion fading back to horror. “They can’t do that, that’s not…that’s not what the police are about?”

              “Protect and Serve, right?” Peter asked, and when Mr. Davis nodded, Peter’s mouth twisted into another painful smile. “Well, the only thing they protect and serve where I’m from are the ones with the money.” He laughed, an ugly thing that he almost immediately tried to choke down. “The one’s who’ve got the money are the ones that need to be striked, and the ones with the money are the ones that pay the cops, and the…” He took a breath.

              “My aunt and uncle were the same way,” he continued when no one else said a word, Mr. Davis looking distinctly upset, that horror he had originally seen the only thing left in his expression. “Always protesting, always championing some little thing. My uncle…he always used to say that ‘If there is too much power, then it is the responsibility of the people to take it away,’ and boy, did he try.” He let out another laugh and this one he couldn’t bite back. “He tried-he tried right up until the Goblin had him-he had him eaten alive!” He managed to bite out between cackles, his fingers balling into tight fists. “I was the one who found the body. He just left him in the middle of the room. Left him there to gather flies and…” he cut himself off physically, biting down into his tongue.

              That was enough.

              “Dios mío,” Rio whispered, her hands flying over her mouth. The rest had similar reactions, hands over mouths, skin turning lighter in some cases as the blood rushed away from faces. Peter Porker had turned a sickly color, but it was Peter B that stumbled to his feet and left the room. There was the faint sound of retching coming from the bathroom a short while later, and when Peter B finally returned after the sink had been run, he had an odd gray cast to his skin, his face and hair damp.

              “He had him eaten?” Mr. Davis managed, voice soft and hard all at once, a mixture of something like horror and disgust in his face.

              “I thought it was dogs at first,” Peter said softly. “It turned out later to have been a man.” Peter B looked like he wasn’t going to be the only one to get sick. Horror and disgust and… All things that Peter had seen before. All things that he had felt before. He was so tired. “But I think that’s what gave me the final incentive to realize that it didn’t matter what the fuck any of us did, unless something happened to them, to the people with the dough, and the coppers, and the convincers…nothing was going to change. And I wanted to be the one that did something about it. But I had no idea how. Until I met Ben Urich.” He sighed. “I’m not going to bore you with this part. Long story short, he became my mentor, until I realized he was taking money from the very same people that he was professing to hate. But I didn’t learn that in time. And I also didn’t learn it quick enough to stay the hell away from one of his operations. I walked right smack dab into the middle of it. And it bit me."

              “What happened?” Gwen asked, staring at him, her eyes wide, eyebrows pinched. He could see the tear-tracks now that his glasses were on, see the desperation and the fear mixed with such deep weariness…

              “Group of men working for the Goblin were bringing in an art piece. Never seen the like before or since. Some kind of tribal thing, but they never mentioned who, or where, or what. All I know is that one of the men dropped it and it broke and…spiders came out.” Peter’s voice hushed involuntarily, his fingers balled into fists, thinking back to that moment, the moment where hundreds of legs, hundreds of eyes, hundreds of fangs swarmed up the man who had been carrying the end of the crate, all of them biting and ripping and… “They ate him alive, screaming for help that couldn’t be given, and that’s when I noticed the spider on me.” He grinned, looking at the back of his hand.

              “I couldn’t scream,” he continued softly, “they’d hear me, even over his screaming, and I couldn’t shake him off, I’d climbed onto a rafter, and if I moved suddenly, I’d fall… That’s when it bit me, and it was the most excruciating pain I have ever felt in my life. I may have screamed, I don’t know. All I know is one minute I was in that warehouse and the next… I was in a web.” He rubbed at his face, pushing his glasses up, exhaustion settling over him. “I don’t know how to explain what I saw, not exactly. Just that I wasn’t alone. It was there with me.”

              “What…what was there?” Peni asked softly.

              “It. The God of Spiders, or…Spider-God, or…I don’t know what it is. I don’t know who it is. We tried to research it, Connors and I, which is…which is how I knew him, but we couldn’t find anything. No texts exist that detail what exactly it is, all I know is that spider bit me, and then it was there, and I…I definitely screamed then.” Peter kept his hands over his face, leaning back slightly. “‘Why do you tremble, little man,’ it asked me. ‘My bite brings death only to those of evil intent…’” he whispered the words out, forcing them out through gritted teeth, not even trying to mimic the words that had been spoken in such a way that they tore into his mind, his heart, his ears, his everything. Driven into his very soul like nails across a chalkboard. “‘I will bestow on you a greater torment… The Curse of Power’ it said, and it did. I woke up and I was cocooned in webbing. It was the most frightening experiences of my life, but I had power and I could help.” He took a breath. “I should have been paying more attention.”

              “It’s a curse…” Rio whispered. “It cursed you.”

              “Worse, it follows me, and I can’t…I can’t let it hurt you. You have to let me go.”

Chapter Text

            Pete acted a bit how Jefferson had always expected Spider-Man to act. A bit twitchy with thinly-veiled disrespect hovering just below the surface, as well as a general feeling of superiority. Pete certainly looked at him with a level of dislike that Jefferson felt he hadn’t warranted.

            Until Pete mentioned shooting someone.

            His Peter Parker had never killed a man. It was one of the things that had separated him from the other vigilantes out there, the ones that thought they could take the law into their own hands, could kill who they wanted without consequence. It was one of the few things that Jefferson had liked about him. To have Pete so callously proclaim that he had been trying to kill someone…

            This was something that Jefferson had always been afraid of. This was something that Jefferson had always had in the back of his mind as a possible situation, and it was one that he could never find an answer to.

            When it came right down to it, Spider-Man was dangerous.

            Spider-Man was a chatter-box, and a charmer, and he had seemed to be a good man, but there was no denying the fact that Spider-Man was able to go toe-to-toe with people and things that the cops couldn’t. The idea of Spider-Man crossing that line, of Jefferson being forced to send his men into a situation where they would have to try and take him down… It had scared Jefferson. It had scared him badly. Now, he was looking at a Spider-Man that had crossed that line.

            A Spider-Man that was seventeen, so thin he looked sick, white as a ghost, and covered in bandages.

            A Spider-Man that was in his home, that was around his family.

            A Spider-Man the others had brought here.

            They had known what he had done, and they had still deliberately put his family in danger. That was when he pressed further, and Pete asked him a question.

            “If you ate your wife and your son would you want to live?”

            Jefferson had frozen. It was like his entire body turned to ice, his heart lurching in his chest as he pictured…

            Miles had called it a creature, a monstrous thing that had come at him out of the darkness with the singular intent to murder him. What if that had been him. What if that had been… Jefferson looked at his wife, taking in the way her hands were over her mouth, the horror and the upset in her eyes, and then looked to Miles. Miles, who was staring at him as though he had never seen his own dad before, who was so horrified, who had…who had been the one that the other had saved.

            Jefferson wondered about the timeline a little, wondered if the man had managed to drag himself across the ground to put three bullets in the thing, to put it down for good after taking the original blow meant for Miles and the rest couldn’t put it down in time. Jefferson wondered if Pete knew the man that he had killed.

            But he didn’t wonder about his answer. Jefferson knew the answer beating in his heart the same way he knew his own name, intimately and without question.

            “No,” Jefferson Davis finally whispered, forcing the word out around the painful lump lodged in his throat. “I…I’d want to die. Is that…is that why you tried to kill him?”

            Pete not only confirmed that was why he had killed him, he basically confirmed that he had been friends with him. That the man was technically already dead. The relief that he showed when Parker confirmed that the man, Curt Connors, really hadn’t changed back into a human, further cemented the idea that the man…the kid before him…

            The kid. The seventeen-year-old. The boy had killed the shell of a man after he committed the unthinkable to his own wife and child.

            God. Pete had killed his friend because it was the only thing he could do for him. And from there it was just an almost unending spiral of pain.

            Pete kept talking, and Jefferson kept listening, interjecting at points where he wanted clarification, where he felt he had to understand, when his bias towards Spider-Man and the things that he did poked its way through in a way that he felt he needed a drink and a long period of self-reflection to understand… And then Pete began discussing his aunt, and then…and then he talked about the ultimate fate of his uncle. Jefferson wanted to vomit. Peter B actually did.

            From there it somehow managed to spiral further into a description that could have come out of a horror movie, and finally finished with one simple, utterly painful fact:

            “Worse, it follows me, and I can’t…I can’t let it hurt you. You have to let me go.”

            Pete was seventeen and he killed his friend after they became something else and killed their own wife and kid. He was seventeen and he had had his parents killed by the cops. He was seventeen and he had found his own cannibalized uncle. He was seventeen and, according to him, he had something following him after it granted him power. He was seventeen and he was pushing everyone away in order to keep them safe.

            Jefferson didn’t know what he was going to do. He didn’t know what he could do.

            God help him, what was he going to do?

…………………………….

            Gwen had stopped breathing sometime between Peter’s confession and the sight of him staring out at them, waiting for them to let him leave.

            Gwen knew that face. She knew that face. That guilt mixed with such an aching regret that it punched her in the chest. A look that claimed that what had happened was his fault, even though he hadn’t done anything wrong.

            She had seen it on her own Peter often enough, but it was the last time that she had seen it that was seared into her memory. He had looked like that when Gwen had…when she had killed him. He had stared at her with that exact same crease between his eyebrows, that exact same twist of his mouth, that exact same layer of apology dancing in his eyes. It didn’t matter that those eyes were gray and not brown, in fact…it somehow made it worse.

            It was like seeing a ghost. A ghost that had come back to haunt her for what she had done. The only thing was…

            Something was haunting him, and while Gwen hadn’t encountered anything like this before in her own world, she had no doubt that Peter wasn’t lying. She could see it in his movements, read it in his face, could see it in the way that he stared at them, the fear that was under the surface. Gwen would do whatever it took to save him from that, to save him from something in his life, because everything else that had happened to him was so… God. Gwen wanted to vomit. Gwen wanted to scream, to cry, to fight everything that had ever hurt Peter, that threatened to turn him into a monster.

            He didn’t deserve it.

            Not like she did.

………………………….

            Miles was in shock. His hand hadn’t left his mouth the entire time Pete had been talking, at first a product of horror, and then an attempt to keep himself from vomiting. Pete had seemed so callous when Miles had come to them, spoken of the fact that his uncle was a Supervillain, was trying to kill him, with something like a quip, ‘hardcore origin story,’ but now…after this?

            God, Pete must have thought he was pathetic. He must have seen the way Miles was behaving and thought that he was so weak. Pete must have listened and watched what had happened to him and just thought that… Miles thought of walking into a room and seeing his uncle torn to pieces, eaten alive. Miles had already seen his uncle with a bullet through him, had seen him bleed out in a puddle with a hand wrapped around his as his uncle told him that he had failed Miles.

            Miles had seen Peter Parker with his defiance and his bravery stare up into the face of his own death, and the result of what happened when Fisk pounded down on a human torso.

            Miles imagined that body, that broken, bloody, shattered body in the place of his uncle and he almost followed Peter B to the bathroom. Then, to compound that, the image of his dad turning into something like the thing that almost killed him, that almost killed them had been burned into his brain, taking Curt Connors, that man that had killed his family, ate them alive, and put his father in his place. Miles knew that it wouldn’t happen. He knew that his dad would kill himself before he so much as touched them, but the image had been planted in his head with the question Pete had asked.

            Miles really was weak.

            Miles was so weak that he couldn’t say anything when Pete told them that he was being followed, that he didn’t want to hurt them. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair. They’d all lost so much already, this felt like a punch to the gut, robbing him of air and of the ability to talk.

            Miles found that he was crying.

            He still didn’t say anything.

………………………………..

 

            Peni had never heard of the things that Pete was describing. Her world was so grounded in science, in technology, that the idea of these things that Pete was describing were so unnatural, so…foreign, that she almost couldn’t wrap her mind around them. Turning into something else, not because of science, or radiation, but because of…because of a magic spider? It seemed so silly, juvenile almost, but she didn’t have to look farther than Pete himself to know that it was true. It was painfully and honestly true.

            Peter Porker was a pig. An anthropomorphic pig who walked and talked and pulled clothing and a wooden mallet out of nothing.

            Peter Benjamin Parker was a man who had been bit by a Spider-God and was followed by tragedy and loss. Peni had lost her own father when she was nine. She hadn’t seen the body. She had been kept away from it, for the simple reason that it was shattered so badly that Aunt May and Uncle Benjamin had both refused to let her see it.

            It hadn’t been much time after she gained control of the mech that she saw her first dead body. Crushed under a girder, the mangled form of someone so torn up she hadn’t been able to tell if they presented male or female, had stared up at her with a single remaining eyeball. She had wondered if that was what her father had looked like, put him in its place, and then vomited all over the inside of the mech.

            It had taken a long time to clean, partly because she didn’t want to get back into the mech, and partly because the sight of it just reminded her of why she had vomited.

             Peni watched the man who didn’t seem to realize just what kind of bomb he had dropped on them all, the complete lack of emotion that he had facing their silence and wondered just what it took to be that in control. Peni wondered if she would ever be able to do the same thing.

            Peni wondered if she would ever want to.

………………………………

            Peter Porker had been turned into a pig and the idea of radical shapeshifting or unseen creatures following someone was accepted without thought or comment.

            Porker had been a spider, first, and a pig second, and that was how it had always been. Porker had lost the ability to make his own webbing, something that had pained him at first until he had managed to create a new way of doing so and he’d felt almost whole for the first time in ages. The fact that the other man could produce his own webbing, that if Porker looked, he could see the spinnerets on those white-as-a-ghost wrists had been shocking to him at first.  

            A part of him had wanted to call it unfair, but now, listening to Pete talk, he decided that he could keep the webbing. There was a level of trauma involved with gaining the damn things that Porker honestly couldn’t even call worth it, and it had literally left him feeling gutted.

            This kid needed a damn hug already. All of these people needed one, and a joke while he was at it, something funny, something to break the tension and ease them out of the weight that seemed to have fallen on them all.

             Porker didn’t know how he felt about the inability to move, the inability to think of one single joke, of anything to say that could possibly, in some way, make any of this better, make it bearable.

            Porker honestly didn’t think that hugging the kid right now would be welcome, but he made a note to get him to laugh, and to hug him tighter than anyone ever had at the soonest opportunity. If Pete honestly thought that he was going to be able to leave, to break the Goober and never come back, he’d have another thing coming.

            Porker wouldn’t let it happen. Pete’d gone through too much pain already, it was time for something to change, and Porker swore that he’d find a way to do it. He owed it to Pete, and he owed it to himself.

            He wasn’t the best in the business for nothing.

…………………….

            Rio Morales was a wife and mother first, and a nurse second.

            She listened to Pete talk with her hand over her mouth and tears in her eyes and a strong desire to take this child into her arms and sign the fucking adoption papers already. Rio had noticed the way that he talked about his aunt and uncle. She had noticed the past-tense usage, just as she had noticed the way they were likely lying about some of the facts they had presented in how Miles had found them. Though the lies may have simply been circling around the fact that Pete had killed something.

            Rio did not care that they were lying, not really. She did, but it was an afterthought, hidden behind one simple fact.

            Rio only cared about the fact that there was a boy standing in her living room with the pure and honest belief that he was a monster. Not only that, this child believed that in order to keep them safe he had to push them away. Pete stood there with his feet planted and his eyes so sure, and his mouth drawn so tightly, and Rio just wanted to hold him.

No child deserved to feel like that, she didn’t care how true it might be. She didn’t care what might actually be following that boy. No one deserved to be alone in the way he was attempting. No child deserved to feel like he was a monster. Not even the ones that made mistakes.

            Not even the ones that killed a man that would have wanted to be dead to begin with.

…………………………………

            Peter B’s mouth still tasted of bile.

            He’d washed it out twice, staring at the mirror for as long as he dared, taking in brown eyes and damp hair, and… God. Everyone always said he had looked like Uncle Ben. There were times when he looked at his reflection, especially during times like this, and the likeness was so much it almost physically hurt.

            His uncle had been Peter B’s age when he had been killed. It hurt to know that should he make it to another birthday he would be older than his uncle ever was. Peter B took a breath, gripping the sink and fighting against the pit that threatened to open up inside his stomach. Every universe, it seemed, Uncle Ben had to die, but he had never before thought to hope that it was always with the same bullet. He had never thought to hope that he would never be eaten alive.

            Peter B stared at himself in the mirror a little longer, finding that it wasn’t hard to picture himself in his uncle’s place, and almost vomited again. He took a moment more to gather himself up, to compartmentalize everything into their proper places, and finally walking back to the room to hear the rest of Pete’s story. At Pete’s insistence that he had to leave, Peter B felt his stomach clench, but he fought it down. Now wasn’t the time for sickness, for weakness.

            Now was the time for doing something, for proving that Pete was wrong, that he deserved to be with them, that… Wait…

            Wait.  

            “Why did Connors turn into a Lizard?” Peter B asked, his voice strong, and probably a bit too challenging, judging by the way Pete’s attention snapped to him. Those gray eyes stared into his with something like confusion, finally darkening to a look that screamed at him to drop it.

            Peter B wasn’t very good at doing what he was told.

            “What?” Pete asked, and he somehow managed to bare every single one of his teeth in a look that practically screamed ‘don’t touch it’. That was impressive, honestly. It wasn’t like…that threatening, not really, the fact that Pete obviously didn’t want to hurt any of them was practically screaming from the other man, but that was still a lot of teeth. Peter B honestly didn’t know if he’d ever managed to do that.

            Maybe when dealing with Wade?

            Peter B shook off the rambling thoughts that tittered together when he was nervous and refocused on the question that burned brighter than all the others.

            “Why didn’t Curt turn into a spider?” Peter B asked, and he kept his eyes locked on the younger man. Pete ducked his chin lower, but his eyes kept their fiery gaze. “Pete. You got bit by a Spider God. A Spider God is the thing that’s following you, right? So, shouldn’t Curt have turned into a Spider? If…the same thing that happened to you happened to him, why did he turn into a Lizard?”

            “Leave it,” Pete hissed. “It doesn’t matter.”

            “No, I think it does. Because he turned into a lizard and that means that whatever has you doesn’t have him,” Peter B pointed at him, his voice gaining certainty the more he talked. “You said it happened because a spider bit you, right? They ate someone else, but it bit you. Have there been others with your power-set in your world?” Peter B watched as Pete hunched further, his eyes flickering back and forth between his own, his hands balling into fists. “No, no, I know there aren’t any because it grabbed all the Spider-People. If there was another one that had our skill-set they would have been brought into this universe when you were, so obviously it can’t get any of us. It might follow you, but it isn’t going to harm us. It didn’t harm Curt, obviously, so it’s…”

            “It can hurt you through me!” Pete finally shouted back, and the fury and the sadness and the pain was suddenly visible in every twist of his mouth, every gesture of his hands. “That’s how it always goes with everyone who gains this kind of power! It’s a trade, it’s always a trade, power for your soul, power for control, and it has me, and eventually it’s going to take me! It’s why I keep the gun loaded and why I keep it with me, so I can blow my own fucking head off before it takes me fully! You have to let me go because my life is a short-fucking-story with a sad-fucking-ending, and I can’t drag you down with me!”

            Peter B didn’t know how to react. The thought of killing himself had cropped up once or twice during his depressive episodes. During the moments when he lost Uncle Ben, Aunt May, lost Mary-Jane, lost everything… But he had always stopped. He’d never been able to follow through, too stuck on a phrase that burned in his head and in his heart and in his very soul by this point. Peter B had a responsibility, and the one before him had a similar responsibility, but the implications

            Pete had never been taught to be responsible with his power, Pete had been taught that the ones that couldn’t be responsible with their power must be removed. Pete had then been put into the terrible, gutting realization that he was the one with the power. Pete was the one that he would eventually need to stop, even if that meant his own death.  

            The silence stretched out long between them all, horror and fear reflected from all of them in varying degrees, and then Peni broke it with a sob. Pete froze, looking to her, and then his eyes flickered over to Miles, who Peter B noticed had both of his hands pressed over his mouth, silent tears leaking down from his eyes, and finally to Gwen. Gwen who didn’t move, her eyes wide and horrified, her own tears trickling.

            Peter B was suddenly struck with how young all of them were, and his heart gave a painful lurch in his chest. He hadn’t signed up for this. How the hell had he gotten four kids? He hadn’t even wanted one!

            Peni gave another sob, and Peter B found himself bundling her up in his arms before he could even think of what he was doing. He rested her on his hip, feeling as she buried her face into his neck, tears and snot dampening his shirt as her thin arms wrapped around him tightly, and he returned his gaze to Pete, but found he couldn’t think of anything to say. He couldn’t even find it in himself to be angry. The only thing he felt was hurt.

            “Oh, kiddo…” Porker said softly, so softly, taking a step towards Pete, and Peter B was suddenly so grateful that he wasn’t completely alone in this. “That’s not the thing to do. We love you, too, Pete. We’d…it’d hurt us if you did that. We’d miss you.”

            “I’d hurt you if I didn’t, it always goes the same way.” Pete replied stubbornly, his head tilted up slightly, jaw stubbornly set. “The Lizard wasn’t the first. He won’t even be the last, we researched this, I know this, I shouldn’t have come here, I should have told you before. I can’t love you. You can’t love me. I can’t…”

            “Little too late for that, Pete,” Peter B finally said softly, finding his voice again. “It’s actually entirely too late for that. Look. I get that you’ve been researching this, I do. But…there’s a lot of us, and some of us have made ways to physically get into another universe without glitching.” He bobbed Peni gently as he spoke, and she clung to him tighter, but he could feel when her head lifted, staring at Pete directly. “Maybe we can help. You should…you should have mentioned this earlier, I agree, and I get that seeing the Lizard and what it did reminded you of what’s actually happening to you, but… How long have you been like this?”

            “A little over a year,” Pete responded, his voice rough, but the fight was bleeding from him. His skin looked as though it was actually paler than it had been, exhaustion setting in.

            “You’re still you, though, right? And you haven’t been twisted too much. You still try and…you still try and help people. You aren’t a monster, Pete,” Porker said gently.

            “I don’t think you could ever be one,” Peter B added, to Porker’s firm nod. “I think you’re scared, and I think you’re lashing out, but I don’t think that you’re thinking this over very clearly. Maybe for obvious reasons…”

            “I don’t want you to die,” Miles’ voice suddenly choked out, the first words he’d said, and all attention turned towards him. His eyes were wide, tears sliding down his face steadily, and his hand still firmly pressed to his mouth. He had curled into a ball, staring up at Pete with those eyes, and Pete in turn made a small noise. Jefferson picked his son up without hesitation in much the same way Peter B had picked up Peni, and Miles curled into him on reflex. His dad’s large hand pressed against his son’s back, Rio moving to put her own hand against her son’s shoulder as Miles gave another soft, “I don’t want you to die,” from his position pressed to his father’s chest.

            His father that was staring at Pete with eyes somewhere between horrified and downright angry.

            Pete stared at him with his gray eyes and seemed to further crumple in on himself, “I don’t want to die,” Pete finally replied softly, and Jefferson’s eyes softened. “But that’s the only outcome. If I do lose control, if I hurt anyone because I can’t control myself and what I’m doing…I’d want to die,” he admitted softly, and his voice hesitated for the first time, a slight tremble in the words that he swallowed down a moment later. “I’d want to die, because the idea of doing that, of hurting the people I love, well, that’s just a thought that I can’t take, and I know that that’s what would happen.”

            Gwen gave a soft sob then, her mouth open, and her hands over her face. Porker tugged her down gently and wrapped his arms around her tightly when she finally sat down next to him. Gwen pressed into him, shivering slightly, and finally Porker turned to Pete.

            “You ain’t a monster yet,” Porker frowned up at him. “There’s no use thinking of what might,”

            “Will,”

            “MIGHT! Happen later,” Porker snapped. “You’ve been like this for a little over a year, how long does it take the usual person to hurt their family?”

            Pete paused, shifting slightly. “Two…”

            “Two what? Months? Years?”

            “Weeks,” Pete whispered finally, softly, his fingers balling into fists.

            “You made it for more than a year, bucko. A year! When the minimum is two weeks?” Porker shook his head. “I’m not going to say you’re overreacting because I haven’t seen what you have, but kiddo… You’re probably going to be fine and we’ll figure it out if you’re not. Don’t write us off just yet, we’re Spider-Men, or Woman, or SP//dr. Saving people is what we do and it’s what you should work on, too, not planning ways to off yourself. We can do this. Let us try. Maybe the thing that got you isn’t the same as what got everything else. Maybe we can find something.”

            “You said you don’t want to die, kiddo. Maybe your life doesn’t have to be as short as you think it does,” Peter B added.

            Pete didn’t say anything for a moment, he just stood there, staring at them all through his broken glasses. His shoulders had hunched further up into his ears, and his mouth was slowly pulling down at the corners.

            “I can’t do this again,” Pete whispered finally, so softly, his voice barely audible. “I can’t.”

            “What can’t you do, kiddo?” Porker asked gently.

            “I can’t keep hoping,” Pete responded, his mouth twisting. “I can’t…I can’t do it. It hurts too much. I…I’m just so tired. I can’t. I can’t lose anything else. I can’t hurt anything else. I just…I just want to go home. Please. Just let me go.”

            Peter B found himself in the terribly awkward position of holding one kid and wanting to hold another. He froze for a moment, his arms full of Peni, and then Rio gave Miles a kiss, and a brief whisper in his ear, before walking over to Pete. Jefferson made a sound, taking a step forward, but faltered. Jefferson was watching Pete with something similar on his face, and Peter B came to realize that there were a couple of allies in this that he hadn’t initially expected.

            “Puedo darte un abrazo?” Rio asked Pete softly, and Pete frowned slightly, before finally shaking his head.

            “I’m sorry my…my Spanish isn’t that good yet, what’s un abrazo?” he asked.

            And if that didn’t sum up Pete’s entire problem, Peter B didn’t know what else would.

            “A hug, sweetie, can I give you a hug?” Rio asked, and Pete tilted back slightly, not sure what to say, what to do, those gray eyes staring at her in a mixture of shock and something like worry. “Oh, sweetie, you’re not going to hurt me. Please, let me hug you.” Rio hushed him gently, looking up into his eyes calmly.

            Finally, jerkily Pete gave a nod, and Rio pulled him into her. She held him tightly, her hand guiding his head down to rest on her shoulder, running her fingers through his hair. He didn’t hold her, but he seemed to lean into her, his eyes closing behind those busted glasses, unmoving. Rio pet her hand through his hair a few times, hushing him softly in Spanish. It took Peter B a moment to realize that Pete was trembling.

            “You can cry, sweetie,” Rio assured him softly when Pete didn’t move, but didn’t try and push her away either, that trembling turning more visible the longer she stroked his hair. “It’s okay to cry…” Pete shook his head but didn’t make any other movement. “Okay, okay, you don’t have to cry…but you can’t leave, sweetie.”

            “I have to…” Pete whispered.

            “No. What you have to do is let us try,” Rio said softly. “You can do it, Peter Benjamin Parker. Just try, one more time. Please. Just trust us enough to try.”

            Pete said nothing for a moment, his eyes still closed and his mouth in that thin line.

            “It’s a leap of faith,” Miles said quietly, and Pete looked up at him at that, eyes round behind his glasses. A moment later and he crumbled slightly, and two shaky arms reached up, wrapping their way around Rio, who instantly seemed to hug him tighter, a proud smile spreading across her face.

            Peter B wondered how many leaps the other had taken, how many jumps which had ended with him face down in the dirt, broken and crumpled. But as Peter B watched Pete, he knew that one thing was very certain.

            “Okay,” Pete whispered. “Okay. I’ll try.”

            They always got back up.

Chapter Text

            It had felt like being gutted.

Peter had opened his mouth and things that he had never told another soul had come tumbling out. The pain, the fear, the death. Quick and hushed, admitting things that he had never wanted to admit, all in hopes of getting them to let him go. It had backfired in a way that Peter had never expected.

            It wasn’t meant to get them to…to cry, to want to…to want to hold him, and yet…and yet here he was. The bloody mangled coat was still wrapped around his shoulders, and Rio hadn’t cared. She hugged him past it, ignoring the smell that must come from it, from him. Blood and sweat and that sour smell of pain. He wondered idly if she was used to it, what with being a nurse. In the end, the only thing on his mind was one simple fact:

            Peter hadn’t been held like this in years. He hadn’t held anyone like this in years.

             Even before he had cut ties with his old life and hid from the world he had known, Aunt May had never been a touchy-feely kind of woman. She wasn’t exactly hard but there was a certain distance that she had always held between them. She had held him the night Peter had found Uncle Ben, the two of them clinging to each other as though they were the only thing the other had left. They were in a way, but that still didn’t change the fact that he hadn’t felt another person’s arms wrapped around him like this in so long he had forgotten how it felt.

            He had forgotten the warmth, that odd feeling in his chest that burned in a way that he wasn’t familiar with. He felt like he was drowning again, but…almost in a good way, surrounded, and almost safe. It didn’t matter that it made his ribs and spine ache with the pressure, though Rio’s hold on him was deceptively gentle.

That almost made it worse.

            Peter didn’t think he would ever find another way to starve, but it seemed that he had actually been starving for longer than he had realized, in a way that he had never even anticipated.

Who heard of starving for touch of all things?

When Rio finally began to draw back, Peter felt the terrible impulse to hug her tighter to him, to not let go, but he forced himself to, keeping his chin down, his eyes on the ground. Warm hands on his shoulders drew his attention up to Rio’s face, to the soft smile spreading across warm skin, her dark eyebrows pinched up on her forehead, eyes of a shade he didn’t know but wanted to, stared into his own with such a tenderness that he felt small.

            “Peter,” she started softly, “I’m so proud of you. Thank you for agreeing to try, I know it can’t be easy, but you’re trying.” Peter felt as though he had been punched in the chest. He gave a small nod, still hunched up and quiet. “I want to talk to my husband and Miles for a moment,” she said, addressing the rest of the room. “You’re all still welcome to stay, that’s not what this is about. But I want a moment. There’s things we need to discuss.”

            “If you don’t want us to hear I’d recommend talking in the farthest room with some music on,” Peter B said, shifting Peni in his arms. “Got better than usual hearing. It came with the other powers.”

            “Thank you for the heads up,” Mr. Davis sighed, taking his wife under his free arm as she came up to him, and holding her close to him as the three of them turned. Miles remained pressed into his father’s hold, and the small family walked away. As they walked, Miles remained looking back at Peter with eyes that seemed afraid that should he blink, Peter would run away. Peter tried to infuse his determination to stay into his expression, knew he probably failed, and instead found himself looking at the ground again.

            For a moment there was silence, and then Peter came to realize that someone was standing at the edge of his vision. He looked up a little, meeting eyes with Porker, who had brought Gwen with him. His gaze lifted a little more and found Peter B still holding Peni standing next to them. He didn’t say anything for a moment, not sure what he could say. What did you say in a situation like this? Peter didn’t know and he wasn’t sure what he could do, either. He didn’t want to say anything.

            It hadn’t been working out for him lately.

            Peter B sighed, and then shifting Peni to hold her more securely with one arm, he spread his other arm out, an open invitation. Peni held out her own arm afterwards, Gwen followed by opening hers, and then Porker spreading his arms as wide as they could go.

            Peter blinked, for a moment not able to bring himself to move, when Porker gave a soft snort.

            “Come on, kid, my arms are getting tired,” he said softly.

            “Your arms are getting tired,” Peter B said, rolling his eyes so hard it moved his entire head. “I’m holding a whole kid over here,” he winked at Peni and Peni gave a brief laugh.

            “Yeah, like she’s so heavy,” Porker responded, rolling his eyes just as aggressively as Peter B.

            “You calling me fat, pig?” Peni shot back.

            “Now that’s just offensive!” Porker exclaimed, before turning back to Peter after the sound of Peni’s giggling bubbled out. “You might as well bring it in, Pete, we ain’t moving anytime soon. Embrace your fate.”

            The series of groans and chuckles that followed that comment were barely acknowledged as Peter remained staring at the group of them, all of them waiting, all of them with open arms. Peter didn’t like the idea of touching them, even with the fact that he caved to Rio hovering over his conscious. It still felt like a failure, like an admission of weakness, like… Like he was contaminating them, marking them for death, or loss, or pain.

            But Peter Benjamin Parker was selfish.

            He took that slow shuffling step forward, and that was all the invitation that Peter B apparently needed in order to reach out and pull him close. Peni was next due to proximity, sandwiching him in-between the two, followed by Gwen, and then Porker, who leapt up enough to be able to squeeze in-between Gwen and Peni and wrap his arms around Peter’s shoulders.

            They weren’t anywhere near as gentle as Rio had been, their arms pressed into him, around him, digging in and making pain bloom along and around his chest, his spine, aching in his skull, but Peter welcomed that as much as the sentiment of the hug itself. Peter closed his eyes, feeling the warmth that pressed against him from all sides, trying to memorize how it felt, the feeling of belonging that pulsed alongside the pain. His skin felt like it was tingling, electricity crackling in his brain in what he thought might be a similar feeling to Miles’ ability. It was on the edge between being either the most painful or the sweetest thing that he had ever felt. He didn’t know what to do with his hands, so he just let them hang by his sides, balling into trembling fists as he drowned in the feeling. Drowned in the idea that they didn’t care what was covering him, that they were probably getting themselves dirty, that they’d still hug him past it.

            It wasn’t going to last, and later he would have to be sure to keep his distance as much as possible to keep them from getting too attached. Would have to turn down their offers of hugs and closeness. But for right now…

            For right now, Peter was going to bask in it, and later, when he felt as though he couldn’t pull the trigger on himself, when he finally did start to cross that line, he would think of this moment and know with certainty that he was doing the Right Thing.

…………………………..

            Miles pressed his head against his father’s shoulder, his eyes closed as he leaned into him with exhaustion pulling his frame down. That had been a lot. So many things that he had never heard of, so much death, and despair. It had been so much and to know that one of his friends… And he still felt so small. He felt like he had been gutted, like he had been held up to a standard and found wanting. How could Pete think of him as anything other than weak?

            Miles burrowed his head into that juncture between neck and shoulder and felt as his dad rubbed up and down his back, his mom pressing a kiss to his forehead and then leaving to grab another change of clothes after she went into the bathroom to wash her hands. Blood was a contaminate and Pete was still covered in it. Miles was left in his dad’s arms and he hadn’t been held like this in so long, having gotten to the point where he had been thinking of it as babyish, but at the moment there was honestly nowhere else he’d rather be.

            There’d been so much death. First with his Peter Parker, the one whose blood was on his hands, and then with Uncle Aaron, whose blood had pooled around him and sunk into the knees of his costume, even as he knew it was his fault his uncle was dead, his uncle’s blood intermingling with the blood of Peter on his hands. It was his fault his Uncle had taken a bullet. His fault that Peter Parker was dead. And now there was Curt Connors, an unknown man who had been transformed into a monster and ate his family and was finally put out of his own misery by Pete.

            And then there was Pete himself, whose black blood had covered his floor, stained his mother’s hands, and was imbedded in his mind.  

            Pete, who Miles couldn’t stop seeing in his mind’s eye as a dead body on the ground, bleeding out from a bullet lodged in his brain that had come from his own gun. It was too much. There was too much, too fast. He felt a bit like he was drowning, the only thing keeping him afloat his dad’s arms wrapped around him.

            “It’s alright, Miles,” his dad whispered against the side of his head. “It’s going to be alright.”

            His mother walked past them as she came back from the bathroom after doing a quick change, walking to where he knew his parents kept their records, and the laundry hamper where she threw in her dirtied pajamas. A moment later a soft song began playing, one of Selena’s, the sound the background to a large part of his childhood, and the final thing needed to begin to ground him.

            The upbeat rhythm felt like warmth and reminded him to hope. It fought the panic and the twist in his heart, and he found himself beginning to relax. Pete had already taken the first leap, he wasn’t dead yet, and Miles refused to let him fall, even if Pete thought that Miles was weak. Miles could do this. They all could. His dad sat on the foot of the bed, his mom joining them a moment later.  

            Leap of faith, leap of faith. One giant leap at a time. It would be okay.

            “What are we going to do?” his dad asked softly, his voice rumbling in his chest and consequentially through Miles body. It also rolled him right back into worry.

            “We’re going to do what we said,” his mom responded, and her voice was firm, igniting yet another small spark of hope.

            “Rio…” his dad started softly, looking at her, and consequentially extinguishing that spark without remorse. “It’s…different now.”

            “¿Por qué? ¿Por, qué se quiere suicidar?” his mom asked, and Miles flinched into his father. There was something about hearing it spelled out that was so…violent. It felt like a punch. His dad hushed him.

            “No, because he killed…” his dad sighed heavily. “How do we know that that’s the only person that he’s killed? How do we know that…?” Miles closed his eyes, waiting for the talk of how it wasn’t safe, and that they should throw Pete out, that it was a mistake. “I just want you both to be safe,” he breathed out instead, and Miles felt his heart clench. “I love you both so much it would…it would kill me to know that something had happened to you because I didn’t take it seriously. But…that’s the whole reason that Pete is suicidal, and I don’t know…” his dad heaved another sigh. “They lied to us, Rio.”

            Miles stiffened and his dad felt it, immediately pushing him back slightly to look at his face.

            “Miles…” his dad whispered, the realization overtaking his face in what almost seemed like slow-motion. “You lied to us?”

            Miles felt the tears coming down his face for what felt like the hundredth time that night. “I’m sorry,” he croaked. “Pete shot him, and I…he needed help. I told them to lie, I told them…I told them that we’d wait until we could hear why Pete had done it.” He sniffed. “It wasn’t all a lie. The only thing that was omitted was the fact that Pete shot someone, that they couldn’t take the Lizard down in time and he was gonna…he was going to kill Gwen if Pete didn’t shoot him. He did protect me, and he did get hurt because of it, but…he shot the lizard, and I was scared.”

            “Scared of what?” his dad asked him gently, and Miles swallowed.

            “You hate Spider-Man,” Miles responded softly.

            His dad’s eyes widened, before his face crumbled in something like grief. “Oh, Miles…did you really think that I’d turn them away before they got help?” He closed his eyes, heaving a breath in through his nose, and Miles felt guilt creep up on him again, strangling his throat. “I don’t like Spider-Man,” his dad finally said, staring Miles in the eye. “But that isn’t enough for me to want to let him die.” His dad closed his eyes. “Especially not when he’s just…” His dad rubbed between his eyes with his other hand, pinching the bridge of his nose. “God, what a mess.”

             “Your father wouldn’t be able to turn them away if he tried, mijo,” his mom said, rubbing her hand up Miles’ back, and his dad snorted with aborted laughter. “They’re my patients now, and that means that we’re going to take care of them.”

            “Even with all of this, Rio?” his dad asked, looking up at her. “Even with everything that they’re bringing with them?”

            “Especialmente por todo esto,” his mom responded, and her fingers ran along his dad’s cheek. “We don’t run from things, and I absolutely refuse to start now,” she said, her voice firm. “They need our help. I’m not going to be the one that turns them away. Not after all that we said.”

            “But we didn’t know everything…”

            “We knew what was needed. We knew that they saved our son, and we knew that they needed our help.” She paused. “They all still need our help, some more than others. I’m not going to refuse them. “¿Y tú?

             His dad was quiet for a moment, before finally letting out a soft sigh, and giving her a small smile. “We don’t run from things,” he finally parroted, and his smile turned warm. His mom kissed his dad, making Miles roll his eyes, but it made his heart warm. It was going to be okay. They’d all be okay.

            “We’re going to let them stay the night,” his mom said. “And we’re also going to open our home to Pete whenever he needs it.”

            His dad blinked. “What? But…” he shook his head. “But Rio…”

            “No. No, ‘But Rio’s, no nada.,” she parroted, doing such a ridiculous interpretation of his dad’s voice that it made Miles stifle a laugh. “We’re doing it and that’s final,” she frowned. “Even if he won’t take us up on it, we are going to make the offer.” Miles felt that small bud of warmth start to grow, smiling up at his mom.

            “But I’m sure he’s got somewhere else he can go…?” his dad started, his eyes slightly pleading.

            “The other Spiders might offer him their own homes, too, but I have no doubt that he’s alone in his own universe, Jeff,” his mom responded, and her eyes were so intense, so sure, and Miles felt it in his heart that it was true, too. His dad seemed to crumble slightly, looking away. He knew it was true, as well. “Did you see his hair, the way it was cut? That is not the haircut of a man who expects to be seen without his mask, which means he has no allies in his world that know about who he isNo tiene a donde ir.” His dad crumbled slightly further, frowning at the ground, and Miles felt his heart soar. “And his weight, Jeff,” his mom pushed again, twisting the invisible knife in a way that made his dad flinch. “He’s probably a meal away from starving! Hell, he probably already is starving. We should feed him. We should feed them. Vamos a darles de comer. We have plenty, we aren’t hurting for money, with Miles going to Vision Academy on a scholarship that covers his books and his uniform we’re more financially secure than we’ve ever been!” She waved her hands wide, before leaning forward before his dad, her hands on her bent knees and a smile on her face. “We’re going to do this, you might as well just accept it.” She patted his cheek twice, and her smile was bright.

            His dad looked as amazed as Miles felt. “Was this a conference or a warning?” his dad finally asked. His mom kissed him again.

            “Los dos,” she smiled at him, and then looked to Miles. “Mijo, Me alegra que fueras honesto.” She kissed his forehead. “I’m so proud of you, too. I’m not proud of you for lying, though I understand where the fear was coming from, I want you to know that you don’t have to hide anything from your father or me.”

            “Your mom’s right,” his dad said finally, looking down at him. “I know that…I know that things have been strained between us at times, but I just…I want you to know that I’ll always love you, Miles. And I don’t…I don’t want you to be afraid of what I’ll do to the point that you’re willing to lie to me. I want you to be able to trust me and if you…if you feel like you can’t do that right now…” his dad trailed off. “Oh, Miles, do you at least trust me enough to know that I love you?”

            Miles clung to his dad tighter, throwing himself against him, and squeezing as tightly as he could. “I do,” he croaked, “I do, and I love you too, and I’m so sorry I lied, I just…I was so scared. He was bleeding, and it was there, and I just…Peni was able to figure out what was wrong with him, but they had nowhere to go, and I thought…” he hiccupped. “I’m sorry. I love you, too, and I know you love me. I was just so scared it was all happening so fast, and…” he trailed off in frustration.

            “It’s alright,” his dad whispered, and held onto him tightly as well, pressing another kiss to his temple. “It’s alright. I understand. Fear can get a hold of people in ways no one expects. We have training specifically for learning how to deal with the consequences of fear, it’s part of our training as a police officer, Miles, so I definitely understand how fear can make people do things they’d otherwise regret. It’s alright.”

            “I’m still sorry,” Miles said softly.

            “And I forgive you,” his dad responded gently, smiling at him softly. “Clean slate, Miles. Clean slate.” 

            “Thanks dad,” Miles sniffed, basking in his dad’s hold for just a little longer, before finally pushing back, and sliding off the bed to stand on the floor next to his mom, who immediately pulled into a warm hug.

            “I’ll always love you, mijo,” his mom whispered. “You did good today. Now what do you think they’d want first, sleep or food?”

            Miles was quiet for a moment, pondering, but he knew what he wanted. It had been a draining time, emotions running so high he had felt them pounding in his throat. Pete had been hit into a wall and woken up with a nightmare… The others were running on about as much sleep as he was.

            “Sleep,” Miles decided, “but we could just ask them.”

            “That’s a good idea, I was mainly asking to get you to admit that you needed to sleep, first,” his mom kissed his forehead, a smile in her voice, and Miles protested softly, but broke into a yawn a second later. “Go to bed mijo, we’ll make sure they sleep.”

            “I want to say goodnight, first,” Miles compromised. His mom gave a slight hum, before nodding.

            “Alright,” she agreed, and took his dad’s hands in her own. She leaned back, making a show of trying to pull his dad to his feet, and Miles laughed, watching as she scrunched her face up exaggeratedly, and his dad grinned back. Finally, he allowed himself to be tugged to his feet, and his mom made a few flexing poses, before leading them both out the door.

            They found the Spiders waiting patiently, gathered in a circle around Pete, who looked a bit like he was about to fall over. They had changed, too, the pajamas that Porker had pulled out of nowhere seeming to fit them better, and their old clothes put in a pile, small patches of black on them, but Pete still had on that blood-stained coat. Judging by the talk, they were trying to explain the Goober to him, and Pete was…getting it?

            “So, it works like a typewriter crossed with a telegraph then? Only it’s super small?” Pete asked, indicating the holographic screen that rose above the watch, projected onto thin air. Peni had sent a few texts to him, so he could see what they looked like and how to access them.

            “What are those?” Peni asked, her tone indecipherable, her expression carefully blank. Miles felt like he understood what she was feeling. A hole was opening up in his own gut, filled with a mixture of guilt and anxiety. They hadn’t tried to contact Pete because they didn’t think he would understand what they had given him. They had thought that the idea of a way to communicate instantly, of typing something in and sending it would be such a foreign concept that he wouldn’t understand it. He’d already connected it to something in his own time, and as Pete finally began to explain it, Miles felt himself want to sink into the floor.

            He couldn’t imagine how Peni was feeling.

            “You use a typewriter to write letters on, it’s an…well I guess it must be old to you guys, but they’ve only just started making small models that are reasonably cheap where I’m from. A telegraph is a way to send long-distance communication. It’s done through wires, and can either be coded, or in a format that's a little more spelled-out. Either way they're known for being short bursts of communication, since you have to pay per letter. That's why they remind me of a telegraph.” He frowned slightly as he examined the display closer, reading everything that was in front of him with a critical eye. “And you can choose who to send things to here?” He indicated the contacts list to the side of the display, and Peni nodded slowly. After a moment of hesitation Pete poked the name that read ‘Peni’ and typed, ‘Hello, Peni.’ into the keyboard before sending it. Peni’s watch gave a ping right around the same time they noticed Miles and his family standing in the hallway.

            “Oh, hello,” Peni called out, her voice full of false-bravado, a strained smile on her mouth. “I was showing Pete some of the new features for the Goobers. We thought it would be good to actually be able to communicate outside of just pinging when we’re free for interaction.”

            “That’s probably a smart idea, you don’t want to go jumping into things when you don’t have any idea of what’s going on in the other person’s dimension,” his dad said, frowning slightly. Miles was simultaneously extremely proud of how quickly his dad was getting used to the idea of them coming from multiple dimensions, and in absolute agony. The others looked about the same, but his dad seemed to take that as an indication that they hadn’t thought of that and gave a soft tsk. “You guys gotta be more careful. You don’t want to hurt anyone accidentally, do you?”

            The silence was brittle.

            “Actually, that reminds me, Peni…” Pete finally said, turning to her. “Can you somehow put something that’s like a…I don’t know, a ‘do not disturb’ warning? So, people know not to jump through, or even try to communicate during the times when the warning is up?”

            Peni frowned in a mixture of thoughtfulness, and something that seemed slightly skeptical. Miles understood the feeling. That sounded a bit like running away to never show up again. His mom clapped her hands though, suddenly, brightly, and all attention turned to her.

            “Whatever plans or tweaks you all want to make will have to wait until tomorrow,” she said. “For now, I think it’s about time everyone went back to sleep. It’s been a long night, and I’m sure everyone’s exhausted.” At the sound of the word ‘exhausted’ a series of yawns broke out among the assembled Spiders. “You’re all still welcome to stay here, we have some propositions that we’d like to make in the morning, but for now I think everyone should sleep.”

            There was a brief series of grumbled yawns and agreements and all of them started moving to regain pillows and blankets, but Pete stood in the middle of all of them, looking vaguely uncomfortable. Porker looked up at him with a slight frown, taking him in, before slapping a hand to his forehead.

            “I’m sorry, Pete, I completely forgot to give you something to change into,” Porker stood up and walked up to Pete. “Would you like something extra colorful?”

            Pete paused for a moment, blinking at him. “Um…I’m okay with…whatever?” he said, his voice rising in an obvious question, and Porker grinned at him.

            "Alright, bud, now hold still.” He held both hands up, framing Pete in the square he formed between his index fingers and thumbs, twisting one way, and then another. Pete held still, looking vaguely confused, the coat he was wearing hung limply off his frame, his boots shifting slightly on the carpet. The bandages were peeking through the shadow of his coat which had been slung around his shoulders after Peter B had given it to him, and they stood out bright against all the black. Pete himself stood out, really.

            After apparently taking all of the ‘measurements’ he needed, Porker reached into his pocket and whipped out a pair of long pants and a shirt, both an almost nauseating mixture of different shades of pinks and blues and greens and purples. Pete looked at them through his broken glasses with something like longing, but the longer he stared the more his eyes narrowed, until he finally shook his head, a gray cast starting to spread across his cheeks.

            “I…I’m sorry, they are like…actually physically painful to look at,” Pete managed, squinting at them.

            “You know what? Same,” Porker waved them like a magician pulling a magic-trick, and they vanished. The next ones he pulled out were a much tamer pair, looking a bit more like the ones the rest of the Spiders were wearing, only the cartoon pigs and spiders were little multicolored flecks of color, still colorful, but not as violent.

            Porker eyed the pants Pete was wearing then, obviously considering the fact that there might be blood hidden in the fabric and tried to hide the fact that he pulled out a pair of boxers as well, stuffing them in with the pants, but Porker ran on cartoon logic and it was a lot more obvious than it needed to be. Miles stifled a laugh for Pete’s sake, that gray cast spreading a bit further, even as Gwen and Peni looked away pointedly, trying to spare him some dignity. At the same time as all of this, Pete looked a good deal more pleased with the pajamas he was given. He still hesitated for a moment before Porker gave them a further little shake, beaming proudly.

            “Come on, you gotta change, Pete, you’re covered in blood still, and sweat. That’s not good to sleep in,” Porker said. Pete hesitated a little longer, his expression shifting as he realized that the coat would have to go.

            “Hold on, let me get a bag for you to put that in,” his mom said, walking towards the kitchen.

            “If you’re bringing a plastic bag, can you bring another one?” Peter B called out, Rio flashing him a brief thumbs-up. When she returned, she was carrying two plastic bags from the kitchen. She handed one bag to Peter B before holding the other one out to Pete expectantly.

            Pete hesitated for a moment, before finally shrugging his coat off his shoulders where he had kept it since Peter B had given it to him. The stiffness in his movements was unexpected, though as the coat slid off his shoulders and into his waiting hands, it revealed what had been hiding underneath, and Miles choked back a gasp.

            Pete’s skin beneath the coat was a patchwork of gray and black. It crept up the gash along his ribs, black blooming under the bandage to flower into shades of ash that attempted to wrap itself around his ribs. Peni, who was standing just behind Pete gave a sharp inhale at the sight of his back, putting her hands to her mouth in horror. When Pete turned to look at her, Miles saw why. If he had thought his front was a mottled mess, his back was worse. Trailing up his neck and down past the waistline of his pants, the mottled mixture of black and gray had taken up almost every inch of white skin.

            Miles was so tired.

…………………………………

            Rio was temporarily struck speechless before she breathed out a very vehement, very horrified, “Chingado.” Her son gave a very loud and very horrified gasp, and even Peter B jerked his head back slightly, but Rio was entirely too focused on what she was seeing in front of her.

            Bruising of the type she was seeing now would have appeared almost instantly. When she had initially examined Pete there had been evidence of discoloration running up the lacerations on his chest, but there had been no sign of anything that would have caused the discoloration across his back. The points where his ribs had been cracked were along the front of his ribcage, according to the information Peni had given to her. The breaks were located close to the costal cartilage, something she had assumed came from the initial hit, but this spoke to more than just the claws.

            She had initially thought that the hit had caused him to fall and crack his head, this was painting a picture of something very different happening, and definitely a whole lot more violent.

            “¿Qué mierda estaba pasando?” Rio barked out, even as Pete reached out to put the coat into the bag, she was still holding out for him. He looked up at her sharply at the sound, but it was obvious he either didn’t know what she was asking, or he just didn’t want to answer. She remained holding out the bag, watched the stiffness in his movements, took in the tight expression, the sweat that was beading on his forehead at the way his arms reached up and out, and almost started swearing more.

            Rio had been running on a distinct lack of sleep, the hospital having needed all hands-on deck recently due to staffing shortages. They had finally told her to go home, to take the day off tomorrow, which she thought was now technically today, because she had been burning the candle at both ends and had gotten to the point where she had needed a break. She had gotten almost an hour of sleep before she had woken up in a sweat after realizing she hadn’t checked Pete’s head. To round out the hellscape that had been her last few hours, she’d also been blindsided by a story that would make her weep should she give it more thought, and a deep desire to make sure Miles was okay.

            Her mijo had taken what Pete had said hard, which was something he had had every right to, and she had wanted to be sure that he was coping. The cumulation of all of this was the fact that Rio was Tired, and she had also taken more of Peni’s information as Law than she had realized. It was making her sloppy and she hated it, because that left Pete in this situation where he was obviously in pain, and had been for a while now, and she hadn’t even realized. She should have, she really should have, but she was also used to seeing Spider-Man on the news. She had seen him thrown through things and into things and still get back up. The idea of aftermath had only just recently been introduced, and it had taken this moment to make her really realize how truly ugly the work of a vigilante could be. 

            “Curt hit him into a brick wall,” Peter B responded, looking a good deal less horrified than he should have. He almost looked as though it was expected. This made Rio intensely angry.

            “Into a wall?” Rio parroted, her voice cracking on the last word.

            “Ten feet away,” Peter B expanded easily. Rio wanted to strangle him. “I wondered when those would show up.” He addressed Pete specifically then, his mouth pulled into a sympathetic grimace. “Looks rough, man. I got thrown through an entire apartment building once and I think I looked about the same. The adrenaline drop-off was nasty.”

            “Think I’m feeling that right about now,” Pete managed, his voice tight, which made sense, really. Pete had woken up in a panic, found himself surrounded by people he had never seen before, and was then thrust directly into something where he admitted to things that she had no doubt had never planned on. Adrenaline was definitely a part of that mix. Pete looked like he couldn’t decide whether to curl up on the ground or not move at all, his arms moving up towards his chest as though wanting to hug his ribs.

            She had hugged him.

            Rio pointed at Peter B, “You, keep talking while I get some pain medication, what do I need to know about your healing rates? Why didn’t the bruising show up earlier?” She gestured for him to follow her as she dropped the bag holding Pete’s coat onto the ground and went to the first aid kit that they kept in the bathroom to grab some of her extra-strength Motrin tablets. Her husband walked past her purposefully to the kitchen, likely to grab some toast and water to make sure that the strong pain medication didn’t hurt Pete’s stomach.

            She loved him, always in sync with what she needed.

            “One thing that’s kind of odd, but really useful about the healing thing is that if there’s a major injury our powers will work on stabilizing that first,” Peter B explained. “Once that’s taken care of the rest of the injuries will basically just…emerge, I guess is the best way to put it.” He rubbed the back of his neck, looking a bit sheepish. “I’ve been waiting for the bruising, honestly.”

            “You didn’t think to mention it?” Rio pressed. Peter B blinked, looked at Pete, and then looked back at her.

            “I didn’t,” he answered, and he at least had the decency to sound apologetic. “I didn’t think about it, sorry. I’m not used to people that aren’t already familiar with the crazy healing thing, yet, or well…actually telling people about it. It’s just kind of a given. You’re probably going to want to give him five of those, just so you know. The powers came with a wickedly fast metabolism that just burns through the damn things.”

            “Five?” Rio gasped, looking at him, the pill bottle in her hand shaking with a mixture of nerves and anger.

            “Yup,” Peter B responded, popping the p. He frowned slightly. “Which reminds me,” he turned to the other Spiders, pointing at them, “if you ever get the idea that you want to try and eat away your depression, do not do it. The hyper-metabolism traps you in this stupid cycle of constantly being hungry to the point where when you finally get your life back together and want to start losing weight, it becomes a real problem.”

            “That bites, man,” Porker said emphatically, frowning at him. The kids were also looking at Peter B with something bordering sympathy then, but Peter B just shrugged.

            That was a whole other can of worms. Spider-Man depressed? What was happening anymore? To counterbalance her confusion, though, was the fact that the two senior-most Spiders weren’t acting like they were worried about what had happened to Pete at all, instead acting as though it was normal, which helped calm Rio down a good deal. The kids looked horrified, but there was no doubt that they hadn’t been Spider-People for nearly the same length as the other two. Peni, in particular, looked gutted, and she would have to remember to talk to her later, but there was still so much to do in order to take care of Pete now. It obviously wasn’t her fault, Peni had done the best she could with what she had, and Rio had done the same. She still felt on edge, she hated the idea that Pete had been in pain and she hadn’t done anything to help him, but what was done was done.

            She’d be able to fix it now.  

            “Here,” Jeff said as he returned from the kitchen, but instead of just the buttered toast that Rio was expecting, he carried an assortment of other things. Leftover Chinese still in its takeout box with steam rising from it – obviously having taken a quick turn in the microwave, an orange, and the expected toast.

            She could have kissed him.

            Pete stared at what Jeff was holding in his arms with a wide-eyed look of shock. The longing was also expected, his fingers trembling slightly. He looked up at her husband then with confusion on his features, that soon turned to outright denial. He started shaking his head, but her husband opened his mouth before Pete did 

            “Nope, whatever you’re going to say the answer is ‘you are going to eat this.’ We’ve got plenty to spare, we aren’t hurting for money or food, and you need it. We aren’t living in the Great Depression. The economy might not be perfect, but it definitely isn’t like it is where you’re from, and we have plenty to spare.” Jeff held out the orange with a smirk. “Orange.”

            Pete stared at the orange with wide eyes, his face crumpling slightly.

            “Gotta eat to heal faster anyway,” Peter B added when Pete said nothing else, looking at Pete with eyes that were practically screaming ‘take the food, or else.’

            “But…” Pete started, but he was obviously breaking down faster than Rio had expected. A mix of pain and exhaustion, probably.

            “Everyone else has already eaten. I’m guessing the only one that hasn’t is you,” her husband finally followed up with a shrug, and Rio walked over, kissing her husband on his jaw with a grin.

            “I know my family has,” she looked at the rest with a raised eyebrow. “Anyone else hungry?”

            The chorus of denials and affirmations that they’d also already eaten eventually made Pete give a little nod of acceptance, his stomach giving a very audible growl. Jeff gave him a small, but definitely encouraging smile, and gestured for him to sit on the couch. Pete did and Jeff handed him the takeout box first. “You ever used chopsticks before?”

            “No,” Pete answered, shaking his head.

            “Oh! I’ll teach you!” Peni called out, holding her hand up high, but paused as Jeff held out the fork he was also holding, Pete taking it without question. “Maybe later, though.” Her voice trailed off slightly as Pete plunged the fork into the box and brought the forkful of what looked like sesame chicken to his mouth. Jeff gave her a smile and a small wink.

            “You’ll get your chance, sometime, promise,” Jeff said. “For now, let’s just let him use a fork so we can get some food in him quickly before he takes that Motrin.”

            Peni’s disappointment vanished immediately, hidden behind a serious look and a sharp nod of agreement. Jeff’s smile pulled wider.

            Rio loved her husband.

            “Alright, Pete, as soon as you finish eating, I want you to take these,” Rio said, counting out five pills, shooting one last look at Peter B that screamed ‘are you sure?’ at his nod, she put them on the coffee table next to the couch. Pete paused in his frankly impressive display of inhaling the leftover takeout to stare at the pills lying there innocently and sneer.  

            “How about you don’t give me any of whatever the hell that stuff is,” Pete said, looking at the Motrin as though it was going to bite him, “and you back the hell off.”

            The venom was unexpected. Rio froze for a moment, staring at him with wide eyes, the rest of them gaining that slight look of shock as well. What on earth had caused that kind of reaction? She blinked for a moment, watching Jeff as he stiffened probably ready to unload on him for being ungrateful, but then she froze.

            “What year are you from exactly?” she asked, her husband softening at the sound of her voice. He could tell that she had a theory, had a thought, and he was patient enough to let her follow it through. She had remembered something from her student days, a fact hammered into her brain until she could recite it without thinking about it.

            Medicine was a practice, her professor had drilled into them.

            You must always be willing to search for more information and especially be open to new methods of pain relief or other assistance when they come. Things that you might prescribe all the time might become obsolete within your lifetime and you always had to be willing to accept that and move on. There was one particular medicinal practice in particular that her professor had pointed them to as a demonstration of this, and she had a very grim idea that she knew precisely why Pete was so wary of the idea of taking any form of pain medication.

            “…1933,” Pete responded finally, stiffly, and that fit. 1933 was on the cusp of a lot of medical advances and realizations, as well as a few Very Big Changes.  

            “Oh, sweetie…” she started softly. “Who had a prescription in your family?”

            “…My uncle,” Pete managed. “He was injured in the war. He was on it still when I was eight, when they finally banned it. I got to watch them cut off what they gave him and see what happened when they did. I ain’t interested.”

            “This isn’t addictive, sweetie, Te lo prometo,” Rio said softly. “It doesn’t bond with the brain. I can walk you through the ingredients so you know what you’re taking if it will help?” she prompted.

            Pete stared at her for a moment, his eyes narrowed slightly, before he gave a final jerky nod. Rio smiled at him and peeled the wrapper away from the bottle so she could get to the ingredients list, running through a brief explanation of each and what it did patiently. Pete continued eating as she pointed out what everything was, but it was clear that he was starting to sag the longer that it took to explain what everything was, but she kept herself steady. Forcing him to take the pills without explaining what they did and the fact that it wouldn’t cause him any issues would be added stress that he really didn’t need, and honestly, Pete had every right to be suspicious.

            Medicine had come so far in such a short period of time. 85 years separated them now from Pete’s time and in those 85 years so much had been done, so much had been changed. Vaccinations to things that would ravage the people of Pete’s time, medicines had been created that usually weren’t worse than the things that they were trying to cure. Side-effects may include were often just that, may include, insurance and pharmaceutical companies trying to save their ass should just that slightest thing go wrong, no matter how small the chance. It wasn’t anything like what Pete would have had prescribed to him, or to his family. And so, she was patient, explained everything as well as she could, and waited for acknowledgement before she proceeded. Pete was a quick study, his eyes sharp, even with the agony he would undoubtedly be in.

            What he would have gone through in order to be able to keep that clarity, even with the pain he was in, was something she refused to contemplate. That was better left for morning when she could take steps to act on this realization humming in her skull.

            “What did they give him?” Peter B finally asked after she had talked him down, and Pete had apologized profusely to all of them for his vehemence and gained various assurances that it was okay, that they understood. “Uncle Ben, what did they give him?”

            “Heroin,” Pete answered blandly, turning dark-ringed eyes his way after finishing the water. Peter B and the rest not in the know choked. “It was restricted in 1914, but they didn’t ban it completely until 1924. He was forced to go cold-turkey. It was…up there with one of the most frightening things I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot.” He gave a brief scoff. “Funny how it goes, really. He survived the Great War, a heroin addiction, and then wound up getting eaten.” He was peeling the orange as he said this, frowning down at it with disgust on his face. “Funny how it goes.”  

            “It was given out as a prescription?” Miles managed, her mijo’s voice high pitched and horrified. The rest of Pete’s words hung heavy between them, but it was obvious what had caught most of their attention, as Miles’ words led to several horrified expressions.

            “Lo fue,” Rio confirmed for Pete when he didn’t move. “La medicina cambió mucho, mijo. Things that used to be considered worth it for the temporary effects were soon pulled for their long-term effects.” Rio paused, before pointing at Pete sternly as she remembered something else critical. “Smoking does not cure asthma or do anything to prevent coughing. It causes cancer, and also leads to a lot of other long-term effects that are definitely not wanted.”

            “Can’t afford it anyway,” Pete responded with a slight lift of his shoulders, his skin blanching at the movement. That trembling which she had only just now realized was running through his limbs was growing stronger. He had eaten, and taken the pills, but he was still covered in blood, and he was still in obvious pain.

            “You need help getting clean…” she said, mostly to herself, but Pete immediately shook his head.

            “I’m not comfortable with that…” he said stiffly.

            “If you need help, you can ask me,” Peter B returned immediately, swooping in before Rio could think of anything to say. It was a perfect solution, really, and Pete seemed to agree, though it didn’t look like he was happy with it. “Which reminds me…” Peter B took the empty bag that Rio had brought that he was still holding, and carefully split it down the middle. He guided Pete’s arm through one of the handles gently, effectively giving the bag an anchor point in-line with the bandages on his chest, before using a bit of webbing to adhere it over the bandage, effectively protecting it from water. It was clever. It also spoke of something that he needed to do often, likely without any help.

            Thrown through an entire apartment building, she remembered, her mouth pulled into a thin line. These Spiders were going to give her an aneurism.

            Peter B then took the small pile of clothes that Porker was still holding patiently and gestured for Pete to follow him to the bathroom. Rio was able to hear a brief discussion on how things worked, followed by the sound of the water running. Peter B left the bathroom finally, pressing his back against the door, his head tilted up, waiting. He had the rest of Pete’s clothes in the bag that held his coat she saw, and Miles immediately took it, running to the laundry room to run it through, as well as the other clothes from the Spiders.

            “Gracias,” she called out softly after patting Miles’ back and thanking him with a kiss when he returned. Peter B blinked, before grinning at her.

            “De nada,” he responded easily, giving a little shrug. “Thank you for being so patient, and…willing to help.”

            “I meant it, Peter Benjamin Parker,” Rio said, her chin tilting up. “You all come to me.” She paused. “Does he have anyone?” she asked softly, her eyes indicating the bathroom.

            “He has us,” Porker said, frowning, standing up as straight as he could, the others adopting similar stances. Peter B grinned at them, before inclining his head to her.

            “Yup,” he answered softly. “I think he’s got a few people.”

            Rio nodded slowly, sighing. “He’ll be out of the bathroom, soon,” she said softly, turning to the others. “I think it’s time to at least start to pile in.”

            The others nodded, finally pulling blankets and pillows together, collapsing in a pile as Peter B was finally called into the bathroom. Rio busied herself by getting glasses of water, placing them on the coffee table that had been pushed out of the way, and finally pressed a kiss to her husband’s cheek when he returned from throwing away all of the trash, and taking care of the glass. Jeff smiled at her gently and kissed her forehead. Miles wandered back over to them after a moment, stifling a yawn.

            Miles had been so brave, her little mijo. She was so proud of him. Peter B and Pete finally left the bathroom, Pete dressed in those pajamas with his truly lamentable hair sticking up at every angle. She needed to get that cut, somehow. Pete was being carried in the other’s arms without issue, even with all the awkwardly long limbs.

            Pete was almost boneless, slumped against Peter B, though he hesitated when Peter B carried him to the couch. Pete whispered something to Peter B, and he blinked, before looking back at Jeff and Rio.

            “Bud likes sleeping up a bit higher, and he doesn’t want to accidentally hurt anyone if they get too close in the night, do you mind if we use a little webbing in one of the corners? It’s actually a lot softer on the ribs,” he added.

            It was a surprising request, and Pete wouldn’t look at them as it was made, but after a shared glance with Jeff, she shrugged.

            “Will you clean it up?” Jeff asked, which was a good question in all honesty.

            “That won’t be a problem,” Pete assured quietly, finally making eye-contact with her husband.

            “Then I don’t see why not.” He indicated the corner with a slight wave of his hand.

            “Sweet, okay, hold on.” Peter B shifted Pete slightly, Pete holding on as well as he could as Peter B climbed them up into a corner, showing a bit more flexibility than she had expected out of him, as well as care. It was Pete that started forming a makeshift hammock out of the black webbing that came out of his own wrists as soon as Peter B brought them to the point where he could finally make it take shape, directing Peter B in certain ways so he could form it properly.

            Porker walked forward underneath the webbing, frowning up at it with a practiced eye, before finally giving a very proud nod and a grin. “That’s some good craftsmanship there, Pete. You’ve got a good handle on weaving.”

            Pete paused in the middle of connecting two strands, finally looking down at Porker with wide eyes. “…Thank you,” he finally managed.

            “Not a problem, if it's good, it's good, and that's good,” Porker put his thumb up with a grin, and Pete ducked his head slightly before going back to his weaving. Peter B finally climbed onto the ceiling when it was finished, lowering the other into the hammock as gently as possible, before climbing back down the wall head-first, which was odd. Watching him flip onto his feet before he hit ground was more impressive than she wanted to admit. He grabbed a blanket and made his way to where Pete was positioned, before spreading it out gently on top of him.

            “There you go, bud, sleep tight, call if you need anything.” He whispered something else to him, maybe seeing if he was sure he wanted to be up there alone, but when Pete simply shook his head stubbornly and gave him a fierce glare, Peter B relaxed. “Alright,” Peter B finally said softly.  

            Peter B dropped down, made his way back to the pile, flashed the small family a thumbs-up and a sideways grin, and then collapsed bonelessly among the other Spiders. Peni snuggled up to his side almost immediately, Gwen resting her head on his stomach, Porker curling up next to his thigh, and a blanket was thrown over top of them by her husband. Jeff gave them a slight smile, and a nod when Peter B gave him a brief grin at the sudden cries of protest that sounded, face splitting open in a yawn a second later.

            “Goodnight,” Jeff said, a sentiment echoed by her own voice, as well as her son’s.

            “G’night,” came the slurred chorus. They fell asleep without further prompting. So, having taken care of the thing that Miles wanted most, he went back into his room, collapsing into his own bed after a kiss from both of them and their own chorus of ‘goodnight.’

            The morning would bring with it its own set of challenges, but at this point they were ready to face what would come. The Davis-Morales household ran from nothing.

            They weren’t going to start now. 

Chapter Text

            Peni couldn’t sleep.

            Pete’s story was still ringing in her ears and pounding in her heart. The sight of him curling into himself, the sound of his voice cracking as he spoke ringing in her ears. “A short-fucking-story with a sad-fucking-ending,” ran through her head, tears trickling down her face as she thought of the way he said it. He had spoken it like it was fact, the words heavy and filled with promise. The words had torn her heart in two, the idea that someone she had grown to look up to and adore held that much despair, that much fear in their heart… It hurt her. It cut into her like a knife, stabbing in deep and twisting. If Peter B hadn’t picked her up and held her, she didn’t know how she would have kept it together.

            It was all so…Peni didn’t have the words for it. She didn’t have the words for the fear she was feeling, for the despair. It was like a weight deep in her gut. And then…and then there was the Goober.

            Peni had thought that she was being careful. She had thought that she had been so smart, had been so clever in deciding that Pete should be the last one to get a Goober, and would need it to be given to him personally in order to avoid any confusion, or hostility. She had thought that it would have been too much for someone of Pete’s supposed age, too much for someone living in Pete’s time-period to understand. She had underestimated him.

            Worse, it felt as though she had shown utter contempt for him.

            If only Peni had trusted that Pete could figure out the Goober, if only she had trusted that Pete would be able to follow written directions the same way that she had thought Peter B could. If only Peni hadn’t committed the truly heinous act of thinking that Pete was too stupid to figure out how to work something when given a proper diagram or a written explanation.

            That’s what it had been, she thought, her heart heavy in her chest, and her eyes starting to flood as the thought hit her on top of everything else, it had been thinking that Pete was stupid.

            Her friend, who had shown nothing but adaptability, nothing but courage, and nothing but dedication…had been judged and found wanting. And she couldn’t have been more wrong.

            Pete had listened to what she said, asking a few questions, but not nearly as many as she had expected, and above-all understanding. He understood the idea of instant communication. He understood the idea of phones. He even understood the idea of putting multiple people into the same call. He had called it a ‘party line,’ something that was done to cut costs, but also had the added benefit of being a phone line where you could talk to as many people as possible all on the same call. The gossip, he said, was amazing for helping someone in his line of work. And a telegraph. Peni hadn’t even heard of a telegraph. He had had to explain something to her.

            Peni had been so confident.

            Peni had been so wrong.

            Peni sniffled, curling into a ball in the darkness under the comforter that had been thrown overtop of her, and desperately wishing that Pete was next to them. At least then she could feel his heartbeat, recognize that he was still there, could know really and truly that her arrogance hadn’t killed him. The thought stuck in her chest, hitching in her throat, and she found herself squirming out of the blankets before she quite knew what she was doing. She stood on the edge of the pile of sleeping Spiders, Peter B with his head thrown back and mouth yawning open, Porker a curled up little lump beside him, and Gwen with her back pressed against Peter B’s side, feeling him breathe.

            Peni’s eyes found the black shadow in the far corner, watching as it drifted slightly in whatever wind it was that always followed him, and walked towards him. Her heart was pounding in her chest, guilt and sorrow a heavy weight in her stomach, hunching her shoulders forward, her hands pressed to her chest.

            She couldn’t breathe.

            The idea…the idea that he was dead. That Peni had missed more than she thought, that he had been hurt so much worse, that he was dying.

            She had to see that he was breathing.

            She had to see that she hadn’t killed him.

            Peni picked her way past the other Spiders, carefully, taking small measured steps until she finally managed to pick her way through, and stood beneath Pete’s hammock. Her head bowed, she closed her eyes and listened, trying to find Pete’s breath, his heartbeat. The tears that she was holding back finally broke through, plipping to the ground. Her breath hitched in her throat, choking down what felt like the beginnings of sobbing, misery eating her from the inside out. The sudden tug on the back of her shirt was surprising, and she almost yelped, when she looked up and recognized that the black shape had been broken by white, and then Pete was pulling her up.

            Pete pulled her up to him arm after arm, his webbing having caught the back of her shirt, which allowed him to pull her up a bit like a kitten, Peni keeping her arms as locked as possible in order to keep herself from sliding out of her shirt and tucking her knees to her chest. When she was finally close enough Pete hooked her under her legs with one arm, while the other kept her upright by the web attached to her back, and finally he squirmed back enough that he could plop her down before him on the hammock. The web was broken off then, and Peni was able to breathe again.

            She still couldn’t fight back the tears.

            Pete’s hair was even more lopsided than it had been, his expression fuzzy with sleep and confusion, but his eyes were bright and alert. They made her feel worse. They peered at her in the darkness, lacking the glasses he had worn before and thus probably not seeing her as well as he would like. But the concern in his eyes, in the way that his eyebrows pinched, in the way that he leaned forward towards her, the blanket still around him shifting with the movement, was evident.

            “Peni,” he started softly, voice even thicker with sleep than it had been before, gruff and almost hoarse, “why are you crying? What’s wrong?”

            Peni trembled, before finally launching herself at him. Pete’s eyes widened, and he caught her, falling backwards into the hammock with a hiss of what was undoubtedly pain, and Peni immediately felt a further spike of guilt pound into her heart. Pete was injured, he had broken ribs, he was covered in bruises… She tried to scramble back, only to be held tight and held close, Pete hushing her quietly, gentle litanies of: “It’s okay, just relax, you’re fine, I’m fine. Just shh, it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay…” as one hand pressed against her back and the other pet through her hair in a mirror image of the way Rio had held him earlier.

            His hold was just slightly too tight, the hand that pet her just a little too rough, probably not used to his strength when dealing with holding other people, but she didn’t mind. She couldn’t. Not when he was trying, when she could feel the shakiness to his movements, hear the way his voice stuttered over the words. He was trying.

            He was trying. Pete was still trying, and he was still here, and he had agreed to try. He had taken the leap.

            Peni’s breath hitched, and more tears finally began spilling, dripping down onto Pete’s shirt, dampening the fabric and the skin beneath, even as she began to calm. Pete’s hand on her back was warm and solid, her ear pressed firmly into his chest so she could hear the heartbeat thudding underneath the rise and fall of his ribs. He was breathing, his heart was beating, he was alive, he was alive, he was alive.  

            Peni pressed her ear against his chest more firmly, listening, just listening, feeling the rumble of his voice as it continued softly droning, feeling the way his hand stroked through her hair. Pete’s voice finally trailed off, and the two of them lay there in silence, that odd wind rocking the two of them gently. Peni thought she saw Gwen get up at some point, but she couldn’t find the energy to call out to the other girl, merely watch as she made her way to the window.

            “I’m sorry,” she finally croaked out before she could fall into sleep.

            “What for?” Pete asked, voice gentle, and that led to more tears, trickling out to add to the damp-patch on his shirt. “Peni?” he prompted softly. “What are you sorry for?”

            “For…for my contempt of you,” she finally managed.

            “You don’t have to apologize for that,” he responded softly, his voice so even, so perfectly controlled that it was like a punch to the gut. Pete believed that. He believed that she had a right to feel contempt for him.

            “I do,” she insisted. “I do have to apologize for that,” her voice hitched. “I have to apologize because…because you don’t deserve it.”

            “Peni, I’m a mons-“

            “Don’t say it,” Peni hissed, pressing her hand to his mouth, looking up into his eyes from her place on his chest, staring at piercing grey eyes that stared out at her from the dark, eyes that looked at her with such…

            It wasn’t fair. Her breath hitched, and her voice rattled as she shook her head. “No, no, that’s not true. That’s not true. That’s not even what…that’s not even what I was talking about,” she whispered. “I…I decided that you wouldn’t understand the Goober. I decided that you wouldn’t know how to work it, and that…and that I needed to give it to you personally or you just wouldn’t… I decided that you were too stupid to figure it out, and I… I almost killed you.” Her voice hitched, and the sobs she had been holding out broke free. Crying in a mixture of guilt and rage and at just how unfair it all was.

            How unfair it was that someone like Pete, who had just been in the wrong place at the wrong time, who had just wanted to help, had been cursed by something that was… That was twisting him. Twisting him, from the inside out, turning him into something that… That Pete himself was afraid of, and now that she was this close, she could see it. See it in his eyes, in the way he looked at her. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair. Pete hushed her again, pulling her up higher so she could nestle her chin in the pocket between his collarbone and his neck, and he was just so sharp.

            That fact almost made her cry more. Every bone could be felt even through the muscle, his ribs pressing into hers in a way that would almost be painful if the blanket wasn’t providing a buffer between them.

            Peni had never gone hungry. Her diet was regulated strictly in order to promote good physical growth, and optimal functioning. Pete was starving, had been starving, and it was evident in the arms that held her, the bones that dug into her skin. It only made her cry more.

            “Shh, Peni,” Pete tried to hush her, finally pressing his chin to the top of her head so gently, so softly. “Peni, please, shh. You didn’t kill me. You didn’t even almost kill me. It wasn’t your fault. You didn’t know.”

            “But you knew. You knew…as soon as I…pointed things out…as soon as I…showed you how…the interface could be opened…you knew what to do as soon as I showed you what to push,” Peni managed to hitch out between her sobs, closing her eyes against the words, even as they burned her. “If I had just…if I had just done what I did with everyone else, just thrown it through and given you written instructions… You could have…and we wouldn’t have…”

            “Peni, do you know how many years separate your time from mine?” he asked softly. Peni didn’t respond, keeping her eyes closed, ducking her head away from the question. “Twelve-hundred and twelve,” he answered his own question when she didn’t, his voice soft. “That’s a hell of a long time, Peni. I don’t blame you for thinking that I wouldn’t get some things. I don’t.” Peni shook her head against him in denial.

            “But I saw you, you…you were so quick, and you got so much…” she hiccupped. “If I had only just…trusted you, then…then this wouldn’t have happened. But because I had contempt for you and for what you could do, for what you could understand…”

            “I wouldn’t call that contempt, Peni, I’d just call that ignorance, and that’s not something you should be blamed for.” Pete hesitated, staring up at the ceiling quietly. “Ignorance can hurt people, yeah, but it’s not done out of malice. I don’t blame people for their ignorance, Peni, I can’t, not if they seek to cure it. If they learn about it and then don’t do anything to correct it then…well, that’s when it’s harmful. But you recognized it, and you apologized for it, and that’s good. And besides, no one else thought I could figure it out, either. Gwen, Miles, Peter B, Porker…you’re not alone in it, Peni, but I don’t blame any of you for it. And I don’t think…” He paused, before saying again, “I don’t think you all think that I’m a twit.” He frowned slightly. “But more importantly than blame, and stupidity, and whatever contempt you think you might feel, I’m alive, Peni, I’m alive and I’m right here. I’m right here, you don’t have to apologize… Just hush now, everything’s going to be okay. I got you.”  

            Peni held him tightly, sniffling as she cried, and finally, slowly, she felt her eyes get heavy. It was so much, it was too much, high-emotion pairing with stress until she was just so…tired. The arms around her, the soft rocking, the heartbeat underneath hers, it all just pulled her down, down, down in a spiral of sleep and warmth. She felt safe. Above all, she had finally heard him say it. Finally heard the words come out of his mouth repeatedly, even as he tried to push them away, a confession and a statement that she could hold in her heart, because it finally gave her a word for him. It finally gave her the name of what he was to her, and though Miles and Gwen might not know it yet, to them, too. She had fallen into a portal and found something so much bigger than any of them could have ever expected.

            “I love you, oniichan,” she finally whispered when she felt as though she was about to drift off to sleep at any second, knowing that if she didn’t say it, the words would burn in her chest until she choked on them. “I could never hate you, no matter what happens,” she said softly, her eyes closing.

            “I just want you to be happy,” she whispered into his chest, and curled up so her ear was pressed on top of his heart. Her consciousness drifted as she felt his chest hitch, and she fell asleep to the beating of his heart in her ear.

            She had found family.

………………………………

            Peter’s breath hitched, lost somewhere in what she had said to him, and the realization that Peni had fallen asleep. He didn’t know the word she had called him, but the way it had been spoken… A small part of him was amazed at the level of trust she showed him, but that amazement was wrapped up even more tightly in a mixture of anguish and pain.

            He’d said it was okay, and he’d held Peni to him, but there was still that tight, stabbing feeling of hurt ribs. But worse, he was trapped. Peter didn’t think that he could lower her back down, pulling her up had left his muscles trembling in a way that he didn’t like and led to him not trusting himself to be able to actually lower her back down safely. To make matters even worse, she had fallen asleep.

            Peter didn’t want to wake her up, recognizing that it had been a long day for all of them, and Peni didn’t deserve to be woken up again. He needed help to get her down, and with that thought he craned his head to see if he could get someone else’s attention, not caring if they had seen that display of emotion.

            Some things were worth the breaking of etiquette. Some things were worth a little emotion.

            Peter B and Gwen were both gone he noted with a jolt, the only one left was Porker, curled in the blankets and snoring away. If he squinted his eyes almost shut, he thought he could see little Z’s floating above his head, but he couldn’t tell if he was actually seeing something or his eyes were just playing tricks on him. He couldn’t wake up Porker, he was probably just as exhausted as the rest of them were, and he had no idea where the other two had gone.

            Peter came to the realization that he was running on fumes when his eyes started to drift shut without his permission. The horrified realization that he might hurt Peni was coiling up in his chest, but Peter felt powerless to do anything about it.

            Oddly, however, he also had never felt quite so calm. The spider-sense that was always hovering in the back of his neck, burning so hotly in warning had faded, dulling into a soft rumble.

            Peter felt safe.

            His body took advantage of that safety, took advantage of that warmth, and before he knew it Peter had fallen asleep.

            For the first time in over a year, Peter didn’t dream of spiders.

……………………………

            Porker opened an eye as soon as he heard Pete’s slightly hitched breathing finally even out in sleep. He waited another moment before finally crawling his own way up the wall to check on the two kids that had become a part of his group. Gwen and Miles were in there, too, but Peter B had spent the most time with them, and they were the most familiar with him, and certainly the most willing to open up to him as well. That naturally left the other two with him.

            These kids wouldn’t know what had hit them. He was going to rock at this whole mentor thing, he loved all these kids too much to do otherwise.

            Peni was smiling softly in sleep, her breath even and gentle. Pete had fallen asleep with his mouth slightly parted, a soft sound leaving him on every exhale, his expression relaxed and completely without tension. It was a wonderful sight, and Porker knew that it was something that the two of them desperately needed. He wished Pete pleasant dreams and hoped that Peni’s heart was finally on the way to mending. Poor kid had taken everything rough.

            Porker had taken it rough, to be honest. There was so much…there was just so much to unpack. So much death and pain and loneliness… He was proud of them both. He’d have to find a way to show it properly.

Porker gave a small smile, and carefully took the edge of the blanket Pete had and carefully wrapped that edge around Peni, before tucking in the other side behind Pete, effectively covering the two kids completely. They both deserved to be warm.

            Porker turned slightly as he heard the window shifting, and Peter B carefully maneuvered his way in the window, carrying Gwen with him. She had fallen asleep against his chest, and Peter B looked somewhere between amazed and fond. The two oldest of the Spiders made eye-contact and traded a brief nod. Peter B’s gaze darted towards Miles’ room, but it was obvious that the kid was likely asleep, which was more than deserved.

            They’d have to be sure to give that kid one hell of a group-hug later. Miles needed to remember that they all were with him 100% of the way, too.

            Porker made his way back to the floor, carefully helping Peter B lie down as he kept Gwen stable, adjusting Gwen so her ear was still pressed against his heartbeat, but she lay off to the side more. Anytime they attempted to move her off she made a soft sound of complaint, so that’s where they left her. Porker covered the two of them up, and then took his own place next to Peter B, effectively becoming a pig in a blanket as he wrapped his own blanket around him twice and snuggled in deep, quietly huffing a laugh at the thought of his own joke.

            “How is she taking everything?” Porker asked softly.

            “She’s…taking it about as well as you’d expect,” Peter B replied equally softly. “She lost her best friend once already, and then being here when this Peter bit it… I don’t think…hearing Pete talk about actually killing himself…” He sighed. “She’s doing as well as can be expected. It was…it was a good conversation. I think it definitely needed to happen. How are they? Are you sure that Pete won’t…?”

            “They’re as well as can be expected. More importantly, they’re getting there.” Porker grinned. “As for Pete? I think he’s the most relaxed he’s been in a while. Peni’s fine, I think this is good for them both.”  

            “Good,” Peter B said, and his voice was firm. The two of them fell into silence then, sleep hovering at the edges of Porker’s consciousness.

            It took him a moment to recognize that Peter B wasn’t falling asleep. He shuffled slightly to look at the other man, seeing those brown eyes reflecting the light from the window, temporarily darkening as he blinked.

            “They’re all so…young,” Peter B finally said softly, his voice barely a whisper. Porker’s ears were large, though, and he heard more clearly than any of them. It was why he had heard Pete’s and Peni’s heart-to-heart, and why he had decided not to help Pete get her down. It was also why he could hear what Peter B said and hear that soft tone of awe in his voice, as well as that small undercurrent of fear.

            “It’ll be okay,” Porker said softly, smiling at him. “We’re not alone, and now…neither are they.”

            Peter B was quiet for a moment, before a grin slowly spread, gentle and soft.

            “We’re not alone.”

            The words had a finality to them, as well as a promise, and the two of them finally fell asleep to the echo of those words in their minds.

            None of them were alone anymore. They all had each other.

            And come hell or high water, that’s exactly how they were going to stay.

…………………………………………..

            Jeff woke up to the muzzy realization that Rio wasn’t in bed with him, and the fact that he could smell breakfast cooking. He got up carefully, grabbing a change of clothes and heading to the bathroom to get changed and freshen up. It also gave him an opportunity to check on his guests. He peeked into the living room before heading into the bathroom, taking in the pile of sleeping Spiders.

            They seemed to have moved in the middle of the night, he noticed, none of them in their original places, and he felt a minor burst of nerves at the sight of Peni curled up in the hammock with Pete. But, at the same time, they all appeared to be calm, and above-all, were deeply asleep. None of them had even twitched at the smell of breakfast cooking, not even Pete, which was rather surprising.

            Jeff walked into the bathroom, did his business, changed his clothes, and made his way past the sleeping Spiders after depositing his dirty clothes into the laundry bin. He walked into he kitchen to the sight of Miles and his wife cooking breakfast, steam rising from the large pan that Rio was stirring as Miles prepared a bunch of fruit. His son was smiling as he cut through a papaya Jeff knew that they didn’t have yesterday. They must have gone out to get a bunch of different fruit for the Spiders to try before he had even woken up, but Jeff sure as hell wasn’t complaining.

            Strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries had already been washed and were placed in a large bowl in the center of the table, a serving spoon ready. Plates and forks were all set up neatly next to this bowl, the idea obviously being some form of buffet-styled breakfast that they would spread out throughout the house with, since their table was too small for the motley crew in their living room. Jeff took a deep breath, recognizing the tantalizing smell of chilaquiles as well as beef chorizo con huevos, and made his way over to his wife, rubbing Miles’ hair as he passed, and laughing quietly as he swatted at him, before leaning in to give his wife a kiss. Rio leaned into him, smiling.

            “Buenos días, dormilón,” she said, her voice full of laughter.

            “Not as much as them,” Jeff returned, butting his head in the Spiders’ direction. “So, what’s the occasion here?” He asked, his voice rumbling with his amusement. “We don’t usually get a breakfast like this.”

            “We haven’t all been free like this in a while,” Rio returned, which was true. Days when their schedules all lined up so they were able to have a breakfast like this were rare, and truthfully Miles shouldn’t have been able to enjoy it with them, as he had school. But there were moments when such things had to be waved, and this… This was one of those times. Jeff and Rio had both decided last night that they’d call Miles’ school and plead off a family emergency. With the death of… With that so close, it hadn’t taken much. It left them to enjoy a morning together.

            The extra guests in his home weren’t entirely unwelcome, but they still weren’t his first choice in houseguests. They had gone a long way in making themselves a lot more welcome, and there was no way that Jeff was going to either turn them out or fight against what his wife wanted. He had no real desire to, if he was honest with himself. Somewhere between Pete’s confession and watching his own son break down he had acclimated himself to the idea of helping them. Spider-Man or Woman or…Pig…still weren’t in his favorite list of people, but there was no truly deep animosity there anymore. Wariness? Certainly. But active dislike? No. It was enough tolerance to allow Jeff to even consider what it was that Rio proposed.

            Whether or not they’d be doing it for long would remain to be seen.

            Jeff took to preparing coffee for anyone who wanted a cup, while also pouring a few glasses of juice for the kids. He hesitated on what to give Pete, but eventually decided to just make sure there was enough for him to have both. Pete needed the calories, regardless. Finally, Rio dumped the chilaquiles into a serving bowl, and the chorizo con huevos in another, and took a step back from the stove, wiping her hands on a towel and grinning.

            “I think it’s time to wake them up, they are absolutely not going to want to miss this,” Rio said, her hands on her hips, looking proud.  

            “I’ll do it!” Miles called out, and immediately launched himself past Jeff before he could say anything. Jeff opened his mouth, going to take a step after him, when Rio slid her hand into his and pulled him back.

            “Estará bien,” she said, softly, smiling. Jeff wanted to beg to differ, but when Miles threw a pillow at Parker, and the man managed to leap the nine-or-so feet straight-up to the ceiling, letting out a truly impressive yelp as he did so, he thought that it might actually be alright. Gwen went sprawling with her own shout as Parker sent her flying in his initial bound, while Porker just casually popped his head out of his own pile of blankets, yawning. Parker was attached to the ceiling, looking around frantically to see what had attempted to hit him, and then finally caught sight of Miles laughing his butt off and bent nearly double.

            Parker’s expression went from anxious confusion, to a very impressive scowl as soon as he found Miles, Gwen in her own crouch on the far wall, also finding Miles with her glare. Parker tossed a look in his direction, and Jeff met his gaze with a grin, and a slight wave of permission. Parker blinked, before grinning at him. Parker caught a pillow with a web before carefully chucking it back at Miles, catching him just hard enough to get him to stumble back onto his butt on the couch. Gwen tagged him with another pillow a second later, and Miles cackled, ducking and hiding his head behind the pillow she had thrown as Gwen leapt after the initial pillow, a grin on her face. Jeff watched all of this with something like fondness, pleased at the fact that they at least had good enough aim to not break anything, or hurt anyone.

            The gentleness they were using was visible, and it did wonders for his blood-pressure. Parker dropped from the ceiling when Gwen went to town, coming over to stand next to Jeff. He cracked his back out, a truly impressive sound, and gave a brief uncomfortable mumble.

            “Shoulda taken the couch,” he grumbled to himself, and Jeff winced in sympathy.

            “You good, man?” Jeff asked.

            “Yeah, fine, I just…forget sometimes that I broke my back a while ago. It reminds me in the worst of ways when I do,” Parker responded, Jeff stiffening almost immediately.

            “You broke your…?”

            “Wait, wait! We have food!” Miles yelled out between laughs, his own way of calling for mercy. Gwen stopped her very deserved barrage with the pillows, and gently placed them on the couch beside her.

            “You could have led with that, you know?” Gwen asked, feigning upset, but she was doing a poor job at containing her laughter. Miles laughed.

            “Wouldn’t have been as fun. You should have seen Peter leap,” he mimed a gunshot into the air, and Gwen laughed.

            “Yeah, yeah. These reflexes have saved my life on many occasions. You’ll also notice that you didn’t actually hit me with a pillow,” Parker responded, an eyebrow rising along with a slight smirk that curled up his mouth. Miles, Gwen, and Porker all picked up pillows threateningly. Jeff took a step before him, holding his hands up.

            “Woah! No, not when the kitchen is right behind us!” They lowered the pillows with a pout. Jeff nodded. “That’s better,” he praised. “Now. What about them?” he nodded over to the Spiders in the corner, a slight frown on his mouth. They were still sleeping peacefully it looked like, both bundled together in that black web-hammock. There was a moment of thought, before Miles walked into the kitchen. When he came back, he was carrying a plate full of chilaquiles. He looked at Parker expectantly, holding it up, looking up at the two in the hammock, and then back to Parker with a raised eyebrow.

            “No one can resist my mom’s chilaquiles,” he said, his mouth pulling into a proud grin.

            Parker blinked, and then grinned brightly in sudden realization, “Well, let’s test that theory, huh?” He took the plate from Miles and gave a dramatic sniff, before nodding thoughtfully. “Not bad, not bad,” he said, and Miles stifled a laugh. Parker literally walked his way up the wall, careful not to spill anything on the floor. When he was finally just beneath the two on the hammock, he placed the plate on his chest as a makeshift table before using his hands to waft the smell from the plate to the two still sleeping above him. “Wakey, wakey, chilaquiles are ready,” he sing-songed softly, a wide grin just barely visible on his face from the angle he was standing.

            God, Parker was standing on his wall. This entire scenario was somewhere between adorable and horrifying 

            There was a pause, before Peni started stirring. She sniffed, small nose twitching as she sought out what the smell was, eyes blinking open blearily, and finally catching sight of Parker beneath them. Peni had a moment when her eyes opened wide, and Jeff thought she might scream in surprise, but then her expression relaxed, and she instead gave a wide smile.

            “Ohayo gozaimasu,” she chirped at Parker, which was a word combination that Jeff didn’t recognize, though he assumed it was Japanese. This was what finally caused Pete to stir. Peni focused a careful eye on Pete as he finally opened his eyes.

            Jeff watched as those hazy grey eyes opened wide at the sight of someone so close to his face, and he tensed. Parker had moved the plate into one hand and was watching carefully as well. Peni, however, took the opportunity Pete’s pause provided to kiss the tip of his nose with a brightly repeated: “Ohayo gozaimasu, oniichan” Pete reeled back into the hammock, rubbing at his nose with a few startled grumbles, that gray cast to his skin turning almost black as he blushed from the back of his neck to the tip of his nose, and finally he just covered his entire face with the blanket in mortification.

            The laughter that burst out was compounded by a brief series of awes, but Gwen and Miles looked particularly delighted. Rio came up behind him, smiling as wide as possible.

            “Morning, sleeping beauties, we have food,” Parker called out, brightly, both attracting their attention and causing Pete to untuck himself from the protective ball he had pulled himself into, Parker’s grin spreading wide. “The Morales-Davis household has absolutely outdone themselves, it looks like, now get up so we can eat, this stuff smells divine.”

            “I told you it’s beyond the human body to resist!” Miles called out, laughing. Parker cackled.

            “I believe you,” he called over his shoulder, and carefully balanced the plate on his stomach as Peni leaned over the edge of the hammock. In a truly impressive feat of his ability to stick, and impressive core-strength, Parker took a hold of Peni’s hands, the girl grabbing his thumbs before flipping out of the hammock. Parker carefully guided her descent over his head, lifting her just enough to send her over his head and not into it, stretching back in order to let her drop down to the ground beneath without issue, and all the while that plate remained perfectly balanced. The applause that broke out was immediate, Peni taking a few bows as Parker took the plate back into his hand. “Do you need help?” Parker asked, his eyes narrowing slightly as though he had x-ray vision and could see right through Pete.

            Jeff idly hoped they didn’t have x-ray vision. They were hard enough to deal with without the added invasion of privacy.  

            Pete finally managed to peak his way out of the cover he still had pulled over his head. He was looking a lot less flushed, but still looked mildly befuddled, and he sent a glare Peni’s way. Peni, for her part, beamed at him with a little wave. Pete shook his head in denial at Parker while simultaneously ignoring Peni’s wave, and finally stretched his hand up, adhering to the ceiling. He tossed the blanket to the ground with his other hand before pulling himself up to the ceiling with that single hand, Rio hissing in Jeff’s ear like an angry cat as he did so.

            Pete crawled over to unstick one of the anchor points of the hammock, carefully beginning to roll the black threads in on themselves as he moved from one side to the other, until it was a small ball. It was barely the size of a strawberry when it was all gathered together, which Jeff supposed made sense considering it was small strands with a lot of gaps in between.

            Jeff let out a briefly impressed noise, nodding his head once. “You weren’t kidding when you said you could clean it-”

            Pete then took this strawberry-sized ball of webbing and promptly stuck it in his mouth and swallowed it whole.

            The word, Jeff would think later when remembering this moment, was pandemonium.

            Rio burst out into a loud variety of Spanish curses in his ear, going so fast even Jeff couldn’t keep up, Miles let out a very loud and very disgusted sound, lurching backwards, while Gwen put her hands over her mouth and started gagging. Parker jerked backwards, finally putting the plate to the side, paling slightly as he saw that, his nose scrunching up as he made a few aborted attempts to say something, stuttering over his words and generally just looking confused. Peni’s jaw dropped and she turned a very distinct shade of green, her eyes turning into literal spirals as she swayed on her feet, a large…was that a sweatdrop beading up on her brow? What was even happening?

            Jeff himself felt his stomach lurch and a cold sweat break up on the back of his spine. Pete, for his part, had shrunk into the corner, staring at everyone with wide eyes and a horrified demeaner, balling himself up and trying to make himself smaller. If Jeff didn’t feel so much like vomiting, he’d probably attempt to calm him down, but that was just too much.

            That had come out of his wrists! What the fuck?

            The sudden loud sound of an airhorn sent Parker up onto the ceiling again, Peni diving for cover, as Gwen leapt into the air as well, catching herself on the ceiling. Jeff grabbed both his wife, and Miles, pulling them both close to him tightly. As they realized that nothing else came after the sound, everyone began calming, finally turning to look at Porker, who was looking very angry.

            “What is wrong with all of you?” Porker asked, planting his hoof on the ground as he dropped the giant airhorn to the ground, glaring up at all of them. “There’s no need for any of that! That’s Spider-Shaming is what that is, and I won’t stand for it!” He looked up at Pete then, who had started emerging from his little huddle and was staring at Porker with almost hopeful eyes. “It’s alright, bud,” Porker said gently, finally climbing up the wall towards him.

            “That’s good,” Porker praised when he got close enough that he could touch Pete’s knee if he wanted to. “I’m super glad that you’re recycling your web like that, I was worried initially that I’d have to teach you about that bit of spider behavior. I get that it’s not a thing that most humans do, but that’s healthy, and it really comforts me to know that you’ve been doing it. Silk’s hard to produce when you’re underfed, and I was worried that you were starving yourself out. When’d you figure it out?”

            Pete was quiet for a moment longer, but finally started uncurling a little more. “After I fell a couple stories. Realized that I couldn’t produce the silk I needed, and it was… I knew that I was producing it, but I hadn’t…I hadn’t really thought of how.” He was coloring as he stared at Porker, ignoring the rest of them, which was…very fair, Jeff thought to himself, feeling his own skin heat. Goddamn, well that had been encouraging of them, and at the thought he noticed the rest of the Spiders and his own family starting to look very upset. “Stupid of me, really. I should have thought about the logistics a little further but I just…”

            “Hey, bud, I get it,” Porker touched his knee, and Jeff could just picture the soft smile. “I really do. It took me a while to realize that I could actually overheat now. I mean, who knew! Thermoregulation is a hell of a thing, I love it, but it’s…can you still thermoregulate?”

            “Yeah, I can. I’ve got a basic internal temperature that stays the same,” Pete answered, nodding.

            “That’s a good thing, I am so glad about that…” Porker frowned slightly. “You checked your webbing for what it’s made of? It’s black, which is a little odd to me, you figured out the reason?”

            “I know that it’s antibacterial,” Pete answered, frowning slightly, trailing off.

            “It’s…antibacterial?” Rio asked, her voice rising in shock.

            Pete blinked, before looking down at her. “Sure. It’s one of the main ways that I’ve been…well,” he gestured at what looked like a bullet wound on his arm, and Jeff found himself hissing. He wondered idly if that bullet came from a cop and found a further tensing in his chest. One thing at a time, Davis, one thing at a time. “I only stitch the things that are either too wide to press together or might come apart if I’m not careful,” Pete continued thoughtfully. “Most of the time I just use a little silk and go. It’s honestly cleaner than a lot of the things I can use to bandage stuff, honestly.”

            “Yeah, all spider-silk is like that,” Porker agreed, nodding. “That’s also why it’s perfectly normal and very healthy to recycle your silk like that,” Porker stressed, flashing the group behind him a very intense glare. Jeff felt properly chastised, and he could tell by the slow huddling of the Spiders together and the way that Rio and Miles leaned into him, they felt it, too. “Your body isn’t straining for extra proteins it can’t always get, and you’ve got at least a little bit of a pocket before your body has to start using…well, itself to produce the silk.”

            Pete nodded in agreement, frowning. “Figured that out the hard way, but I’m…actually doing a bit better now.”

            “I’m glad!” Porker grinned at him from ear to ear, and then finally turned back to them, hands planted on his hips and glaring. “You all should apologize! Shaming him like that is just…rude.”

            “I’m sorry!” came the immediate chorus, Jeff finding himself saying it, too.

            “That was rude, no tenía idea que la telaraña era tan...limpia,” Rio said, frowning.

            “I did,” Parker said in a way that might actually be considered sheepish, rubbing at the back of his neck. “It’s why I thought of using webbing as a field-bandage in the first place, I just…didn’t think about the possibility that your body might just produce it naturally as well as just like…discount webbing. That’s pretty cool."

            “Yeah,” Peni agreed brightly, smiling. “That’s really cool! Maybe we can test it later?”

            “Maybe…” Pete agreed, ducking his head slightly.

            “Bromas luego, comida ahora, before it gets too cold! Let’s get some extra protein in you so that pocket between your body eating itself and producing enough silk is bigger!” Rio waved them all back into the kitchen, and they immediately followed her prompting. The smell at that point had permeated the entirety of the house, and when they entered the kitchen everything was still steaming and looked heavenly.

            There was a loud series of appreciative sounds and exclamations that followed the sight of the food, and Rio and Miles both basked in the praise as Jeff pointed out that they were the two that made it. Pete looked like he had never seen so much food in his entire life.

            “We’re going to have to have it buffet style,” Rio called through finally, clapping her hands together. “We don’t have a big enough table for everyone to sit together, or I would…”

            “Psh, I got this,” Porker said, waving his hands. Parker and Pete both moved the table containing all of the food to the side carefully, before everyone stood back as Porker waved them away. They watched in confusion as he reached into his pocket, and that confusion slowly turned to shock before it turned to amazement as Porker began pulling a table that could comfortably seat all of them out from that tiny little pocket and placed it on the ground in front of them. “Ta-Da!” He called out, waving both hands at it, and they stared at the table, then back to the pig, and then back to the table.

            “…What?” Parker asked, staring at it. “Did I just…did I just have stroke? Have all the concussions finally gotten to me?” he asked, pressing his hand to his head, simultaneously asking the same question Jeff was asking himself.

            “Not unless they got to all of us?” Gwen managed, looking horrified herself.

            “Mass hallucination? Some kind of chemical attack?” Pete offered, and that was about as concerning as the table itself.

            “Relax, it’s fine!” Porker grinned, waving all of their worries away as though they were nothing.

            “But…how?” Miles asked, staring at him, his eyes wide.

            “It’s simple, Miles!” Porker called out, “I’ve got my own…pocket dimension.”

            There was dead silence.

            “Oh my god,” Gwen managed softly, and cackling finally burst out from the group of Spiders, even Pete looking decidedly amused, though he didn’t laugh. “That was… So terrible?” she managed between giggles.

            “Ah, hush,” Porker waved her away, grinning proudly. “That was good, and you all know it.” He pulled out a few extra chairs from his pocket, placing them down around the table and Rio put the other chairs from their own table around the new one that Porker had literally pulled from his pocket.

            God, what was his life, Jeff thought to himself, but found himself smiling slightly anyway. They weren’t that bad. Not really, there was obviously a lot of love there. Even in the pig. Actually, that was a thought.

            “Hey, Porker…” Jeff started thoughtfully, looking at the pig, who turned his attention to him with a bright sound. “How do you know so much about spiders?”

            “Oh! I used to be one,” Porker answered with a bright smile.

            Jeff froze, Rio blinking. The other Spiders started giggling quietly, Pete smirking slightly in amusement.

            “What?”

            “Yeah! I was an orb-weaver. Make those pretty webs all over the place, which is why I know a lot about their upkeep and what they’re good for. I got bit by an irradiated pig, which turned me into one. I took her last name because she started taking care of me, and that’s how I got an Aunt May and gained about three feet in height."

            Jeff decided that, for the sake of his sanity, he wasn’t going to spend anytime thinking about that.

            Jeff moved to help dish out the food to everyone, making sure to give them all extra portions, especially Pete. He could see the way that Pete was looking at all of the fruit in particular and made sure to give him decent portions of each. He wondered, idly, if he had ever seen half of the things that were on the table. He also remembered what Parker said about that hyper-metabolism, though Peni refused when he tried to give her some more.

            “I’m actually not enhanced like they are!” Peni explained, smiling. “I use a mech, so I eat regular portions.”

            “…Okay?” Jeff managed.

            “This stuff is great,” Miles enthused, indicating the chilaquiles after noticing a bit of hesitancy among most of the people at the table (and the pig), who were looking like they had never seen the dish before, though they all looked very keen to try it. Jeff did notice that Parker was already moving to get himself a bite as Jeff sat down. He wondered idly if Parker had had them before, but the rest of them immediately looked to Miles expectantly, waiting for guidance in how to proceed. “You just take them with your fork like this,” he stabbed some of the cheese-encrusted, salsa-covered, red-onion slathered, and very nicely crunchy tortillas on his fork, and put them in his mouth, making exaggeratedly pleased sounds as he did so.

            With this bit of instruction, everyone moved to follow suit, though Parker had already taken a few bites by that point, as had Rio and Jeff himself. He loved his wife’s cooking and was super glad that she had taken the time to do so. He’d have to repay the favor by washing the dishes and make breakfast the next time he got a chance.

            “Itadakimasu!” Peni called out brightly, and took a bite, blinking as the flavor hit her.

            It was only as Gwen made a very small sound, her eyes widening, that Jeff realized that one of the things that he loved the most about his wife’s cooking was her homemade salsa. Which included some very hot chilis. And had just been served to a bunch of white people.

            Oh. No.

            Parker looked up to his wife with a smile after taking a few bites, opening his mouth in a way that looked like he was about to compliment her, when Porker breathed literal fire into the air, causing all of them to jerk backwards. Jeff had a moment to feel horrified at how genuinely unsurprised and unconcerned that made him, his only thought that he should have brought out milk and not the coffee and juice he had grabbed.

            “Oh my god!” Gwen managed, fanning her mouth, “It’s so…it’s so hot! I’m so sorry!” She looked at Rio with her eyes watering and a pink flush spreading across her face, looking genuinely apologetic, while Porker panted for breath, finally taking his glass of juice and gulping it down. Peni, herself looked a little caught-off-guard, sniffing slightly as the spice hit her.

            Pete looked like he’d been hit with it the worst. That grey cast had turned dark as blood rose under his skin at the heat, sweat breaking out on his forehead, and his nose began running. He swallowed forcefully and let out a little cough, looking down at his plate with something like betrayal on his face. Then he took another bite.

            Jeff immediately reached out to stop him, shock running through him at the sight, as Rio put her hands to her mouth, a stream of apologies leaving her as she realized what had happened. Miles leapt up to get the milk from the fridge, pouring a few glasses, handing one to Gwen, and bringing out some sour cream. Parker watched all of this with an air of slight amusement, taking a few more bites of his chilaquiles without issue. If Jeff wasn’t quite so concerned about Pete attempting to eat something that was causing him actual pain, he might have found it amusing.

            Pete did not appreciate his reaching, pulling the plate back towards him and fixing him with a glare, before literally leaping back into the corner with his plate, letting out a little hiss as he did so. Jeff blinked, standing up at him, shock preventing him from saying a word. Porker drained a few more glasses of juice, before moving onto the milk, and Peni took some sour cream as Miles offered it, and spread it on the chilaquiles happily, cutting the spice and taking a few bites of her doctored food in contentment, watching the show much like Parker was.

            “No hissing,” Porker gasped out finally, pointing at Pete sternly as he finished the glass of milk. A moment later and he went for another glass of milk, finally coughing out smoke as whatever fire that had been lit within him died. He sighed in contentment, pounding his chest a few times with his fist and coughing out more smoke. “He’s not going to take it, he’s just going to cut the spice. See what Peni did?”

            Pete frowned from his position pressed to the corner of the ceiling with the plate curled to his chest, taking another bite stubbornly.

            Oh my god. Jeff threw his hands up and sat down, watching as Gwen put a healthy dollop of sour-cream on her own chilaquiles and took a large bite. She gave Rio a thumbs-up after doing so, grinning at her after she swallowed.

            “Thank you for breakfast!” she called out.      

            “Thank you!” the Spiders chorused at that, smiling at her, and Rio put her hands on her heart, looking like she couldn’t decide whether to start laughing or crying. Miles was panting, still holding the milk in one hand as though waiting for a glass to be emptied so he could pour it in.

            “I’m so sorry!” Rio called out, finally. “I hadn’t even thought about it maybe being too spicy!”

            “I think it’s fine,” Parker said with a grin, taking a large bite as emphasis. “I really like the flavor.”

            Pete climbed steadily down the wall and relaxed his hold on his plate as he put it in front of his spot, finally sitting down and adding some sour cream of his own. Pete gave a little sniff as Jeff raised an eyebrow at him, and Jeff finally couldn’t help but laugh. The sound of his laughter caught the rest of them up in it, loud and happy. Pete didn’t laugh, but his expression had softened, a slight smirk pulling up his mouth. What needed to be done to get this kid to laugh?

            “Thank you, Parker,” Rio finally managed after catching her breath, smiling brightly. “I make my own salsa. My family likes it very hot, so I do my best to oblige. I have quite a few different chilis in there, pero es una receta secreta.”

            “Those are the best kind,” Parker grinned.

            “I’m still very sorry,” Rio finally managed, wiping away tears of laughter, fighting for composure. “I hadn’t meant to hurt anyone.”

            “It’s fine,” came the bright exclamation from several voices.

            “Really, I’m just not used to the kind of spices used here. I like the flavor, though!” Peni called out, smiling.

            “I like it, too,” Gwen said, taking a bite as illustration.

            “I’ve never had anything like this before, but I…actually kind of like it, now that I can taste it,” Pete said, his skin having returned to its usual dead-white pallor as he had managed to cut enough of the spice, a napkin having gotten rid of the sweat and the snot. “What is all of this?” he asked, indicating it.

            “It’s tortillas - which are a type of flatbread, red onion, homemade salsa, and a lot of cheese. Salsa is made using things like tomatoes, limes, and a variety of chili peppers,” Rio explained, eating after giving her explanation. “The salsa is what gives it the kick.” She winked.

            “Sure felt like a kick,” Pete agreed with a slight shrug. There was a laugh at that, grins spreading. They ate their way through the chilaquiles and the beef chorizo con huevos, Rio indicating the sausage and assuring Porker that it was beef and not pork. The rest of the Spiders looked a good deal like they were also relieved, which made sense.

            Jeff didn’t think he’d ever be able to eat pork again.

            They soon began to point out different things for Pete to try, watching happily as he did so. It was obvious that he hadn’t had a meal like this in a very, very long time, if ever, and he looked so happy trying everything that it honestly just kind of warmed the heart. The funniest, in Jeff’s opinion, was the papaya.

            Pete took a bite of the bright orange fruit, making a small face as he did so, and chewing thoughtfully, trying to get a feel for it. It was quite obvious that he didn’t know what to think about it, and Rio finally laughed.

            “You don’t have to eat that if you don’t want to,” she pointed out with a smile. “There’s plenty of other things for you to try.”

            “No,” Pete returned, once again pulling the fruit towards him. “I like it…I think.” He took another bite in emphasis, making the same face, and the laughter that followed was bright.

            Finally, the food was almost eaten, the Spiders packing away most of it, minus Peni. Hyper-metabolisms. What an absolute pain. And that brought him back to Pete, who… Jeff frowned slightly, trailing off mid-thought, as he took in the teen’s expression.

            Pete’s gaze had found the living room behind Jeff’s seat, a strawberry that he had been about to eat dangling from his fingers limply. His gaze was cold, almost hateful, and He. Didn’t. Blink.

            Jeff felt a shiver run up his spine as he turned to look at what it was that had caught Pete’s attention, and found nothing.

            The only thing there was his normal living-room, minus the pile of pillows and blankets that were scattered about. But that wasn’t anything concerning. It certainly didn’t deserve the level of hate Pete was fixing it with. Maybe it was something he remembered? Jeff looked back at Pete, realizing that he hadn’t grabbed his glasses. Maybe that was it?

            Jeff stood up, about to go into the living room to get them, when he felt a tug on his back after hearing an oddly soft thwip sound. The conversation fell silent immediately, and Jeff turned around to see Pete with his other hand in that traditional Spider-Man pose, a black line of webbing coming from his wrist and attached to his back. Those gray eyes were still fixed on his living room, and Jeff felt a mild stirring of fear at the possibility that there might be something there.

            The other Spiders had stiffened at the sight of Pete’s webbing, all of them fixing the living room with focused eyes, half-rising from their chairs. No one said a word, he didn’t even know if he could hear them breathing. Parker moved Rio back behind the table, Gwen pushing Miles in the same direction, even as the two of them took careful steps forward, their bodies tense. Porker had pulled a metal-studded mallet from his pocket, holding it at the ready, blue eyes focused. Finally, after a minute of anxious staring Parker looked to Pete in confusion, his eyebrows knitted.

            “I don’t sense anything?” Parker whispered softly, the words almost breathed out. Pete didn’t glance his way, giving another little tug to the web attached to the back of Jeff’s shirt. Jeff backed up, realizing with a jolt that the other was anxious for him.

            “Oniichan, what is it?” Peni asked, and her voice was frightened, a soft thing that trembled slightly as she grabbed hold of Pete’s shirt. That fear seemed to break Pete out of whatever spell he was under, though he didn’t turn his eyes away from that living room, his shoulders lost some of their tension, and he finally put down the strawberry.

            “It’s here.”

            Jeff felt his flesh crawl, the hair on the back of his neck prickling as he took another few steps back towards the table, turning focused eyes back on his living room. Parker and Porker both grabbed Jeff and maneuvered him back and over the table, setting him down next to his wife and his son. They didn’t say anything for a moment, before finally:

            “I don’t sense any danger, Pete…” Parker said softly, looking back to Pete. “I don’t see anything either. Will it…can it harm us?”

            Pete flashed a glance towards Parker, before his eyes locked back on that living room. He stiffened at whatever it was that he saw, before he stood up, taking a large step back from the table. The rest of them immediately backed up as well, Parker’s, and Gwen’s arm both keeping Jeff and his family back.

            Jeff didn’t like this. He didn’t like the fact that there was something there that he couldn’t see. He didn’t like not being able to protect his family from whatever it was. He didn’t like the idea that it was frightening Pete.

            Jeff finally squared his shoulders and did something that was probably and most assuredly, very stupid. He took Parker’s and Gwen’s distraction to duck between them and moved to the living room without warning. The surprised voices behind him were compounded by Rio and Miles’ voices calling out in concern. Jeff waved his arms in front of him, trying to feel this thing, whatever it was.

            But he could feel nothing.

            He could see nothing.

            Maybe.

            Maybe there was nothing?

            Finally, after waving his arms like a madman a few more times as he took step after step forward and still felt nothing, he turned back to the group of Spiders, recognizing that Pete had somehow turned even paler, all the blood drained from his skin. Those grey eyes were fixed on him, and Jeff finally gave a slight frown.  

            “There’s nothing here,” Jeff finally managed, looking into his living room, before looking back at Pete. “I don’t feel anything, there’s…there’s just nothing there? Are you…are you okay, Pete?”

            “It’s there.” Pete returned, and his voice was so hard, so sure. “It’s there.”

            “Well, I don’t see it, and I don’t feel it, are you sure that it…” Jeff started, a bit of that cop-voice leaking into his tone, and Pete finally fixed him with that thousand-yard stare. “That it’s actually there?” Jeff finished, stubbornly.

            Pete stared at him for a moment and his eyes were filled with such…disdain. “I’m not whacky,” Pete hissed, and Jeff felt his stomach plummet at the realization that that hadn’t come out as he had wanted it to.

            “I’m not…I’m not calling you crazy, I just think…you’ve been through a lot of stress, and…”

            Pete sneered, actively sneered, and finally walked forward. He leapt over the table, and finally stood next to Jeff. Pete’s eyes were wide and wild, fear and anger burning in them, and then Jeff saw something that made him stiffen.

            Pete’s hair was moving, soon joined by his shirt as Pete lifted his arms slightly, letting the slightly-too-big cloth hang freely. It moved as though in a gust of air, a breeze catching the fabric and his hair and blowing it back. It was then that Jeff realized.

            He could smell rain.

            “You asked me about the wind,” Pete whispered, his voice a cracked and broken little thing, and Jeff noticed the fear that rippled through the other Spiders, their focus on his hair, on his shirt, on whatever it was that sent that air across him.

            “It breathes.”

Chapter Text

            Ever since the moment Gwen had seen the Lizard again, bigger, stronger, and scarier than ever, she had felt as though she was treading water in the middle of the ocean. A feeling of dread sweeping her in and pulling her down, never letting her go. To make matters worse, every time she felt as though she had finally managed to glimpse the shore ahead of her, a hidden current came in and swept her back out to sea again.

            The current had gripped her the first time when Pete had pulled off his mask and the face that stared back at her was Peter’s. Not B’s face, not even the face of the Peter of the universe she was in now (the one she had also let die), but Peter.

            Her Peter.

            Her Peter with his too-emotive eyes, washed out as they were with the gray color that they were now, his violently scarred skin as white as her costume, and his (terrible) hair as black as night, but still Peter. It was like a fairy-tale. It was like a dream.

            It was like seeing a ghost come back to haunt her for her sins.  

            Then he began speaking and he didn’t talk like her Peter. The emotion was hidden when he spoke, the emotional cadence that she had come to expect from Peter just not there. He referred to Jeff as ‘sir,’ and his tone was polite and almost empty. That was, of course, until they finally pressured Peter enough that he finally spilled, and his words were violent, and the emotions behind them were sharp and bitter. They cut into her like a knife, biting deep into her soul, and reminding her of the last time Peter spoke to her. They had his tone.

            The current dragged her deeper.

            She was barely treading water, keeping herself afloat mainly for Miles and Peni, who were both younger than her, and were both so hurt. She had to stay strong, she couldn’t let them down, and Gwen herself had been fighting her emotions down for years. She could do this.

            Then Peter revealed that he was like the Lizard, that he was on a slow road to changing, and all of the fear, all of the horror, all of the pain washed right back in, and pulled her under. She had given voice to the fear, to the anguish that was bubbling right underneath the surface, before almost immediately swallowing it back down again. It burned her, deep in her chest, and she knew that if she opened her mouth again, she’d only start screaming.

            B pulled her up from the water, asking questions she hadn’t thought of, giving her hope. And then Peter opened his mouth. His intentions bared before them, Gwen felt all light leave her as the current gave her a furious jerk, pulling her down and rolling her under. Deep, deep, deep, spinning in a way that left her breathless and unable to speak, unable to give voice to the emotion in her chest, to her denial. B and Porker both began talking then, slowly bringing Peter down from the ledge he had been standing on, slowly warming her soul, even as Peter spoke to something else that cut her deep.

            “I’d want to die,” four words, spoken with such intent, and such heavy certainty that it was like a punch to the gut, and more importantly, to the understanding that she thought she had had. The sob she finally let out was choked and horrified, but it was Porker this time who reached out and caught her, pulled her head up from under the waves and held her close. Porker, who was warm and solid, giving her an anchor-point that allowed her to calm down, his voice gentle and soothing, but firm, and such a balm to her soul. He gave her hope, and she could see the slightest stirrings of it in Peter.

            Peter who stared at Porker with a mix of fear and desperation. Peter who spoke of not being able to hope anymore, of the fear that held him back, that didn’t know what a hug was.

            It was her Peter, but her Peter that had been put through so much, driven to the brink and then thrown out into an abyss with no hope of reaching land. Her Peter that had been drowning for longer than Gwen wanted to consider, held under the water by pain, and fear, and so much despair that he had given up on hoping.

            It was only as Peter finally managed to hug Rio back that she started to think that maybe things would be okay.

            But that current just kept coming back. Understanding how the Goobers worked. Blackened and broken ribs, bruising that covered the length of his back, heroin, needing B in order to help him get clean and change, and his refusal to sleep near them all tugged her out further and further. By the time everyone was supposed to be asleep, Gwen was drowning.

            Peni seemed to be drowning as well, but instead of Gwen’s inability to move, of her fear, Peni moved towards Peter. Peni was pulled up to him, leaped into his arms, and Gwen felt the hot knife of her own inability to act twist.

            Gwen couldn’t even comfort her best friend. What use was she?

            Gwen stood up, stumbling away from the still-sleeping B and Porker, making her way out of the window and gasping for breath as air hit her face. Gwen crawled out of the window, pressing herself against the wall as she just tried to breathe, to fight back the tears that were rising up in her throat to choke her. Now wasn’t the time. She had to stay strong, she was the oldest aside from Peter, she had to keep her head up. She could do this. She could do this.

            Gwen climbed her way up the two-story townhouse, perching on the roof and just breathing. She focused on the feel of her lungs expanding for six seconds, and then let the air out, six seconds. She kept at it, fighting down the mounting panic, the anguish. She had finally begun to close everything down, when a sudden voice quietly called out,

            “Gwen?”

            Gwen jumped, looking down to see B crawling up the side of the house towards her. For a moment she felt like running, seeing that older face of her once-friend staring up at her with the same concern that she would see in his eyes, and she…

            “Gwen, shh,” B said softly, finally sitting level with her on the roof, reaching out and gently brushing away the tears that she hadn’t even noticed were falling. “It’s okay,” he said gently. Gwen looked away, pulling her face away from his touch and wiping her eyes. For a moment there was silence between the two of them, B looking out at the city, and Gwen looking down at her hands. She couldn’t look at him. Couldn’t look at a face that should have stopped aging a long time ago. Couldn’t look at the wrinkles, at the stress, at the gray in his hair…

            “You know,” B said suddenly, his voice still mindfully soft, keeping in mind the people that might be sleeping below, breaking Gwen of her thoughts. “In my universe…” he looked at her, and Gwen felt her heart clench. Those eyes were sad as they stared at her, something like loss in their depths, but there was such an air of fondness there, somehow, that she didn’t know what to feel. “In my universe…you died,” he finally finished, and his voice was so gentle.

            Gwen felt her heart stop.

            B leaned forward against his upraised knees, wrapping his arms around them. The pose was so familiar, but suddenly, instead of the ache that she had felt before, the question of what she did that his Gwen had rose up instead. Gwen stared at him quietly, waiting for him to continue, sensing that he was building himself up to it. She wiped at her eyes, staring out at the city with him, focusing back on her breathing.

            “Goblin killed her.” Gwen froze, looking at him with wide eyes. “He threw her off a bridge, and I…tried to catch her with my webs, but I…I couldn’t save her.” Gwen was silent, her eyebrows pinching. “It felt like a knife digging into my soul,” B said softly. “Honestly, sometimes it still feels like that. She was…well, in a lot of ways she was my rock. She knew who I was, all of what I was, and she still…” he took a breath, and then looked at her. “I see her in you, you know. The same spark, the same spirit, the same determination to get up and keep fighting and fighting and fighting.” He smiled. “It makes me happy, you know? The idea that somewhere out there another Gwen lives and breathes, and she’s doing so well, she’s fighting so hard. She’s out there living her best life.” Gwen gave a choked laugh at the cheesy smile he gave her, wiping away the tears. There was something about the way he said it, something about the fondness that made her believe him. Something about the earnestness that caused a swell of pride to rise up in her soul along with that bubble of empathy. There was something almost healing in his outlook, and she found herself trying to cling to it.

            But she found that it didn’t stick.

            His grin faded finally, looking back at the city.

            “It’s not like that with us, is it?” He asked, and her heart lurched. “Me and the other Peters. You can’t really look at us and think we’re living our best lives, can you?”

            Gwen felt that current start to tug again, her heart lurching in denial and anguish.

            “Aside from Porker, maybe,” he said, and the sudden statement made Gwen choke on laughter, not the tears she had expected. “What?” B asked, grinning at her, “he’s got it pretty put together, I think.” Gwen laughed, a bright burst of laughter, and thought with a pang that her Peter could do that, too. Could bring a laugh out of her no matter how hurt she was, and that fact stung, too, but it was starting to be a good kind of hurt, a healing kind of hurt.

            “But I know that I’m not, Gwen, and that’s okay,” Gwen opened her mouth again as he said this, feeling the frown pull at her mouth, the bubble of denial that tried to rise out of her mouth, on principle more than actual belief, but he put a hand up. “Hey, no. You don’t have to defend me, or tell me that I’m not a mess, I know what I am, Gwen, I know what I was.” It the way he said this, combined with the way that he looked at her, that made Gwen know that B had known his Gwen as well as she had known her Peter. He could still read her no matter how many years removed he was from her death. He still knew her. “And I…I really am doing so much better,” he continued, and the look on his face… “I’m doing so much better. But…I wasn’t.” He gave a self-depreciating smile, and the look was so Peter, so Peter, from the slight crooked smile, to the way he raised just the inner-most section of his eyebrows, that little lean-in he did towards her as though he was about to give her the secrets to the universe.

            “But you know what?” he continued softly, still staring at her with that smile, and she found herself shaking her head, something rising up in her chest that felt like hope. “I’m still here, Gwen,” he said, his voice so gentle, so sure. “I’m still here, and I’m still fighting, and right now? Right now, I really am living my best life. It might not always be pretty, and it might not always be a straight upward climb, but I’m here. And I have all of you to thank for that.” He took a breath, leaning back, Gwen fixated on his every word with a light building up in her soul in a way she hadn’t felt… “I forgot, Gwen. I forgot what it was to be Spider-Man. I forgot why I loved it so much. I forgot why I loved…so much.” He took a breath, and his expression was so gentle. “You guys all reminded me. All of you. Every single one of you stood up and you all did so much to remind me.” His head tilted slightly. “And if you all can remind me, can remind this janky-hobo-Spider-Man,” his voice was laughing, teasing, and Gwen felt her heat swell, a giggle escaping even as she ducked her head, “then how much chance does Pete have at avoiding that?”

            Gwen looked away, biting at her lip gently, finding another pool of doubt within her that she didn’t know what to do with. A hand on her shoulder startled her, and she looked back into brown eyes that were watching her closely. “Come on,” he said softly. “I just bared my soul here, give me something,” he teased gently, shaking her slightly. Gwen gave a soft laugh, looking away, and finally, quietly.

            “He said…he said he wanted to die,” Gwen finally managed to choke out, her eyebrows pinching, tears welling up in her throat, choking them back. She found she couldn’t continue, the words dying on her tongue, a mounting frustration at her own inability rising up in her, anger and fear rising.

            “I would, too,” B said suddenly, giving a slight nod, and Gwen choked, taken aback and caught off-guard, turning to look at him with wide and horrified eyes, tears welling up in their corners.

            “But…”

            “Shh, Gwen, listen. If I thought that I was going to become a monster, and if it was my life for yours? I’d give it in a second, no hesitation.” He snapped his fingers in demonstration, “like that. That’s what Pete is currently living with. That’s the feeling that he has rising up in his skull, this fear that he’s going to kill the people he loves.” Gwen brought both hands up to her face, trying to physically shove the tears back, choke them down. B took her hands in his then, pulling them gently away, and when she finally made eye-contact, his eyes were so gentle, so kind.

            “But Gwen, you’d do the same thing for me. Miles would, Peni would, Porker would, Pete would. All of us, we all would. All of us were willing to do it before with the collider, weren’t we? And while this is different in a way, I know that, this is something where it doesn’t feel like life-or-death to us. This is something where the thing we’re fighting against isn’t something we can see. It’s something that’s in Pete, and that’s scary, but listen.” He shifted so he was crouched in front of her, hunched so he could look in her eyes directly, his smile so soft, and so sure, and she caught those eyes and held them, a lighthouse in the dark of the water, rising up above the crashing waves and guiding her to shore. “When he has so many people here, so many people that have his back, that would catch him if he falls, that love him so much… How on earth can he fall that far?”

            Gwen broke.

            The tears came forth like water bursting from a dam, strangled sobs rising up from within her, and B was suddenly holding her, hugging her tight and pulling her close, hushing her as his hand ran through her hair. His thumb found the shaved-half of her head and ran in circles along the stubble, soothing her, while at the same time giving her a grounding point. Gwen threw her arms around him, and he adjusted his hold on her, moving her so she was able to almost disappear into his arms, and it was…

            Hugging B wasn’t like hugging Peter, not exactly. Peter hadn’t had the strength that B did, hadn’t had that internal spider-strength that allowed B to hold her that firmly, to press her that close, and he certainly hadn’t had B’s extra-padding, but that didn’t change the intent behind it. That didn’t change the way that his arms wrapped around her so tightly made her feel as though she had finally found a buoy to cling to in the middle of the ocean, a break on her way to the shore, and above all… His arms felt like she had found home. She had found home and safety in a whispered conversation on a rooftop in a world that wasn’t her own.

            B was Peter.

            Her Peter was dead. He was dead he was dead, but here was Peter, and inside the house below her, Peter was there, too. Two other Peters were in the house below, though one was a pig, and that was still odd, but he had held her the same, had been so constant and so warm, a life-raft that kept her head up, that gave her a moment of safety. Three Peters were still fighting, were still there, and were still living their lives, even though one might need help to live his best life. She had failed two already. She wouldn’t fail any of these.

            She wouldn’t fail Peter again.  

            When Gwen finally gained control, when the hitched sobs and low keens had finally stopped, she felt wrung out and raw, B’s hold on her finally gentling. He shifted her slightly in his arms, so carefully, and Gwen came to realize the damp patch of tears and snot and drool she had made all over his shirt. She felt her face heat, and she kept her head down, but B just hushed her gently.

            “It’s alright, Gwen. I’m just glad you let all of that come out. It’s not good to keep it in like that.”

            “I’ve…I’ve gotta be strong for…for Miles, and for Peni, and for…” she managed softly, hiccupping, falling silent, struggling to find the words.

            “Well, you don’t have to be strong for me, okay, Gwen? I’ve got you and it’s going to be okay. It’s going to be okay.” B pressed a kiss to the top of her head, and it reminded her so much of her dad, so much of the way he talked to her, and she pressed her ear to his chest, listening to the too-fast thump of a Spider’s heartbeat. The more she listened though, the more she thought, the more guilt tugged at her heart, the more she realized that there was still more to say, and she needed to say it now before she drifted off.

            “I have to apologize,” she finally started softly, pressing on when B started to protest. “I said…I said something cruel, when we were trying to help Peter…in Peni’s world?” She heard B give a slightly inquisitive noise, and Gwen finally pulled back, meeting confused brown eyes with intense blue ones, doing her best to fill all of her certainty and all of her gratefulness into just her gaze alone. “I was wrong. What I said about taking Peter to MJ, when he was…when we couldn’t decide where to take him, and how to help him? About how if you did that you wouldn’t have…you wouldn’t have to worry about kids anymore?”

            “Oh,” B said, and his voice held realization, his eyebrows knitting slightly, even as he shook his head. “You don’t have to…”

            “No, wait, I’m not finished,” Gwen pushed, silencing any protests, seeing the slight sting that her words had left within him on his face, and refusing to let that stay. “B, I was wrong. I was so wrong and it’s…it’s not just because what I said was cruel, even though it was. It was very cruel and I’m so sorry… But it’s not because of that, it’s because you would make a great dad, B. You would be an amazing dad and any kid…that was lucky enough to have you…you’d be so good.” She held him again, recognizing the hesitancy in him, even as his arms came up automatically to wrap around her.

            She hadn’t told him the full truth. She hadn’t told him about the deaths that weighed on her conscience, of the blow that she had struck, but that was for her. That was her penance, her drive to do better. She found his heartbeat again, pressing close, and felt herself slowly drifting to sleep, buoyed by his warmth and the words that he spoke, and the fact that his heart was beating.

            Gwen woke up the next day with hope budding in her chest for the first time in what felt like ages, and not even the rude awakening of her ‘pillow’ suddenly jumping nine-or-so feet into the air and sending her sprawling could shake that. She attacked Miles with a pillow when given the go-ahead by his dad, keeping gentle enough that she wouldn’t hurt a normal human, while at the same time being sure to get in a few good whacks. She was happy. She felt like the buoy had taken her all the way to shore, finally finding refuge among the rocks from the current that had pulled at her so harshly.

            Peni calling Pete “oniichan” was another hint that things would be okay, the ‘big brother’ translation from her (shameful) years of watching anime buzzing in her heart. It was perfect, really. It fit the relationship that she could see forming. A relationship that she wanted.

            As the morning progressed Gwen decided that she really had made it to the shore, that she could finally rest. Peter had friends, he had them, and they were all willing and able to protect each other. Even Jeff and Rio, two new faces that still gave them such love, people she never would have expected were welcoming them into their home, feeding them, sheltering them…

            Gwen had never been more wrong.

            Just as Gwen thought she had found safety, just as she thought she had found control…the current gripped her one more time. This time the current dragged her so far deep, and so far under, she didn’t think she’d ever find the shore again.

            “It breathes,” Peter said, standing in front of Jeff with his arms slightly raised, wide-eyed and so…scared, and that’s when she saw it. What she had thought of as wind blew through Peter’s hair, through his shirt, sending both billowing slightly in the dramatic way that she had just thought of as weird, but him and left at that. Just as suddenly as she had noticed it, the wind changed direction, and Gwen came to realize that she had never felt true fear before.

            Gwen had been afraid before. She had feared for her life and for the lives of others. She had felt the surge of adrenaline racing through her veins every time she threw herself into harms way in order to protect someone else. She had stared death itself in the face and she had swung away, playing a dangerous game with the inevitable. But never, in all her years of living, had the sight of something so small scared such a primal part of her being more than in those two seconds of staring.

            There was something there.

……………………………………….

 

            Jeff had been trained how to function in times of fear. He had been trained in how to handle gunfire of every caliber, how to deal with hostage situations, ransom demands, bomb-threats, and because this was New York, how to handle almost every super villain attack a person could think of. He had been drilled in what to do with the feeling of nervous tension that grew along the back of your spine, how to keep a level head, and how to do his best to make sure that civilians were safe and protected.

            In that moment, staring at Pete as his clothes and his hair drifted back and forth in a wind he couldn’t feel, but could see, the smell of rain cloying and heavy in his nostrils, Jeff forgot all that he knew. He forgot every drill he had ever learned, staring at the impossible, and above all, staring at Pete’s face.

            Pete’s eyes were wide, pupils dilated to the point where the iris was a thin silver ring around black, his breath harsh and panting, skin tacky with sweat, and Jeff knew what that expression was. That expression was terror. Pure, unadulterated terror. And Jeff had just walked right into range of whatever was causing it.

            Jeff froze. Like some kind of rookie, like some sort of…inexperienced rookie, staring back at Pete, even as those eyes drifted away from him, and focused up and up and up. Silver-ringed black stared at the ceiling and his hand slowly reached out, pressing against Jeff’s chest and beginning to move him back. Jeff followed the prompting without conscious thought, backing away where that hand pushed him, his heart beating a staccato rhythm. Pete froze suddenly, flinching down, his hand fisting over Jeff’s heart in the cloth, his body leaning into him without touching him.

            The sudden realization that Pete was putting his own back in between Jeff and whatever was standing in his living room crossed his mind, and for a moment he wanted to struggle, but that reaction was stomped down as soon as another realization took its place.

            Jeff couldn’t see it. He couldn’t feel its breath even though he could see what it was doing to Pete. He couldn’t touch it. Whatever it was that was there, Jeff could do nothing to it. The ones that were behind him, the ones that were staring with a similar horror, they had all recognized that as well. Had likely understood that moving like Jeff had would only lead to someone getting hurt. Possibly even killed should that thing decide that their attempts were enough to warrant some kind of lesson. They were too close. They were too close. That was the moment when Pete froze, his head tilting back as though something had hooked under his chin, pulling his head back. Jeff gripped hold of Pete’s shirt without even thinking about it, wanting to pull him away, pull him back. Pete’s eyes focused on his, desperation, and sheer… Jeff felt as though he had stared into the void and it had called his name.

            What the hell had that kid brought with him? What was in his house?  

            Pete focused behind Jeff then, to his family and his fellow Spiders that all stood there, his eyes drifting from one terrified and yet angry face to the other, and he looked like he might weep. Those eyes flicked back to Jeff then, and a resolve the likes of which Jeff had never seen before spread across that white face.

            “Please,” Pete said, the word choked and so desperate it hit Jeff like a blow to the chest. “Please,” he said again, and he let go of Jeff’s shirt, taking a hold of his wrist instead. Jeff found himself letting go without realizing, Pete taking slow step after step back, his head still tilted. For a moment nothing changed, Jeff not knowing or understanding what it was that Pete was asking for… And then something happened that Jeff would find himself revisiting in his nightmares for years to come.  

            Jeff watched as those dilated pupils slowly began expanding until they completely eclipsed the whole of Pete’s eye. The young Spider blinked, his mouth tight, skin clammy with pain, and then he stumbled forward as though pushed. Jeff caught Pete in his arms before the other could hit the ground. Black eyes, empty as the abyss stared into his soul unseeing, and blinked.

            Black trailed from those eyes, black liquid that bubbled up like tar, like…like blood. It was blood. Blood that trailed down his face like tears, and Pete opened his mouth, and Jeff was horrified to find that there was blood there, too. Black and sticky it dribbled down his chin, down from his nose, and Pete gave a sound like a sob.

            “It’s okay,” Pete gasped out, blood bubbling in his throat. “It’s okay, it’s gone, it’s gone, it’s gone. It won’t…it won’t touch you, or your family…” he managed to choke out, swallowing black, even as Jeff felt it coat his hands, slide down his wrists, his arms. Oh god, oh god. There was so much of it… “I just gave it…another piece… You’ll…be safe,” he whispered, and Jeff felt his heart lurch. “I’m…so sorry… I didn’t think…it’d actually…follow me here…” Those black eyes stared at him, blinked once, and then closed, and Jeff felt as the kid slumped into his hold fully, consciousness leaving him completely.

            Jeff had a moment to realize that he could no longer smell rain, that the wind that had plagued Pete was gone, and then he was being swarmed by Spiders.

            Parker was first, actually leaping over Jeff and Pete, just narrowly missing the doorframe, landing in a crouch and moving through the living room quickly, trying to see if he could feel anything. The second to come to him was Gwen, blue eyes wide and so horrified, but she brought herself into position to defend them should something come back. Porker joined Parker in the living room, swinging that mallet around with enough care that he didn’t smash anything, but neither of them hit anything. They turned to look at Jeff and the rest of his family with wide and confused eyes, shaking their heads in denial. Peni was last, and that was the moment when the front door burst open. Gwen, Miles, and Rio all screamed, though Gwen recovered quickly enough to place herself in front of Jeff and Pete, everyone’s attention focusing on the door, even as Peter B and Porker both brought their bodies into a fighting stance, staring at the nothing that had opened it.

            “Wait!” Peni cried out, moving forward, and the door swung shut then, and a large red and blue…robot suddenly materialized inside of their living room. Peni ran towards it, the robot seeing Peni, and then turning its attention to Pete with a sad-sounding beep. Peni leapt into the air, the robot opening a hatch that she fell into, before it closed and the robot with Peni inside of it held both arms up in a ready stance.

            “Scanning for anything unnatural!” Peni cried out, her voice modified through the filter inside of the robot as slowly but surely the robot made a 360 rotation, those hands leading her turn. Everyone waited, watching with bated breath, and then the robot began alerting. Jeff realized that it was looking at him and Pete and he felt his heart stop. He tensed, for a moment certain that it was still there, that it hadn’t left…Peni suddenly gave a loud and angry exclamation. “Stop that!” she cried out. “Stop that, he’s not unnatural!”

            The sudden realization that the robot had alerted to Pete struck Jeff in the chest.

            What on earth was going on that the robot alerted to someone who still looked functionally human and ignored the pig entirely? Jeff hiked Pete up further in his arms, carrying him bridal style, looking down at the still form in his arms with a stirring in his heart that he wasn’t willing to examine just yet, watching that blood trickle down his face

            The sudden realization that Pete was still bleeding hit him, and he hurriedly placed him on the tiled-ground of the kitchen, tilting him into a recovery position. Blood that had been trapped in his mouth pooled to the ground beneath him, and Jeff cursed quietly under his breath in Spanish. He lifted Pete’s head slightly, tilting it down and doing his best to make sure that his airway remained as free as possible.

            Rio ran towards their shared room, coming back holding her personal medical bag that she took to the hospital with her, and pulling out her stethoscope from within, tossing the rest of it to the side. She slid next to him on her knees, putting the earpieces in her ears as Jeff shifted his hold on Pete so his back was exposed to Rio. Pulling Pete’s shirt up and out of the way, Rio pressed the diaphragm against the still black-mottled back, listening to his lungs.

            Gwen had fallen into a crouch beside them, her blue eyes still flashing every which way, still alert, still afraid and ready for action, but also very obviously still painfully worried for her friend.

            The robot finally gave a brief beep, and Peni reported quietly, “There’s nothing else here. We’re alone. Whatever was here…it’s gone now…”

            “Why would it just vanish like that?” Rio asked, horror in her voice. “Why would it show up to begin with? What…what was it after?”

            There was silence for a moment, confusion, and so much fear filling it, and finally Jeff broke it.

            “He said he gave it a piece,” he said, his voice low. Rio jerked her head up to look at him. “I don’t know what exactly he meant,” he continued, his voice soft, a mixture of horror, gratefulness, and something fiercely protective rising up within him. Because this kid, no matter what he brought with him, no matter the fact that he was something that Jeff didn’t really agree with…this kid was willing to sacrifice a part of something in order to keep Jeff’s family safe. He was willing to bleed, to hurt, just to keep them safe. Jeff thought he knew what Pete gave up, but he wasn’t sure.

            Jeff had questions. He had so many questions, so many things he was worried about. But right now, he had a kid bleeding out on his floor, a kid that had given something up for his friends, for a group of almost-strangers. That was something that Jeff was not going to forget in a hurry.

            Rio finally looked up at him with confusion on her face, shaking her head in answer to the obvious question of blood in his lungs. She began running through other tests, tapping for reflexes, which were sharp, and then peeling back the lid of a single eye. Jeff tensed at the sight of pure black that stared up at him, that silver and white gone. Rio hissed, immediately running to the counter by the sink and pulling out the small LED flashlight that they kept in a drawer for emergencies.

            Porker had returned to them, his mallet missing, and his expression quietly troubled. When Rio returned, she once again peeled back his eyelid, the obvious intention being to check his eye, likely to see if it was ruptured vessels or if it was something else. That was the moment when Porker gave a sudden sound of recognition.

            “Wait!” He said, before Rio could shine the light in his eye. They waited, watching. The other Spiders moved closer, huddling around their fallen friend who was still bleeding, bleeding, bleeding. Porker stared into that eye for a moment, familiarity shining in blue eyes. “He’s a Jumper,” Porker finally hissed out, recognition and certainty filling his voice and his expression, looking up at them. “His type. I was a Weaver, he…he’s a Jumper. It’s twisting him. I think if you shine that light in there, the only thing you’re going to do is temporarily blind that eye. That might…that might just be what we’re going to have to learn to live with.”

            Jeff looked around at them, catching the horror and the quiet terror that was filling them, and then caught a glimpse of Miles. Miles who was standing outside of the circle, Miles that was holding his hands to his face, and so still. Jeff didn’t know what expression his face fell into, but he saw when Parker noticed.

            Jeff was covered in blood and he wouldn’t touch his son if he could help it, his wife in a similar situation, her arms and hands splattered with it, painting them both a patchwork of gore. Parker was not, and he shot a glance from Miles to Jeff and his expression was enough that Jeff gave an immediate nod. Parker picked Miles up in the same way he had picked up Peni before him. Miles clung onto Parker, and Parker hiked him up a little, shushing him. Gwen was next, wrapping them both in a hug, Porker himself leaping up to cling to them. Peni suddenly shot out of the hatch like a bullet, colliding into Parker with enough force to make him almost stagger, but he rallied quickly and slung an arm back around Peni, hiking her up on his other hip, Gwen and Porker making room as easily as breathing.

            “It’ll be okay, kid,” Parker whispered. “He’s hard-boiled,” he said, his voice cracking with something like a laugh, a sound that surprised Jeff, but he could visibly see the other Spiders relaxing, their bodies leaking tension. Miles was visibly grinning in the sudden group-hug he had found himself in, relaxing against the body that held him. “He’ll be okay, this has been happening for over a year, right, remember? And he’s not dead yet…so he…he’ll be okay,” Parker reaffirmed, and there was something very reassuring in those words.

            Belief.

            Parker believed what he was saying, and belief went very far in comforting someone who was hurting, even if it wasn’t always genuine.

            Rio paused in her examination, quiet questions whispered to Porker when he joined her after leaving the group-hug, the pig quietly whispering back, and finally she looked back up to Jeff, her eyebrows knitting slightly. “He’s no longer bleeding,” she said, and as Jeff looked, he noticed it was true. Pete didn’t stir, blood still coated his face, ran in lines down from his eyes, from his mouth, from his nose, but there was nothing else coming up, dried, flaking trails the only thing left.

            It had stopped. Just as suddenly as it had started…it had stopped.

            “That. Is freaky,” Porker finally said very stiffly, and there was a momentary scoff.

            “What about the last five minutes wasn’t freaky?” Miles asked, and there was a brief thoughtful hum from the pig, who finally gave a brief shrug.

            “I got nothin’,” he said, and Miles laughed, a great release of tension that was better than the tears that Jeff had been expecting. It led to more laughter, a slightly hysterical thing that bubbled out of Gwen and Peni, Parker and Porker just looking vaguely fond.

            There was still tension there, a puddle of blood on the ground, and a still body lying in their kitchen. But they were all still here. And whatever that thing was…whatever it was…it was gone. Thanks to a sacrifice from a teenager that had already given up so much already. Jeff frowned slightly, catching Parker’s gaze again, finding the same kind of wariness in his eyes, but he was holding the kids, and at the moment, keeping them calm was the best course of action. They’d deal with everything else later, when they could talk together without fear that they would only be pulling the kids further into anxiety.

            It wasn’t that Jeff didn’t think they could take it. They were superheroes, it was their job to take it. But in this case…in this case he felt it was best that they didn’t have to. Because they didn’t have to. Not just yet.

            They needed to talk to Pete. They needed to understand just what it was that was happening, just what it was that was following him.

            They needed to find a way to get it to back the hell off.

            Rio stood up finally, walking over to the sink and coming back with a warm washcloth, which she used to clean up Pete’s face, Jeff helping her by holding him steady and finally scooping him up in his arms once his face was clean in that bridal-carry he had attempted before. Rio helped press Pete’s head against Jeff’s shoulder, adjusting him so he wasn’t lolling in a way that would injure his neck. The once white cartoon-covered pajamas were stained with black, sticky against his chest and arms. Pete himself sagged against him like dead-weight, his breath sticky in his throat from leftover blood, but with the assurance that there wasn’t any in his lungs came a feeling of safety. Pete would be okay, they could wash that out later, he wasn’t going to suffocate if he held him like this.

            He made eye-contact with Parker, the other man hesitating, before giving a sharp nod.

            “Alright, kiddos, down.” He said, and Gwen and Porker both gave a sound of complaint, Porker having immediately leapt back into the hug after Rio pronounced him stable, before complying. Miles and Peni both looked at him with raised eyebrows. Parker rolled his eyes excessively and finally crouched down so they could both clamber down easily. Parker stood up then and followed Jeff to the bathroom. Parker turned on the faucet in the shower-tub combo they had, plugging the drain after he adjusted the temperature.

            Porker came in carrying another pair of pajamas, setting them folded up on the closed lid of the toilet. He hesitated a moment and then patted both Jeff and Parker on the calf, his expression as grim as Jeff had ever seen it, but he got the message. They were all worried. Jeff hesitated before transferring Pete into Parker’s hold when he held his arms up. Parker had been the one allowed take care of him the last time, for obvious reasons, but there was a part of Jeff that felt very protective of the kid in his arms.

            None of this had gone according to how Jeff pictured. They would have to get a full explanation before Jeff would rule it to be okay, but at least they would know.

            Jeff finally transferred him over into Parker’s hold, the man giving him a sharp nod before Jeff left the bathroom, leaving Pete in Parker’s charge, Porker leaving as well after waving around a second shirt and pointing to Parker, before pointing back to the shirt. Rio had already gone upstairs to use the shower when he got out of the bathroom; he could hear the water running. Porker moved to remake Parker’s concoction in order to clean the blood from the tile, speaking to the other Spiders and Miles quietly, cracking jokes and bleeding tension from them.

            Jeff sighed, looked at the blood on his own hands, and finally left to clean himself. He trusted his kids with them. He trusted Miles with them. Too much had happened, and he had already seen them leap into position to protect him and his family                                                          

            It was gone.

            They just had to make sure it didn’t come back.

………………………………………………..

            It was odd, Peter B reflected to himself, how suddenly adrenaline could fade after a fright, and how often it led to a lazy, almost listless feeling when it wasn’t given anything to act against. There was still a vague feeling of concern as Pete had yet to wake up, but there was nothing that suggested he wouldn’t eventually wake up. Over a year, Pete had said, over a year. Peter B didn’t know how often this had happened, whether Pete had come out of the web he had mentioned fully-formed as the Spider he was now, or whether it had been a slow, gradual process. Either way, he didn’t expect for his temporary lack of consciousness to have long-term detrimental effects.

            Peter B sighed, pulling the plug from the drain for the second time. Black swirled and ebbed as it drained, Peter B giving it a hard look, frowning. There’d been so much blood.

            “Gotta say, bud,” he said softly, looking to the still form lying in the tub, “I’m getting kinda tired of you bleeding everywhere. Not that it’s your fault, but dang. Can we work on keeping that stuff inside of your body, or is that a tall order?” He paused, taking in closed lids and a slightly twisted mouth and gave a slight grin. “Tall order, I get it buddy. I really do.”

            He refilled the tub once more until there was two inches of water swirling around him, the largest amount he could risk in order to avoid getting Pete’s stitches wet, though he assumed they could be removed by now. Finally taking the washcloth and actively doing his best to clear the blood away, now that it wasn’t immediately staining the water. His hands had finally stopped shaking, leftover adrenaline leaving him in a way that would have led to exhaustion if he wasn’t quite so used to the feeling. He focused on other things, namely quipping and gentle motions that did their best to not irritate healing bruises.

            It was an odd experience, really. Like looking at himself twenty years ago, only with more scars and completely bleached. His bones had never jutted out quite that prominently, the ridges of his spine never dug in so harshly, his ribs that pronounced, but they had come close. Like with Miles, the only thing he could really think of in this situation was hoping that the kid could do better than he did.

            In a lot of ways, he thought that Pete would have a harder time staying away from his mistakes if only for the simple fact that the kid was him, but he could still hope. And better than hoping, he could do his best to guide him through certain things. There was no doubt that in a lot of ways the kid had it much worse than he ever did. But fuck if he wasn’t going to try his best.

            And that, as much as he wanted to avoid it, brought him back to the conversation with Gwen. “A great dad,” she had said, and it had burned him.

            It had run through his mind so many times, his heart beating fast in his chest, that by the time he finally stood up last night, the tears Gwen had left on his shirt had dried. It had come out of nowhere, and a part of Peter B had never felt more flattered… The other part of him had never felt like more of a failure. If he could have been that good…why had he fought it so much? Why had he let the fear drive him away as long as he had? Would he even really be that good? Peter B still didn’t think so, but maybe… Peter B took those thoughts and temporarily locked them in a box. There was too much going on right now. He’d deal with things as they came first and have an existential crisis about his own capacity to be a father later.  

            Peter B finished with the washcloth and went at that choppy hair with soap, deciding that this kid needed a haircut somehow. That was just embarrassing. When Pete was finally clean, Peter B pulled the plug for the final time, hoisting Pete’s body up and onto a few towels he’d picked out already, scrubbing him as dry as possible before dressing him. Though, Peter B left the shirt off of Pete so Rio could get at his bandages in order to redress them should she need to. Peter B threw on his own new shirt Porker had given him after doing a quick scrub to wash away the black that he hadn’t managed to quite clean up before focusing his attention on cleaning Pete, and finally backed his way out of the bathroom, holding Pete steady.

            Peter B turned around to see the kids and Porker all cuddled up on the ground, waiting, Jeff and Rio both situated near them. Peter B felt himself smile, a warm feeling rising up within him at the sight.

            There were a few things that had saved him when Peter B had been younger. The first were the friendly street-vendors that always attempted to give a young Spider-Man as much free food as possible in gratitude after he saved them. Peter B remembered all of them fondly and always did his best to swing by and check on them when he could. Those that were still alive, that was. Most of the time their families passed down the tradition and were always there to welcome him with a hotdog and a smile, or something similar, sharing memories of the ones they had lost quietly when the mood struck.

            The second was his friends, his Team.

            Matt Murdock and Wade Wilson. Team Red with all of its idiosyncrasies tied together over alliteration and a similar position at the fringe of tight-wearing superheroes. Wade in particular had a tendency to always bring food to their meetups, more than enough for the three of them, and it had become such a regular occurrence that Peter B knew that he’d never wind up starving. And even then, it wasn’t that Aunt May hadn’t tried. She’d always been there for him. But Peter has never told her about the advanced metabolism. Had never told her about the rising of his bones beneath his skin.

He’d never wanted to worry her. It was his responsibility to be sure he never would. And so he’d never told. A part of him wondered if she knew, if she had figured it out towards the end, but it was easier to think she hadn’t. It was easier to think he’d made the right decision. Even at the consequences to himself.

            Peter B didn’t know if Pete had access to people that could give him any of the handouts that Peter B had enjoyed, didn’t know what the relationship with his Aunt actually was, whether she was even still alive, but he did know that there were at least four people that would be completely ready to feed him should he need it. There was a Team that they had made here, and while Porker’s food was strange, it would probably still work. Gwen and Peni had parents that likely made their own food choices for them, and he wasn’t about to rely on strangers he didn’t know, but he knew at least Jeff and Rio might be willing if he proposed something.

            But first he had to make sure that whatever it was that was following Pete really wasn’t going to be more of a threat. In that case, Peter B would have to find a way to stretch his budget enough to accommodate another Spider. He wasn’t willing to bring Miles’ family into it, not until he was certain things would be okay. He thought so, he trusted Peni, and he trusted Pete’s word, but that had been…something Peter B hadn’t been prepared for. It had been so surreal, standing there and staring at Pete as he tried to push Jeff away from something that only he could see, Peter B finding himself trapped in a limbo of indecision. Peter B had wanted to act, his body tense and angry and so, so afraid, but he couldn’t do anything to something he couldn’t see. Not when it was that close to Jeff and Pete. Not when any action Peter B might have taken could have been countered in such a way that hurt the ones that Peter B wanted to save. So, he had watched.

            It was the hardest thing he had ever had to do, and as he lay Pete down on the couch, he resolved to never do it again.

            Rio took note of the bandages immediately, black as they were from the blood earlier. She peeled them back after a brief nod and a smile to Peter B, her eyes warm. Rio paused at the sight of the stitches, before looking back to Peter B, frowning in confusion.

            “Cuánto tiempo debes dejarte los puntos antes de que puedan sacarlos?” she asked, Peter B frowning slightly as he did a quick head translation.

            “Honestly they could probably be removed now if it were me,” Peter B responded. “Most of the time wounds like that need just a little help before they seal up nicely on their own. If it looks like it’s healed, it probably is.”

            Rio gave the stitches a quiet examination, prodding gently at the skin around them, and finally shaking her head with a quiet sound. “I don’t believe it.”

            “There’s some perks to the whole spider-bite thing,” Peter B grinned. “But I don’t recommend removing them just yet…” he hesitated, “sharp objects near him while he’s unconscious would probably be a bad idea.”

            Rio nodded in acknowledgement, sitting back on her heels, deciding to forego redressing his wounds, but leaving to get a warm washcloth to wipe away the leftover black. Peter B put Pete’s shirt on after she was had returned and carefully cleaned him and patted him dry with a tea towel, Jeff helping by holding Pete in position to make it easier and threading Pete’s arms through the holes. Once properly clothed they positioned him carefully on his side once again, tilting his head back to clear his airway while Rio grabbed multiple blankets, throwing them on top of him in order to keep him warm. Finally, they settled back to wait, Peter B losing himself in memory.

            So much had changed. So much had stayed the same.  

            Peter B flinched at a hand on his shoulder, snapping out of his thoughts and turning to see Jeff crouching there holding out a mug of coffee in his other hand, expression vaguely apologetic. Peter B took it, grinning at him, and blew on it to cool the brew after giving him a quick thanks.

            “I thought it wasn’t possible to surprise you,” Jeff said, his head tilting slightly with a slight grin.

            “Oh, the Spidey-sense is only occupied with things that are a threat. If I don’t think they’re a threat, they’re pretty lax. Basically…I trust you.”

            Jeff paused, staring at him with an unreadable expression before a slight smile spread. Jeff squeezed his shoulder, giving him a slight nod, before moving over towards his wife.

            Peter B gave him another smile. Once again, the thought cropped up that they were good people. Miles was lucky to have parents like them. Peter B turned his attention back to the others to see that Porker had set up a card game with the kids. He didn’t know what it was exactly, but he did know that Peni seemed to be getting pretty into it, slapping cards down triumphantly when she could, often to Gwen and Miles’ groans. Rio was still stationed near Pete, watching for any changes. Peter B took a careful sip of his coffee, and almost as immediately put it down, focusing on Pete as his body stirred. Rio and Jeff noticed immediately, being the closest, and Jeff gave a brief, yet very relieved sigh.   

            “Took you long…”

            Peter B leapt forward, grabbing both Rio and Jeff, one under each arm, and rolled away with them before the one lying on the couch had time to finish his grab towards the two closest people to him. Peter B let them go as carefully as he could, moving forward into position with his arms up and ready, even as the rest stumbled to their feet, moving in front of the two unenhanced humans, pushing Miles back as they did so.

            Pete rolled off of the couch, his body low, hands and balls-of-his-feet on the ground, elbows and knees bent as he stayed low, staring up at them, at him, and Peter B did his best to remain Completely. Still. Black eyes stared at them almost sightlessly, his head tilting, rocking slightly back and forth as though he couldn’t decide what to do.

            “Pete?” Peter B finally breathed out, hoping for a bit of recognition, of a sign that he was still with them, and Pete flinched back, before scuttling his way backwards and over the couch. Pete leapt back suddenly, finding that position in the corner of the ceiling, his own arms rising up. A low hiss had started rising from Pete, his teeth bared, and those black eyes that were so unnatural and so…chilling bore directly into Peter B’s.

            What had it done to him?

            “Disorientation is common after a loss of consciousness,” Rio said suddenly, and her voice was calm, certain, even in the face of almost having been grabbed by someone who could break her bones as easily as blinking should he want to. Even in the face of those eyes and that total lack of recognition. “We just have to remind him where he is and who he’s with.” Rio glanced at her husband then, her hand on his arm, and Jeff nodded once. They had already been warned that his reaction to anything being too close to him was to lash out… They just hadn’t been thinking. The fact that Peni had been able to sleep in the same hammock as him didn’t negate the fact that Pete was still very strongly on edge, and at the moment, very vulnerable.

            Porker was the one who walked forward then, carefully, taking odd little steps as he did so. Pete’s head cocked slightly, before focusing on Porker. Porker in turn took a few more steps, his hooves tapping crisply as he did so. “Come on,” Porker hissed out under his breath. Pete hissed at a particularly odd step, and Porker froze for a moment, staring up at the Spider that watched him closely, and Porker carefully repositioned his feet.

            “Come on,” Porker mumbled, glaring up at Pete. “I know it’s been…thirty years since I did this…” Porker grumbled, taking a few more steps that made Pete relax slightly. “And that you’re a Jumper…and no one ever talked to that half of the family, because you all were constantly on edge…no offence, I love you, kid, but you kind of fit…”

            “Wait, thirty years?” Peter B asked, staring down at him with wide eyes.

            “Yeah! What, did you think I was younger than you?” Porker laughed, taking a few more deliberate steps. “Nope! I’ve been a pig…twice the time I was a…Oooh!” Pete made a very deliberately darting movement, and Porker froze, hoof hovering above the ground. “Come on, Peter Benjamin Parker, work with me. Wake up. You can do it, just…wake up!” Peter B started to lower his arms as Pete seemed to blink, turning his focus on Porker, his head tilting, when Porker hissed at Peter B directly, “No, no! That’s a perfectly good threat-display! Keep it up, keep it up, 10/10, would run away!”

            “…This is a threat display?” Peter B asked, raising his arms up anyway, finding more reasons to be shocked in the past five minutes than he had since…well. Pete’s own revelation, and then that fucking Spider God Thing.

            “Yes!” Porker snapped at him, and then stomped his hoof again. “Come on, Peter Parker! Wake the @#$% up!!!”

            Pete jerked back as though struck and Peter B watched as that inky black that he had thought would be the new normal slowly shrunk to the size of a pinprick. The eyes they had known before that Thing showed up stared down at them, before flickering around, so quickly, darting in a way that reminded him of a trapped animal. Pete gave a very choked rasp then, swallowing thickly. His hands shakily rose up to his face, finally finding purchase in his hair and pulling, pulling… He gave a sharp gasp of breath, and finally gave a quiet, “No.”

            Before they could ask what he meant, before they could ask him how he was, what had happened, before they could do anything to try and stop him, Pete had jumped to the nearest window and was trying to worm his way out of it. The only thing that allowed Peter B to leap forward and catch him around the waist was the fact that he was so weak.

            Peter B had already tried to pin a thrashing Pete down once before and it had almost cost him a broken jaw. The Pete then was wiry and strong and refused to give up. The Pete now was still wiry, wiry in a way he didn’t like, but he was weak from compounded bloodloss and pain, eyes not properly focusing, even though his iris and sclera was visible, and while he didn’t give up, he didn’t have the punch.

            “Let me go!” Pete snarled, and Peter B planted his feet, hooking his arms around him and bear-hugging him, fighting against the writhing, and also not saying a thing. A part of him was too surprised to really process what was happening, another part too focused on getting him to stop. Pete’s thrashing was barely strong enough to twist out of his arms, let alone topple them, but Pete tried. He bucked, and thrashed, and tried to knock his head into Peter B’s lip. Peter B finally decided to play dirty and sat down, hooking his legs over Pete’s and crossing his own arms overtop his, pressing him tight enough to his chest to get him to stop thrashing, but not hurt him.

            Pete still twisted, but the movements had gotten less frantic, and he finally went dead-still. Peter B didn’t let up. He knew better, recognized a feint for what it was, feeling that creep of tension in his limbs. The others all started quietly talking to him then, Peter B not really paying attention to what they were saying, instead focused on Pete’s face.

            Pete’s expressions were always rather muted, something almost like a buffer between him and reacting to them properly, the only instance of otherwise being the moment with that Thing, but he could see it because he knew it. He knew the line that meant anger, the slightly too-wide eyes that meant fear, the twist of a mouth that harkened to either frustration or all-out screaming. Things were about to come to a head, and Peter B thought he knew what would break first. Pete’s body was trembling, and he finally just leaned his head back on Peter B’s shoulder, and finally shouted out,  

            “Why don’t you let me go?” his voice cracked, blood and spit frothing on his lips, staining his teeth. “Don’t you fucking get it? Don’t you see what I am? Don’t you see what I have with me? Why the fuck are you still trying to keep me here? Why do you…why do you all still care?”

            Jeff was the one to approach then, Jeff out of all of them, ignoring the black-flecked teeth, the eyes that practically spit venom, the sudden rage that was so unexpected after the initial disorientation, spider-like behavior, and complete incoherence. Peter B didn’t mind that he was stuck trying to hold him down.

            Peter B had begun to fear that Pete wouldn’t speak again.

            “Did you lie to me?” Jeff asked quietly. Pete jerked back as though struck, his eyes flickering over him in confusion. “Did you lie to me, about that…thing being gone? About it not hurting my family?”

            “No,” Pete answered, his voice filled with certainty. “It won’t touch any of you. I…” he paused, his mouth open, but he hesitated in finishing the sentence.

            “You gave it a piece,” Jeff finished for him, and his mouth was pulled into a frown. He crouched down before Pete; his gaze soft. “A piece of what, Pete?” Peter B released Pete slowly, feeling the way that his body had gone completely limp, recognizing that the underlying tension he had felt before had left him. In its place, Pete was almost boneless against him, and Peter B finally scooped him up in a bridal carry as nothing was said, and Jeff stood back up. Pete gave a surprised hiss at the sudden movement, but didn’t do much more than cling to him, though, not trusting him not to drop him. Peter B hiked him up a little higher, before carefully walking over to deposit Pete on the couch. He sat down next to him, a warning that should Pete try and escape again Peter B would catch him, and a reminder that he was there.  

            Pete wasn’t alone, no matter how much he might feel like it. Porker climbed up on Pete’s other side, pressing up against him. Rio handed him a glass of water she had gone to get, Pete finally holding it in his hands, staring into it. Jeff joined the rest around the couch, forming a small huddle around him.

            “I can’t tell you,” Pete finally said softly.

            “Why?” Jeff asked immediately.

            “Yeah, why can’t you tell…will it…will it punish you for telling?” Porker asked, his voice soft, a quiet horror filling his words. Pete laughed, the sound ugly and broken.

            “I don’t think it gives a shit who I tell. I don’t think it cares when I finally bring up the fact that I’m being hunted. It just seems to find it funny,” Pete hissed. They were silent, watching, waiting, recognizing that now that he took the first step, the rest would likely be easier. Pete hunched slowly, flickering his gaze from one to the other, before finally looking back at the water in his hands. He hadn’t moved to drink it.

            “Me,” Pete finally whispered when they were just starting to think he wouldn’t respond, when Peter B was trying to find another plan of attack. “I gave it a piece of me. My soul. My body.” His head tilted slightly. “I told you. It’s always a trade.”

            “You traded a piece of your body, of your soul for a family of strangers you’ve never met before yesterday, for a group of Spiders you’ve probably known for less than a week…and you’re asking why we still care?” Jeff spread his hands out before him. “I think, so far…you haven’t given me a good reason not to care. What about you? Can you think of a reason not to care?” He asked, and he addressed the rest of them with that question.

            The chorus of ‘no’ that left everyone’s lips was bolstering, even though Pete seemed to flinch back, his eyes desperate.

            “But that’s just it, don’t you…don’t you get it?” Pete asked, and his voice was strained. “It’s a slower burn, but the outcome is the exact same as if it just…swallowed me whole.”

            “Is it though?” Porker asked softly. “Your eyes, kid…you were…you are…”

            “Oh, you think the fact that they visually went back to normal means that everything’s okay? You think the fact that they look the same is reason enough to think that it didn’t take a part of me over?” Pete snarled, watching the way they shuffled slightly, Peter B recognizing the slight sting of his own guilt. He had thought that.

            “You’re not getting it!” Pete snarled finally. “It’s not about…it’s not about how I look, the only physical mutation you can see are these,” he turned his wrist over, revealing that odd hole there, his spinneret. “It finds the most pleasure in turning me in ways you can’t see it. It finds joy in making it so you can look at me and you couldn’t tell that I’m a monster. It’s not about making what it does visible, it’s about letting me know what it took. It’s about taunting me with the fact that bit by bit it’s tearing apart my humanity. It’s a drop of ink in a bucket of milk. But the ink isn’t spreading, it’s displacing, and soon…there won’t be any milk left.

            “Soon…there won’t be any me left.”

Chapter Text

            Rio had already felt a strong urge to sweep Pete up in her arms combined with a burning desire to have adoption papers written up from almost the first time she had seen him take his mask off.

            It was as he described what was happening to him, the fact that that Thing was basically eating him alive, taking him over from the inside out, that her desire grew to the point the only thing she wanted to do was take him into her arms, and somehow shelter him from the entire world. His expression was always so hard to read, but she could see it, see the terror in his eyes. Worse than the fear, though, worse than the dread, was the glimmer of resignation she saw there. The way that he said it was filled with heavy certainty, his mouth a thin line.

             This was something he had been living with for over a year. A creeping certainty that lay solid in his heart like a lead weight, something as inescapable and inevitable as the sunset and the dark that came after it.

            Rio remembered the words he had spoken the night before, remembered the certainty that he would turn, the only hope for him a swift death. The idea that he was keeping secrets still, that he was hiding the fact that he still thought that his death was still the only answer was a thought that burned in the back of her mind like fire.

            “Peter,” Gwen’s voice broke the silence, broke the standoff, their attention drawn towards her as she stared at Pete with eyes that were so wide, were so afraid. “Peter, please…I don’t… I don’t understand. What was that thing? Why is it doing this to you? Are you…are you sure it won’t come back?”

            Pete was quiet for a moment, staring into blue eyes with gray that squinted slightly as though pained, and the realization that she hadn’t even checked to see if he was hurt hit her suddenly. That had been a lot of blood with an unknown origin, she needed to make sure he was okay.

            “Wait,” she said, “before you continue, are you hurt? What did it do to you? I understand it ‘took a piece,’ but what does that mean specifically?”

            Pete hesitated before looking up at her. Rio watched as his nose crinkled slightly as he did so, his eyes closing for a slightly longer blink than his usual, finally making eye contact before his eyes closed again. Finally, either in frustration or an admission of pain, pale hands came up to rub against his closed eyelids, his mouth pulling into a genuine grimace.

            “I’m sorry,” he finally said, and he pulled his hands back impossibly fast and refocused on her. Rio watched him closely, her eyebrows rising and trying to infuse the fact that it was safe here, that he didn’t have to fear showing weakness with them. That he was safe.

            Peter B nudged him gently, raising his own eyebrow as Porker climbed up to sit on Pete’s shoulder, patting the top of his head gently. Peni took the opportunity to climb up into Porker’s uninhabited spot, leaning against Pete fully. Pete stilled, pulling back into himself almost, looking a bit like he was trying to avoid touching them. Peter B slung an arm around his shoulders and Porker finally just rested his hand in that black mop of hair, the both of them in retaliation at his obvious discomfort. Peni, however, climbed into his lap, stretching her legs out onto Peter B’s as she rested against Pete’s chest. Gwen was the one to take Peni’s spot, a grin wide on her face as she leaned against him.

            Pete didn’t say a word for a moment, his body as still as he could make it and his eyes as wide as possible, before he finally rasped out, “It always hurts afterwards.”

            Rio counted it as a victory.

            “Do you want more Motrin?” Rio asked immediately. Pete hesitated, before giving a little shrug.

            “I don’t know if it will help.”

            “Let’s try,” Rio said. She went to collect the five necessary pills, and when she returned, Peni was holding the glass that Rio had originally given him. Pete reached out with his left hand for the Motrin, Rio immediately compensating her reach, only for Pete to suddenly stiffen. He pulled his hand back, almost in a flinch, curling it back close to his body.

            “I’m sorry, I’m not thinking straight, I just…”

            “Hey, it’s no problem,” Rio said, her eyebrows pinching together, feeling a wash of worry flood her. That flinch had been almost violent, a kind of fear in the motion. Why on earth…?

            “Are you left handed?” she finally asked. Pete’s eyebrows pinched, his mouth in a hard line. Rio felt a dull heat rise within her, a certainty burning in her soul that she knew the answer. She had barely noticed the other Peters and Peni at breakfast, her attention on Pete and making sure he ate…after she got over the fright of having basically attacked a couple of white people and a pig with spice. She thought she remembered Peter B reaching for the serving spoons using his left hand, Porker doing so as well. It left her with a heavy certainty, and a mission of reassurance. “It’s alright if you are, Pete,” she said softly.

            Pete stared at her for a moment longer before finally reaching out with his left hand. She placed the pills in them, smiling at him gently.

            “What’s wrong with being left handed?” Miles asked, and Rio felt a brief pang.

            “You’re closer to the devil, more likely to be a criminal, generally perceived as deviant or evil,” Pete answered without thought, the words spoken as easy as breathing. She wondered how many times he had heard those words hissed at him, even as rage boiled up inside of her.

            “What?” Miles managed, her son’s voice a hot mixture of rage and incredulousness.

            “That’s ridiculous,” Peni said, her voice angry. “It’s a hand!”

            “Leftness comes from the Latin word for sinister,” Pete answered blandly 

            “Whatever,” Gwen said, rolling her eyes. “What does Latin know?”

            “It knows that in order to re-educate someone proper you have to beat them,” Pete answered tonelessly, so easily it shocked the kids into silence, though it was a concept Rio was familiar with. It was a concept her husband was familiar with, feeling his hand squeeze on her shoulder once. “It doesn’t matter anymore?” he asked finally, after the silence had set, his voice hesitant.

            “Nope,” Peter B answered, waving his left hand around. “I use it all the time. Didn’t you notice at breakfast? I’m pretty sure Peni and Porker used it as well…” Both of them nodded, and the look they gave Pete turned concerned. To their surprise, however, Pete seemed to shrink a little, heat rising into his cheeks.

            “I honestly didn’t notice a lot at breakfast?” he answered, rubbing at the back of his neck. “I think my brain got stuck on ‘food,’ and then, ‘what is this it looks amazing,’ followed by ‘I think something punched me in my mouth, why is this so hot,’ and then I was back on the thought of ‘this is amazing.’ So, no, I didn’t notice much at breakfast.”

            The laughter that followed was welcomed and warm, Rio letting it seep deep into her chest while she could.

            “That is a perfectly acceptable reaction to have, Pete, I’m glad that you enjoyed it so much,” Rio said, smiling softly.

            “It was good,” Pete answered, rubbing at his hair again self-consciously, Porker’s fingers teasingly tapping the long digits, Pete giving him a slight glare. “But you,” he paused, and then regrouped, “none of you have ever had problems with being left handed?”

            “I had a teacher hit me once with a ruler, maybe, but I don’t remember having any other issues with it,” Peter B answered, shrugging.

            “That’s cute!” Pete cooed, really and truly cooed, leaning into Peter B’s space, “did they kiss it and make it better later?” he asked, and Peter B laughed, taking his left hand and firmly putting it on Pete’s face, pushing him away. Rio could see the smile on Pete’s face as he said it though, and even though it was that twisted smile, she had grown to just recognize it as his. It was a good sight to see. “They hit me with a rod or tied my hand to my body so I wouldn’t use it, or just smacked it with whatever they had close,” Pete said with a shrug once he was released. “Repeatedly. I kept forgetting at first, it just wasn’t normal.”

            “That’s terrible,” Gwen said, her voice quiet. “It’s just a hand, it doesn’t have that much bearing on you as a person.”  

            Pete shrugged. “I don’t know, Gwen, I think I qualify as both a criminal and probably closer to something “evil” than the normal gentle right handed individual is.”

            Gwen hushed him, sticking out her tongue, and swatting at him gently in that order. “You are a hero and a good person, shut up with the criminal thing.”

            “Vigilantism is breaking the law, isn’t it, Mr. Police Man, sir,” Pete asked instead of answering her, looking to Jeff, and there was the barest hint of a tease in his voice and in his eyes, and Jeff scoffed. Rio could see the amusement in her husband’s eyes though, his posture relaxed and open.  

            “Yes, and I’m aiding and abetting five of them right now,” Jeff answered without heat, equally teasing.

            “And we’re all grateful for your kindness,” Peni called out, smiling widely. Jeff sighed, before giving her a slight smirk.

            “You’re welcome.”

            Pete finally downed the pills with half of the water after Peni handed it to him, grimacing as he did so. The silence that rose up among them was heavy, the tension that had been dissipated due to a series of well-placed quips and words of solidarity turning bitter in the wake of the real questions. Rio took a breath, reaching out once again and clasping Pete’s left hand in both of hers, holding it gently.

            It was then that she felt it, his skin an odd texture against her palms, and she let go, holding his hand up to stare at the fingers closely, her eyes narrowing. Pete had stiffened, leaning away from her, even as his fingers tried to fist. She gave him a look, and he flinched, but relaxed his hand. Rio ran her fingers up his, feeling the puckered skin of old burn wounds, shifting his hand in the light to catch the faint scarring there that was revealed in soft gray shadows. The tackiness of the coating on the Motrin that had bled onto Pete’s hand stuck to her, and Pete wouldn’t meet her gaze, wouldn’t meet anyone’s.

            The other Spiders were staring at him with slowly building shock on their faces, recognition, and alarm spreading through them. Rio paused, taking in Pete’s expression, the way that he kept trying to pull back into himself, and let it go.

            Now wasn’t the time. Not now when there were so many other pressing things, not when he had barely had time to get used to the idea of them caring. Not when he was already being forced to reveal so much.

            “Pete,” she started softly, taking a deep breath, feeling the hand in hers ball into a fist, feeling the tension in his limb. “What can you tell us about what was here? What can you tell us about what it did?”

            Pete looked up at her with wide eyes, shock and something quiet, something like gratefulness in his gaze. The other Spiders relaxed against him, gentle concern radiating from them, but also acceptance. They were already asking so much of him. This could wait. Pete was silent for a moment in the face of her question, in the face of his own surprise, but his eyes finally slid away from hers until he was looking at the ground. She let go of his hand, letting him curl it against his chest, protective.

            “I don’t know what it is, not really,” he said softly, rallying quickly. “Like I said yesterday, Connors and I tried to find its name, what it was, where it came from, but it is either new, or so old and so unpredictable that no one knows what it is.”

            “Is it…normal in your world for these kinds of things to exist?” Peter B asked, spreading his free hand out, his head tilting as he looked at him. “Do you have people that research them? Are they like…Cthu-”

            Pete put his hand over Peter B’s mouth with sudden insistence, just barely avoiding unseating Peni. It was amazing how much dread a single motion could invoke in someone, Rio stiffening as she took in the wide eyes that focused on Peter B’s face, the terror that she could see written in their depths, and felt as Jeff’s hand found her shoulder and pulled her close, Miles grasped with the other.

            “You don’t say that name,” Pete hissed. “You don’t reference the Old Ones and you don’t talk about the ones in the dark. You just accept them. That man toyed with stuff he didn’t understand and spoke of stuff he knew less of. That name, that group? In my world it’s an insult to what’s actually out there among the ones that have actual contact with them, among the people like me.”

            “What…is actually out there?” Porker asked as Pete’s hand came off of Peter B’s mouth, his voice forcefully cheery. “Big Foot?” he asked, finally, when the silence stretched too long, and Pete gave him a Look. “I deserved that,” Porker said, nodding.

            “They’re…Things,” Pete finally settled for. “Creatures beyond understanding, I don’t know how to describe them to people that have never really heard of them,” Pete whispered finally, his eyebrows pinching together slightly. “They’re just there, and most of the time they don’t bother with us. Most of the time it’s like being an insect, or a rat in a cage, or.” He rubbed at his face, frustrated, Peni leaning closer to him. “Not everyone knows that they even exist. A lot of people, most people, go about without any idea. But there are some that,” he hummed, “I want to say it’s a range. Most of the time, the people that find out? The people that find out go insane. It’s the natural reaction. It’s the sane reaction.”

            “What does that make you?” Gwen asked, her voice holding a small semblance of humor, but there was fear in her eyes, fear in her voice.

            “Attached,” Pete answered without hesitation. “I’m literally attached to one. I might be insane, I don’t know, or maybe it just broke down my resistance with familiarity. One of the first things that it did when it caught me was flood my being with it, and I just don’t know. I don’t know.” There was anger creeping up under the words again, unacknowledged, unvoiced, frustration at the inevitable, at his own lack of knowledge, Rio wasn’t entirely certain.

            “What about the others that figure it out, the ones that don’t go insane. Are they…like you?” Jeff asked. Pete was silent for a moment, organizing his thoughts, before he finally gave a heavy sigh.

            “You have to understand that right now, in my world the only constant that people have is desperation, and recently people have been reaching. The things, they…” he hesitated, fighting for the words, “sometimes they answer,” he hissed out, and his words were so quiet, so dread-soaked they stuck in her chest and rested there, horror heavy in her soul. “Most of the time I don’t even think people expect an answer to come. Most of the time it’s just because they’re so desperate they’ll try anything.” He spread his hand to them, his expression unreadable. “I don’t know why they answer, or what it is that they want in return, if it’s that they want something at all!” Pete rubbed his temple, still squinting. “I don’t know about them, not really. I know what people have written, and I’ve seen the drawings. I’ve seen them in dreams where they…” he trailed off.

            “You see them in dreams?” For a moment there was a heavy silence as they watched him, Pete seemingly gathering himself.

            “It’s like being under a microscope,” Pete finally whispered. “But they don’t care about you. They don’t really look at you, but you’re still stripped bare before them, and if their gaze happens to just drift across you, if they so much as glance, it’s like… You’re flayed open, everything in you exposed and found wanting. You’re nothing.”

            There was a long pause, before finally Porker leapt off of Pete’s shoulder to stand on Peni’s lap, looking up at Pete in the eye, his arms crossed.

            “Alright, how aren’t you a gibbering lunatic yet? If you’re literally seeing into the Void…?”

            “I’m from the Great Depression,” Pete finally said, and his voice was tired. “I watched a man light himself on fire when I was five. I watched him run down the middle of the street screaming until he didn’t have air left to scream with, until he finally burned out like a used match and fell to the ground a charred husk, and no one did a thing to stop it. I’ve seen people leap off buildings, I’ve seen them starve to death, I’ve seen babies thrown into the-” Peni put her hand on his mouth, her eyes wide and horrified, and Pete stilled. He looked down at her, looked at Miles, at Gwen, at Rio, and Jeff and Peter B, and Porker, and shrank into himself. “I’m sorry,” he finally mumbled against her fingers, Peni taking her hand off of his mouth in order to hug him tightly. Gwen pressed against him heavily, finally twisting around so her own arms wrapped around them. Peter B stretched his long arm out, wrapping around her as well as Pete, and Porker finally just pressed against them all, his arms stretching out entirely too wide in order to engulf them all in a hug. “I’m sorry. I didn’t think before I spoke. That’s just the world that I live in. I’m used to it.”

            “You weren’t kidding about the trauma, huh, kiddo?” Porker asked softly. Pete gave that pained, lopsided smile, but didn’t say anything else. For a while they just held on, Rio thinking of the smell that came from burning flesh that would permeate the emergency ward at times, feeling as her husband pulled her in, pulled her close, Miles pressed against them as well. She pressed a kiss to her son’s temple, and he leaned into it.

            “Do you always dream of them?” Peni asked softly, finally, when the silence grew to be too much, slowly backing out of the hug, the others breaking away, too.

            “When I don’t dream of them, I dream of spiders,” Pete replied.

            “All the time?” she asked, her voice so horrified, so hushed.

            Pete was silent for a moment, before he finally looked at her. “I didn’t dream of spiders last night,” he said. For a moment Rio didn’t understand, and then she remembered the two of them in that hammock. Peni seemed to make the connection at the same time Rio did, because Peni beamed at him. “But we’re not talking about my dreams,” he said, clearing his throat and looking away. “We’re talking about…” he rubbed his face. “I feel we got derailed, I’m sorry. I just don’t know how to talk to you about it if you have no frame of reference for it.”

            “No, that’s fine, it’s good…” Jeff sighed. “It’s good to understand, I don’t think it’s a derailment at all,” Jeff said. “Context is critical.”

            “Right,” Pete answered softly, rubbing at his eyes again.

            “Do they still hurt?” Rio asked. “What did it do, can we focus on that for a moment, please?”

            Pete hesitated, squinting up at her before finally nodding. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I keep forgetting to answer that.”

            “That’s fine, just…”

            “Can I have my glasses, please?” Pete asked, holding his right hand out. Rio hesitated, looking at his right hand, and then back to him. That anger was still burning in her, the idea that they would beat him for something he couldn’t help. No one deserved that, regardless of other privileges. After a pause he slowly held out his left, curling his right back towards him after Rio’s pointed stare grew too much. “I’m going to get in trouble in my own dimension,” he grumbled quietly.

            Rio privately thought that he wasn’t ever going back to his own dimension, but she wasn’t going to bring that up yet. He took the glasses from her and put them on, giving Rio a very strong desire to get this kid to the optometrist at the sight of his beat up and broken glasses. Likely after he got a haircut. To Rio’s surprise, his squinting got worse, and he flinched back, taking them off and actually glaring at them.

            “Did you have glasses, Peter?” Pete asked softly, his voice holding irritation.

            “I did, Peter,” Porker responded, waving a hand in the air.

            “I did, too, fellow Peters,” Peter B echoed as well after giving Porker a look at the thought of a spider wearing glasses, “but they got fixed after the…” he paused, staring at Pete with wide eyes. “Oh.”

            “Oh wow, did it?” Porker asked, leaning up so he could peer into Pete’s gray eyes with his blue, as though he could see what was wrong with them just by looking. Pete leaned back slightly, Peni giggling as she shoved Porker off of her lap. Porker retaliated by climbing back onto Pete’s shoulder, turning Pete’s head physically in order to peer into his eyes closely. Porker flinched back suddenly, a flash of surprise on his face.

            “What did it do?” Rio asked, feeling as though she knew the answer, but…that couldn’t be right, because that almost…

            “It fixed my vision,” Pete answered, his voice a low grumble, even as he stared into Porker’s eyes with a frown.

            “But that’s like…nice?” Gwen asked, an eyebrow rising. “I don’t…I don’t understand, why would it be nice?”

            “It only seems nice,” Pete responded easily as Porker finally let go. “But that’s only because I haven’t found the catch yet, aside from the fact that I’m now dealing with all of the…colors without the buffer poor vision used to give me. And that’s, of course, not counting the fact that it’s a gift that comes with a price. They might have been poor, but they were mine. These don’t feel like mine, and it’s not just because of the fact that I can see clearly. They itch.”

            “Yeah, well…” Porker started; his voice quiet. “I um…might have gotten the spider wrong. But I was so sure! It…it fits, and the personality, and the um…” he cleared his throat.

            There was a pause.

            “What are you talking about?” Pete asked.

            “So, I initially thought that you might…you know.” Porker rubbed at the back of his head. “It seemed like you had a type that you were turning into. What with the way you’re hesitant to use webbing, and the…well, mainly the jumping, and the personality that was like…very skittish? And the eyes. I’ve seen eyes like that when I talked to cousin Frank, and he was a Jumper. Three-times removed on my mother’s side, naturally speaking. But…” He cleared his throat. “You wanna get that flashlight?”

            Rio frowned, but Jeff immediately went to get it, leaving her colder. She watched Pete who sat completely still, his expression as blank as the void. Porker moved his hand to the back of his head, and leaned closer, whispering in his ear. The stage-whisper Rio had partially expected didn’t come, his voice low and below her hearing. The other Spiders leaned closer to him, their own whispering murmurs rumbling. Jeff came back into the room holding the flashlight, and Porker pointed at him before he got too far.

            “Wait! I need you to turn the lights off in here for me, okay?” Porker called out. Jeff blinked, but did what he was told, Miles immediately running over to close all the blinds in order to get the room as dark as it would go. Rio noticed immediately the way Pete’s pupils dilated. While the others did the same at the sudden darkness, as expected, Pete’s had gone wider. There was still silver around his pupils, but it was thin, a bit like how it had looked when the Spider God had been in her living room. Whether that was lingering effects from the initial change, or this was simply the new normal, she didn’t know. It worried her.

            Jeff and Miles both returned to her side, Jeff still holding that flashlight. Jeff leaned into her for a moment, drawing warmth, drawing strength, and she leaned into him, doing her best to give it to him, and to receive in return, drawing Miles into it as well.

            “Can you do an eye-check with that flashlight, please?” Porker asked.

            Jeff gave a brief nod, before clicking the flashlight on.

            “Alright, Pete,” Jeff said, clearing his throat. “Can I have you look right here, please?” he asked, holding the flashlight up level with his head, angled slightly to the right so the beam shone over Gwen’s head, and a good foot over them, to keep from shining the beam directly in anyone’s eyes. His voice had fallen into what Rio recognized as his ‘cop voice.’ She understood the default tone as it was something that he was simply trained to do, but she also had a feeling that Pete would not appreciate it. Sure enough, Pete’s expression slid towards irritated, but he complied and looked up at the beam. “Alright, now just track it with your eyes,” Jeff said, and his voice had gentled. Pete followed the light as it slid evenly across the couch towards him, and Rio wasn’t sure he would have passed a field sobriety test should this actually be one.

            His pupils dragged slightly, and if they were judging by size of pupils, Pete would definitely have been marked by her husband as a drug user, not the exhausted, emotionally drained young man he actually was. Her husband hated these tests. He often complained about them bitterly to her. There were so many differing factors involved. Though no one with the kind of impairment she was seeing should be driving, there were so many more explanations…

            All thought stopped at the sudden white flash that glowed in Pete’s eyes as they caught the beam of the flashlight when it came level with him. The other Spiders caught it and stared in wide-eyed shock.

            Jeff paused, staring at that glint, and moved his flashlight back the way it came, before shining it towards Pete again.

            Pete’s pupil had entirely whited out, a bright reflected light shining back at them, and suddenly she knew what had been done. Suddenly she knew why they itched and why Porker had wanted the flashlight to be used.

            Eyeshine.

            “So…maybe it was a wolf spider,” Porker said, clearing his throat. “In my defense, I’ve met one maybe once. And he was…a jerk, no offense, Pete, but that’s very classic to them.” He paused, “also Jumpers can see in ultraviolet, did you know? And you know what that would have meant, Pete?”

            Pete raised an eyebrow at him, prompting.

            “Everything would have been pur~ple,” Porker sing-songed, and Pete pushed him off the back of the couch to a bright burst of laughter from the other Spiders. There was an inside joke there that she didn’t know, but she was glad they had it. Porker climbed back up and sat on his shoulder again, grinning. “You know you love me,” he teased, and Pete glared up at him. Tellingly, however, he let him stay there. “Anyway, yeah. What you have is classic wolf spider.”

            “What is?” Pete asked grudgingly.

            “I think you’re going to find a vast improvement in your night vision, bud…” Peter B said softly. “You got a bit of eyeshine going on…”

            “Eyeshine?” Pete asked. He glanced at Peter B, a slight frown on his mouth. Miles suddenly left her side, running into his room as Jeff turned off the flashlight. Miles returned with his phone, skidding to a halt in front of the couch before turning his attention to Pete.  

            “Look this way!” he called out, Pete immediately turning his attention to Miles. Miles held up his phone after turning it to the camera app, zooming in enough to focus on Pete’s face, and turning on the flash, before taking a photo. The bright light caused the people on the couch to give a brief complaint, but when Miles hurried over with his phone, turning it around so they could see the picture, all irritation vanished. Rio watched Pete’s face as he took in the sight before him, taking in the picture of the Spiders all looking vaguely worried, and Pete’s eyes glowing bright in the reflected light of the flash.

            For a moment there was stunned silence, before Pete asked something she didn’t expect.

            “This is a camera?” Pete asked, his voice quietly shocked. Miles looked as though he hadn’t been expecting that question either and he shrugged.

            “Well, technically! It’s also a phone, and it connects to…did you get to see the internet when you were first here?” Miles asked, but his hold on his phone tightened, and he pulled it closer to him. Pete frowned slightly, finally looking up to meet Miles’ gaze, and Rio watched as Pete’s eyebrows pinched together slightly at whatever it was that he saw there. “But…Pete…the eye thing,” Miles said softly, “You haven’t…it changed your eyes, Pete. Are you okay with that? Is it…I mean, you said the only visible mutation it’s done are the ones on your wrists? This is visible. Is it…is it taking more? Will it start to hurt you?”  

            “Why…” Pete started, and then seemed to really take in her mijo’s expression. Miles had been quiet the entire time, watching with wide eyes, and concern written all over his face, this being the first time he had actually said anything, and there apparently had been much that he had wanted to say. Pete’s expression shifted. “You’re worried,” he said, his voice holding quiet realization, and something like surprise, and that hurt to hear.

            “Yes!” Miles burst out. “I mean… It… I’ve never seen…” her mijo hesitated, his voice trailing off as he rubbed the back of his head. “Pete, your eyes, you bled…there was so much blood, and you…you scuttled backwards over the couch! Your eyes were completely black, you looked like a horror movie monster! I…I thought you wouldn’t come back! I thought I’d have to get Porker to teach me how to tap properly so I could talk to you! I thought…” Miles voice cracked slightly, and he trailed off.

            Pete’s expression had shifted as he spoke, and he finally whispered, “I worried you.”

            “Well, yeah?” Miles said, before shaking his head, “you scared me! I thought you were…I thought that was it. I didn’t know what was happening! I thought it snapped you up and that…and that you wouldn’t come back.”

            “I’m sorry,” Pete said finally, quietly, and the words were addressed to all of them, meeting everyone’s gaze for a moment before moving on. “I’ve had over a year to get used to this. I’ve gotten used to the blood, to the…” he sighed, rubbing at his face. “Miles, there’s always blood, and there’s always pain. This was the first time that I blacked out completely, though, I will admit that. I think the reason for that was because the change was so close to my brain it took me a while to come back. Besides, if it took me over, you would definitely know. There wouldn’t be any time for doubts. Usually I do remain coherent through the change and afterwards, even if I might do something I’m initially not certain of the reason for. As for a physical change, I’m not actually that worried. There’s seven of you. That’s a lot of souls to cover, and that’s what I did. I don’t think it’s grabbing more of me because it’s just gotten greedy, or something.”

            “So, seven people equals eyes, and a nebulous amount of soul,” Jeff said, his voice falsely light. Pete didn’t seem to catch the tone, however, his eyes fixing on her husband.

            “It gave me webbing after I tried to save two-hundred people and almost failed,” Pete answered quietly. “Two-hundred people was enough to tear my body apart and twist my bodily makeup in order to allow it to produce silk and recycle the protein I take in into more silk. But I still don’t know how that equates to the souls of two-hundred people. You’d think if it was that many I wouldn’t exist anymore, and yet here I am.” There was a pause, his mouth twisting down at the corners. “I don’t think it values human souls,” he finally whispered. “I don’t think it values our existence. Whatever it takes from me, I think it takes so little because it finds what I’m trying to save worthless.”

            There was another silence, this one brittle, stretching out for so long it was almost a physical thing between them.

            “I’m sorry,” Pete finally whispered, holding his hands out to them, looking almost pleading. “I think you’re worth more than that, too, but…”

            “No, no!” Jeff responded, finally reaching out. Pete flinched back slightly, pulling his hands away, Jeff immediately standing back. Pete paused, staring at him, but Jeff continued without hesitation. “Pete, no, I’m not saying that…” he sighed, “I’m sorry. That was a bad joke, and I shouldn’t have said it. I’m glad it didn’t take anything else from you. I’m glad that you’re still you and it didn’t steal your soul completely to give us protection. If the reason it decided to slight us is because it doesn’t think humanity is worth it, then you know what? Good. Do you hear me, Pete? Good. I’m sorry I even implied otherwise; you don’t deserve that. You shouldn’t have even been put into the position you have been in the first place where you have to…to literally barter pieces of yourself away. You don’t deserve that and I’m sorry, would you forgive me for the implications?”

            Pete hesitated staring at him closely, before finally giving a jerky nod.

            “Okay,” Pete answered softly. “Okay. I…forgive you.”

            “Thank you,” Jeff said warmly, inclining his head to him. “Now I have one more question, and this one is really important.” Pete stared up at him, expression serious, his eyes focused. “Will it come back?” Jeff asked finally, staring at Pete with intense eyes, his mouth pulled into a tight frown. “Can it come back?”

            Pete stared up at him in surprise, before finally shaking his head. “No. It made a deal, it took what it wanted from me so, it won’t come back.”

            “Are you sure?” Jeff asked. “I…look, I don’t want to make it seem like I don’t trust your word, but it’s just…” He rubbed at his head, and finally sighed. “Pete, I’m going to be honest with you. Today, that…what it did to you? That was…one of the most frightening things I’ve ever seen in my life, and I couldn’t do anything to help you or to help my family and I just…I’m not used to that. I need to know, Pete, I need to know that it won’t hurt my family.”

            Pete stared at him before shifting Peni and Porker off him, giving a quiet apology, and finally standing on his feet. He swayed slightly, and Jeff went to catch him, but Pete pulled back, forcing his back to straighten. Rio watched this with a hollow feeling in her stomach, seeing the two of them standing across from each other like that. Pete wasn’t that tall, hitting Peter B’s height of 5’10” with none of the padding, he looked small standing before her husband, deceptively fragile. Pete still did his best to meet his eyes, his mouth pulled into a thin line, either in concentration or pain.  

            “I’ve done this many times now,” Pete said finally when he was no longer shaky. “Many times, where the thing I was trading was for someone else’s safety, to get it to go away, or to have the strength or the ability to save someone I couldn’t. It didn’t come back to this Peter’s Aunt May’s house, and…”

            “Wait! You did it at Aunt May’s house? But…why would it come here if you did it when we were there?”  Peter B asked.

            “Because I did it for the house, not the people inside of the house,” Pete answered, turning his head to look at Peter B, his eyes serious. “The house…” he paused as he tried to figure out how to explain, his mouth pulling into a slight frown, “it’s a location,” he finally settled on, “it’s not as big of a sacrifice as it would be for the people inside of it. With people it’s basically my soul for theirs. The um…chunk is bigger,” Pete answered, squinting slightly at the word choice, but apparently not thinking of a better one. “I thought, when I first got here, when I first met everyone, I originally thought that I’d never see you again. So, it was safer for me to focus on the location itself, which was still keeping everyone safe, since we’d made Aunt May’s our base of operations, and even if it followed us to the Kingpin’s hideout I’d be gone by then, and it would follow. Things have changed, I guess, for lack of a better word, and I don’t think that that’s really acceptable anymore.” He finally turned back to her husband, his expression quietly earnest. “I want to keep your family safe, Mr. Davis. I wouldn’t knowingly endanger them. I haven’t…I’ve never seen it that close since I changed. I didn’t think it would get that close or I would have been more adamant about leaving earlier.”

            “Okay,” Jeff said, softly. “Okay, I trust you, I believe you, now…sit down before you fall down, please. And it’s Jeff, Jeff is fine.”

            Pete sunk back into the spot they had left for him on the couch, and they immediately crowded back around him.

            “But what about the wind?” Peni asked softly, quietly, staring at him. “If you did it for the house, why the wind?”

            “Sometimes it really is just wind, Peni,” Pete answered softly, his voice heavy. “It really does follow me, and it does smell like rain. It’s…” he paused, frowning. “I think it’s a sign that it’s attached. The wind and the rain follow me, and it follows a lot of the other people that have been turned, too. It’s like a warning, I think, that the person you’re talking to isn’t quite right. As for telling when it’s around, well, when it gets dark, when they won’t spot us, I’ll show you how to find it. I’ll show you how to know when it’s close.”

            There was a heavy pause, Peni finding that area between his collarbone and his neck and slotting her chin there, her arms tight around him. Gwen pressed her face against his side, her arms tight around them both. Porker’s hand firmly rested on the top of Pete’s head, but his gaze was distant. Peter B had a similar far-away look, his mouth a tight line, even as he shifted enough to wrap the kids in his arms.

            Peters, Rio noted, relatively small in stature, really gangly limbs. Spider-like. A small smile pulled at her mouth, watching them as they cuddled into each other. Peni nuzzled into Pete closer, her forehead coming up to press under his chin, when she paused.

            Peni pulled back, staring at his throat with her eyes squinted. A moment later she let out a gasp, reaching a hand up towards his throat. Pete jerked back, pressing into the couch and Peni pulled her hand back lightning fast. 

            “I’m sorry!” Peni called out, “I didn’t mean to startle you!” She had her hands suddenly pressed to her mouth, her eyes wide and afraid. “I shouldn’t have reached like that,” she said, “I just…” she paused. “Pete, who cut you?”

           

            “That’s a loaded question,” Pete answered with a scoff, his eyes not meeting hers. Peni’s mouth pulled into a frown.

            “Who cut you here?” She stressed, and this time she managed to press her hand on his throat. The other Spiders stared, leaning in to see it properly, Peni drawing a line across his neck with her thumb. It stretched from ear to ear, and Rio felt her heart stop.

            Peter B reached out carefully, running his own thumb along the area Peni indicated, and blanched. Peter B readjusted so he could lean closer, carefully tilting Pete’s head back. Jeff turned the lights back on, and there, running just above Pete’s Adam’s apple which bobbed in a nervous swallow, was a scar. It was old, it looked like, though with their healing there was no way to be sure, a white line that almost completely blended in with the white of his skin, more texture than anything. It was almost little wonder they hadn’t seen it, if Peni hadn’t pressed against it, there was almost no way that they would have.

            “I didn’t even see it,” Peter B whispered, shock in his voice. “What…how?”

            Rio walked forward then, kneeling before them, her own hand reaching out to gently feel the scar, her heart in her throat. It cut through his larynx, all the way across his neck, and there was fear in her heart. That was so close to his arteries, and with the medicine in the 1930s, with everything that she had heard…

            “How are you still alive?” Rio whispered, staring up into gray eyes that looked at her closely. “This would have…how are you still alive?”

            “I don’t think it will let me die,” Pete whispered softly. “It was a Nazi. I hadn’t been careful. I got too close. He got a lucky break and I got caught and I thought I was going to die. I’d never seen so much blood until it came pouring out of me and I…” Rio took her hand away from his throat, letting him lower his head back down, look her in the eye properly, taking his left hand in hers instead. “It closed up. Healed, just like that, and I got the knife, and stabbed the Nazi, and then I ran. I passed out and when I woke up I could…” he hesitated and then put his other arm against her sleeve. Rio watched as he pulled his arm back and away, and her shirt came with his skin, the sudden realization that he was sticking to her without using his hands hitting her at the same time as it hit everyone else. “I don’t think it’s turning me into a particular spider, Porker,” Pete said, looking at him, and blue eyes stared into gray, the blue filled with surprised awe. “I think it’s just fucking with me. I think it’s just…” he took a breath.

            “Do you know what a spider does when it doesn’t have enough food?” Pete asked, looking at Porker in particular.

            “It…goes to the store,” Porker answered softly, his eyebrows pinching together.

            Pete snorted, grinning that lopsided grin at him. “Maybe in your world. You know what it does in mine? What it probably does in yours?” He looked at the others then, his eyes dark. Peter B shifted, his expression hovering just on the edge of unease. Rio could tell that he knew. “It takes what prey its managed to get, and it makes it last. It draws out maybe a little bit from them week after week until there’s nothing left and it’s completely dry, and only then does it leave.” His grin was wide at that point, a sharp, twisted thing that was more like a grimace. “They call me the Spider in my world, did you know? No ‘Man’ at the end, just the Spider. It’s a lie,” he said, and his voice was grim, the smile dying, his grey eyes hard as flint. “I’m not a spider. I’m a fly. And it’s draining me dry. Bit. By. Bit.”

            It was like a pit opened up in her stomach, dread and horror filling her soul as she stared into those eyes that held such fear in them, such dread, and mixed in with the dread was nothing more or less than the deepest resignation. There was an immediate protest called up by the other Spiders, Gwen tightening her grip on him as Peter B opened his mouth to say something, anger and desperate fear in his face, even as Porker gripped his fist in Pete’s hair as though that could keep him from going anywhere. Peni pressed her face into his shoulder, and Rio became aware of Miles suddenly next to her, putting his hand on Pete’s knee and saying something she couldn’t hear, his eyes wide and wild.

            “Wait!” Jeff suddenly called out, his voice the kind that brokered no argument and drew immediate attention. They turned, meeting his gaze as one, and Jeff took a step forward. He crouched down to be eye-level with Pete, staring deep into gray eyes. “Wait,” he repeated softer, staring at him. “Pete, I have a question, and I want you to answer honestly.”

            “Okay,” Pete agreed softly, keeping his gaze locked.

            “You said that it can’t come near us now, is that correct?” Jeff asked.

            “Yes, it won’t come near you,” Pete answered, that gaze sharpening as he seemed to pour sincerity into it, his voice clear. She wondered, idly, if the reason for the difference in his voice to Peter B’s and her Peter’s voice came from that gash, scar-tissue building up even with the healing and thickening his voice.

            “Okay,” Jeff said. “Then why don’t you stay here.”

            Pete blinked, and Rio snapped her head around to look at her husband immediately, sudden joy leaping into her heart. “What?” Pete finally asked, his voice sharp.

            “No, wait, listen.” Jeff took a breath, “you said that it won’t come near us, which means technically…if you’re with us, it can’t be with you. If you’re with us, then it can’t get close enough to take more away from you.” Jeff paused. “I know this is sudden, and if you’d prefer to go with the other Spiders, that’s… Actually, maybe there’s another idea, maybe we could rotate,” he looked at the others, made eye contact with the ones that were beginning to lean forward, expressions moving towards hopeful. “I have to work, and so does Rio, and Miles has school, and while you could potentially enroll in his academy you wouldn’t be in the same grade so you wouldn’t be near him enough of the day to keep you out of harm’s way. You can’t follow Rio to the hospital, and I don’t think you’d prefer to go with me to the station with all of those cops. When we have to work, you could go with Porker, or Peter B, or Gwen, or Peni…I’m sure they’d be happy to have you. You’d be safe.”

            Rio felt like singing. She felt like jumping for joy, like somehow twirling her husband around in a circle and screaming to the whole of the city that she had the most brilliant man on the planet as her husband, and she was so proud. It was perfect, it was brilliant. Peter B and the others had straightened up, eyes wide with understanding, expressions twisting to something hopeful, something delighted. There was agreement on every face, all of them turning to look at Pete, all of them willing.

            Pete…didn’t look as enthused as she thought he would. His expression was thoughtful, and she could tell he hadn’t rejected it entirely, but there was a hesitance in him.

            “I can’t just…” Pete hesitated, and finally rubbed at his face. “Look, I appreciate it. That might even work, but I can’t just abandon my world like that. Not counting the fact that if this thing breaks my atoms will basically tear apart,” his voice trailed off, shaking his wrist and the ‘goober’ that was on it before finally spreading his hands out, his expression quietly irritated, a thin line between his eyebrows. “I have a duty,” he tried, “a…job, a…”

            “Responsibility,” Jeff said softly, and Rio watched Peter B’s expression fall, something quietly disturbed in his eyes.

            “Yes,” Pete finally agreed quietly. “I have a responsibility to my world and to my time and to my people. I can’t just abandon them like that.”

            Jeff sighed, rubbing at his face. “I didn’t think I’d ever grow to dislike that word…” he hesitated. “But Pete, really. Do you…do you have to be the one that does it? Don’t you have any other heroes in your world? What…do they really need you?”

            Pete stared at him for a moment, his gray eyes dark, and Rio had a sudden realization that Jeff had made a mistake.

            “My world has heroes, yes,” Pete agreed. “But this is my fight, too. It’s just as much my fight as their fight. Look.” He sighed. “There’s a system and all of us are integral to a part of it. I can’t just abandon them. It’s not like.” He paused, frowned. “Everyone’s integral. We all have a job to do, something that we specialize in.”   

            “But you also don’t want to endanger them, right?” Porker asked. “If it’s taking you piece by piece then the best thing to do would to make sure that it can’t take bits of you, and if that’s by coming with us…” he put his hand on Pete’s head. “Look, kid, I don’t know how well my world would take an actual human walking around, but you’d be welcome in my home anytime, alright? You have the ability to call now, so if you let me know when you’re coming, I’d be happy to have you,” he stressed heavily, looking at the other Spiders and glaring at them.

             Pete looked between him and the other Spiders, an eyebrow rising. “What…?”

            “Don’t ask,” came the loud chorus from the other Spiders, all of them looking away from Porker pointedly.

            Pete narrowed his eyes at them but didn’t ask.

            “The idea here, though,” Peter B stressed, and bringing them back on track. “Is that it’s okay to take breaks. In fact, in this case it’s more preferable to take breaks than it is to not, you know? Because…your breaks actually involve you not being food for a Spider God thing, and that’s a good thing. I’m not saying give up Spider-Man, or…the Spider, or whatever it is that they call you, but I am saying…you have a space with me if you’d like it, just call.”

            Pete was silent for a moment, shrinking in the kind of way that made Rio suspect he wasn’t going to call.

            So, she pulled out her trump card.

            “Pete, listen to me,” she said, her voice softly insistent, and he looked at her immediately. “I meant what I said when I first cleaned your stitches. You come to me.” Pete blinked, his mouth opening as though he was going to protest. “No, Peter Benjamin Parker, listen to me. You will come to me. If you can’t get a hold of me, you will go to Peter B, or you will go to the Aunt May here. All of us will be safe from that…thing, and you won’t have to worry about awful 1930s medicine. Speaking of, if you get sick, you come here, too. I don’t care if you think it won’t let you die. If you don’t have to suffer unnecessarily, don’t. Come to us.” She watched his eyes as they narrowed slightly, watched that thin line between his eyebrows. “Promise me, Peter,” she pressed. “Promise me you will come to us.” She took his hands in hers again, staring into his eyes.

            Pete stared at her, before he gave a final sharp nod. “Okay,” he said finally. “I promise.”

            The relief that spread through her was like a cool rain on a scorching hot summer’s day. It soothed her and she could tell by the way that the other Spiders sagged that it relieved them as well. He still looked rather tense, but Peter B patted his back lightly, smiling at him.

            “Really, kid, it’ll make everyone feel better if you did. I know that MJ and I would…” Peter B froze. Rio watched Peter B with curiosity that soon turned into worry as about a hundred different emotions flashed across his face which simultaneously highlighted just how expressive Peter’s face could be, as well as how static Pete’s was. Everything he felt was in his eyes and absolutely nowhere else. To her further shock all of the other kids turned to look at Peter B with wide-eyed surprise, Porker wincing sharply, even as Peter B put both hands to his mouth, his brown eyes widening. “MJ,” he hissed out sharply, horror and so much despair poured into that one singular word that it made Rio’s heart skip a beat in sympathy.

            “What’s wrong?” Jeff asked, reaching out, putting a hand on his knee. “What happened?”

            “I left her on a building, and I didn’t come back.” He looked about ready to cry. “It’s been a day!”

            “I’m sure it’ll be okay,” Jeff assured him, Rio trading a glance with him in confusion. Peter had been married to an MJ in their universe, hadn’t he? Maybe that was why he was so upset?

            “I’m sure she’ll understand once you explain. Jeff and I have had our fair share of spats, but we always get through it. Besides, you had reason. So much happened, Peter B, I’m sure she wouldn’t blame you,” Rio added, and her voice was injected with all of the patience her long years perfecting her bedside manner had bestowed her.

            “But we didn’t,” Peter B managed through his hands. “We broke it off, we split. We…”

            Rio traded glances with her husband, mounting alarm spreading through her.

            “But…if you broke it off, then…why?” Jeff asked him, an eyebrow rising.  

            “She took me back, she gave me another chance, and I didn’t even let her know what was happening…”

            Rio gave a sharp nod, standing upright. “Don’t just sit there, come on, up, on your feet.” She took his wrists as his hands were otherwise occupied and pulled him upright, extracting him from the other Spiders that all stood up as well, crowding around him and reassuring him that things would be okay. Without hesitation, Rio headed back towards the kitchen and the leftovers that were still there, even after being mostly demolished by a roomful of hungry Spiders. Gathering a few Tupperware she carefully deposited a healthy serving of the remainder of breakfast, making sure to put a healthy dollop of sour cream in another of the containers just in case she didn’t have the same spice tolerance that her…ex-husband? boyfriend? did.

            She came back into the room carrying the plastic containers to see her husband talking Porker through an outfit. Nothing too fancy so as to not put her on the spot, but nothing that said, ‘I don’t think you’re worth getting dressed up over.’ What they finally came up with was thrust into Peter B’s lax hands, and Jeff pushed him towards the bathroom. Porker pulled out a bouquet of flowers next with prompting from the kids. It was bright and colorful, and just on the edge of being too cartoonish, but they were also lovely, and it would have warmed Rio’s heart in particular to receive them, so she pronounced it good when they asked her opinion as a wife.

            Peter B finally came out of the bathroom woodenly, still looking a bit like he was going to fall apart, but much more presentable in a pair of black slacks, some nice shoes, and a button-up. Rio nodded in approval before she handed him the flowers and the Tupperware. Miles came over carrying Peter B’s folded and laundered spider-suit, sticking it in his arms as well, underneath everything else in order to hide it somewhat.

            “You get back home, you call us immediately,” Rio said, taking his face in her hands and looking deep into his eyes. “Do you hear me, Peter B? You call us. Let us explain as well, we’ll make sure she understands just what a help you’ve been to us. We could never have taken care of these kids without you, you’ve been integral, do you understand?” Peter B nodded in her hands and she smiled at him. “Good, now go over there and apologize. We’ll hold the fort. Pete needs to stay with us for at least two more days before he goes back to his own world.” She didn’t look at Pete as she said this, ignoring the way his body stiffened. “He’s lost too much blood for me to even think of letting him go now, and I still want to make sure that there won’t be any other lingering effects.”

            “Okay,” Peter B agreed finally, and he looked at them all, taking a deep breath. “Okay.” He looked at her and then looked at Jeff, his eyes wide and earnest. “Thank you,” he said to both of them with such sincerity it made Rio’s heart swell.

            “No problem, thank you, now shoo, sweep her off her feet, give her all of our love, and call when you can,” Rio smiled at him.

            “Good luck,” Jeff said, putting a single hand on his shoulder and grinning at him wide. “It’ll be alright.”

            Peter B nodded, and looked to Peni, who blinked in sudden understanding.

            “Oh! I forgot, I made those modifications, you don’t know how to go back home now!” She reached out for his watch and when he held his arm out she took it, and talked him through how to return to his own dimension. Peter B watched with sharp eyes, before finally nodding. He gave everyone one last hug, thanked them one more time, and then twisted his watch to the proper setting, and pressed the face down.

            Just like that, empty space stood where Peter B once had leaving Jeff and herself in a room full of teenagers.

            And a Pig.

            It was going to be a long day, but it would be worth it. They had a plan, she had a promise, and she would get Pete to stay for as long as she could force him, and she would also make sure that Peter B wasn’t punished for something he couldn’t help.

            The only place to go was up.

Chapter Text

            Pete was dead on his feet.

            His eyes were still hurting, a kind of deep internal throb combined with a terrible itch that made him want to try and scratch his own eyes out. Added to the wall of fatigue that was pressing down on him, Pete felt like finding a quiet corner somewhere and sleeping for a week. He’d done that once before after gaining his webbing, after watching blood seep from his wrists with the knowledge that he was going to die beating in his heart, panic at the thought that with every pulse he was losing more blood…

            When the bleeding had finally stopped and his body felt like it was cased in cement, he had curled up behind a billboard on a building that was advertising something he couldn’t even remember and passed out. When he awoke it was to the odd holes in his wrists and the knowledge that something else had been stolen from him, just as something else had been given.

            Pete was aware in an idle sort of way that he was starting to sway, that floaty feeling of unconsciousness hovering just below the surface. The sudden feeling of his spider-sense buzzing in warning made him jump, catching the ceiling before he quite knew what he was doing, everything screaming at him to run. The sudden calls of his name and the realization that the warning had faded made him freeze, and he looked down at the ones on the floor looking up at him in shock at his sudden movement.

            “You see!” Porker called out suddenly, stomping a hoof and glaring up at him. “It’s stuff like that that makes me think you’re a Jumper. What happened?”

            “Spider-sense went off,” Pete answered without thought, his brain that sluggish sort of exhausted that loosened tongues. It only caught up to him what he said when he watched Mr. Davis take a slight step back, expression unreadable. What had happened caught up to him then, and he felt something rise in his chest. He didn’t know what it was, not exactly, that pale burning in his heart of an unidentifiable emotion rising within him a feeling he had grown long used to at this point, but he recognized in an idle sort of way he didn’t like it much. He let himself drop to the ground, rolling in order to land on his feet.

            He wound up dropping into a steadying crouch, but he didn’t land on his face, which was a plus. 

            “I’m sorry,” Mr. Davis said, keeping his hands far away. “I don’t…” he hesitated. “I don’t mean you any harm, Pete.”

            “You’re a copper,” Pete said, voice heavy with the simple truth that he’d been informed of since he was small. Don’t trust cops. Don’t tell them who you are. Don’t tell them what you are. Keep your head down, keep small, keep away. In some ways, Pete didn’t know if that crossed over in this situation, but it still burned in the back of his mind like fire and made the prickling uncertain tension he always felt a good deal more concentrated.

            Mr. Davis had that frown on his face, slightly troubled, slightly off-put, but he sighed, finally nodding. “I concede that fact, and I…understand your experience has placed you in a situation where it makes sense that you wouldn’t trust cops…” he hesitated. “And I also understand that there is a very good reason for that, and that in your world and in your time, you have every right. But here, and at least with me… Pete I don’t want to hurt you. The only thing I want is to help you. If you can’t trust me yet, that’s fine, it’s earned, I respect that. Just,” he sighed, “All I ask is you give me a chance.” He paused, his eyebrows pinching slightly together. 

            Pete stared up at him, taking in those eyes whose color he still didn’t know, meeting them directly and still feeling that buzzing in the back of his skull. Pete knew that that wouldn’t go away, not for a while, if at all, but if it would help make them all more comfortable, he would bury it. If nothing else, it would help him be able to alert Miles whenever his father was near, and they were with him as Spider-Man. He couldn’t do it all the time, of course, but being able to help Miles keep that secret would be good in the long run. Pete would be sure to offer his services in that regard.

            Once the room stopped spinning.

            Pete recognized he was swaying, even in his grounded position, at around the same time Mr. Davis reached out to catch him again. He closed his eyes against the sudden movement as Mr. Davis’ hands guided him back and into his arms, fighting both the spike of pain from his spider-sense, and the nausea of the roll. He felt as Mr. Davis maneuvered him closer against him, carefully repositioning him in a bridal carry that he might have rebelled at if he could find it within himself to move. Two smaller hands helped position him, exhaustion warring against the warning in his skull as he was adjusted to lean against Mr. Davis’ chest, his head cradled on his shoulder.

            Pete kept his eyes closed as he was moved, fighting against the dizziness that the movement caused. He felt himself being gingerly lowered, even smaller hands reaching up to help guide him down, and then he was placed on the couch again. He instinctively snuggled closer to the back of the couch, pulling away from Mr. Davis, and actively seeking heat once the man’s own heat was lost. He was cold. A few blankets were suddenly thrown over him, which he instinctively burrowed into. He felt a small weight rest above his head and felt the familiar hand of Porker tangle in his hair. Another weight rested on the couch next to his feet, and he peeked down to see Miles sitting there, wide and worried eyes fixed on him.

            Rio was suddenly before him, holding more of what looked like the iron pills from last night, as well as…

            “I’m just drinking all of your juice, huh?” Pete asked tiredly. Rio just gave him a gentle smile. Porker helped push him into a temporary sitting position, Porker leaning his body against Pete’s to keep him upright. Pete took the pills and downed the juice he had had last night without much thought, Porker lowering him carefully until he lay back on the couch once he was done.

            “I’d want to get you a transfusion if you were a patient,” Rio said softly as she touched a hand to his forehead, feeling his skin, her eyes filled with gentle concern.

            “I’ll be fine,” Pete answered, blinking heavily. “I just…need sleep.”

            “Then sleep, bud,” Porker said. “You’re safe with all of us."

            “Say goodbye to Peni and Gwen first, though,” Rio said softly. “They have to go home.”

            “What?” Peni asked, her voice tight, she looked up at Rio with wide eyes, Gwen also looked shocked.

            “Did either of you tell your parents or guardians that you would be staying over?” Rio asked as she turned her focus to them. Pete watched as Gwen clapped a hand to her mouth, Peni kicking at the ground beneath her. “Do they know where you are?” she pressed softly, her voice gentle, but there was steel in her eyes.

            “No,” Gwen finally mumbled, frowning. “But we can’t…” she paused, and made eye contact with him, her eyes boring into his. She looked so sad, so worried… Pete felt like he had disappointed her somehow. “We can’t just leave like this…”

            “Pete has to rest,” she emphasized, “you won’t be abandoning him if he’s sleeping, and I know that if you were my kids and I didn’t know where you were…” she hesitated, shaking her head, her expression heavy. “Even with the super-heroing I would be very worried about you,” Rio said, and she put her hands on her hips, her mouth in a slight frown, and that steel had softened to concern. Both Gwen and Peni looked very uncomfortable at that statement, scuffing the ground, their eyes and head lowered. “If you both go back to your parents and you explain what happened and have them call Porker, then we’ll be able to talk to them, so they know who we are and what happened from our end. Do you have a video call ability, or is it just audio?”

            “It’s just audio, so far, but I can work on it!” Peni chirped, clicking her heels together in a smart motion. “If you guys want, I can also upgrade your cellphones to be able to communicate with everyone, even across dimensions…” she bobbed on her toes, her expression a mixture of enthusiastic and quietly wheedling. Even with that guilt she was still trying to stay.

            “That’s a wonderful idea, Peni, and I would love for you to do so eventually, but for now, you both should go home and explain what happened, so they aren’t worried,” Rio smiled at them both. “We’ll be here, and so will Pete. You can absolutely come back at any time, but you should both talk to your parents first.”

            “She’s right,” Mr. Davis added, “you both should go home and talk to your folks. Would it help if they knew I’m an officer and Rio is a nurse?” Pete quietly thought it would do the opposite to know Mr. Davis was a copper if it were his family (whatever was left of it) but judging by the way both of the girls were looking at Mr. Davis it might actually help them.

            Huh.

            “My dad actually is a police chief,” Gwen said, frowning slightly. “Captain George Stacy,” she clarified at Mr. Davis look of interest, “so it actually might help.”

            Another surprise.

            “Captain Stacy’s a good man,” Mr. Davis said, an eyebrow rising. “I know him in passing though we don’t work together. Have you…um…” he paused, rubbing a hand up the back of his neck. “Have you met an alternate version of me ever?”

            “No, I haven’t met a lot of the people that my dad works with” Gwen frowned. “But my dad’s pretty familiar with a lot of precincts, it’s possible that he has.”

            “Alright, well…maybe we could take a picture or something before you go, so they know what you’re saying’s true.”

            “That’s a fantastic idea,” Peni called out, clapping her hands. “That’ll make it easier to explain why it’s a good thing that I have the dimension hopping tech and show them who I’m going to meet! I’ll get one of Peter B later.”

            “Okay, everyone, smi~le!” Porker suddenly called out, and Pete looked over to see the pig pull a camera out of nowhere. It wasn’t anything like Miles’ camera, which had been small and thin, instead it was a bit closer to one that he was familiar with. It was small, square and had the bulky black shape that Pete knew - it even had a flashbulb on top of it. Gwen, Peni, Rio, and Mr. Davis all turned surprised expressions Porker’s way, and they were all greeted with a bright flash, followed by loud complaints at the sudden brightness. A moment later and Porker’s camera spat out an undeveloped picture, which Porker pulled off the camera, shook a few times to develop the film, and then grinned at.

            The looks on their faces were priceless, almost all of them wide-eyed, Peni in mid-blink as Gwen opened her mouth as though about to ask what was happening. The sight of Porker taking that picture and shoving it into the Goober was even more surprising. Peni’s, Gwen’s, and Pete’s goobers all gave a bright ding, Peter B’s probably doing so an entire universe away. Porker turned the camera around to face Pete and Miles, Porker’s arm stretching out far enough to capture Porker himself in the frame as well as he held it far enough away that he could lean back and be in the picture, too. Another picture was taken, and the process was repeated, only this time the sight of Porker’s wide grin and…odd hand gesture where he held up his fingers in the form of a v, Miles wide and shocked eyes, and Pete’s own shocked expression stared back at him before it was shoved into the goober to a repeated ping.

            “Alright, there you go, photographic evidence.” He grinned wide. “Hey, Peni, if you need any help getting the goobers to accept pictures,” he winked, “I’m your pig!”

            “…” Peni stared at him for a moment, before frowning. “I hate you.”

            Porker mock gasped, wiping away a tear. “I’m just trying to help!” he called out, before exploding into wails, an almost literal fountain of tears gushing everywhere. Pete stared at this in wide-eyed shock and shuffled further away so the water didn’t touch him or his pile of blankets. Peni finally burst out laughing and ran up to Porker, hugging him tightly.

            “I don’t hate you,” she called out brightly. “Thank you very much for the pictures, even though they break every law of physics there is. Also please don’t cry anymore or you’ll get Pete wet.”

            “Can’t have that!” Porker called out, hugging her as well, and stopping the tears as suddenly as they started. “Now you girls get outta here. I’ve got a bit longer before I have to go, I’ll watch out for him for a while.”

            There was a further pause, the two girls looking at each other, before they both gave firm nods of agreement. Pete was not expecting the sudden weight thrown on him, letting out a surprised “oof!” His arms were trapped under the blankets, so he wasn’t able to do more than look down at the form of Peni who had thrown herself into his chest and was hugging him as best she could through the blankets and the odd angle.

            “We’ll be back, Pete,” she said, and pulled back. Gwen was next, though she didn’t so much throw herself on him as she did give him a grin and reach out to press her own hand into his hair.

            “Take care, okay?” she told him. “Stop bleeding everywhere.”

            Pete scoffed. “I’ll do my best,” he assured her quietly, twisting his lips into the grin that was expected of him. Miles suddenly left his spot by Pete’s feet, running off into the house once again and returning with Peni’s clothes and Gwen’s uniform.

            “Thank you!” the two girls chorused, before Peni looked at Gwen shyly out of the corner of her eye.

            “Would you mind coming back to my universe, and then I’ll go to yours before returning back to mine? I need to talk to my aunt and uncle about what happened, and I think it would be helpful for them to meet you in person.” Peni finally turned wide, pleading eyes to the older girl and after a moment Gwen gave a nod.

            “Sure! That’ll probably go a long way to convincing my dad that you’re all safe to be around, and I’d definitely be happy to help with your aunt and uncle,” she grinned 

            “Thank you!” Peni chirped, and ran over to her SP//dr. She climbed in, and Gwen hopped onto one of the legs. They gave one last bye, one last chorus of “thank you so much for everything!” before just like that they were gone in a swirling portal that disappeared almost as soon as it appeared.

            Porker was the only one left of the outside Spiders.

            Pete didn’t know how he felt about that.

            Porker was also…texting, it looked like. Pete saw Peter B’s name on the display, before the text was sent and Porker relaxed back onto the sofa. Pete allowed himself to inch back closer to the pig now that the fountain of water had stopped and felt Miles’ weight return to the end of the couch. Porker patted him on the head gently and finally stood up again, cracking his back, and pulling a large pillow out of nowhere, which he placed under Pete’s head.

            “Hey, kiddos, I’m gonna talk to the adults for a bit, you two mind occupying yourselves for a bit?”

            Pete felt a white-hot burst of anger rise up in his chest, for a moment clinging to it sharply, but Miles shrugged. The realization of how young the other actually was hit him right around that moment, the fact that he was obviously used to being kept out of more adult conversations hitting him almost immediately afterwards. 

            “Okay,” Miles said simply, and leaned over to the table they had to the side of the chair, picking something up from its surface that had numerous buttons, and was small and kind of ovoid in shape. Miles pressed one of the buttons and…

            Pete stared in shock as the flat rectangle that had been across the room from them the whole time suddenly turned on. Pete fell off the couch. In his defense, that hadn’t been the initial plan, but he had leaned towards the flat screen that was suddenly showing a moving image, and he had suddenly found himself flopping forward as his equilibrium deserted him. He landed in a crouch, too many hard lessons about giving into weakness beating in his heart and running through his shaking limbs. Miles gave a sound of surprise that he barely heard over the ringing in his ears.

            This world’s Aunt May had had one, a small boxy thing that wasn’t at all like the model Pete had seen in a magazine, one that had displayed his own death upon its screen, but this was even stranger. What on earth…?

            A hand on his shoulder jerked him out of his rapid thoughts, turning to see Miles staring at him with worried eyes.

            “Pete are you okay?” he asked, and Pete shook himself off, staring at the television and then back to Miles.

            “I’m okay, yeah, sorry, I just…that’s a television?” he asked, pointing to it.

            Miles looked at it, before his expression brightened in understanding. “Do you want a closer look? We can drag the pillows and blankets over there to see.”

            “…That…that’d be nice.”

            “Okay, cool. Hold on a second.” Miles began dragging pillows and blankets over towards the television, making them into a little nest. Pete felt his attention drifting again, groggily looking around the rest of the room and realizing that the adults had left somewhere between when Pete’s attention had attached to the remote, and then the television. They hadn’t been around to see him fall and that was…gratifying. “It’s done, come on!” Miles called, and Pete turned to see what Miles had put together, finding a comfortable looking pile of pillows and blankets. Pete crawled forward and flopped onto it face-first in one of his more graceless moments.

            Miles snorted with laughter and adjusted himself so he could sit next to him.

            Pete pushed himself onto his folded arms so he could stare up at the television again, taking in the image, the soft sound coming from it. It wasn’t anything like he had ever seen before, so thin and he still couldn’t see any of the components he knew of that would make it work. Pete hadn’t spent a lot of time looking into television. It was a rich person’s toy, and something he had no time for, but this was interesting. This was something that was apparently a lot more widely accessible. How on earth did it work.

            “If you have something you want to know I can Noogle it,” Miles said, waving that…thing that was and was not a camera, smiling at him.

            “What…” Pete paused, frowning at the realization that anything that he wanted to ask felt like a world away, thoughts as fleeting as minnows in a pond, catching light but impossible to grasp.

            “If you’d like I could just channel skate a bit, so you see what we have on?” Miles offered, and Pete gave a tired hum in agreement. Miles began flipping through the channels, bright colorful image replaced by bright colorful image, to dark and somber. Animated, real people, so many…and then he saw something surprising.

            “Hey, wait,” he managed, pointing at the television. Miles stopped switching the channel, the two of them having stopped on something very familiar.

            The picture was in black and white, the man and woman on the screen dressed in outfits that Pete would see in his own world. The setting was even familiar, looking pulled straight out of the Hollywood of his world. He stared at it for a moment with wide eyes, and finally, softly.

            “Did your world use to be like mine?” Pete asked. “Was it in black and white, too?”

            Miles gave a bright amused sound, and Pete felt annoyance rise, feeling his head duck a little lower, only for Miles to tap him lightly on the shoulder. “Oh no, hey, I’m sorry for laughing, I wasn’t making fun of you. It’s just I asked the same thing when I was little, so I totally get the immediate question. Nah, just…old cameras couldn’t record in color, so everything was just black and white.”

            Pete frowned slightly, feeling something hot rush through him, something that almost felt like… “Oh,” he said softly, finally, “I was just thinking…maybe there was hope for my world, too. Maybe…maybe we’d get color…” as he finally succumbed to sleep, he recognized the feeling as disappointment.

            And then he felt nothing at all.

……………………………………

            Miles blinked as the words registered in his brain, opening his mouth to answer them, and finding he didn’t have the words. What did you say to answer that kind of hope when, from what Miles understood, that was impossible? Though maybe it would gain color? Maybe it’d be like the gradual progression of television into color? Maybe Pete would wake up one day and find that he had peach-toned skin, and…blue eyes? Green? But the answer didn’t come, and he didn’t know what to say when it already seemed like he had crushed that hope. As he looked at Pete and realized that the older teen had fallen asleep, he felt the knot of tension in the pit of his stomach tighten.

            Miles couldn’t even apologize, now, didn’t even know if an apology was needed. After a moment’s hesitation Miles began shifting so he could lean up against Pete, gradually allowing his bodyweight to rest on him, trying to do it slowly enough to not wake him. Pete was cold, even through the pajamas, and Miles began carefully bringing blankets from the pile up around him. Blood loss would do that to you, and the thought hurt.

            Miles had been so afraid. He had seen the wind blow back through Pete’s hair and the absolute horror that had filled him had frozen him where he stood. The sight of Pete’s eyes going black, the blood that had come pouring out of him without reason… Miles had a feeling he would be the one having nightmares later. Losing bits of his soul… It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair at all, and if somehow physical contact with someone helped Pete sleep better, then he was going to do his best to provide it.

            Miles hadn’t been there for the time when Pete apparently punched Porker through the wall of Aunt May’s house, but he had seen the aftermath of it when he had gone to check on her after the entire collider situation was over. Her expression as she talked about the nightmare that she and the other two had heard had been…haunting, after Miles found the hole and asked about it, since he didn’t remember that particular damage being done in the fight. The frown on her face as she indicated the hole Porker had smashed through her wall had undercut the initial fear though, and Miles had had to smother laughter. The nightmare on his family’s couch in their own home that he had definitely seen had also been haunting, and also removed all traces of humor from the situation. It had been…immensely gratifying to see Pete fast asleep when he had woken up in the morning.

            Miles had met up with his mom in the hallway leading to the rest of the house, his dad still dead to the world, as well as the rest of the Spiders. His mom had been smiling at the corner of the room, her expression soft, hand on her mouth thoughtfully. The sight of Peni curled up on Pete had brought a wide grin to his mouth, stifling a laugh at the sight. The teasing he could unleash later would be perfect, but the sudden realization that Pete seemed calm hit him. There was no frown on his face, none of the usual tension, just…sleep.

            Miles would still tease him later, but the immediate amusement was gone.

            His mom asked if he would like to help make breakfast, and Miles had immediately agreed. It had been such a good morning… Watching all his friends reacting to spice, though Peter B had a handle on things he hadn’t expected, had been as funny as it was horrifying. Miles had been primarily excited at the idea of feeding them some good wholesome food that was easy to make large quantities of. Pete definitely needed to eat more, the ribs digging into his back were proof enough of that, and it scared him a little. Miles was aware of what his own appetite was like now that he had a Spider metabolism, he couldn’t imagine both that and an inability to gain access to regular meals. 

            And then It showed up.

            Miles was angry. He was filled with an impotent rage towards that thing that had latched onto Pete, that was taking him apart piece by piece. He was angry at the world that Pete was living in for being so awful. He was angry that his friend had been beat because of his left-handedness. He was angry at the fact that Pete had been literally burning matches down to his fingertips just to feel something.

            Miles was angry at himself for being weak.

            So, he was going to do what he could for Pete, he was going to do what he could to channel that anger into something productive, and he was going to see if the trick to helping Pete sleep really was being in physical contact with another Spider.

            Maybe it had to do with their spider-sense? Maybe it had to do with the fact that Pete knew someone was watching his back? Either way, Miles was going to do his best to make sure Pete slept well, and for a good long time. He deserved it. 

            Miles turned the volume down even lower on the television and began looking up the history of television. At least he would be able to offer Pete some information when he woke up. Maybe that would do for an apology…

…………………………………………………

 

            Porker followed Miles’ parents into the second story of the townhouse, and into what looked to be a spare bedroom. Porker immediately moved to the dresser in the corner of the bedroom and leapt up onto it so he could be more at their level. Usually he wouldn’t bother about his height, but he needed to keep on an even playing field and he had a feeling this discussion would be long. He’d have mercy on all their necks.

            Rio and Jeff took seats on the bed behind them, turning anticipatory gazes his way and Porker gave a heavy sigh.

            “So, anyone else feel like they’ve been running a marathon with two broken legs or is that just me?” he finally asked. Jeff gave him a weak grin while Rio gave a tired huff of a laugh.

            “I was thinking more a twelve-hour shirt with no breaks,” she said.

            “Being expected to clear a street during a supervillain attack without backup,” Jeff added. “And it’s in a rich neighborhood so no one wants to listen.”

            “Those both sound like nightmares,” Porker agreed with a wince. “I’m sorry to put you guys through this. I know this can’t be what you expected when you let us into your home. I just wanted to thank you for that again, and to apologize. I don’t think anyone expected all this to happen, I’m sorry to drag you into it.”

            “Neither Parker nor you had any idea about Pete?” Jeff asked.

            “We hadn’t, no,” Porker sighed. “Like Peni said last night, we didn’t have contact with each other over long distance yet. Peni went a bit more gung-ho about it and decided that jumping between worlds might be easier than connecting the worlds through something she hadn’t had any experience with, which is why the chat feature is new,” he explained, making a mental note to tell Peni the explanation he gave them as soon as he got an opportunity. “Pete was the one that we got to last and the one that…we hadn’t had much contact with at all. He kept to himself, refused to have us in his universe most of the time, but he was in agreement that finding out what happened to your Spider-Man was a priority. He was worried, too, but he didn’t use the watch much and he never took off his mask, and to top it off, it wasn’t like we had any idea to check that he was somehow a teenager or had an attachment to the beyond,” he waggled his fingers, before giving a brief huff of annoyance. “We had no idea and he probably thought that if he kept far enough away it wouldn’t bring any danger to us.” Porker’s mouth turned down at the corners.

            “I’m sorry,” Jeff said finally. “You’re right. He seemed like he kept all his secrets close to his chest. He’s a very quiet young man.”

            “I told the kid to lighten up,” Porker finally said. “Told him to stop being so cagey and just…” he sighed. “I don’t like this thing called hindsight. It’s a @#$%. I really shouldn’t have pushed him like I did, but I felt like he needed the pushing at the time. The kid’s from the 1930s, he seemed like he had a lot of things that he would be interested in if he only let himself be, you know? I mean hell, he fell off your couch trying to get a better look at your TV.”

            “He fell off the couch?” Rio asked, starting to stand up, Porker raising a hand before she could.

            “He’s fine, it’s fine. I heard it as we were leaving, but I don’t think he would have appreciated it if we walked back.” He tilted his head slightly, listening, an ear angling in that direction. “They’re talking about…oh.” Porker sighed. “He’s tired, but he’s fine.”

            “About what?” Rio asked. Porker hesitated, meeting her eyes closely and finally putting his fingers together, leaning forward a little.

            “Miles found a black and white program, Pete asked if your world used to be like his. He was disappointed when the answer was no,” Porker answered. Rio and Jeff had a brief look of understanding that shifted to something softer. “He’s asleep now. Miles is keeping him company.

            “Is that wise?” Jeff asked. “He doesn’t have the weird…connection you guys have.”

            “He punched me through a wall, and I have that connection,” Porker answered, waving off the concern, and then blinking at the way Jeff started straightening, his attention on the living room. Porker waved him down. “It’s okay, I shouldn’t have said it like that. I think that Peni was able to sleep like that because Pete knows her and because she was there before he fell asleep. I shot into his space and got beat because I startled the hell out of him. Miles’ll be fine, I promise, he doesn’t register as a threat and he’s acclimated into Pete’s space.” 

            Rio and Jeff exchanged a glance before nodding.

            “Alright,” Jeff agreed, shooting a glance at his wife.

            “I’m sorry about all this, really,” Porker sighed. “If…” he rubbed his face, “I think I would have still brought him here,” Porker admitted, straightening, his face as serious as it got. “He was going to die if he didn’t get medical attention. I just would have gotten him out of here faster. I’m sorry about the danger we put you in.”

            “It’s fine,” Rio said, leaning forward. “He would have died,” she reaffirmed, “and…” she sighed. “Both of us chose a profession with an element of danger to them, my husband more than me. But that doesn’t change the fact that this is what we do. Admittedly it never involved a being from the beyond that none of us can see or touch, but I wouldn’t have wanted you to take him anywhere else.” Rio took her husband’s hand in hers, Jeff nodding once, giving her hand a gentle squeeze.

            “She’s right. I’m glad you came here. Though that brings up the question of what are we going to do?” Jeff frowned. “I meant what I said about having him stay with any of us…” he trailed off, and Porker nodded.

            “Yeah! I rattled off a text to Peter B, he’ll be calling soon, I think. We should all be involved in this decision.”

            “Agreed,” Rio said and sighed. “Until he calls…what do you do for a living, Porker? Do you have a job outside of Spider…um…Pig?”

            “Spider-Ham, actually!” Porker chirped, grinning brightly. “And since you were kind enough to ask…” Porker jumped to his feet, giving a bright introduction to Rio and Jeff’s combined baffled expressions, and all the while his ears were perked, listening for any tells from Pete or Miles as they waited for Peter B to call. Porker honestly thought that Peter B had been overreacting. MJ had been married to him once before, she’d have remembered what it was like, and he was sure that she’d forgive him soon.

            Porker just hoped he was right.

……………………………………………..

 

            MJ had had a restless night.

            Between the meeting of the other Spiders and seeing just how happy Peter was with them, to the suddenness of their departure, and Peter’s quiet promises that he’d be back as soon as he could… MJ had been expecting him back that same night, and the fact that he hadn’t shown up yet meant that something, somewhere had gone terribly wrong. MJ wished that Peter had a cellphone or something that he could use to call her, but she didn’t think the little goober that Peni had given him could be used for that kind of communication yet.

            They had discovered that there was a distress beacon, a communication feature between the watches, and the obvious means of travel - though Peni had assured them she would explain that and the watches themselves in greater detail later - but no way to contact any other means of communication. That had worried them initially, but Peni hadn’t been able to fix it at the time as they couldn’t have extended contact with each other due to the newness of the portal system. They had wanted to connect Pete to the system so badly, lacking that contact with their friend had been a blow that she could hear in their voices at times. She had understood. She had agreed. 

            MJ was missing that ability to contact them without a watch now.

            MJ had made coffee and was curled up on her couch, trying to force herself to focus on the television show she had turned on. At this point it was background noise, something she couldn’t even concentrate on, her thoughts all skipping to the thought of Peter in an alternate dimension somewhere, hurt or even dead. That’s what had happened to the other Peter, wasn’t it? The blond one that Peter had described with wide eyes and hushed words? It turned her stomach.

            MJ had finally started to get him back, the man she had married, the one that had been there through everything, was she really going to lose him again so soon?

            The sound of her doorbell ringing made her almost spill her coffee over the white couch in her eagerness to stand up and answer it. MJ placed her cup on the coffee table, stumbling as she hurried over to the door. She threw it open and came face to face with Peter, holding flowers and carrying a bunch of tupperware. His face was pulled into one of pure apology, and MJ felt a wash of relief flood through her.

            “Peter!” she exclaimed, and carefully ushered him into the house, closing the door behind him. “Where have you been, I…”

            “I’m so sorry, MJ,” he started, his voice tangling with hers, and the two of them paused. “I’m sorry,” he said again. “Things…happened. We found Pete, you know, the Peter from the 1930s? MJ, he’s seventeen. He has this thing following him, and the Lizard almost killed him, so we took him to Miles’ mom, who’s a nurse and I…”

            “Wait, wait,” MJ hushed him, taking his face in her hands. “Pete, slow down,” she commanded, meeting worried brown with affirming green. “Take a deep breath.” He did so, breathing deep, and she held him through it until she could see the anxiety start to loosen its hold. “Alright, now release.” He did so heavily, almost physically slumping and the last of the tension washed out of him. “Okay, good. Now sit down, I’ll make you a cup of coffee and then you’ll explain what happened, okay?”

            “Okay, MJ, thank you,” he finally said, his voice heavy with relief. He held out the Tupperware and the flowers, MJ taking them from him with a smile. “I brought you breakfast. It’s homemade, Rio, um…” he hesitated, obviously thinking on how to explain Rio. “She’s Spider-Man’s mom, we…” Peter rubbed his face. “So much happened.”

            “Coffee first,” MJ reminded him softly with a smile, “and then explanations.”

            “Okay,” Peter agreed, heaving out a heavy sigh. “I’m sorry, I hadn’t meant to just…leave like that. I had meant to come back.”

            “It’s okay, Peter. I was married to you long enough to know how this works. I didn’t resent you then, and I still don’t resent you now. It’s fine,” MJ said with a grin. “I usually got a bit more of a warning, but it’s okay. Thank you for the flowers and the food, though, I’m glad you put in the effort to say sorry, even though it really is fine, Peter,” she smiled, pressing a kiss to his temple, feeling him relax the rest of the way. “You look nice.” 

            “Thank you. You always look nice,” he said softly, a soft smile on his face. She laughed and went into the kitchen. After setting the flowers, which were odd – they smelled nice, but their colors were a little too bright, a bit too saturated - into a vase that had been given to her by Peter’s late Aunt May, she set to making coffee. The Tupperware was opened then, and she smiled at the contents. They had chilled slightly, but it wouldn’t take much to heat them up again. She hadn’t had a proper breakfast, and this was very welcome. 

            Taking a deep breath, she clung to the joy that she felt deep in her soul at the sight of Peter happy, well, and unhurt and set about heating up the chilaquiles as the coffee brewed. Peter joined her in the kitchen a beat later and began setting the table up for her. It made her chest ache, the familiar domesticity in the routine dearly missed. It was so nice to have him back here, so nice to have him back into her life, even though they were going slow this time. Every so often though, it was hard not to fall back into old habits, which was why when he wrapped his arms around her from behind and tucked his chin over her head, she found herself leaning into him.

            Peter smelled like a soap she didn’t recognize, but it was clean and fresh, and Peter himself smelled like he always did. For a moment she just breathed, sharing heat, feeling that new softness combined with hard muscle wrapped around her.

            MJ had missed this.

            The chilaquiles had warmed by then and she stepped away, Peter letting go easily, clearing his throat and backing away. She poured the chilaquiles onto the plate he had brought over from the pan and placed that pan in the sink. Pouring two cups of coffee while Peter washed the pan for her, and she placed both coffees and her own plate onto the table with the silverware he had already laid out for her. Routine. Familiar. Welcome.

            They sat down together, and Peter took a breath, thinking, when the watch that Peni had given him gave a sudden chirp. Peter looked at it, blinking, and opened a text, only to suddenly have a picture form into being above the watch on a holographic screen. Peter blinked in shock, leaning back from it, only to grin in sudden realization.

            “Oh!” He exclaimed, laughing. “This is Jeff, he’s Miles’ father, he’s a police officer and actually not that bad of a guy! He was nice enough to let us into his home and helped make room for us along with Rio, here, who’s a nurse, and who was also wonderful enough to make us breakfast” he indicated the husband and wife duo as he explained, letting MJ take a good long look at first the taller and very broad-shouldered man that looked a bit like he had no idea what had just happened, and was caught mid-word. He had a strength to his posture and a firmness in his stance, but there was a certain softness in his eyes, and she could tell that he was kind from the way Peter spoke of him. The woman, Rio, she assumed, was petite but stood as firm as her husband, and had a warmth to her that was visible even through the picture. MJ had an instant desire to get to know them.

            “And you remember Peni Parker,” he indicated, pointing to the girl who had brought all the Spiders back together, who was blinking oversized eyes, her stance leaning away from the camera, obvious surprise in every line of her body. Even so she practically radiated energy, her stance so wide and so exaggerated that it was almost hilarious, hinting at that bounce that MJ had been very fond of when they first met. She wondered about Peni’s connection to her Peter, whether they shared the same father, whether Peter was her father, wondered what tied her to Parker. But at the same time, she recognized Peni as her own person, fiercely clever and brave. “And this is…”

            “Gwen,” MJ finished softly, staring at her picture. She had known it was Gwen. Had heard her voice, listened to Peter as he talked about finding this small living version of their friend, the one that could have been, listened to his voice break, felt her own tears in her throat when he first told MJ about her. It was painful. It was amazing. It was a miracle in a half-shaved blond haircut that MJ could have seen their own Gwen wearing, a Spider and a hero. MJ was so happy for her. She was so happy that she lived.

            The suspected loss of Gwen’s Peter was strange, Peter talking about the fleeting hurt looks that Gwen would give him, the way she had struggled to meet his eyes at times in the same way he had, but Peter had talked about how it was an exchange he was happy with, had wanted.

            MJ wanted them both.

            She wanted them both and she missed Gwen so much. MJ wondered if the universe had something against them both at once, if they counted as too much of a good thing and one or the other had to be taken in order for the universe to remain in balance. All she knew was that she missed Gwen, and she knew in the heart of her being that Gwen had to miss Peter. Either way, it was good to see her. MJ hoped that they were friends in Gwen’s world, and hoped that she could get to know this one better.

            For now, it was enough to know that she lived.

            “Yeah,” Peter finally said softly. “That’s Gwen,” he agreed, and there was equal loss and fondness in his voice. There had been too much loss.

            MJ was tired of it.

            Peter finally checked the other message that had flashed at some point and revealed three more people in a second picture. “Oh, that’s Peter Porker,” Peter said, indicating the…pig that appeared to be holding the camera, his other hand held up in a peace sign, a wide mischievous grin on his face coupled well with blond hair and bright blue eyes. It was odd to think of this pig as some facsimile of the man in front of her, but there were enough similarities that it amused her.

            “That’s Miles,” he said, pointing to the kid sitting there with a wide-eyed look of shock on his face, and MJ felt a grin pulling at her mouth at the sight of the kid that had such a profound impact on her Peter. Enough of an impact to make Peter try again, to have him come back to her. She could see the energy and the enthusiasm, and just…this spark there even under all that heavy confusion and concern. She could tell he was an amazing Spider-Man. She could tell he was a good kid. And then…

            “Peter…” MJ’s voice was quiet, staring at the one that Peter hadn’t introduced, likely for the fact that MJ knew him instantly at first sight, had watched that face as it grew and changed into the face that she had kissed at every opportunity she could get. She knew that face, but she had… God, MJ had never seen it like that. Had never seen him look so tired, so…sick, so hurt, so pinched, his cheeks the hollow of the very malnourished. Or so white, the black hair and eyebrows standing out starkly against the literally white skin, off-set by black-rimmed eyes that looked so exhausted, so hurt, and yet so jaded. “Oh, Peter, what happened?”

            “That’s…that’s the reason it took so long,” Peter finally said, sighing. “That’s Peter Benjamin Parker,” he introduced, looking at her significantly, and MJ kept her eyes on the faded gray of this Peter that was so different and yet so similar to the one she knew. “We’ve been calling him Pete to keep us separate, he’s from the 1930s and…I’m not going to lie, MJ, his life…it sounds a bit like a horror story.” Peter scrubbed a hand down his face, looking more tired than she had seen him in a while. “His uncle Benjamin? He was…well, he was cannibalized. The Vulture ate him alive.” MJ felt a pit open in the bottom of her stomach, horror spreading through her, shock and disbelief reflected on her expression as she stared at him. “It…it stays pretty terrible, MJ,” he said softly, “and it doesn’t let up.”

            MJ laced her fingers together on the tabletop before her, meeting his eyes directly with an unwavering gaze. The message, she thought, was clear: Hit me.

            Peter sighed. “So, he also got his powers by accident, but…it came with a whole other…” Peter grumbled, looking frustrated. “It takes his soul, MJ,” he finally burst out with. “He gives it…he gives it pieces of his soul, and I just… I don’t know what to do!”

            “Explain, Peter, please?” MJ prompted, softly.

            “It…” Peter rubbed his face again. “MJ, I felt like I was staring into the Void. There was a thing today, something that I couldn’t see, I couldn’t feel, it didn’t even register on my spider-sense…but it was there. It was connected to Pete and it… I saw it breathe, MJ. I saw air pass back and forth across him with absolutely no visible cause. I saw him…I’ve never actually seen him afraid before, MJ. He looked so scared, he wanted us to stay away and it just…” Peter sighed. “He called it a god of spiders. It’s one of apparently many gods. One of them attached to Kurt Conners. It like. Changed him… But not in the same way ours did? Not with chemicals or with science but like…magic, transmogrification, like a curse. A werewolf, only with scales and no hope of turning back.”

            MJ stared at him as Peter talked, stared at the gesticulating hands, watched his face that was so serious, so drawn.

            “Kurt ate his family, MJ,” Peter whispered. “Mary and Billy are gone. And the thing that has Pete? It operates on different rules, but it’s changing him, too. It’s turning him into a monster, and Pete is…he’s so scared. He’s so scared and he’s so young. He’s only seventeen, and from what I can tell… He’s completely alone in his world. He has nothing and he has nobody.” Peter sighed, sitting back and rubbing his face. “He gave up parts of his soul today to keep it away from us, to keep us safe, and it took his eyes. He was still wearing glasses when we first met him, it hadn’t fixed them. His webbing though, MJ? It’s completely organic, comes out of his own damn wrists and he can eat it to recycle it just like a normal spider, and it’s antibacterial. It’s amazing! But it’s just one more thing that it tore from him, it makes him bleed, and it hurts him, MJ. Blood just…it poured out of his eyes and I thought he was going to die, he already lost so much blood… We surprised him during a fight with the Lizard and Kurt…that thing took the opportunity and just about gutted him from hip to shoulder, if it got any deeper and if our skin was any softer it would have… But it took his eyes and it gave him eyeshine like a cat or a wolf spider, and it’s just. It’s ripping him apart piece by piece, MJ.”

             “What are we going to do about it?” MJ asked immediately, leaning forward, her eyes hard as resolve built up in her chest. “Can we do anything against this thing that has him?”

            Peter paused, before a wide grin split his mouth and he looked at her with eyes that spoke of adoration. “I love you,” he said, and MJ felt a rush of happiness spread, a smile pulling at her mouth. “Jeff had an idea,” Peter finally said, leaning forward, a frown on his face. “He suggested that…” Peter paused, looking at his wrist as it chirped again. He frowned as he read the text and then looked up at her. “We’re going to call Porker in five minutes. I think we’re not the only ones talking about this.”

            “Good,” MJ said, her eyes flashing sparks a grim determination filling her. “The more people on this the better. He might not have anyone in his world, but we’re damn-well going to give him people outside of it. That spider god thing wants to be a dick?

“It’s got another thing coming.”

Chapter Text

            Peter had never been more in love with Mary-Jane Watson. He had also never been more full of regret at the way things had gone down between them.

            It had been a long series of regrets at this point. Regrets and miscommunications and a feeling that had been slowly building that she deserved better than him. The baby that MJ had wanted, the baby that Peter was so afraid to have with her, was the thing that finally solidified that thought. It had been funny, in a terrible, soul-crushing way to learn that this…was pretty much exactly the same train of thought that led to MJ agreeing to the divorce.

            Wasn’t that just funny?

            And that thought, in turn, brought him right back around to the question of just how bad their communication had gotten with each other towards the end.

            But that was just the thing, wasn’t it? Their communication really had been so bad… Peter had not wanted to bother MJ and MJ had not wanted to bother Peter and they had just…drifted. And worse, they had thought that the other was better for it, when the one thing they had wanted was to pull the other close and never let go. It hadn’t been helped by Peter’s depression, or MJ’s busy schedule that often clashed and compounded with his own busy schedule. So many things had been stacked against them, and instead of getting back up… For once in his life, Peter had resolved to lay back down.

            It was one of the biggest mistakes of his life.

            Peter had resolved to never let that happen again. It had been one of the many things that he had promised to himself as well as her, that they would never let their communication fall by the wayside like that again. It was why he had been so upset when he realized that he had just vanished on MJ. The reassurance MJ had made, the fact that she was used to it, was as much a knife in his chest as it was a balm.

            There was so much that he needed to fix. There was so much that they needed to fix.

            They had time, though, MJ had agreed to give them time. They would fix it. Peter had gotten back up and he would never lay back down again, not for anything. That, naturally, included helping a seventeen-year-old version of himself in his struggle against something that Peter couldn’t touch, see, or hear.

            He’d done scarier things. He was sure. Sometime or other in his life he had to have done something scarier. Either way, it had been five minutes and now was the time to call Porker.

            MJ put her plate aside, looking at him expectantly, having finished the chilaquiles, and obviously ready to get this whole thing started. Peter took a breath, flicked through to the calling option and slid through the contacts to find Porker, selecting to call him. There was a pause as the line crackled, and then finally:

            “Hello, you have reached the line of Peter Porker, thank you for calling, if you have any ideas about what to do with a small firecracker of a kid that’s being forced into bartering parts of his own soul, please share with the class."

            The quip was so dry and so expertly delivered that Peter gave a huff of laughter, grinning, MJ letting her own lips pull into their own smile.

            “That sounds like a tough nut to crack,” MJ said, dryly, leaning forward.

            “Oh, hello!” Rio’s voice sounded out. “Are you Mary-Jane?”

            “That’s me, yes, though you can call me MJ, are you Rio?”

            “I am, yes,” Rio answered. “Es un placer conocerte. My husband, Jeff is here, too.”

            “Hello,” Jeff said. “I’m sorry we took your…” there was a pause, a hesitation in his voice as he thought of what to call Peter, which was something that Peter understood. “Well, we’re sorry we stole Peter B for so long,” he finally settled on.

            “Fue una gran ayuda,” Rio said. “Honestly I don’t know if we would have been able to wrangle all the kids without him.” 

            Peter felt warm, grinning at the watch on his wrist. He didn’t know if it was something said to try and calm the supposed wrath of MJ, or if they really meant it, but it felt nice to hear.

            “I’m glad,” MJ said, smiling. “It’s also really no problem, I’m glad that he was able to help…” she sighed. “Now I understand we’re somehow going to take on a god?”

            “Somehow, someway!” Porker chimed. “I…don’t really know how. I couldn’t touch it. Honestly, I couldn’t even sense it. No spidersense chime for me.”

            “I didn’t have it either,” Peter agreed. “Honestly, if it wasn’t for his reaction, I wouldn’t have thought it would harm us.” He sighed heavily. “It’s weird, you know? That he had such a strong reaction when none of us registered any threat from it.”

            “Didn’t stop it from taking his eyes, though,” Porker said dryly, and there was an immediate chorus of agreement that Peter leant his own voice towards. “But you’re right, there wasn’t any threat that I perceived, but like I said, I couldn’t even touch it, or see it, or hear it for that matter, so maybe it’s like… You know, in an alternate alternate dimension? But Pete’s a bridge between it and us?”  

            “That’s a thought,” Peter hummed. “Maybe the reason he was so intense about it wasn’t the fact that it was going to necessarily harm us then, but…” he hesitated.

            “Maybe it could get him to harm us?” Rio asked, and there was a wary undercurrent to her voice.

            “Well, that’s not horrifying or anything,” Porker said. “But I think we’re jumping the gun a little.”

            “Agreed,” Jeff said. “If it was able to make him hurt us like we’re thinking, I think he would have tried a lot harder to get away. This is the kid that tried to throw himself out the damn window after coming back from having his mind screwed with and losing about enough blood to floor a regular man, remember? I think that it’s not what it can make him do now, it’s what it can potentially make him do later.”

            “I think you’re onto something,” Peter hummed. “This is the kid that thought a good prevention method was suicide.”

            “He thought what?” MJ asked, her voice choked. Peter immediately reached over to take her hand, recognizing the horror in green eyes and instinctively wanting to lessen it. She took his hand, squeezing. Peter ducked his head slightly and smiled.

            “He thought that the best way to keep himself from going completely off the rails was to kill himself. How did he put it? He’s “a sad #&#&ing story with a sad #*#@ing ending?”” Porker hummed. “Say what you want about the kid, but he’s got a flair for the dramatic.”

            “And the traumatizing,” Peter agreed, squeezing MJ’s hand as hers tightened around his.

            “Probably because he’s so damn traumatized, himself,” Jeff hummed. “He’s seventeen. I just…I can’t get my mind around that. When my brother and I were seventeen we were…well. There were some things we got up to that wouldn’t have been considered very normal seventeen-year-old behavior, but this is on a whole other level.”

            “Agreed,” Peter said. “And I’ve been doing this gig since I was fifteen.” Peter rubbed the back of his head, fighting for the words lodged in his throat. “I’ve seen my uncle die, my girlfriend die, the…” he took a breath. “The point is I’ve seen a lot of people die, and I’ve been fighting some things that are considered potentially too much for most kids, and I’m definitely paying for it now in more ways than I would like, but this is something else. This is something that I’d almost call soul crushing.”

            “It’s obvious that he’s suppressing his emotions,” Rio added. “He…” Rio sighed. “He’s in for either a breakdown or a meltdown or both. The point is he can’t be doing this alone anymore.”

            “Agreed,” came the resounding chorus.

            “Maybe he shouldn’t be doing this at all,” Jeff added.

            “Now that is something that I don’t think you’re going to pull off,” Porker said.

            “Forgetting the spider powers for a moment, which are their own separate topic,” Peter said, leaning forward, “you have to remember his background before you start talking about getting him to quit. His parents were killed in a strike, and his aunt and uncle were doing the same damn thing. His uncle died for that cause. This kid’s entire upbringing has been about sacrificing himself for something bigger, there’s no way you can peel that away from him.”

            “Adding on the spider powers,” Porker said, “there’s no way the kid could potentially live an ordinary life because he’s not ordinary. No matter what, people are going to tag him and mark him as different, even if they don’t realize that they’re doing it. And now that the transformations are taking on that physical element it’s even more likely that someone is going to tag him for what he is. He’d be a ticking timebomb whose explosion is when people realize that he’s not normal. And how the *#&@ is the 1930s going to treat someone like that? Are they gonna call him a monster? Run away from him? Experiment on him? It just isn’t feasible.”

            “Agreed,” MJ said, squeezing Peter’s hand, “on both counts. Speaking as someone that was married to a Peter whose background also lead to him being extremely self-sacrificing, you could pull him away from that only by killing him. He might take a break from it for a while, but he will be extremely unhappy about it and it will eventually manifest in ways that you really don’t want.” Peter felt his heart constrict as she said this, meeting green eyes that stared into his and felt the warmth and love that she still held for him there, the complete lack of accusation. He did his best to give it back. What had he done to get so lucky? “As for the powers, if it’s actually become physical there’s no way that he can hide it anymore. They’ll mark him for what he is as soon as they see him, and if he’s been doing this long enough, he will obviously have enemies. What are they going to do when they realize who he is? Kill his last living relative? Go after whatever friends he used to have?”

            “Alright, alright…” Jeff sighed. “That’s all true, I just wish…I just wish there was something I could do.”

            “You can do something for him, though,” MJ disagreed. “You can be there for him. If that means that we can’t actually fight the spider god on our own, then we have to be there to back him up when he does. If that means that we can’t actually physically interact with the threats he faces in his world, then we’re there for the aftermath. The one thing we have to do, though, is work on communication. He can’t think that he’s really going at it alone. He can’t think that the best thing to do is to leave because he could be putting us at risk. We have to make sure that he knows that both of those thoughts are wrong and that we love him.”

            Peter swallowed the lump in his throat heavily, feeling tears prick at the back of his eyes as he finally looked away from those green eyes that burned into his so brightly and covered his face with a hand. The hand in his squeezed, and he had to choke back a soft sound. He didn’t deserve MJ, but he was so glad she was there. He was so glad she had been willing to forgive him. He was so glad that she was able to give them practical solutions from years of experience dealing with him. He was glad that she didn’t see it as dealing with him. She thought of it as loving him.

            Peter hoped that she knew just how much he loved her. He’d have to do his best to show her. She had to know.

            “Speaking from experience,” Peter finally managed, clearing his throat, “I’d say that that works pretty well.”

            “So, we have a game plan then,” Rio said. “Excellent, but what are we going to do about that thing? Is there something we can do?”

            “I think Jeff was onto something when he said that it won’t do anything against him if we’re around,” Porker hummed. “I think that the best thing to do is to let the kid know that he can stay with us anytime that he needs it.”

            “But what if he won’t stay?” Rio asked. “What if he keeps trying to leave? Do we pressure him to stay around? Can weoh, mierda…can we do anything?”

            “We’d have to let him go,” Peter said.

            “We can’t just force what we want on him,” Porker agreed, “we have to pay attention to what he wants, or else he won’t come back. I think you were onto something when you told him that he needs to come to you when he’s injured. I’m going to tell him to come to me if he needs more spider training.”

            “Do you think he’ll take you up on that?” Peter asked.

            “He should, his webs are just sloppy enough I’d say that he needs it.”

            “I thought you said that his webs were good?” Jeff asked.

            “They are for someone without any formal training,” Porker answered. “But you don’t tell that to a kiddo that’s just starting out, particularly when they’re like Pete and they seem like they haven’t had any praise or encouragement in a long while. You encourage them and then offer correction when you think it’s necessary or needed, and more importantly, when they ask for it. Particularly when it’s not your kid and he doesn’t even know that he’s doing something wrong. And besides, he doesn’t even know lessons are on offer. And on a final note, his webs really were pretty good, it’s not like his entire technique is bad, he just needs some tweaks here and there. Either way, I can teach him just fine.”

            “That makes sense, yeah, I think you should offer,” MJ said, nodding even though they couldn’t see it. “I understand that he produces his own silk?"

            “He does,” Jeff agreed. “I watched him do it. It was pretty impressive if you ask me.”

            “Antibacterial, as well, which is honestly rather amazing,” Rio added. “The problem comes in when you consider the fact that it’s obviously been eating away at him for a while.”

            “I saw the picture,” MJ agreed softly. “He looks sick…”

            “Part of that is because he lost what I’d estimate to be close to three pints of blood,” Rio said. “In combination, naturally speaking, not just today. If it was just today, I don’t think there would have been much I could do for him.”

            “I’m so glad that you were willing to help us, both of you,” Peter said, leaning towards the watch, hoping that they heard just how sincere he was. “I mean it, really, thank you so much for everything that you did for us. Letting us stay, helping us with our injuries, the breakfast…”

            “Oh, yes!” MJ added, “The chilaquiles were delicious, thank you so much for allowing Peter to take your Tupperware. I promise we’ll give it back soon.”

            “It’s really no problem, either of you, I’m so glad that you liked the chilaquiles,” Rio said, and her voice was smiling.

            “And you’re welcome,” Jeff added, “honestly I just,” he sighed. “Honestly, I wish I’d met you all under different circumstances. You all seem like a good bunch, and I wish that we’d met because of happier things. But I’m glad that I did get to meet you and I’m more than willing to help out. I mean it. You need anything and you let me know and I’ll see what I can do. At this point I think it’s best that we come together to fix this whole thing. We all bring something different to the equation. I’m glad that you’ve got my back.”

            “Agreed,” came another chorus.

            “And if you need anything don’t hesitate to…oh wait, you can’t…” there was a pause as Peter realized that Jeff and Rio couldn’t actually contact them on their own because they didn’t have a goober. “We really need to get Peni to give us something to let you contact us regularly. And I definitely want to be able to talk to MJ when I’m in your world…”

            “I’d want to meet you both in person,” MJ added. “Do you think that it’s possible that Peni would be able to make more goobers for us so we could talk face to face as well?”

            There was a pause. “I think that we might be able to get her to…” Peter started.

            “And there’d be two Spiders that are there that could offer protection if something super weird did happen,” Porker added. “Not that you’d all necessarily need protection, but…”

            “Some things we can’t handle, I get that, it’s okay,” Jeff finished. “I saw that with the collider.”

            “I think that’s a lot of good reasons for us to be able to get Peni to make a goober for you three,” Peter said, and he was grinning. He paused as a thought hit him and frowned slightly. “Though perhaps we should still have her fix our cellphones. There’s no reason to consistently be coming to different universes unless we set something up, and we can’t talk in public with the goobers, so having our cellphones be able to contact each other would be a good way around that.”

            “Agreed, that’s a good point,” Jeff said, his voice pleased. “It’ll be good to be able to talk when we’re out. Goober to cell communication is also a must, as Pete doesn’t have a cellphone.”

            Another chorus of agreement came and a lull in the conversation formed.

            This would be good. There were all the makings of a strong friendship between the five of them, which would be so much more helpful for dealing with the kids and helping them out. There was the added potential for Gwen Stacy’s dad, and Peni’s aunt and uncle to be a part of their group as well, but they would have to talk to them specifically. Peter didn’t know if he’d be the best one to talk to Gwen’s dad in particular, but maybe Porker? “What about Gwen’s dad and Peni’s aunt and uncle?” he asked. “Are we telling…?”

            Ay perdon, se me olvido mencionar. We sent Gwen and Peni home to their parents, and the girls are talking to their own guardians about what happened with each other. We should potentially get a text or call from them at some point asking questions if they need us,” Rio said.

            “That’s good!” Peter said. “I hadn’t even thought of how long they’d been away from home. I’m glad you sent them back.”

            “It’s alright, we understand that you were an absolute hellion at that age, there’s no reason to expect for you to remember,” Rio teased, and Peter gave a burst of surprised laughter.

            “I mean, you’re not really wrong,” he finally managed. “I’m glad someone has themselves put together.”

            “You haven’t seen me after a forty-eight-hour shift, Parker,” Rio said, and there was a further laugh from all of them. “Thank you, though. Honestly, it’s more my own thinking as a mother. I’d hate to not know where my baby was for two days.”

            Peter made a slight face, holding up a hand to MJ after realizing that he hadn’t told her that they hadn’t told them about Miles. MJ raised an eyebrow and Peter exaggeratedly mouthed the word ‘Miles,’ and then sliced two fingers across his neck. MJ’s eyes widened, understanding.

            “Would you still allow him to stay over with supervision, if the kids want to host a sleepover or something?” Peter asked. “Or would you prefer that they come to your house?”

            “I think at first we’d prefer that they come to our house if they want to stay with Miles,” Jeff said. “You’re also welcome to come babysit or chaperone, Peter. Same to you, Porker. I understand that you’re both an integral part of the Spiders.”

            “Oh, great! My rate is $20 per hour, and I charge double on weekends!” Porker called out, and there was a bright burst of laughter.

            “That’s lowball, I charge $40 an hour and $10 per extra head,” Peter said, eyes sparking with mischief to a further laugh.

            “We’ll consider it, thank you, Porker, Peter,” Rio laughed.

            “Thank you,” Porker’s grin was audible. “Now, we all in agreement for what to do with Pete?”

            “Yes,” came the agreement. “I think we’ve got a solid plan. Or as solid as we can make it given what we’re facing,” Peter said.

            “True,” MJ said. “But don’t underestimate the importance of what we’re doing. A strong foundation is integral to him, it sounds like, particularly if the thing he’s running towards is a breakdown.”

            “Agreed,” Peter said to a quiet chorus.

            “Alright, excellent,” Porker clapped his hands, the sound close and bright. “Unfortunately for all, I really have to go back to my own universe.”

            “Oh, but…!” Jeff started.

            “I’m sorry,” Porker interrupted, and his voice sounded it, a heavy kind of sadness in it that was felt as much as it was heard. “I’ve got a job I have to do back in my own world, and it’s… been long enough that they’re probably talking about my absence. I’ve got to make my excuses and do my best to make sure my boss doesn’t drag me to the pound.”

            “…Can…can he do that?” Rio asked.

            “I don’t wanna find out!” Porker replied, brightly. “I’d take the kid with me, but I’m afraid that…what with the sudden change in environment, and the fact that I won’t be there…”

            “No, those are both good reasons,” Rio sighed. “I still have to remove his stitches and there’s too much that I’m worried about to let him leave here. Will you both check on him periodically?”

            “Absolutely,” Peter and Porker responded at the exact same time, their voices blending in with each other.

            “Besides, being completely honest I don’t expect for him to wake up for a long time,” Porker said 

            “Agreed,” Peter added. “If he’s anything like me and my healing, and I know he is, what’s going to happen is he’s going to crash harder than a bus plowed into by Rhino. So, you probably shouldn’t worry about him waking up anytime soon. Once he does, remove his stitches, and have him call us. He’s got a goober; he’ll be able to. We can decide what to do from there.”

            “Alright,” came the soft agreement. “You don’t think that he’ll have any issues with us?”

            “I’ll come in and check on him as soon as I can,” Peter said. “You won’t have to worry about taking care of him all alone. I just…also shouldn’t be off work for as long as I have been.” Peter sighed, thinking of the excuses he would have to make.

            “Do you get weekends, Peter?”

            “Occasionally, it’s variable, but I do have them this week, provided I don’t get grilled for missing a day of work. If all goes well, I might be able to pop in tomorrow or the day after."

            “Alright, we’ll have to work on seeing about meeting up schedules. I won’t be available tomorrow or Sunday, but Rio will. You can meet her if you wind up coming over. I think we should definitely start keeping communication as open as we possibly can. I’ve got a feeling we’re going to need it,” Jeff sighed.  

            “Agreed,” came the inevitable chorus.

            “Alright, well, time to sign off, talk to you all later,” Porker said. “Thanks for being in this.”

            “No place I’d rather be,” Peter answered without thought.

            “I hear that,” Rio sighed. “Thank you for everything, we’ll see you later, Peter B, Porker. MJ, I hope that we’ll get to meet face to face, soon.”

            “Goodbye!” MJ called out, “It was absolutely wonderful to hear all of your voices. Thank you for sending Peter home to me, and for the chilaquiles. It’s been a pleasure. It was also very nice to hear from you, Porker, Peter told me about you, so it was very good to hear your voice.”

            “Oh! Well, it was good to hear yours, too! Peter B’s absolutely smitten with you, so it’s nice to hear that you live up to the hype,” he teased, and MJ laughed. “Goodbye, guys.”

            “Goodbye!” Came the chorus and they finally hung up. For a moment silence rang in the kitchen as they digested what had just happened, the plan, such as it was, and where it would take them.

            Peter sighed, giving MJ’s hand a last firm squeeze.

            “Thank you,” Peter said softly. “For giving us another chance, for…for forgiving me when I really don’t deserve it… Thank you for being there.”

            “There’s no place I’d rather be.”

………………………………………………………..

            Rio huffed a sigh as the line went dead and Porker hopped from his place on the dresser.

            “Thank you both for being so willing, I promise that as soon as I can I’ll be back to help you out with things. You’ve got lives, too, none of us want to encroach,” Porker said, smiling up at them.

            “It’s no trouble, really,” Rio said, and her voice was firm. “I appreciate what you did for my son, and we saw you move to protect us when you thought we might be in danger. I appreciate what you’ve done as well.”

            “Rio’s right, it could have turned out so much worse if you hadn’t been there,” Jeff said. “Really, we don’t mind.”

            “Good, okay. Do you mind if I say goodbye to Miles before I leave?” Porker asked. “Pete’s probably still going to be out of it, but you’ve got a good kid on your hands, I’d like to say bye.”

            “Of course!” Rio said, waving her hands.

            “Absolutely, I’m sure he would be glad you said goodbye, too,” Jeff said. “We meant what we said about babysitting, though I’m not that sure you’d be able to use our currency,” he said with a big smile on his face and a tease in his eyes..

            “Currency?” Porker asked, frowning, and then blinked. “Oh! No, no, I was really, honestly joking. Hanging out with those kids is reward enough for me. I like the opportunity to help them. It’s…nice.”

            Rio smiled, unable to help it as Porker gave a shrug and then turned on his heel smartly and marched out of the room. Jeff leaned into her then, pressing a kiss to her forehead. “Love you,” he hummed in her ear. “I don’t know how I got lucky enough to have you."

            Rio laughed, before kissing him in turn. “I think the same thing to myself every day. Now come on, Cursi, let’s go say goodbye and check on the kids.”

            “Coming,” Jeff said, grinning, and followed her out, his hand in hers.

            Porker was in the middle of tiptoeing towards Miles, the exaggerated movements almost enough to send their kid into fits of laughter. He was pressing a hand to his mouth, eyes bright with mirth as he watched Porker take steps that were so giant, they were taller than the pig was, each foot placement as slow as he could make it. Pete was in a nest of pillows and blankets that Miles was resting against, obviously deeply asleep. Rio took her phone out and snapped a few photos, smiling as wide as possible, leaning back against Jeff as she watched.  

            Porker finally made it level with them and said something quietly, Miles’ smile finally visible as he lowered his hand. He nodded his head and held his phone out, showing Porker something, which caused an exaggerated double-take before he began nodding his head, saying something affirming that they couldn’t hear. Porker hesitated, and then held his arms out in an offer, Miles immediately hugging the pig tightly, before they pulled away and Miles grinned at him again, holding out a fist that the pig bumped and then the two of them parted.

            Porker walked over to Jeff and Rio, gave them a nod each, “I’ll remind Peni to let us keep in touch,” he whispered, and then called on a portal. Porker saluted, before jumping into the portal, vanishing as soon as it closed.

            The only one left was Pete.

            Miles looked up at them, his eyes warm, and then looked down at Pete with a slight frown. Rio made her way over, sitting down next to the two of them. Jeff was right behind her, though he stood a little bit away from the both of them. The incident with the spidersense was hard to forget.

            “Hola, mijo,” she hummed softly, and Miles gave her a lazy grin.

            “Hola, mami,” he responded equally softly.

            “How’s the patient?” She asked, reaching out to ruffle Miles’ hair. Miles ducked away, laughing quietly.

            “Sleeping,” Miles whispered. “He hasn’t woken up at all. I think he’s exhausted.”

            “I wouldn’t be surprised,” Rio hummed. She looked at Pete, feeling a desire to run her fingers through that black, chopped-up mess he called hair, but refraining. She didn’t know how he would react, and she didn’t want to wake him. “How are you, Miles?” She asked. “It’s been a very busy couple of days. It had to have been so scary…”

            “It was,” Miles agreed. “But it was also kind of nice…” he paused. “I got to meet a bunch of new people, you know? And they’re all superheroes, so that’s pretty cool.” He gave a lazy sort of grin and Rio laughed under her breath, hearing Jeff give his own huff of laughter behind her. “Thank you for letting them stay. Will…will they come back; do you think?”

            “They’ve got a standing invite,” Jeff said. “Porker and Peter B both have offered to babysit,” he teased.

            “Aw, dad, I don’t need a babysitter,” Miles immediately complained, Rio and Jeff both laughing under their breath.

            “Whatever you say, mijo,” Rio laughed. “What have you been up to?"

            Miles held up his phone immediately, showing… “Looking up black and white photography,” he explained, scrolling up and showing them the small photo gallery he had made that showed different black and white photographs. The photos depicted everything from birds, to architecture, to people. “I also looked up the history of television so I could show Pete how we got from a mechanical television to the one we had now. Did you know that television used to run on radio waves?” He asked, staring at her with wide eyes. “At least the first one did. It was also an inch by inch screen that was projected onto a spinning disk! 

            “No, I had no idea,” Rio shook her head, her eyebrows arched in interest at the new knowledge. “That is pretty loco. Why the photography?”

            Miles hesitated, looking at Pete and then looking at Jeff and then back to her. He leaned a little closer to her, Rio and Jeff immediately leaning towards him. “He saw a black and white movie earlier and asked if our world had been like his,” Miles whispered. “He was…pretty upset when I told him it wasn’t. I wanted to show him how big black and white photography is here, even in a world filled with color. I think he’d like to see that we think that it’s still…” he hesitated, holding a hand out as though grasping for a word, “Fresh, or beautiful, or something, I don’t know what word he’d get.”

            “I think that’s a wonderful idea, Miles,” Jeff praised. “I think he’d really like that.”

            “I was also thinking of showing him a bit of color theory,” Miles said, grinning brightly after the original praise. “He wants to learn colors, and it would be nice to do, especially if he’s going to be stuck here for a while.”

            “That’s good, Miles, that’s a great idea, where does your homework feature into that?”

“Aw, dad, it’s a Friday. I’ll pick up my homework tomorrow from Ganke and I’ll be able to do it over the weekend. It won’t be a big deal,” Miles protested. “I’ll have plenty of time to do that and hang with Pete.”

    “That’s true,” Jeff acknowledged, smiling. “I’m going to help your mom with the dishes and get stuff cleaned up.”

            Miles eyes widened, “Oh man, I didn’t even think about that!” he said softly. “You sent them away before they had time to help… I’m sure they would have…”

            “It’s alright, Miles, a lot of it was already cleaned up by the time we finished. They practically licked the plates clean,” Rio said, grinning. “Though Porker’s table… Maybe we can push it off to the side later? Pete might be able to help us move it when he wakes up, provided he can even stand upright. It’s awkward and I don’t want your dad to move it on his own, it might scratch up the linoleum.”

            “I can help,” Miles immediately said, holding his hand up.

            “No, that’s kind of you, but that’s a pretty big table. It feels like solid oak, honestly. I have no idea how Porker fit it into his pocket…” Rio frowned, putting her hands on her hips.

            “It’s a pocket dimension,” Jeff said, grinning, and there was a brief round of snickering. “Alright, I’m gonna help your mom clean up…”

            Pete shifted suddenly at the words spoken above the low murmur they had been using this far, giving a soft sound, and actively going to push himself up. Miles freaked, jumping up and away from him, the movement completely unexpected. Rio immediately went to grab Pete under the arm before he could fall and hurt himself, Pete jerking back from her reach, the movement sloppy, but effective. Rio hadn’t even gotten a chance to touch him, which was lucky. It looked like he wasn’t quite able to control his sticking, one of the pillows stuck to his chest. If she had touched him and he stuck to her as he pulled away, he might have hurt her. He turned blurry eyes her way, blinking heavily, and letting out a sleepy mumble that she couldn’t understand.

            “Pete,” Rio started, her voice low and soft. “What’s wrong? Are you okay? What happened?”

            Pete rubbed his face with both hands, before looking at her over his fingertips. “Clean?” he finally managed, the word muddled and foggy.

            “Oh, Pete, no,” Rio hummed, shaking her head. “No, you don’t need to help, you need to rest.”

            “Many hands,” he mumbled, drooping further. “Help.”

            “Nope,” Jeff said, taking a step forward. He seemed to realize what he had done almost as soon as Rio did, the both of them freezing to see what he would do, how Pete would react. Pete flinched, leaning away from Jeff, but didn’t make a move towards him, his hands moving to the back of his head near the base of his neck as though it pained him. The thought that that was where his spidersense originated from hit her, but he didn’t seem to know why it was happening. This led to another thought, a much more somber thought.

            He’d only been like this for a little over a year, likely not enough time to engrain what was happening to him in his head properly when he was so tired. Whatever he had reacted to before, however, had been something that was a little more entrenched in his brain. But why would he feel like he needed to clean? Jeff kept his distance, but repeated, “nope. You don’t need to help, it’s okay. We all have this. You just need to rest.”

            Pete glared up at him thoughtfully, before shrugging weakly. “’Kay,” he slurred. “Sleep now?”

            “Ye-”

            “No, hold on,” Miles said suddenly, her son holding his hands out towards Pete. “Come on, you’re with me.”

            Pete allowed Miles to touch him, slinging his arm over his shoulder, stumbling to his feet as Miles helped him upright. Miles helped walk him to his bedroom, Jeff and Rio both following as he walked, and Pete stumbled towards it. They watched from the doorway as Miles shoved the door open wide with his foot and brought Pete over to the bed. Pete flopped face-first into it immediately as soon as his knees knocked into it, just barely avoiding hitting his head on the wall. Miles had been pulled with him, and the two lay in a tangle of sheets and limbs for a moment. Miles flailed slightly before almost seeming to give up, becoming boneless.

            “Help,” he muffled into the sheets.

            Jeff snorted with laughter and moved to help extricate him as Rio hid a laugh behind her hand. The fact that Pete didn’t react beyond another soft hiss as Jeff carefully lifted an arm off of his son was enough to let them know that he’d likely sleep for a long time, and probably not remember what happened when he woke up. Jeff picked Pete up carefully once Miles was away from the taller teen and placed Pete on the bed properly as Miles pulled the sheets down, easily covering Pete up after he laid him down with his head on the pillow.

            Pete hummed, and curled up almost immediately, his back to the wall, occupying as little space on the bed as possible. He was dead to the world within seconds.

            “Well…” Jeff said, sighing, and taking the pillow that had fallen off of Pete as soon as they’d gotten him on the bed, in his hands. “I guess that’s one way to get him to go to bed.”

            “It’s odd that he’d react like that,” Rio said softly, frowning. “He’s obviously had it drilled into him that he’s supposed to help. I wonder by who.”

            “Or what for,” Jeff added. “Why here, Miles?” he finally asked, looking at his son with a raised eyebrow.

            “He wouldn’t have to climb the stairs, and I can teach him color theory easier whenever he wakes up. Besides, the sheets are all clean, it’s fine,” Miles waved off the question. “Now I can help you clean.”

            “Alright,” Rio agreed. “Thank you, Miles. You’re right, this is probably a good place for him to rest, now come on, we’ve got some cleaning to do. We’ll talk about our own personal game plan as a family before he wakes up. We’ve got a lot to discuss.”

 

Chapter Text

            For the first couple of hours Pete slept, Miles was fine. He started by helping his parents clean up, and was as shocked as his parents when Peter B came tumbling through the window with wild eyes, panting, yelling out, “I forgot to help you clean!” before his dad could finish trying to punch him. His dad aborted the movement to put a hand on his chest, panting as his mom dropped a plate, Peter B managing to dive and save it before it shattered, sliding the entire length of the kitchen before he stopped himself with his literally sticky feet. He stood up, holding the plate in one hand and rubbing at his stomach with the other, looking disgruntled.

            “Ouch…”

            “Christ, Parker, are you trying to make me punch you?” his dad asked.

            “You wouldn’t have, don’t worry,” Peter B waved off, walking over to hand the plate back to his mom with a smile. “Here you go!” he said brightly.

            “Gracias?” his mom managed, her voice lilting into a question.

            “De nada~!” Peter answered with a bright lilt of his own, amused more than anything. “Anyway, helping you clean! What do you need from me?”

            “But what about your job?”

            “Don’t have it anymore,” Peter B answered brightly.

            “What?!” Miles managed, his voice choked, the thought running through his brain that he had called Peter B a broke hobo-spider before, but he hadn’t actually wanted it.

            “But Parker!” his mom exclaimed; her voice thick with surprise and no small amount of worry. 

            “Oh, don’t worry, this is hardly the first time, it won’t be the last. I’ve got several resumes brushed up on a near constant basis and a guy that owes me a favor.” Peter B waved it off, but the line of his shoulders drooped lower than the last time Miles had seen him, and the urge to hug him was strong.

            So, he did.

            Peter B froze in place after Miles’ arms were suddenly thrown around him, holding perfectly still in a way eerily similar to the way Pete reacted to hugs, but unlike Pete, Peter B sunk into it, hugging back. “Hey, bud,” he said softly, patting his back gently, “really, it’s okay, thank you, but I’m going to be alright. I have my rent paid for this month, and enough for the next month if I really need to pinch, so I’ve got a window of time before I’ll be on the street, and a few couches I can potentially crash on before I even hit that. This is nothing that hasn’t happened before, I’ll be fine. If I’m lucky MJ will let me stay with her until I’ve got something sorted. It’s okay.”

            “Have you asked her?” his mom asked, taking a step towards them, Miles still not letting go.

            “I…haven’t mentioned it. We finished the meeting and I ran off to go and try and plead my case to the boss in person because…well, sometimes it works better if you can look them in the eye, you know?” Peter B gently started poking at Miles, along his sides and under his arms, tickling, trying to get him to let go, and finally Miles did, taking a few steps away with a protesting laugh and sending a glare Peter B’s way. He grinned at him brightly, completely unaffected. “Anyway, my boss was a dick, so you know, it’s good to get out of there anyway. I’ll be fine. But yeah, I have to help you clean.”

            “You really don’t have to, Peter, go talk to MJ, I’m sure it will sort itself out…” his mom started, taking a few steps towards him and putting her hand on his shoulder.

            “Aunt May didn’t raise no freeloader,” Peter B said simply, frowning. “I’m fine, there’s nothing I can do about it at this point, it’s over and done with. I’ll talk to MJ about it as soon as I’ve helped you out, and I’ll let you know what’s up after we talked it over. It’ll be fine, I want to help, so what do you need done?”

            “…Maybe that’s why Pete has such a strong reaction to the word ‘clean,’” his mom finally hummed, backing away, her hand over her mouth thoughtfully. 

            “Sorry?” Peter B asked, both eyebrows rising in question.

            “I said ‘help clean,’ earlier,” his dad started, “that kid was up and moving towards his feet before you could say ‘wait,’ and then, when we did tell him wait, he said something about many hands and wanting to help.” His dad spread his hands out, raising an eyebrow in a non-verbal ‘can you believe that?’ “He was slurring his words so bad I could barely understand him. He was also so tired he didn’t even…well, he didn’t even register what it meant when his spider-sense went off at my presence. We got him over to Miles’ room to sleep before he conked out for good.”

            “I got him over there,” Miles volunteered. “He flopped onto my bed as soon as he touched it, taking me with him.” He frowned. “I got stuck under him, he clings.”

            His mom and dad both laughed quietly, Peter B giving a slight grin.

            “The stick is like that,” Peter B agreed, shooting a glance out of the kitchen and towards the hallway where Pete was still sleeping in his room. “And maybe that’s why? I can’t imagine Aunt May’s that different in any dimension, though, and she’d never…well, she would have never forced me to clean if I was that tired, or sick as the case may be. I don’t have anything concrete for you, really, we’re not the same person.” He blinked. “Well. Not exactly, you know?”

            “Just a similar power basis, need to help people, view on responsibility, and what seems to be a killer bad-luck streak, huh?” his dad asked, raising an eyebrow, a tease in his voice, and a grin on his mouth.

            “…Yeah. Well, when you put it like that,” Peter B replied, complete with finger-guns and an exaggerated wink, his parents laughing, and Miles rolling his eyes at the level of cheese on display, before looking around at the kitchen. “Where do you want the table?” he asked, pointing to the one Porker had left.

            “Can you move it up against the wall?” his mom asked.

            “Sure thing!” Peter B answered with a grin. “Though you might want to get stuff off, first. I don’t want to break anything.”

            Miles immediately moved to clear everything off of it, piling silverware in one of the serving bowls that had once held fruit and stacking plates. His dad helped with the glasses after Miles deposited his load by the sink, the two of them tag-teaming the rest of the food and cartons of juice or milk. Peter B was next to them, Miles realized, not having even seen him move until he realized that he was moving the chairs out of the way, balancing the lot of them looped on both of his arms easily, his back straight and his steps even as he balanced the last one on his head. He stacked them easily against the wall, sliding them off of his arms two at a time, and then lowering the one from his head to rest on top of the base he had created. Miles had an immediate burning desire to applaud.

             His mom actually did, Peter B bowing exaggeratedly.

            “That’s an odd talent,” his dad said, looking vaguely impressed, regardless.

            “One of the perks of the spider thing is an unusually good center of balance,” Peter B answered. “If we’re meant to be running across a line of web that’s less than an inch in diameter, then you better bet we’ve got a good center.”

            “Makes sense,” his dad hummed, Miles resolving to test that as soon as he was able. Peter B shot him a look after his parents turned their backs that practically screamed: ‘don’t you dare!’ Miles rolled his eyes, and Peter B frowned at him, picking the table up with one hand and giving the ‘I’m watching you’ sign with his other hand, pointing to his eyes and then back to Miles repeatedly before stopping after his dad turned around. Peter B shifted the table to his other hand easily to make up for the fact that it was in the air and looked at his dad with a raised eyebrow and a questioning expression.

            “Oh, just put it over by the chairs, that’ll be fine,” his dad said.

            “Sure thing,” Peter B grinned, easily carrying it on that one hand over to the wall and setting it down gently using both hands for stability. Once done he dusted off his hands exaggeratedly, pivoting on his heel smartly and looking at them with a very clear ‘what’s next’ expression on his face.

            “Honestly, Peter B, I think we’ve got it from here,” his dad said, putting his hands in his pockets and surveying the rest of the kitchen to find the last thing left to do was to wash the dishes.

            “I dry, Miles puts things away?” Peter B offered instead.

            “That’d be great if we didn’t have a dishwasher,” his mom said, stepping aside so he could see it. Peter B’s eyebrows shot up as he saw it, and finally he burst out laughing, before looking at Miles with a grin on his face.

            “Lucky kid,” he snarked gently. “Alright, if that’s it then, I’m going to check on Pete and then get out of your hair. Thanks again for everything…” his goober began ringing then, the sound tinny and kind of bright, Peter B jumping before he pressed the button to answer the call. “Hello…?” he started.

            “I forgot to help them clean!” Porker’s voice rang out, the sound tinny and slightly horrified. “I said goodbye and I didn’t help! I’m such an ungrateful parasite!!

            His mom and dad both started cackling.

            “It’s okay, Porker,” his dad finally gasped out finally.

            “It really is,” his mom said, wiping a tear from her eye. “Peter B already came and helped us out, he’s in our kitchen right now, don’t worry.”

            “We aren’t upset at all,” his dad said. “You’re not a parasite, you’re a pig.”

            “Well you aren’t wrong!” Porker called out; more laughter ringing bright. “I’ll be there after my shift to pick up the table and the extra chairs, if that’s okay?”

            “That should be fine, yes, just…knock on the window before you let yourself in, I almost punched Peter B,” his dad said.

            “He thinks he almost punched me,” Peter B corrected with a grin.

            “I can do that,” Porker chimed. “Alright, I’ll see you later. Thanks again!”

            “At this point I’m going to ban the words ‘thank you,’” his mom said, rolling her eyes, a wide smile on her face. “It’s not a problem, and we’d do it again. Thank you for your concern, but it’s really okay.”

            “Alright, you’re welcome,” Porker said, the grin audible in his voice. “Goodbye then, I’ll let you go.”

            “Goodbye,” they all chorused brightly, and the line went dead.

            His dad stared at Peter B with an eyebrow rising in challenge, and Peter B rolled his eyes exaggeratedly and waved him off.

            “His last name’s Porker, we aren’t the same.”

            Miles broke out into cackling laughter, doubling over and holding his middle. “I love…” he gasped out, “I love how…that’s your reason…when he’s a…he’s a pig!” Miles managed to get out fully, to a bright burst of laughter.

            “Yeah, well,” Peter B shrugged, finally, smirking. “Alright, I’m…I’m going to go check on Pete, and then I’ll leave. I know it’s banned, but thanks anyway,” he said, giving his parents another pair of finger guns before walking out of the room and then pausing in the living room. “Miles, which one’s your room?” he asked, turning back to face him with a frown.

            Miles laughed, “I’ll take you to it,” he said, looking at his parents to make sure it was okay. They both nodded, his mom giving him a small prod in the center of his back to get him to move, a curling smile on her mouth as he hopped away from her reach, laughing and swatting back at her gently. He led Peter B over to his bedroom, which he knew very well that Peter B knew the location of, and opened the door for him, Peter B taking a few steps in.

            “Porker told them we were working on jumping dimensions before we worked on communication,” Peter B said softly under his breath as he passed. “Make sure to tell Pete so he knows what the story is.”

            “Got it,” Miles responded equally quietly. He paused then, lingering in the doorway, staring at Pete who was curled up as small as he could make himself and lodged into the corner of the bed, a bundle of blankets, and Peter B, who stood next to him. Pete was so thin, the hollows of his cheeks and the sunken appearance of his eyes complete with the tired black rings around them, and then Peter B… ‘Lucky kid,’ he’d called him. Miles fisted his hand on the doorjamb. “Peter,” he said softly, Peter turning back to face him immediately with an eyebrow raised in question. “Will you…will you really be okay?” he asked. Peter B blinked, before turning on his heel and walking over to him, kneeling down so he was eye-level.

            “Hey, kid, listen,” he said softly, taking his shoulders gently and looking into his eyes deeply, his expression as serious as when he held him from the ceiling, trying to get him to tap into his powers. Miles immediately focused, his heart hammering in his chest, understanding that Peter B wanted him to really listen. “This isn’t my first rodeo, okay?” Peter B finally started with gently as soon as he knew Miles was focused. “This isn’t the first time I lost a job; this isn’t the first time I could potentially lose my apartment, and this isn’t the first time I might, might, worse-case scenario, running out of all couches to use, have to crash in a homeless shelter for a bit. I really, really. Will. Be. O-K. I mean it, alright, Miles? Thank you for caring about me, really, thank you, it’s…it’s nice. But I’ve got this, alright? I have friends, I really do. This is just something that happens.”

            “I…I’ve never had it happen,” Miles said softly, his eyebrows pinched. “My mom and dad are stable, and my uncle was…we just…” Miles looked over to Pete, thinking of Hoovervilles and homelessness and poverty and finally looking back to Peter B with wet eyes. “You’re not scared?”

            “Oh, Miles, no, I’m okay,” Peter B said softly, his hold on his arms pulling him into a tight hug, Miles throwing his arms around him tightly and hugging him equally hard. “Thank you for caring. I know it’s not really in your frame of reference, and it really shouldn’t be yet. I’m sorry to put it in your face like this.”

            “No, it’s…good, I’m glad that you did, I…I think.” He hesitated, frowning, “I don’t know if glad’s the right word, but…” Miles trailed off at Peter B’s snort of amusement, the grin that he could practically feel spread across his face. “I called the kids at the school I go to now elitist; you know?” he said softly. “But even the one I went to before didn’t have a lot of kids facing that problem, and definitely none that I knew.”

            “You can always volunteer if it bothers you,” Peter B said shrugging. “There’s a lot of soup kitchens and places that might be looking for volunteers.” He paused, frowning. “How old are you?”         

            “Thirteen,” Miles answered.

            “Hmm, you might have to get your mom and/or dad to go with you, but there’s stuff you can do,” Peter B said. “It’s alright, Miles. I know the ropes; I’ve been doing this for a while.”

            Miles gave him a tighter squeeze, feeling Peter B returning it just as tightly, before they parted, Miles wiping at his eyes.

            “Okay, man,” he finally said. “If you’re good then I’m good.”

            “Good,” Peter B said, grinning. “I have a burning desire to ruffle your hair,” he finally said with a raised eyebrow.

            Miles laughed, and finally lowered his head so he could, recognizing the gesture for what it was. He wondered if that was how Peter B’s parental figures had all shown affection, figuring it was at the immediate execution and the firm yet somehow gentle way he pressed.

            “You’re a good kid, Miles,” Peter B finally said with a grin after taking his hand away. “Don’t let yourself feel helpless, okay? There’s plenty of things you can do, and if the world ever looks too grim, well…talk to your parents, or to me, or Porker, okay?”

            “Not Pete, Gwen, or Peni?” he asked.

            “You can talk to them,” Peter B agreed, “but if you wind up dragging yourselves into a spiral, find one of us to pull you up again, alright? We’ve got more experience than you do, kid, and we’ll probably be better at helping you find the joy in things.”

            “Can you do that without spiraling, Peter?” Miles asked with a raised eyebrow. Peter B blinked, before grinning at him.

            “I have trouble sometimes, that’s true,” he poked him in the nose then, his eyes narrow and his mouth in a firm line. “But that’s my burden, not yours,” he emphasized, Miles nodding. “Don’t try and carry my problems on your shoulders. They’re too skinny, yet,” Peter teased, grinning at him and easily clasping his shoulders in his hands.

            Miles snorted with laughter, and pushed him away, flexing his muscles and striking a few poses. “Have you seen this?” he asked, “this is pure 100% muscle,” he said, flexing more, Peter B laughed under his breath.

            “Sure kid, sure, now let me check on Pete,” Peter B said, pushing himself upright easily. Miles nodded, taking a few steps back.

            “Okay, man. Um…thanks,” he finally said softly, kicking at the ground, and avoiding any possible eye-contact. He felt Peter B’s gaze on him and kept his own still firmly away.

            “I have it on good authority that ‘thanks’ is banned in this household, kid,” Peter B said, the grin firm in his voice. “But it’s really no problem.”  Peter B moved over to Pete then, and Miles watched as Peter B carefully reached out, pressing two fingers to Pete’s neck, taking his pulse, his eyes closed. For a moment he was silent, counting, and then he finally nodded.

            He didn’t seem surprised at the fact that Pete didn’t even register his presence.

            Peter B took one of Pete’s hands in his then, carefully extricating it from the blanket and holding it out, turning it over so he could examine the spinneret. He pressed his fingers around the opening gently, and Pete flinched, starting to pull his hand away. Peter B let it go, frowning thoughtfully, and finally nodded to himself.

            “What’s up?” Miles asked softly.

            “I have a couple things I need to tell your mother,” Peter B answered, coming back towards him, Pete curling up tighter and slipping deeper into sleep behind him.

            “Alright,” Miles said, leading him back. His parents had finished loading the dishwasher by then, and they turned when Miles and Peter B came back.

            “I forgot some things,” Peter B said finally, frowning, his mom immediately turning back to face him. “Pete’s heartbeat is abnormally fast for a human, it runs at the same rate mine does, so if you want a pulse to compare to, you can take mine, so you know what to watch out for. Second of all, and this is something I just confirmed, but he’s got bruising around the spinnerets. They’re new muscles, still, I think. I noticed he had a tendency to avoid using them unless he had no other choice, and we made him swing a lot when he was here, and who knows about his own world. We might have to ask Porker about exercises for the spinneret. I don’t know how well they’ll crossover because they’re located in a different place, but that’s more Spider training than anything so you don’t really have to worry about that. I just wanted to ask you to look them over a bit more closely and see if they needed bandaging, or ice or something to get the swelling to go down, because they are swollen.”

            “I’ll look into it,” his mom said, her expression tight.

            “Don’t worry about not noticing,” Peter B said, waving his hands, “there was a lot of stuff going on at once and I didn’t even think to mention it. I noticed it when I cleaned him off, but I wanted to get a better look at it and check his reaction when he was mostly conscious. It definitely still hurts him, he tried to pull his arm away from me when I touched him.”

            “Alright, Peter B, thank you, I’ll be sure to check. Do you mind if I take your pulse now?” she asked.

            “Nope, go for it,” Peter B answered. His mom walked over and carefully placed her fingers on the pulse-point under his throat, frowning, her eyes on the clock. Her eyebrow rose steadily up her forehead as she counted internally, finally moving to the other eyebrow which also rose, and then they met in the middle as she turned around to frown at him.

            “No es sorpresa que tu metabolismo sea tan rapido,” she exclaimed, frowning at him and taking her fingers off. “Your heartbeat practically flutters! You’re like a human-sized hummingbird!”

            “Not that quick, luckily,” Peter B corrected. “But be on the lookout for that, if it slows down too much or seems to speed up, you might have a problem. Naturally it’ll slow a bit in sleep, but you’re going to notice if it drops too far.”

            Miles had immediately mentally noted to never let anyone take his pulse, and also decided that he’d have to keep a close eye on Pete. That sounded frightening.

            His mom frowned, but nodded, and then finally raised an eyebrow at him. “Before you go, I had been meaning to ask you something,” she said.

            “Yes?” he asked, his eyebrows rising.

            “Why did you learn Spanish so well? You do have a bit of an accent, but you seem to be fluent, or nearly fluent.”

            “Oh,” Peter B hesitated, frowning, before rubbing the back of his head. “Actually, I learned because…there was this little boy,” he sighed heavily. “I was sixteen, and the apartment was on fire, and in the rush of people evacuating, he’d been separated from his mother and had gotten stuck on the seventeenth floor with fire coming up and fire coming down. I…was trying to get him out. Couldn’t understand a thing I was saying and believe it or not, but a costumed figure coming at you through the flames whose face you can’t see and who’s got some spider symbolism going on can actually be kind of horrifying. I would have taken off my mask but I had dunked everything in water so I could breathe and had more of a window before I began burning. But that little kid… He kept saying ‘araña espantosa,’ and calling for ‘mami,’ and was bawling, just…absolutely bawling, and he wouldn’t stop, and there was nothing I could say or do to get him to come closer to me.”

            "¿Oh, Dios, lo...lo alcanzaste?" his mom asked, her hand over her mouth, his dad was behind him suddenly, holding onto his shoulder, and Miles wondered what his own face was doing.

            “I did, yes, but only after I wound up having to practically pounce on him to get him to stop trying to run away. I hauled him squalling out the window, and by the time I finally found his mom he was practically nonresponsive, just screaming. His mom got him to calm down and she kept thanking me over and over and over again, and eventually the little boy grew to understand that I had saved him, and he was a lot better, but I had nightmares of that boy running away screaming for a very long time.”

            “Oh god, I’m so glad that you saved him, but that would have been so frightening,” his mom said softly.

            “Did he seem okay afterwards; did you see him again?” Miles asked, worry tight in his voice.            

            “Yeah, I saw him periodically and every time I did, he’d give me a high-five,” he gave a laugh that could only be described as brittle. “I don’t know if he even remembered the fire after a while, he was just so young when it happened. It’s honestly kind of amazing how resilient kids are,” Peter B said finally, thoughtfully, an expression on his face that Miles couldn’t read. “Regardless, I started learning Spanish the next day after that apartment fire and I didn’t stop until I could talk to the man who operated the Mexican food cart that I frequented on a regular basis fluently. It’s probably also where I developed my tolerance for spice, honestly. I also learned a few basic phrases in a bunch of other languages so I could help the people who didn’t understand English.” He paused, rubbing the back of his head. “Eventually people just recognized me by costume, you know? They see the symbol and the mask, and the webs and they know that it’s me, so I don’t have to worry about telling them that I’m here to help anymore, they just come. But back then? Back then when I hadn’t even been doing it a full year, not enough people knew me, and I just…didn’t want to go through that ever again.”

            “I don’t blame you,” his dad said, clapping his hand on Peter B’s shoulder. “You did good. It might have been horrifying when it happened, but you saved that kid, and he was alright afterwards. Don’t let yourself linger on what could have been, you did good for a young sixteen-year-old in spandex.”

            Peter B grinned, wide and bright, and happy. “Thank you,” he said, the words heartfelt and earnest. “I tell myself that, but sometimes it’s hard.”

            “I get it,” his dad said, shaking him by that shoulder gently. “Really, I do. But you do the best you can in the situations that you find yourself in, and sometimes those are bad situations. And besides, you got the kid out, and then you learned how to never have that happen again. I’d call that good, Peter B.”

            “Yeah,” Peter B said softly. “I guess it was. Thank you.”

            “Anytime.”

            Peter B took a step back then, rubbing the back of his head. “Anyway, I gotta go, I’ll see about throwing my resume out, see if I can get any nibbles.”

            “Good luck,” his mom said, firmly.

            “We’ll be rooting for you,” his dad said.

            “I hope your next job has a more flexible schedule!” Miles called out.

            “Thank you,” Peter B said faintly, looking mildly flushed, before finally calling up a portal and stepping through it. It vanished immediately afterwards and there was a collective sigh.

            “You know what,” his dad said finally, softly, frowning thoughtfully.

            “What?” his mom asked, walking over to stand next to his dad.

            “I actually really like Peter B. He’s a good guy,” his dad said thoughtfully, frowning.

            “Thinking about making a new friend?” his mom asked, grinning.

            “I’ll give it a shot.” His dad shrugged and Miles was inwardly pleased.

            “I like him a lot,” Miles said, before frowning up at his mom as the thought hit him. “Would you be able to take me to volunteer at a soup kitchen or something, maybe?”

            “What’s this?” his mom asked, looking at him, surprise in her voice. “Did Peter B mention that?”

            “Well, yeah. I…I kind of asked him some things because I…” he paused, rolling his shoulders back in an expansive shrug, still trying to avoid eye-contact. “I don’t know, mami, he was…” he paused, hesitating. “Is it a bad thing that I want to volunteer?”

            “Oh, mijo, no!” his mom said, almost immediately moving to brush her fingers around his ear, sliding her hand down and moving his chin up to stare into her eyes, “I’m sorry, I hadn’t meant it like that. It’s not a bad thing at all! I was just surprised; I’d never heard you express an interest. Though…given everything that’s been happening lately and the people that we’ve been meeting… Peter B’s job loss… It doesn’t surprise me that you might be concerned for him or want to help. It also doesn’t surprise me that Peter B would give a practical solution like that. I’m assuming that’s what happened?”

            “Yeah,” Miles agreed, feeling his shoulders relax from their bunching tension. “I asked him if he’d be okay and we got to talking, and when he realized what was bothering me, he told me about volunteering. But he asked me to make sure I had a chaperone, because I wasn’t old enough on my own yet, so I thought I’d ask. Would that be something we could do together?”

            His dad scooped him up suddenly, his hold deceptively gentle. “It’s actually a really good thing we could do together, if you want,” his dad said. “I have a few buddies I volunteer with sometimes, if you’re interested…I’m more than willing to bring you, too.” his dad said softly. “And I’m glad he was able to talk to you about that, Miles, and give you something to do that might help. Now, come on, do you guys want to watch a movie and spend some time together before Pete wakes up?”

            “Sounds good, but do you mind if I check on him some?” Miles asked.

            “Sure thing, kiddo. There’s no nightmares in this house,” his dad said, a laugh in his voice.

            Pete slept on without much fuss, though there was a momentary scare when his mom went to check on his spinnerets. Miles stood in the doorway as his mom carefully felt around the inside of Pete’s wrists, only to suddenly not be able to move her hands. His mom’s eyes went wide, trying to pull back, only to take his entire arm with her, and Miles realized that Pete had started to stick to her.

            Pete’s other hand was moving, too, and Miles had a sudden horrified thought that he might latch onto Miles’ mom in his sleep and it would hurt her. He moved quickly then, taking hold of Pete’s other hand as soon as he got close enough, trying to will him to settle. Pete finally let go of his mom, who rubbed her hands together rapidly.

            Miles felt the rough burn marks on the fingers under his, and cautiously turned his hand over so he could look at the spinnerets on his wrists. They were odd, holes where there really shouldn’t be any, his forearms muscled in a way that was strange, the chords of tissue having shifted to accommodate those holes. There was bruising, now that he was looking for it, running all the way down his arms. It looked painful, and Miles couldn’t believe how calm Pete had been about it. He’d never complained about the use of his webbing, not even once, when it obviously still hurt him quite badly. His mom hummed, the sound pleased, and began looking closer at the bruising.

            His mom finally frowned, losing her gratefulness at being able to get a closer look quickly, and finally looked at him. “Mijo, I need you to get the first aid kit, I want to bandage these and put some cold compresses on them. Ask your dad to get the ones from the freezer, he’ll know what I mean.”

            “Okay!” he said, and let go of Pete’s hand, his mom still gently examining that bruising, soft whispered words in Spanish and English drifting through the air as she kept trying to get Pete to stay calm, stay asleep. His dad moved to get the stuff from the freezer as soon as he told him, and when Miles ran in with the first aid kit his dad was already there and making displeased hisses.

            They had wrapped towels around something blue and were quietly discussing how to make sure they stayed on his wrists and whether or not they’d be lucky enough to change them multiple times to get the swelling to go down. His mom waved him over as soon as she saw him, and together his dad and mom carefully held the towel-wrapped blue things to Pete’s wrist, while the other wrapped it. Finally, Pete had his wrists wrapped and was allowed to resettle.

            Miles felt his stomach twist a little when a small wrinkle between Pete’s eyebrows that had been almost completely invisible smoothed. He wondered how badly it had hurt him. They backed away after they were done and Pete pulled his arms close almost reflexively, holding them against his chest.

            Protective.

            Miles made a small face and turned to his mom and dad, a question in his gaze.

            “He’ll be okay, Miles,” his mom said softly, smiling at him. “Porker will probably have exercises he can do to strengthen his spinnerets, and now that they know they can do their best to take routes that won’t force him to swing as much. For right now we will get the swelling to go down and it will be okay.”

            “Your mom’s right, it’ll be okay,” his dad clapped him on the shoulder. “Knowing there’s a problem leads to being able to fix the problem, and we know that it’s a problem now, so we’ll be on the lookout.”

            “Yeah,” Miles agreed, smiling.

            “Now come on, help me pick out a movie!” his dad said, poking him in the side. “It’s your choice this time, so what are we watching? No rated R.”

            “That is just…completely not fair, dad,” Miles said, frowning. His dad laughed.

            This was how the first two hours were spent, between rebandaging Pete’s wrists every so often with different cold packs, sometimes using frozen peas if the gel packs hadn’t been properly frozen yet. Porker showed up by the fifth hour, when Miles was just starting to get a little nervous at how long Pete was sleeping, as well as how unresponsive he was.

            Porker listened to Miles whispered worries when the pig showed up in his room while he was working on making a color wheel to show Pete when he woke up. It startled him, and he sent a paintbrush arching through the air, only to be caught by Porker, who leapt up and grabbed it, flipping to stick to the ceiling as his jump had been a bit too intense. Miles pressed himself to his desk, his hand clutching his heart, breath wheezing.

            “Don’t do that, man!” he managed to gasp out. “You about gave me a heart-attack!”

            “I’m sorry,” Porker whispered, dropping down to land next to him and handing him the paintbrush back. Miles took it, putting it on his desk and knelt next to Porker so he could speak even quieter. “I wanted to talk to you quickly without parental involvement. How you holding up, kid? Has there been anything vaguely super-hero needed that you need our help with?”

            “No,” Miles answered, taking a deep breath and looking out the window. “No, I haven’t heard of anything yet. But how would you be able to make it look like I was there?”

            “Peni whipped up a hologram. It’ll act like you and sound like you so you can be somewhere else at the same time. We’ve got your back, kid,” Porker winked.

            Miles beamed at him, the expression bright and wide. “Thank you,” he said, feeling relief wash through him. That’d be perfect if he needed to use it sometime. “Did you see my message about Pete and his spinnerets?” he asked even quieter

            “I did, kid, but I’m going to look at them with your mom in the room. Has he woken up at all?”

            “Once, nearly gave me a heart-attack, too…” he paused, frowning. “What is it with you Peter’s and scaring everyone?” he asked, his eyes narrowed and challenging. Porker whistled innocently and quietly, bobbing on the tip of his…hooves…

            “You know how it is, kid,” Porker said, winking. “He’s been asleep ever since?”

            “Yeah,” Miles said, “and I…is that normal? Is he going to be okay?”

            “I’m pretty sure he’ll be okay. You’re going to have to make sure you guys feed him really well when he wakes up because that’s a couple meals he’s missed and he really can’t afford to do that,” Porker frowned. “She’ll know, but she might not know. Help her out with that, okay, kid?”

            “I got it,” Miles responded. “Hey, um…thanks for checking in on me, man,” he said finally. After a moment of pause, he hesitated before leaning closer. “Did you…did you hear that Peter B lost his job?”

            Porker blinked, before his eyes widened. “No, he didn’t share with the class,” Porker finally said. Miles blinked before a rush of nerves flew through him.

            “You don’t think he’ll be upset that I told you, do you?” Miles asked, worry in his voice.

            “I think he’d know that I’d find out eventually. I’m not one of the best reporters at the Daily Beagle for nothin’, Miles,” Porker winked at him. “Is he doing okay?”

            “He said he was, said that he’s used to it happening,” Miles answered. Porker made a thoughtful noise.

            “I’ll check up on him,” Porker said, tapping on his shoulder. “Don’t worry.”

            “Peter B already told me not to several times,” Miles said, rolling his eyes.

            “Yeah, well, listen to him,” Porker chucked his chin, grinning. “Now I’m going to go pop into whatever window in whatever room your parents are in, for the gag of course. I’ll see you again in a bit. Seem properly surprised, okay?” Porker left out of the window that Miles didn’t even notice open. There was a pause, and then not even a minute later a shout of surprise from his dad, followed by his mom. Miles immediately ran out of his room and towards the source of the sound to see Porker squeezed through a window in one of the paintings hanging on the wall in the living room.

            Needless to say, Miles didn’t need to act surprised.

            Porker popped the rest of the way out, shaking off what looked like actual paint.

            “I know they say break the fourth wall, but I find it easier to come in through the window,” Porker said brightly.

            His dad hesitated, putting a hand on his mouth, before looking up at the ceiling. His mom’s eyes widened, and she leaned back against the couch, her chin tilting upwards slightly as she gripped the couch cushions underneath her. For a moment there was complete and total silence, before it finally broke to laughter. It was bright and loud and happy, and Miles wouldn’t be able to say who broke first, but Porker crossed his arms proudly and tapped his foot patiently, waiting for them to calm down.

            “Christ, Porker!” his dad finally managed. “I about had a heart attack! I told you to knock on the window so that wouldn’t happen!”

            “Ah, well, I see a gag and I’ve gotta play to it, you know?” Porker said, clapping his hands together happily. “So, where’s the table and the chairs? I might as well fix the easy stuff before I take a look at what’s probably going to take a while.”

            “In the kitchen,” his mom said, standing up. “Peter B moved it over for us.”

            Miles and his dad followed his mom and Porker as the pig walked into the kitchen, frowning at the table thoughtfully. He circled it once, twice, nodded his head and picked it up using a single table leg and pulling his pocket out wide with his other hand. Porker somehow tipped the table slightly, and put that corner into his pocket, and then it was like watching sand funnel into a jar. The table…flowed, somehow stretching and becoming smaller until it vanished inside of that pocket, Porker then pressing his pocket close to his hip and patting it twice happily.

            “What the fuck?” Miles managed.

            “Language,” his dad said, frowning at him. Miles threw his hands towards the missing table, and then frowned at his dad.

            “You don’t get mad when Pete says it!” he finally said, waving his hands around.

            “Am I Pete’s father?” his dad asked with a raised eyebrow.

            “…Well, no…” Miles finally managed, frowning, sinking his shoulders in.

            “Then I don’t have any bearing on what he says or does,” his dad finished, his chin lifting. “I don’t much like it when he says it either, but he’s got the kind of mouth that suggests it’s habit."

            “No joke,” Porker said. “Honestly the only one I haven’t seen that kid swearing around is Aunt May. I think it’s hilarious,” Porker grinned, rubbing his hands together gleefully. “Anyway, rough times build rough kids. Pete’s very rough. But he’s good.”

            “Lo es,” his mom agreed firmly. “But he’s also in pain,” his mom said softly. “I don’t know if Peter B told you, but he has severe bruising all the way down his forearms. We did our best to get the swelling to go down, we’ve been changing ice packs consistently…but if you have something else…”

            “I’ll take a look,” Porker promised, sliding each chair into his pocket in a similar way he did to the table. “He in your room?” he asked, pointing to Miles. Miles nodded and led the way. He held the door open for the pig, who crept into the bedroom quietly. Porker climbed up onto the wall and around the bed, not letting his weight rest on it. When he finally was above Pete’s corner that he’d horned himself in, he carefully reached down and began trying to uncurl Pete’s arms, whispering quietly to him and humming under his breath. Pete finally seemed to relax, and Porker carefully pulled his arms towards him.

            Porker carefully unwound the bandages, putting the compresses to the side in order to look at the spinnerets more closely. His mouth was in a thinner line than usual, his eyes intent as they looked them over, and then his gaze traveled the length of Pete’s arms. He carefully pulled Pete’s sleeves back, humming under his breath as he did so, and ran his fingers up his skin, applying pressure periodically. Finally, he paused, pressing down again on a certain spot near his elbow, and then trailing it back down the length of his arms. Porker kept the pressure as he slid his fingers down, feeling, his mouth curling into a bigger and bigger frown as he did so, getting closer and closer to those spinnerets

            Porker suddenly made a brief ‘ah,’ sound, and started gently pulling on what seemed to be nothing at first and then a fine thread of black webbing slowly made its way out of Pete’s wrist. He pulled carefully, hushing Pete gently when he let out a sound that reminded Miles of a whimper, and finally he pressed down on a spot on his wrist a little below the spinneret. The webbing stopped and Porker let Pete go, actually reaching out and petting his hair with the hand that didn’t have webbing on it, hushing and whispering and praising. Pete leaned into the touch, curling towards him, his arms crossed on his chest and not moving, and when Porker finally left, he seemed to curl tighter, hiding completely under the blankets.

            Miles had a feeling they wouldn’t be able to touch him again.

            Porker held the webbing carefully, examining it, pulling it between his hands, checking tensile strength and stickiness, and eventually shook his head. He butted his head out towards the living room and they followed him, Porker closing it behind them, the web still held in his other hand.

            “Alright,” Porker said softly, frowning. “I have good news and I have not so good news. Nothing’s bad, yet, but it might get there if we’re not careful.”

            “What’s happening?” his mom asked, sitting down and gesturing for Porker to do the same. Miles found himself sinking onto the chair next to the couch, curling into it as his dad did the same on the sofa.

            “Pete said his body was torn apart and pieced back together in order to give him webbing and he really wasn’t lying. His body is being forced to accommodate something that it had no idea would ever happen to it, and worse, in some ways it’s accommodating the change kind of poorly.” Porker folded his hands before him, looking at all of them with a firm gaze. “Part of the reason for this is his muscles aren’t used to doing what they’re being forced to do, and so certain habits have been formed that are compensating for that. What needs to be done is his muscles need to be strengthened and that…I might need to consult some spider buddies of mine; the positioning is very odd, and I don’t know how best to work with that. That said, and this is the good thing: the glands, acid, and spinnerets themselves are all perfectly functional. Everything works, it’s just a matter of making everything run smoother.”

            “That’s a bit of a relief. I’m glad it all works; I was afraid that it was pinching places it shouldn’t and the bruising was being caused by a blockage or something…” his mom said.

            “No, no, the ducts themselves work just fine,” Porker assured. “It’s really just a matter of strengthening new muscles. I’ll have some exercises for him to start to work on soon, I’m sure of it. In the meantime, try and keep him from using it too much.”

            “Got it,” his dad agreed. “We’ll do our best.”

            “Explain why first,” Porker said frowning. “I know you can probably figure out the fact that you will need to do that, but I worry.”

            “I get it, Porker,” his dad said grinning. “I don’t mind the advice.”

            “Thank you,” Porker sighed, rubbing his head. “I’m going to go; I’ll figure out some stuff soon.”

            “We’ll be seeing you!” his dad said.

            “Don’t be a stranger,” his mom added.

            “Take care of yourself,” Miles finished. “Don’t go losing any jobs, I don’t want the Parker luck to just start to cover Peters, too.”

            Porker laughed, called a portal, and dove through it.

            His mom let out a heavy sigh, rubbing her face. “I’m so glad it’s not clots or blockages,” she said. “I was so worried.”

            “Would that have required surgery?” his dad asked.

            “Si,” his mom answered softly, “and I wouldn’t have been equipped to handle it here. I don’t know what we would have done.”

            “Well, you don’t have to worry about it anymore,” his dad said, reaching out to massage the back of her neck. “No more stress, let it go. He’s alright. We’ve got a plan; we can do this."

            Miles left them and went to sit in his room, sitting on the chair by his desk and holding a pillow to his chest as he stared at the motionless lump in his bed. His foot turned him in an idle swivel as he thought, mouth in a thin line. 

            “Hey, Pete,” Miles said softly. “Wake up soon, okay? I want you to be alright, man, you’ve been sleeping so long.” He took a breath, looking at his knees and then frowned up at Pete again, his gaze locked. “When you wake up, I’ve got some questions for you. I hope you don’t mind…”

            Pete slept through the rest of the day. By the time it was night Miles had already made a little nest of pillows and blankets to the side of his bed so he could sleep in the same room and be there in case of any issues. The tenth hour had seen him calling Peter B in a panic because Pete seemed to be completely nonresponsive. He was told a few things that had made his heart warm, and also made it hurt.

            “He’s got a lot to recover from, Miles, his body is doing the best it can with what it has to piece itself together and he’s hurting pretty badly. However, and here’s the thing that you gotta remember: he feels safe enough to do it with you, so just think of that, alright man? He feels safe enough with you that his body is letting itself recover. That’s good. It just takes time.”

            Miles was happy that Pete was comfortable enough to rest around them, and hoped it had something to do with the constant low-buzz of the spidersense that was always there, merrily humming away and singing: ‘like me, like me, like me.’ He also hoped that when Pete woke up, he’d be okay. They had placed the cooling packs on his wrists one more time before they all turned in for the night, his mom checking Pete’s pulse to make sure it was the steady flutter it should be, before finally all of them went to bed.

            Pete woke up at seven in the morning and Miles just knew it was going to be a long day.

Chapter Text

            Peter woke with a fuzzy feeling in his head, a gnawing hunger, and an oppressive heaviness in his limbs. He also found that he was warm and was lying on something soft. Something that almost felt like…

            Peter pushed himself upright, almost immediately overbalancing as the blood rushed away from his head. He caught himself before he fell out of…bed. It really was a bed. There was a person sleeping on the floor next to him that he recognized as Miles only when Miles sat bolt upright and almost smashed his head into Peter’s face. Peter pushed himself away from the oncoming collision, and wound up hitting his head on the wall instead, causing a ringing in his ears and the blurriness in his vision to compound. Miles was up and on his feet in almost an instant. 

            “Pete!” Miles called out, his voice filled with worry, his eyes wide. “I’m so sorry, are you okay? What happened? Was it a nightmare?”

            “I’m fine,” Peter slurred, rubbing his face. His arms were heavy, and he looked at them idly, only to freeze at the sight of what was on them. It looked as though they had been bandaged sometime during the day, odd gel packs wrapped around his forearms carefully with gauze. It was as he saw the wrappings that he realized the burning pain that had been the backdrop of his life since the spinnerets tore their way through his arms was gone.

            Peter undid the bandages carefully, letting the odd blue things fall to the bed, and stared at the skin underneath. He idly felt as the bed sank next to him as Miles sat beside him, staring at him with wide eyes, and did his best to ignore Miles’ staring. There was still some slight swelling around his spinnerets, but the bruising had mostly gone, his healing apparently having finally done its job. He flexed his wrist, rolling it, feeling the odd tug and pull from that spinneret, and then balled his hand into a fist before releasing it.

            No pain.

            Peter swallowed.

            “Peter B noticed they were swollen,” Miles said quietly, probably trying to keep quiet so his parents wouldn’t notice. This apparently wasn’t necessary as there was a sudden loud knocking on the door.

            “Miles, Pete, are you okay in there?” Rio’s voice called out. “Can we come in?”

            Miles gave an immediate, “Come in!” after the inquiry. “Pete hit his head, but I think he’s okay.”

            Rio and Mr. Davis entered together, looking around, and then focused on Peter. Peter realized he hadn’t straightened from where he was lying against the wall and went to do so. Rio was there next to him suddenly, in his space, and Peter found himself flinching backwards, just barely avoiding hitting his head again. Rio gave an immediate apology, and Peter tried to hold still as she ran her hands over his skull.

            “What happened, sweetie?” she asked, and Pete closed his eyes against the endearment. “Is everyone okay?” She had backed off after deciding his head was okay and was looking at him with worried eyes when he finally braved the idea of looking at her.

            “Fine,” Peter answered, fighting for his usual brusqueness and having difficulty finding it. “I wasn’t expecting to wake up here.” He said finally, frowning at the bed. “How did I get here?”

            “Miles helped you. You were…well, do you remember waking up earlier?” Mr. Davis asked, and Peter felt the bottom of his stomach drop, his fingers tightening in the sheets and threatening to tear them, even as he refused to look his way. He relaxed his grip. He couldn’t afford to buy new sheets right now; he couldn’t afford to break anything. “You were pretty incoherent when it happened, I wouldn’t be surprised if you don’t remember. Miles took you to bed and you collapsed there, and you’ve been asleep since…” He frowned, looking at his watch and then at Rio. “About eleven?” he finally offered hesitantly. “It’s seven in the morning now.”

            Peter felt his breath hitch in his throat, his eyes widening as the full implications of that hit him. Twenty hours. He’d been out of it for twenty hours. And he still felt as though, if he let himself, he could fall asleep for another twenty. Peter shoved himself out of bed, his limbs shaky, but he willed himself to stand, willed himself to not tremble, balling his hands into fists.

            “I’m sorry,” Peter said. “I didn’t mean to…”

            “No, no apologizing,” Rio said, pointing her finger towards his chin. “There’s no reason for you to apologize.” She put her hand down, sighing, and finally rubbing her hands through her hair. “It’s early, if you want to sleep…” Peter felt a knot twist in his stomach and apparently Rio could tell from his expression that the idea didn’t appeal to him much in the slightest. He didn’t know how he felt about that. Then again, he wasn’t wearing his mask. Maybe he had more tells than he thought.

            He’d have to work on that.

            “Alright, well…Miles usually sleeps in a little longer…”

            “No, it’s okay, mom!” Miles said, sitting up properly and hiding a yawn. “I went to bed pretty early, I’m good. Besides, I get to say goodbye to dad before he leaves.”

            Sure enough, as Peter sent a look Mr. Davis’ way, he found that Mr. Davis was fully dressed in his police uniform. The patterning and badges were just similar enough to send a shiver up his spine and make his spidersense prickle. Peter turned to face him, because putting his back to him suddenly felt like a terrible thing to do. Peter was suddenly, and painfully reminded of the fact that he had apparently spent twenty hours asleep in a house with a copper in it. 

            Somehow it felt like a betrayal.

            Mr. Davis seemed to catch his gaze and then, to Peter’s surprise, he shot a look at his uniform with a slight frown that pulled at the ends of his mustache. Mr. Davis gave them a brief nod, and then…stepped out of the room. Peter blinked. He hadn’t expected that.

            Peter turned his attention back to Rio who looked after her husband. She turned back to him and gave him a smile, which he also hadn’t expected. It was his fault her husband couldn’t be in the room with them, his stupid weakness… “Well, I was already up, would you boys like breakfast?”

            Miles was up in a second, grinning as wide as he could, “Yes please!” he called out.

            “You don’t even get a say,” Rio said, grinning at Peter with amusement in her voice. “You haven’t eaten in twenty hours, and if you think for one second that I’m going to let that slide then you are wrong. We’re going to have a big breakfast together.”

            Peter felt the urge to disappear into himself somehow but found himself moving toward the door without even really thinking about it. That would be twice now that they would make food for him, twice now that he would owe them for food, and he couldn’t take advantage of that, even if they did seem well off. He stopped walking. Peter knew how much he could eat if given the opportunity, his body desperately working on keeping him alive, despite the metabolism, and he just…

            “I can’t…” he started.

            “No! You absolutely can. If you would like to help me cook, then that’s an option, but you’re going to eat, and you are going to like it.” She smiled at him, and carefully put a hand on his shoulder, turning him around and giving him a slight push out of Miles’ room. Peter followed her prompting numbly. “We won’t have anything spicy today. Jeff was thinking omelets; how does that sound?”

            “Good!” Miles called out, grinning. “I’ll whisk the eggs?” he offered.

            “Sounds good, Miles, thank you for offering,” Rio said, beaming. “Would you like to help me cut vegetables, Pete?” she asked.

            “Yes, ma’am,” Peter found himself saying quietly.

            “Good! Alright, boys, let’s make a feast!” she clapped her hands together happily, rubbing them briskly and then put them on Miles’ and his own back, giving them a slight shove forward. Miles laughed, ducking out of her reach, and her own laughter followed as she went after him, still touching Peter’s shoulder even as she swiped for Miles and failed. Miles laughed, walking backwards in order to gloat properly, but Rio just rolled her eyes, laughing herself, the sound happy and bright.

            Peter had almost forgotten what that sounded like.

            Mr. Davis was making coffee, he noticed, but it seemed the ingredients had all been laid out already, and Mr. Davis gave his wife and son a warm smile. Peter closed his eyes and tried to focus on that, tried to focus on the fact that Mr. Davis was a husband and a father, that he wasn’t just a copper. The urge to run, to get away, the constant ringing of his spidersense that burned in the back of his skull like a bad headache was put away. Peter didn’t want to gum up the works. This was a family. This was a group of people that had taken him in. He looked around, realizing that the other Spiders weren’t there.

            They all had lives. They couldn’t stay in this universe with him, and they shouldn’t be expected to. He looked at his watch, trying to remember how to contact them. He wanted to go home. He had to go home. Between the fact that the coppers in his own world would have started to examine…started to examine Curt, and probably followed that trail of destruction back to… Peter saw their bodies in his mind’s eye for a moment, half eaten, Martha’s face as it stared up at the ceiling in an unblinking stare…

            He shook his head to clear it, trying to dislodge the expression on her face from his head. The complete acceptance on her face… There had been no fear. There had been no horror. Just…acceptance. Aching, brittle, as she stared up at what had been her husband…

            Peter hadn’t had time to really wonder at her expression, hadn’t had the opportunity to think about it, about why she didn’t pick up Billy and run. But really, he supposed it made sense. With her husband gone, Martha would be forced to work in a market where women just couldn’t compete and wouldn’t be able to earn the money necessary to feed herself and her child. And Peter…Peter had already proven that he couldn’t really help.

            He wouldn’t have been enough.

            “Peter?” Rio’s voice asked, and Peter came to the realization that he had stopped moving.

            “Sorry,” he said, and moved to the counter briskly, looking for the knives to begin chopping some of the vegetables. He found a block that held them and pulled out a decent sized one. He pointed at the vegetables with it. “Diced?” he asked, and Rio, Miles, and Mr. Davis all hesitated, looked at each other, before Rio rallied with a smile.

            “Yes, sweetie, that’d be good.”

            “Okay, sure.” He took a breath and began working on what looked like a zucchini, being sure to keep his cuts nice and even, the rattle of the knife as he ran it down the length after cutting it into fourths a nice soothing sound. He knew this, he was used to this, he could do this. It was only after he began working his way through the squash that he noticed the complete lack of sound. He turned, blinking, to find them all staring at him with various levels of shock on their faces. “What?” he asked.

            “I mean…I knew you had a lot of knives?” Miles started. “But I didn’t know you could chop like that?”

            “Yeah, that’s some…wait, what do you mean he has a lot of knives?” Mr. Davis asked, looking at Miles.

            Miles blanched, clearing his throat, before sending an apologetic look to Peter. “Well, I mean, when I was going to wash his coat, I realized he had…well…stuff in it. So, I put it in a laundry basket to wait until it was dry. There were, um…a lot of knives?” He moved his hands as though he wanted to put them in his nonexistent pockets and sent another apologetic look towards Pete.

            “How many knives do you have?” Mr. Davis asked.

            “Twenty-seven,” Peter immediately answered.

            “Twenty-sev…” Mr. Davis paused, staring at him with wide eyes. “Why the hell do you have so many knives?”

            “Because I haven’t stabbed them back, yet,” Peter answered, also without thinking. Mr. Davis stared at him with wide eyes, putting a hand to his forehead, even as Rio and Miles both put a hand to their mouths. He paused. “I don’t kill anyone with them…” he finally said, huddling slightly. “And they stab me, so it’s only fair.”

            “…I’m just. Going to pretend we didn’t have this conversation,” Mr. Davis finally said softly. “You’ve got an amazingly steady hand when it comes to chopping vegetables.” He decided on, nodding his head.

            “My aunt and uncle operated a bread line,” Peter finally responded after a moment, swallowing. He hadn’t been planning on revealing much, but they were letting him stay and feeding him. He owed them.

            “I thought…I thought you said you grew up in a Hooverville?” Rio asked.

            “I did,” Peter answered. “You don’t have a childhood in a Hooverville and we only got out after my parents died.” His mouth curled into what he knew was an ugly smile, “Life insurance,” he said softly. “Can you fucking believe it? One of the last people to get it before it crashed completely. My daddy could provide for me better in death than he ever could in life. Regardless…we had enough that we were set up for a while, and we used it to try and help others that weren’t as lucky. We’d go back, try and…” he trailed off. “Sorry, I’m rambling,” he finally finished with, and looked back to the vegetables, his back stiff. “If you have a serrated knife it works better for the tomatoes,” he said softly. “It cuts through the skin easier.”

            The silence stretched for a moment, before Rio walked over and pulled a serrated knife from a drawer to his right, putting it next to him.

            “Thank you.”

            “You’re welcome,” Rio said, and went over to the stove, putting a skillet on the stove and putting a generous glug of olive oil into the pan, cranking the heat. 

            Miles was busy cracking as many eggs as possible into a bowl, whisking them together, throwing in some salt as he did so. When they were finally mixed, he put the bowl next to his mom, who smiled at him and pressed a kiss to his head. Peter had finished chopping a mountain of vegetables at this point, and passed them off to Rio, who dumped them in her heated pan and began sautéing them. Peter looked to Miles for direction on what to do next, and Miles grinned at him before moving over to grab some plates, pointing to the silverware drawer as he did so. Peter grabbed forks and knives, setting them to either side of the plates Miles placed. Peter felt as Mr. Davis walked up to them, putting cups down on the table.

            “Do you drink coffee, Pete?” Mr. Davis asked.

            Peter blinked at the question, and looked at the coffee pot, recognizing the rather generous amount there and finally nodded his head.

            “Alright,” Mr. Davis grinned at him, and went over to pour some in a mug, looking at him with a frown. “Do you take anything in it?”

            Peter shook his head, “Black as blood,” he said. Then blinked. “My blood.”

            “Is that actually a saying in your universe?” Mr. Davis asked, a smile reflecting his amusement. Peter nodded.

            “You’ll sometimes hear people say that their blood was replaced by coffee years ago,” Peter answered. “Thing is, with some of these guys I’d actually believe it,” he said, the slightest bit of a grin on his face.

            “That’s crazy,” Miles said, grinning. “It replaced your blood yet?”

 

            “Nah, I can’t afford it,” Peter answered. “If I had a chance, maybe.”

            “Like it that much?” Rio asked as she flipped an omelet onto a plate. Mr. Davis took it from her, putting it in front of Peter with a motion to dig in. Peter gripped the tablecloth as he sat there, forcing himself to wait.

            “It keeps me warm,” Peter shrugged slightly. Miles came over with his own omelet and began pouring a…sauce on it. “What’s that?”

            “Tabasco! It’s…well, you probably won’t like it.” Miles rubbed at the back of his head, a slight grin on his mouth.

            “Gonna kick me in the mouth again?” Peter asked with a slight smirk. Miles laughed.

            “Yup,” he answered. He took a bite as his dad sat down with his own omelet. Pete finally took a bite of his omelet and had to practically physically restrain himself from wolfing it down immediately. It was like after he took that first bite his body understood that it was finally going to be fed and it was very ready. He took his time, restraining himself, and made sure he finished after the first one to finish, which was Mr. Davis. After eating, Mr. Davis stood up and walked to the stove, trading places with his wife, who gave him a quick kiss and took her own omelet over to the table to eat. Mr. Davis began working on another omelet as Miles finished.

            “Call it,” Mr. Davis sang out, Miles immediately putting his hand up, before Mr. Davis snapped his fingers. “Wait, sorry, Miles, take it back. Sleeping Beauty gets the next one.”

            “Sleeping beat-to-shit, maybe,” Peter immediately said, and Mr. Davis chuckled.

            “Can’t argue with that,” he said. “Bring your plate, it’s almost ready.”

            Peter did so after Miles waved at him to do so, grinning. He held it out when he got close enough and Mr. Davis put the omelet on his plate with a grin.

            “Here you go,” he said brightly, and leaned a bit closer, his expression full of mischief. Peter held his ground, tilting his head slightly. “Don’t tell my wife,” he said in a deliberately carrying voice, “but mine taste better than hers,” he said with a wink. Peter felt a grin tug at his mouth around the same time that Rio let out a sharp protest.

            “Disculpa, mis omelettes son fantásticos y saben maravilloso. Desearías poder cocinar algo tan sabroso y delicioso como yo!" Rio called out, rapid-fire Spanish that Peter frowned at slightly.

            “Lo que tú digas, cariño,” Mr. Davis responded in the same Spanish, grinning at her. “She’s just jealous,” Mr. Davis quietly said to him in English.

            “Ha!” Rio made a gesture at him, and Peter finally just tilted his head slightly.

            Peter brought the plate that held the omelet up to eye-level, looked at the omelet, frowned at it and then finally looked at him. “I think I could make one better than either of you.”

             Mr. Davis jolted slightly in surprise, before grinning at him big and wide. “Is that so?” he asked, raising an eyebrow and trying to look challenging.

            “Oh-ho!” Rio called out, “a challenger appears!”

            “Finish that, and we’ll see if you can back it up,” Mr. Davis said, gesturing to the omelet Pete was still holding. Peter nodded, walked back to the table and worked his way through the omelet, looking thoughtful. Mr. Davis finished a couple more omelets, Miles and Rio both coming to collect them. Peter stood up then and walked over to the stove as they finished.

            “Alright,” Mr. Davis said. “Show me what you got, kid.”

            Peter smirked slightly and took over. He put the stove on a higher heat, and began carefully re-whisking the eggs.

            “Aw, you insulting my work, man?” Miles asked playfully, grinning.

            “Nah, it’s good, just re-aerating them,” Peter answered, shaking his head. After adding more oil, he poured the egg mixture into the pan, and immediately began stirring it. Mr. Morales was behind him, and Peter moved his body a little, so he wasn’t directly at his back. To his surprise, the man walked over to stand at the counter completely in his line of sight next to him.

            “Mixing it up pretty quick, huh?”

            “You want it fluffy?” Peter asked.

            “Fair,” Mr. Davis grinned.

            After mixing it properly he spread the egg mixture out again in the pan, before adding the filling along the center. He didn’t so much as fold as roll it up after giving it some time to heat up a bit, scooping it out of the pan and putting it on Mr. Davis’ plate as he held it out. “Alright, boy, let’s see what you got.” He walked over to sit next to his wife and Miles. They cut it apart carefully, each taking a bite, and then froze.

            “Yeah, he wins,” Miles finally said.

            “Miles!” Both of his parents chorused, Miles ducked, and Peter grinned slightly.

            “Yeah, alright, you win this time, kid. Speaking of, I’m actually not that hungry anymore. Thank you all for breakfast,” Mr. Davis kissed his wife, and gave a brief nod to Peter, before pressing a kiss to Miles’ brow, Miles pulling back with an exasperated,

            “Dad!”

            Peter grinned slightly but looked at Miles with a raised eyebrow. “More?” he asked.

            “I could,” Miles answered, having already taken the rest of the omelet.

            “Another growth spurt, Miles?” Rio asked with a raised eyebrow and a slight smile.

            “…Maybe?” Miles offered.

            “Well, there’s plenty, you two boys finish that off,” Rio said, indicating the rest of the eggs and the filling, which was a sizeable amount. Peter hadn’t had access to this amount of food in years. He looked at Rio again, feeling the need to make sure, and she grinned. “Go on,” she said.

            Peter immediately got back to cooking. Rio came up finally, cracking her back and washing the two plates. Mr. Davis put Peter’s mug of coffee next to him. “Thank you, Mr. Davis,” he said, and took a brief sip of it. He hesitated, shooting a look at Miles briefly.

            “Something on your mind?” Mr. Davis asked.

            “I…” Peter hesitated. “It’s none of my business,” he finally settled on.

            “Last name, thing?” Rio asked, leaning against the counter and giving him a gentle smile. Peter recognized that his skin was darkening, and he looked down. “It’s okay, you’re from the 1930s, right? I’m surprised you haven’t asked more questions than you have.”

            Peter ducked his head slightly. “Where I’m from you don’t ask,” he finally said softly.

            “Well that’s not good. Otherwise how would you learn?” Mr. Davis asked, shrugging. “I don’t mind a good honest question. It means you want to learn, and you’re willing to try, and both of those things are very good things. In your case I definitely don’t mind. There’s a lot of years between us and a lot of things have absolutely changed.  None of us take offense.”

            Peter hesitated, before nodding. “Where I’m from sometimes knowing is what leads to trouble,” he finally responded. “My circle… You just don’t ask. It’s dangerous. It can get your loved ones hurt.”

            “What’s your circle, Peter?” Rio asked. Peter shot her a look, one that he knew had more distrust in it than he wanted to show, his eyes shooting to her husband, and then away again.

            Mr. Davis tilted his head back, frowning. “You socialist, Peter?” he asked. Peter felt his blood turn to ice, and he immediately turned away from the stove to stare at him, the spatula held in such a way that he could fling it and run if he had to. He still didn’t want to hurt him. Mr. Davis held his hands up carefully, his expression gentle. “Hey, hey, it’s okay. It was just a guess, based on what you told us and what your parents were up to, how your family immediately turned around with the money you had and tried to use it to give to others. It’s alright. You won’t find people trying to hurt you or otherwise arrest you for that now. You’re safe. I certainly wouldn’t try and arrest or otherwise hurt you, either, Peter. It’s okay.”

            Peter felt his muscles slowly loosen, his head tilting away slightly as he stared at him, and finally he turned the stove off, moving the omelet to the side, before sitting down on the floor. That was a lot to process, a sudden removal of pressure in a way that he would never have expected. “It’s just fine?” he asked finally.

            “Yeah. There are quite a few people that would even share your stance. You’re not hunted anymore. People aren’t giving away other political parties in order to have others arrested or otherwise deported. You’re perfectly safe here.” Mr. Davis sighed. “Your entire family, huh?” he asked.

            “Yes,” Peter finally said after a long pause. “Grew up like that. I thought at one point that the world would be better if people just…” he hesitated.

            “Were socialist, too?” Rio asked.

            “Yeah,” he finally answered.

            “What do you think now?” Mr. Davis asked.

            “People are sick,” Peter answered. “There’s no curing it. We’re all fucked.”

            Rio looked at Mr. Davis, who looked back.

            “I don’t think you’re…well…that…” Miles said suddenly, and Peter looked at him over his shoulder. “I don’t think my parents are, either, and, well, I try not to be, too. I do think that a lot of people can be bad, but I also think…there’s people doing their best to help, too…”

            Peter smiled slightly, before giving a little nod. “You’re right. In your world…in your world you can give people the benefit of the doubt. In mine, I guess…” he hesitated. “You know people would rather kill you than let you be an officer in my world?” he asked, looking up at Mr. Davis, his mouth pulling down at the edges, his heart twisting as he said it.

            “I bet,” Mr. Davis returned. “Would you?”

            Peter jerked. “Never.”

            “Well…I guess there’s good people where you’re from, too.”

            Peter blinked.

            Mr. Davis smiled at him warmly. “My wife wanted to keep her last name,” he finally said, answering the question that Pete hadn’t really asked. “My son wanted to take her last name. I have no issue with either. It’s a partnership, not an ownership, and I love them both. Besides, I’ve got the ring to show I’m committed and the birth certificate to prove that he’s my son,” he said, nodding to Miles, and wiggling the ring on his finger pointedly with his thumb. Rio laughed and wiggled her own ring as well.

            “You’d be amazed how many times this gets people to back off,” Rio said with a bright smile. “I’m loyal to my husband and he’s loyal to me, and that’s good enough for both of us. Partnership, not ownership.” 

            Peter hesitated, and finally found himself smiling as gently as possible. “I like that,” he said. “It’s nice. It…” he hesitated, rubbing his face. “You know, we ran a breadline, right?” He asked, his head tilting slightly, waiting for confirmation. “You know who would never stand in line?”

            “Who?” Rio asked, her head tilting.

            “Women.” Peter frowned. “Women would never come to stand in breadlines, and…it wasn’t because there weren’t women that were starving or women that were homeless, it was…” Peter sighed. “To stand in a breadline meant that you didn’t have a husband or a boyfriend that could take care of you. To stand in a breadline meant you were a failure. Women would literally rather faint in the middle of the street, or starve, than…than prove that they couldn’t get a man. It didn’t matter what you tried, right? At one point my aunt thought that if we made the place extra nice, made it something that looked more like a café than something industrial it might attract the right crowd. The only thing it attracted were looters and rock throwers.” Peter was aware that he was frowning, and he looked away. “It’s nice that…it’s nice that it’s not like that anymore.”

            “So, men would stand with or without a family?” Miles asked, sitting next to him, his eyes narrowed in confusion.

            “Mostly they would stand when they had a family,” Peter answered, shaking his head.

            “Oh, why?”

            “Because even if it was admitting that they were a failure as a man and a provider, they’d at least be able to bring food back to their families.” Peter gestured blankly. “It’s your job, you have to provide. If that means sacrificing all of your pride and dignity to stand in that damn line, then you do it. You can’t just think of yourself.” He hesitated. “Men would stop coming at times. I realized later that they’d killed themselves. Too much chipping away at what they were supposed to be, too much failure. If you can’t provide for your family, then what use are you?” he grinned. “But if you have that life insurance…maybe you can provide that way. It didn’t work that way. But desperation is never pretty.”

             Rio was on the floor in front of him before he even registered her moving. She put both her hands on his shoulders, and after Peter didn’t flinch or otherwise react, she pulled him close and wrapped him in a hug. Peter was frozen.

            “I’m sorry,” Rio said softly into his hair. “That’s so much death to grow up with. That’s so much weight to carry.”

            “I’m used to it,” Peter said softly. “Besides, I’m not sure if you noticed, but I’m actually really strong?” He felt it as the joke fell flat, and he curled up slightly.

            “You shouldn’t have to lift that weight on your own,” Mr. Davis said.

            “He’s right.”

            “Well,” Peter shrugged. “Unfortunately, I’m all I got.”

            “Not anymore,” Miles said, his eyes determined.

            Peter blinked, looking at him, and then looking at the goober on his wrist. For the first time it really struck him that maybe that was true. Maybe he did have other people. Maybe there was more to it than death.

            The sudden ringing of Peter’s goober surprised them, and Rio pulled back, looking at it. Peter stared at it for a moment, looking for something to pick up,  a headset or something he could use, and then finally noticed the flashing button on the side. With some hesitation he pressed it, and a static crackle filled the room, before:

            “Pete, can you hear me?

            It was Peni.

            “Hello, Peni, yes, I can hear you,” Peter answered.

            “Good! Are you with Miles, Jeff, and Rio?” she asked.

            “I am,” Peter said. “The others all went home. What’s up?”

            “My aunt and uncle would actually like to talk to Jeff and Rio really quickly if they don’t mind?”

            “If it’s supposed to be a private call, I can’t really take off the goober…” Peter said, rubbing the back of his head. “Is that okay?”

            “Sure!” Peni said, brightly, her voice beaming. “They just want to say hello, actually, and I think hearing from you would be good, too.”

            “Alright,” Peter agreed. “Do you have time?” he asked Mr. Davis, who checked his own watch before giving a brief nod.

            “I’ve got a bit of time left before I have to go to work, Peni, so now should be okay.”

            “You work on a Saturday?” Peni gasped.

            Mr. Davis laughed. “I’m a police officer, Peni, my weekends are all over the place depending on my schedule.”

            “Oh, I guess that makes sense,” Peni said. “Okay, well, my aunt and uncle are here. I’ll just…let you chat with them, I guess.”

            “Okay, Peni, it was nice to hear from you, did you get Gwen home safely?” Rio asked.

            “I did!” Peni chirped, “Goodbye, I’ll talk to you later!”

            “Goodbye, Peni,” came the general chorus, before another voice sounded.

            “Hello, is this Rio and Jeff?” a female voice asked, clipped and polished. Aunt May, but an Aunt May he hadn’t heard before.

            “It is,” Mr. Davis agreed, “Though Pete and Miles are both here, too.”

            “Miles being your son, and Pete being the one that isn’t human?”

            Peter felt his blood turn to ice in his veins. It wasn’t like she was wrong, but he had never had someone toss it in his face quite so callously before. He’d never felt quite so judged for it, either.

            “Pete being the one that saved my son and gave a piece of his soul for your daughter, yes,” Rio responded very coolly.

            “Ah, yes, souls,” Aunt May responded, sounding vaguely like she didn’t believe him, and that made anger boil within him. A hand on his shoulder surprised him, and he turned to see Miles, glaring at the watch.

            “If you’d seen what happened, you wouldn’t be so quick to throw shade,” Miles said, his voice thick with anger.

            “You’re Miles, I assume?” Aunt May asked.

            “Yeah, that’s me,” Miles answered, still puffed up, his mouth tugging into a frown.

            “You might be right,” she sighed suddenly, and Miles visibly deflated. “Regardless, I’ve never seen anything quite like Pete’s biology, so something is very strange with him. If it’s because of some god thing, then…well, weirder things have happened I suppose.” She sighed. “I’m to understand that you took care of my adopted daughter for a while, and that she’s grown to be friends with your son and the other ‘Spiders’?”

            “That’s correct,” Mr. Davis responded. “She’s welcome here anytime, as well. Having seen them all together, they’ve got an amazing connection. It’d be terrible to split them, I think, might even be unhealthy. They belong together.”

            “I’ve noticed a shift in Peni’s brainwaves,” a male voice agreed, probably Uncle Ben, though he, too, sounded different. “Her spidersense has sharpened slightly. With Gwen it was two times as sharp, which I assume would mean that adding another Spider would lead to even more productivity.”

            “I…would guess so?” Rio said, looking at her husband. “But they also just really have a wonderful friendship.”

            “I’d like to have her spend the night again,” Miles said.

            “And you don’t have spider powers, is that correct?”

            “Miles belongs with the group,” Peter found himself saying, the first words he had spoken, only just now registering the slight hiss rising in the back of his throat. “We’ve already been at their house and we’re welcome, so it’s a good meeting point. It doesn’t matter about the level of ‘productivity’ increasing.”

            “You would say that, of course,” Aunt May said simply. “It’s hardly like you have any responsibilities, being the homeless vigilante that you are. You’re from what, the 1930s? What on earth did you have to deal with?”

            Peter was on his feet in an instant. For just a moment the urge to jump into her universe and show her precisely what he had to deal with was strong, but it was compounded with the accusations and the one thing that Pete had avoided saying. The words stung, sharp needles digging into his soul.

            “The 1930s were the Great Depression,” Mr. Davis suddenly spoke up, his voice as cold as Peter had ever heard it. “I don’t know what that word means in your time, but here it means something that isn’t very good. It’s a disease of the mind that can literally lead to people killing themselves, ma’am. A disease that gets rid of all hope and makes people think that they have nothing to live for. If you can sit there and state that a time period that was named after that disease is nothing to deal with then I have nothing more to say to you. If you could honestly look at the picture that was sent to you and tell me that that kid hasn’t given himself body and soul for the people in his world… Peni is still welcome here, and among the Spiders, but I won’t be taking any more calls from you.”

            There was a surprised gasp from the other end, followed by a long pause, before a quieter voice responded. “I’m sorry,” May said. “You’re right. I did see the picture, and I did make some fast judgements based upon what I heard and what I saw. I apparently was wrong in my initial estimation and I apologize. I will not apologize for wanting her to be productive. She has a job to do, Pete, she has people that she must report to, people that aren’t me, and the better she is at her job…” There was a pause. “She’s the only one that can pilot the mech. There is a lot of weight on her shoulders, and I want to help her with it in whatever way I can, even if that way is to bring others to aid her. I’m not cruel,” she said. “I’m just… The universe just got so much bigger. It’s up to me to make sure that she’s prepared for it.

            “You can lose your job and Peni gets passed onto someone else if she can’t perform to expectations,” Pete sighed, rubbing his face.

            “…Yes. You’re quick,” she said begrudgingly.

            “I have to be.”

            “Yes, well…” she sighed. “You’re a potential threat, from what I understand.”

            “Yes,” Peter agreed.

            “I’d hate to be the one to tell her to put you down, so let’s do our best to stay human, shall we?” she asked him, her voice falsely bright.

            “You said it yourself, I’m not human,” Peter’s voice was cold.

            “You’re right, I did.” May hesitated. “I also understand that she cares about you deeply. I don’t want her hurt.”

            “Neither do I,” Peter answered. “If I was going to be a threat to Peni or any of the others… I’d put myself down.”

            “That’s something else that she mentioned,” Ben said, his voice thoughtful. “I hope it doesn’t come to that.”

            “None of us do,” Rio said, putting her hand on Peter’s shoulder, squeezing tight.

            “Well…alright, now that we understand each other…” May sighed. “I’m willing to allow her to join you all for sleepovers and…I don’t know what to call them, playdates? Peni is working on a prototype method to connect your…what are they, cellphones, I believe, they’re called…to us and allow for a more direct method of communication, Jeff and Rio. We’ll otherwise be in touch that way, I think.” There was a pause and a heavy sigh. “Pete…thank you for taking care of Peni.”

            “Anytime, ma’am,” Peter said, slowly losing the frown.

            “Right… Goodbye,” she finally said, and hung up.

            “What an…interesting women,” Rio said finally, her mouth tugging into a frown.

            “Mm…that’s one word for it,” Mr. Davis said, an eyebrow rising, before he looked to Peter. “Pete…” he sighed. “Pete, I have to…I have to ask. Are you really homeless? You haven’t been…I don’t know, using food money to pay for your rent, or…” he trailed off, and Peter didn’t know what his face was doing, but he had a feeling that it had betrayed him utterly. “Aw, Pete…” he said softly.

            “I can take care of myself,” Peter answered stiffly, straightening. “It’s not like I…it’s not like I can just live in an apartment complex or…or among a bunch of people. What am I supposed to do? Give my soul for every individual that lives with me?” he asked, and his voice was getting heated. “I can put up a web wherever I need to, and I can be on the run easier, and I can…I can…” he trailed off, finding himself facing the burning shame of suddenly having three pairs of eyes stare at him with something that could only be pity. His head sunk into his shoulders, a snarl starting to curl up his mouth. “I don’t need your pity, I’m fine.”

            “Oh, Pete…” Rio said softly, looking at her husband. “It’s not…it’s not pity. I just…I want better for you.”

            “Well, I can’t have better,” Peter answered stiffly. “I don’t have the means and I don’t have the lettuce and I don’t…” he rubbed his face in frustration. “It doesn’t matter, I’m fine.”

            “You could always stay here…” Mr. Davis started. Peter felt his hackles rise, a hiss building up in him, and finally released as he ripped the watch from his wrist.

            He felt as the glitch tore its way through his body without warning, splintering him in a billion different directions even as it forced a cry of pain out of his mouth, falling to his hands and knees. It was hot and cold and sharp and soft, digging in, reaching deep into his soul and tearing him open from the inside out. It felt like dying. When it finally stopped, he was in a ball on the ground, and Rio, Mr. Davis, and Miles were all around him on their knees, hands held out as though to touch him.

            Peter put the watch back on his wrist in a deliberate motion, before finally pushing himself upright with shaking limbs.

            “I don’t belong here,” he said. “You can put me in a bed, feed me, whatever you’d like, but the fact remains that I can’t stay here. Your world doesn’t want me. Mine’s a shithole, but it’s home. I have to go back.”

            There was a pause.

            “Yeah,” Mr. Davis finally agreed with a slow nod, and finally began to push himself back to his feet, sighing. “And I’ve got to go to work…” he looked at his watch again and then finally brought Rio close for a brief kiss, before ruffling Miles’ hair. He looked at Peter then again, his expression thoughtful. “Take care of yourself, kid. You should probably finish those omelets.”

            Peter had a moment where he wanted to shrink into himself, something hot and awful welling up in the pit of his stomach that made him want to apologize, or… Peter was so tired.

            Mr. Davis turned and walked away, and Peter found himself looking at the stove and the remains of the vegetables and the eggs that had been such a pleasing breakfast earlier. Now…Peter could still eat, he had a feeling he could always eat, but he found he didn’t really want to. Rio had left the room to say goodbye to her husband, and Miles was the only one left with him.

            Peter took a breath and turned to face Miles. He had the feeling it would be a long day.

Chapter Text

            There was a pause, Miles and Peter both standing silently as everything that had happened washed over them. Peter kept his head down, something hot heating the back of his neck, his eyes closed. He hadn’t wanted to admit any of that. None of that was supposed to happen.

            “Thank you,” Miles said suddenly, quietly, sending a glance out of the kitchen as though his parents would have stopped to listen when Peter chanced a look at Miles. Peter blinked, looking at him in surprise, not sure what he was referring to. “For, um…for saying that I belong with you guys.” Miles answered the unasked question, kicked the ground, looking away, and once again trying to put his hands into pockets he didn’t have. “I know that I’m new at this whole thing and I…”

            “Of course, you belong,” Peter said quietly, but firmly, interrupting him, his back straightening as he looked at Miles, his mouth in a slight frown. “You always belonged. It just…took you a bit to get that, but you did, and you’re here. Anyone that tries to take that from you is a twit, and I’ll cut ‘em.”

 

            Miles blinked, his eyes widening, before he finally burst out into loud and wild laughter, uneasiness obviously forgotten. Peter felt a warmth in his chest, probably heartburn, and looked away. “Thank you,” Miles finally said, a bright smile still on his face.

            “I only speak the truth, Miles,” Peter said. “Well. Sometimes.” Miles laughed and then nodded to the eggs.

            “Do you want to try my omelets?” he asked. Peter forced himself to give a bit of a grin.

            “Sure,” he said.

            “It’s probably a mistake,” Miles said, a slight smile on his face. “I don’t really know how to make them all that well.” He shrugged, a sheepish smile on his face.

            “If you want, I could teach you…” Peter offered, giving his own shrug.

            “You do that in exchange for me teaching you about some colors later, how does that sound?” Miles counteroffered, grinning as bright as possible.

            Peter hesitated, frowning, before giving a solid nod. “Yeah. That…that sounds pretty good.” He stood up and moved to the stove, frowning at the omelet that had been in progress, poking at it with his spatula, and finally shrugged. He dumped it on his plate and wolfed it down without thought. Miles laughed at him quietly.

            “I wondered if you were holding back,” Miles said, speaking quietly. “My mom and dad wouldn’t have minded if you really went for it, they’re getting the whole metabolism pretty well… Mom felt Peter B’s pulse and almost had a heart attack herself, so…”

            “How hungry are you?” Peter asked equally quietly, ignoring the comment. It still didn’t feel very polite. “Did you eat enough?” Miles hesitated, his expression shifting slightly. Peter felt a burning anger rise as he stared at him, his mouth pulling into a frown. “If you think for one second that you have to…”

            “Peter,” Miles interrupted, his voice firm, before taking another step towards him. “This is my house, those are my parents, everything in this house is stuff I have access to, including the fridge. I can get food anytime I want it. I…I get that you’re from a different time, and that you’ve got a whole bunch of expectations and…” Miles gripped Peter’s arms tightly, looking up at his face, his eyes wide and worried. “I’m not pitying you, man. I just want to help. Did you think less of any of the people that stood in your line?”

            “No,” Peter answered immediately.

            “Then let me help, alright? Let us help. I get that you can’t stay here. I get that you…I get that you don’t want to be pitied, but I love you too, okay?” he whispered, “So let me help. Eat the rest.”

            Peter hesitated, staring down into the wide earnest eyes that met his, and finally looked away.

            “Okay,” he said. Miles pulled him into a tight hug, one that Peter wasn’t expecting at all. For a moment he stood there frozen, his arms stiff, but before he could reciprocate, Miles jumped away as though electrocuted, clearing his throat and rubbing at the back of his head. Miles finally straightened and gave him a nod.

            “Sorry about that, I just…” Miles hesitated, cleared his throat, and finally pointed at the eggs. “So, you were gonna teach me?”

            “Sure,” Peter agreed. “So, what you’re going to do first…” he started, and the morning drifted in a haze of making omelets and teaching. By the time they were done, Peter could honestly call himself comfortably full, and Miles had managed to not burn any of the omelets, something he couldn’t say about the first few. Peter had eaten them, anyway, not paying attention to Miles’ protesting. The feeling of being full was something he hadn’t had in so long he almost didn’t like it. Miles poked at his stomach with a grin when they finally finished with the omelets.

            “You aren’t careful you’re gonna look even more like Peter B than you already do,” Miles laughed.

            “Given what I look like normally, I’m gonna call that an improvement,” Peter returned, and Miles’ expression dropped visibly, his eyes widening. Then he frowned when Peter allowed himself to wink.

            “You’re a jerk,” Miles said, and Peter grinned.

            “Guilty,” Peter responded.

            “Yeah, well, help me clean up, would you?” Miles asked, and pulled…

            “What’s that?” Peter asked, his eyes wide as he looked at the device that Miles had opened, taking in the plates and silverware placed in their little allocated places, his eyes tracking everything.

            “Oh, this is a dishwasher,” Miles answered. “You stick your dirty dishes inside, and it washes them for you. Some things are too big, or can’t go into it, like that skillet, or the bowl we used for the eggs, but you put all your other stuff in there, and it just cleans everything up.”

            “That’s amazing,” Peter said, ducking down to get a closer look at it, looking at the insides in curiosity. “Fuck, I would have loved this when I was helping with the breadline. I hated washing all those dishes by hand…”

            “Did you have to do it yourself?”

            “My uncle Ben would…” Peter hesitated, “well…when he was alive, he would help me,” Peter finally mustered the will to finish. “We did our best to help with everything. Food prep, actually cooking, cleaning…” he stood upright then, frowning at the counter, not looking at Miles. “I got ribbed for it sometimes, women’s work they called it, but I figure if I can cook then that’s a lot more independence than some of these twits have.”

            Miles nodded. “Yeah, it’s a good thing to know how to do. I’ve been helping my mom in the kitchen periodically, though I should probably help more,” he said, putting more stuff in the dishwasher as he did so. Peter moved to get the pan and had turned the water to warm and started scrubbing after pouring some of the liquid soap on the sponge, rolling his sleeves up properly before he did so. Peter took a moment after he had finished with the egg bowl to dry his hands and looked again at the shirt he was wearing.

            “Miles, you said…you said you washed my things?” he asked. Miles immediately snapped his fingers.

            “I did, yeah! Would you like to get changed back into them?”

            “Yes please, I think two days is long enough,” Pete answered, sighing. “Can I…can I also use your shower?”

            “Oh, absolutely!” Miles led him out and headed to the laundry room. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t even think about it.”

            “I didn’t mention it,” Peter answered, shrugging slightly. He followed Miles into the laundry room, taking in the odd…machines against the wall, and then trailing his gaze over to Miles, who was busy pulling his clothes out of a basket. Peter felt himself relax upon seeing the black clothes that took all the odd light and reflected it back in the white and gray that he knew so well. It soothed a small part of him.

            Peter felt his blood turn to ice as a bit of fabric fell away from the pile Miles was holding, a couple more pieces falling as well. Miles stared down at the bundle in his arms in horror, taking a few steps back and taking a better look at what fell. Miles put the bundle down and then started rooting through it to see what the cause was, falling to his knees as he did so.

            It was his uncle’s coat.

            Peter’s breath caught in his throat, falling to his own knees, taking the bits of fabric between his fingers. Miles looked like he was about to cry.

            “I’m so sorry!” Miles gasped, staring at the pieces. “I didn’t know that would happen, I just…I put it in the washing machine, I didn’t think that it would… I’m so sorry!”

            “I was going to thank you boys for cleaning…” Rio’s voice called as she came into the laundry room, only to freeze at the sight of them kneeling on the floor with a pile of black fabric. “Oh!” she gasped. “Miles, Pete, what happened?”

            “It was my uncle’s coat…” Peter said softly, barely even realizing he was speaking, his lips numb. Miles clapped his hands to his mouth, his eyes starting to water, even as Rio took a step back, looking at the pieces with shock in her face. Peter started slowly collecting pieces, taking them from the pile and putting them together carefully.

            “Oh, sweetie,” Rio was on her knees next to him suddenly. “I’m so sorry…do you…do you have all of the pieces?” she asked. Miles started helping him collect pieces, pulling them out of the bundle of clothes and putting it in a pile, finally shaking out the rest of the clothes to make sure he had everything.

            Peter began carefully matching them together and as he did so slowly felt the slightest stirrings of relief in his heart. They were there, everything was there, the seams had just…given up. Peter could sew it; he could repair it… He barely felt the feather-light touch on his arm, and when he finally looked towards what was causing it to see Rio staring at him with wide and worried eyes, he cleared his throat, straightening.

            “I can…I can repair it,” he finally said softly. “All of the parts are here… It’s okay.”

            “I’m so sorry,” Miles moaned.

            “It’s okay,” Peter responded, and put a hand on his shoulder carefully, keeping his breathing light and calm. “You didn’t know it would happen; it was an…it was an accident. I just need a needle and thread and I can piece it together.” Peter looked at the rest of his clothes and made a face at realizing just how torn some of it was. His shirt would never work as a shirt again, and the only thing that seemed mostly intact were his pants and the underwear that came with it, as well as his socks. He hoped that they wouldn’t notice the holes that were starting to become apparent in his socks and underthings. He hadn’t had time to darn anything, and it was hard running around on a shoestring budget. He found his boots at that thought, leaning up against the wall. They also looked intact.

            Rio was looking at his clothes thoughtfully, and then looked at the torn-up remains of his shirt.

            “What size are you?” she asked.

            Peter stiffened. “You…” Peter hesitated, looking at her with wide eyes. “I can’t take clothing from you.” He finally managed softly.

            “Do you have the means to buy anything to replace it?” Rio asked, putting her hands on her hips, an eyebrow rising.

            Peter blinked, and then began pulling at his trouser pocket, finally pulling out…

            “Oh…” he said softly. The gray mush in his hand could barely be considered paper, let alone money, let alone the two perfectly pristine dollars he had started with. “Oh.”

            “I didn’t even think to check your pants’ pockets!” Miles moaned, staring at the lump of paper in his hand. “I didn’t even… Oh god, I’m so sorry,” Miles wailed, putting his hands to his mouth. “There was so much in your coat, I didn’t even…”

            “It’s okay,” Pete finally managed, his voice thin. “It’s okay.”

            “Well, in that case we owe you,” Rio said, her voice firm. “What size are you?”

            Peter hesitated, thinking. It had been so long since he actually had a shirt that fit him and even then, he wasn’t sure what size he would be. He’d lost so much weight… “I…” Peter started. “I don’t know?”

            Rio frowned slightly, looking him over. “I think a medium might fit, your shoulders are what’s worrying me… Black, long-sleeved, right?” she asked.

            “…Please,” he finally answered, nodding. “It can be plain; I can customize it if I need to.”

            “Alright,” Rio smiled at him. “You two boys enjoy yourself, okay? I’m going to go to the store, I have a few things to pick up anyway, so this would be a good time. Are you two boys going to be okay on your own for a while?” she asked.

            “We’ll be fine, mom!” Miles answered, though he still looked vaguely ill. Peter took a breath and stood up shakily as she left. He couldn’t look at the pieces anymore, couldn’t look at the torn-up legacy of his uncle, at more evidence of his failure. He stumbled out of the laundry room without looking back. After a moment he felt Miles behind him, the hum of his spidersense ringing with familiarity.

            “Pete…” Miles said softly. “I’m so…”

            “Don’t,” Peter said, shaking his head. After a moment he turned to look at Miles, a slight frown on his face. “You’ve already apologized, I’ve already said it’s fine. Accidents happen, you had no idea that your…machine would break the thread in my coat. It was already going to be torn up from…Curt, anyway, Miles. My shirt was completely ruined. I got a pair of claws that dug up into me.” He paused, putting his hand to his stomach and for the first time really taking in the itching of his skin. “Speaking of, actually, where are my knives?”

            “…What are you going to do with them?” Miles asked and Peter was surprised to realize that Miles almost sounded afraid.

            “Remove the stitches,” Peter responded, rolling his eyes, proceeding to bottle up the hollow emptiness in his chest tighter so it no longer showed. It was stupid anyway; it would be fixed. It only felt like a betrayal to his uncle’s memory. “They’re starting to itch, and I need to get them out. They’re not necessary anymore, anyway.”

            “But…shouldn’t we wait for my mom?” Miles asked, looking back at the door as though hoping she’d come back. “She probably would like to…”

            Peter shook his head. “She’s doing enough,” Peter answered. “I take out my own stitches all the time, always with a knife. It’s fine, Miles.”

            Miles hesitated and then finally nodded. He went into the laundry room.

            Peter stayed where he was.

            When Miles came back, he was carrying a small laundry basket whose contents rattled together. When he finally put it down, Peter was relieved to see that it was full of his stuff, from the guns to the knives, to the Rubiks cube, to the…wait.

            “Miles,” Peter said slowly. “Where’s my dynamite?”

            “I…hid it…where my dad wouldn’t see it?” Miles offered, staring at him with wide eyes. “I’ll give it to you later, you just wanted a knife, right?”

            Peter pursed his lips slightly before giving a slight shrug. He took out one of his switchblades, the blade sharp and glinting, and best of all, free of nicks or breaks once he flicked it open. Peter knew he’d have to sterilize it somehow, though, he wasn’t sure when he’d cleaned it last and he didn’t want to put that near his skin.

            “Do you have alcohol?” he asked, and Miles blinked before snapping his fingers in understanding.

            “You need to sterilize it!” he called out. “I’ll be right back!” Miles ran out of the room and likely towards the bathroom. When he came back, he was holding a clear bottle of something that he put on the ground along with a few wipes. He ran into the kitchen and came back with a bowl. Peter nodded his head in thanks and carefully began cleaning the blade, pouring the alcohol over the knife before wiping it down. Peter hesitated, a part of him wanting to do this alone, but the other part recognizing that Miles would need to be able to do this on his own as well. Finally, he began stripping the shirt off carefully, feeling that odd tug from the stitches that trailed down his torso.

            Not for long.

            Miles watched with wide and worried eyes as Peter slowly started working from the bottom up after rubbing the cloth over his stitches to sterilize them. He kept his movements slow and steady, deftly cutting each stitch as carefully as possible.

            “You’ve done this a lot, huh?” Miles asked, having sat down at some point, his eyes tracking his movements.

            Peter would have felt self-conscious; he knew what he looked like and he knew the discoloration of his chest and the stitches themselves made for one hell of a sight… But he also couldn’t find it in himself to care. He needed to take them out. Just one more thing to do. One more thing that went wrong. He let the question go unanswered, his continued movements answer enough.

            Peter finally cut through enough that he could start tugging them out, his fingers carefully pinching and pulling the thread out of the wounds. This was always the part that was the worst. It tugged and it always felt particularly odd. But it was best to show the full process, and he couldn’t really leave it in there anyway.

            “So, um…” Miles started, clearing his throat, still watching with wide and slightly anxious eyes. “When did you learn how to do that?”

            “My dad taught me,” Peter answered, the words somehow heavy on his tongue. “We didn’t have money for the doc, so if any of us got hurt we’d have to do most of the treatments ourselves. I learned how to do stitches in the same way. Got steady hands, so I tended to do them a lot. You’d be amazed at how often someone’d get cut.” He huffed out a tiny sigh and then frowned at Miles. “You ever sewn anything?”

            Miles blinked, looking up at Pete with wide eyes. “Um…no.”

            Pete frowned slightly, looking at the remains of his stitches before heaving another sigh. “Where’s your mom’s first aid kit?”

            “What…”

            “I’m going to teach you how to stitch yourself up,” Pete answered with a slight frown. “You’re going to need to know, and it’s best to learn on someone else.” Miles stood there with his mouth open for a second, and Pete rolled his eyes. “Either you get the first aid kit now without me bleeding, or I’m going to cut my arm right now and make you learn with me bleeding.”

            Miles ran to get the kit.

            Peter smirked slightly and frowned down at the remaining stitches. There were so many, he hadn’t been hit like that in a long time. He sat on one side of the couch with his legs crossed underneath him, waiting, frowning at the…television as he waited.

            He hoped he’d get a better look at that soon…

            Miles ran back finally, holding a rather hefty first-aid kit in his arms, which he dropped onto the couch cushions next to him and then Miles was on the couch himself, facing him across from the kit. Pete immediately began rummaging through, finally finding the hooked needle and the suture thread that he needed. He dipped the needle in the alcohol, rubbed down his forearm, and then held the needle and his arm out for Miles to see.

            “Skin’s different to fabric,” Peter started. “It sounds obvious, but I know that a few people never really start thinking about it until they try and sew it and they realize just how hard it is. For one, you’re dealing with more than just skin. Underneath this there’s muscle, and you don’t really want to sew through that if you can help it. For another, this is obviously not a flat surface that you can change in any direction you want, it’s attached to something, and is therefore fixed in its movements. If you want to turn it upside-down you have to be the one doing the moving most of the time.”

            “Okay, yeah…” Miles nodded, frowning. “That makes sense.”

            “Alright, now, your needle’s hooked, because it’s meant to go in and out in as small of a movement as you can handle and as quick as possible.” Peter dipped the needle to show the proper motion a few times, Miles staring at it closely. “Another thing that you have to remember is to always knot your thread at the other end. If you just pull it right through without a knot, then your thread will just slide and won’t do you any good.” He tapped the knot that was still there at the top of his stitches, letting Miles take a good look at it. After Miles nodded, he threaded the needle carefully before taking the string in two fingers once he unspooled enough, biting through the train with his teeth. “Alright, this is a really basic way to tie a knot in thread, but it works and it’s easy enough to do with one hand, which is sometimes what you will need if you’re trying to apply pressure to a bleeding wound. Which…trust me, you’re going to have to remember to do.”

            Miles nodded, watching as Peter carefully wound the thread over his finger a couple times, spinning the needle and thread around in a circle in order to do so, after making sure he had pinched the string far enough back from the end. Once he did that, he twisted the gathered thread tight together, and then carefully pulled the thread back through the hole created by his finger. He allowed Miles to look at it for a moment, study it, and then Miles took it after he cut the knot with the knife.

            “Give it a go, it’s kind of tricky…”

            Miles practiced a few times, the first couple attempts saw the thread slipping past without tying, but eventually he could tie the knot every time, and the grin across his face was big. Peter had a small smile of his own then, a warm feeling in his chest.

            “Alright, good job, Miles,” he praised.

            “Thank you!” Miles grinned wide. “This is amazing, really, man, thank you."

            “Not a problem,” Peter answered, shaking his head. “Now, say that I have a cut right here,” he indicated the spot he had cleaned on his forearm. “I tend to work from here,” he indicated the lower part of his arm, “and towards my body. You can work the other way, but it’s easier to start where you can see it.” Miles nodded. Peter took the needle back from Miles, sterilized it again, and then his arm, and easy-as-you-please, slid the needle under and through his skin, pulling the thread taut. Miles winced bodily, staring at it with wide eyes. Peter carefully passed the needle through the same way he did the first time, nice, even stitches running up towards his elbow. Blood had welled up by that point, but he carefully wiped it down once it became obscuring. “See how it’s even, and I’m going through the same way each time? I’m not going to make you practice on me, but you had better start sewing. It’s not exactly the same thing, but it’s better than working on actual skin first.”

 

            “Alright,” Miles answered, nodding, still watching with wide and horrified eyes. “You know…you could have just shown me with fabric?”

            “It’s easier to see how you have to account for skin and texture changes. If you’ve got enough hair you might have to shave that out of the way first. Luckily, I don’t have that problem, but some do,” Pete responded, shrugging. “Don’t forget to knot it. An easy way I like to do it is pass the needle through the last stitch you made several times,” Pete stopped stitching, demonstrating the proper technique. “Then loop your needle through the little hole you just made here, going the same way you did when you stitched the rest of your wound.” He did so carefully, pulling it taut into a knot that used itself for support. “It’s the easiest way to do it with one hand and keep the knot close.” He cut the trailing thread off and then rethreaded the needle. Quicker this time, he stitched up a part of his arm and held the needle out to Miles. “Practice tying it once.”

            Miles stared at him, stared at the needle, and then back at him. “What?”

            “Practice tying it.”

            “But what if I stab you?” Miles asked, his eyes wide. Peter laughed, something he knew sounded ugly and bitter, but something he couldn’t help.

            “Miles, does it really look like I mind being stabbed?” Peter asked with a raised eyebrow. Miles gave a slight smile, though there was something in his eyes that Pete couldn’t read, and carefully took the needle in his fingers. “There you go, now I’m not going to move, you’ve got to figure out how to tie it.” Miles nodded and paused for a moment, pulling his arm close carefully, Peter leaning forward with the pull. Miles hesitated, and Peter saw the moment he realized that Peter was going to be deadweight. Peter grinned at the frown that knitted itself between Miles brows and watched as he changed his angle a few times, before standing up and circling the couch. Once Miles got into position, he carefully hooked the needle and…stabbed into Peter’s skin. “That’s me,” Peter said. Miles flinched.

            “Sorry!” He exclaimed, pulling back. He tried again and this time managed to slip it under the stitch without stabbing Peter. He grinned big and bright and carefully passed it under again, repeating the motion before looping it through the hole he had made and pulling it tight.

            “Good. Now do it under the next stitch, more loops before you tie it off.”

            Peter made Miles do it three more times before he was satisfied and finally made an approving noise before taking back the needle. “Good job, Miles.”

            “Thank you…” Miles responded, a wide and bright smile on his face.

             “You need to know…” Peter resounded, and finally began cutting it out of his arm with the knife, a lot quicker than when he demonstrated earlier. “When your mom gets home, you’re going to help me with my uncle’s…with my coat. It’ll be good practice.”

            “Oh, but I’ve never…” Miles said, his eyes wide.

            “It’s fine, Miles. If your stitches are that bad, then I’ll just redo them. But you need to learn. I’d rather you have some idea what you’re doing than let you figure it out on your own when you’ve never done it before.”

            Miles hesitated, and then finally nodded. “Thank you…for…for teaching me all this.”

            “You need to know,” Peter repeated. He cut the rest of his stitches out, pulling the thread out with his usual efficiency before looking through the first aid kit for something to cover the suture spots, just for extra protection. He didn’t much feel like using his webbing at the moment. For the first time in a long while his spinnerets were fully without pain and he didn’t feel like exasperating or otherwise pushing his luck. Finally, he found something that would work and covered them up carefully with gauze and tape. “You’re going to want to cover the spot for at least a little while. You won’t likely need it for more than a day, if that, but it’s good to keep it covered while your healing does the rest.”

            Once the wounds were properly dressed, he went over and pulled his shirt on, frowning slightly at the smell, but there wasn’t much he could do about that until he had something to change into. Miles was too small, and he wasn’t wearing anything that belonged to a cop. Besides, this was hardly the first time he got a little rank. He’d just keep his distance.

            “Alright, cool, I’ll definitely keep that in mind.” Miles stood up, putting the first aid kit back where he found it before coming back to flop on the couch next to Peter. “You ready to check out some colors?”

            “Yes.” Peter tried to bite back his enthusiasm, but he felt it overflowed anyway, particularly when Miles gave a bright laugh.

            “Alright, well come on, I’ll show you in my room, all my art stuff is there.” Miles indicated that he follow, and he did so. The first thing Miles did when they got to his art desk was push a piece of paper into his chest, Peter taking a step back to look at it better.

            It was a circle made of various dots, all of them a different color, and there, right underneath them were the names written in the same color in a large, almost bubbled hand. Peter clutched it, his eyes wide as he took in all of the colors and their names in a way that was easy to see and understand, the writing making it so much easier.

            “Miles…” Peter said softly, feeling that odd warmth in his chest again. “This is amazing, thank you…”

            “It’s just a color wheel,” Miles answered, waving it away. “It’s hardly like I’m showing you how to save someone’s life or anything.”

            “It did before,” Peter answered, softly.

            “What?”

            “With the collider,” Peter specified, frowning. “I couldn’t be the one to stay behind because I couldn’t figure out the colors, and it was in a different language.”

            “…Oh…” Miles responded; his voice hushed. “Well…you didn’t have to stay behind anyway,” he finally rallied, “I got you all out. But now you’ll know what we mean when we say the green button or push the red circle and twist it until it’s blue, or any other colors you might need to know. Would you like to see how to mix them?”

            “Sure,” Peter answered immediately, folding the color wheel carefully and promising himself that he would put it in his pocket as soon as he could. Miles grinned big and bright and pulled three paints over, putting them next to a clean sheet of paper. Then he pulled two others over, these two he knew intimately. A black and a white.

            “Alright, so…” Miles dabbed the three colors onto the paper carefully, creating little dots of paint. “Every single color that you can see comes from a combination of these three colors, as well as black and white for different shades.”

            Peter stared at the three colors there, and then opened up the color wheel to stare at that, then looked around at all of the other colors around him. Finally, he frowned at Miles, his head tilting. “Miles…” he started, feeling a slight pull of irritation in his heart. That was…

            Miles shook his head, “no, no, man, I’d never lie to you, not when it’s something that you actually care about! That’s not funny that’s mean.” Miles took a brush then, dipping it in what Peter figured was water, and then carefully mixed what the chart said was…blue and yellow

            “What the fuck?” Peter managed, his eyes widening at the completely different color that appeared between the two colors. He leapt straight up, catching himself on the ceiling so he could stand and look at the colors better from that angle. Miles laughed, scooting back slightly to keep out of his view.

            “Yeah! Here, check it, see yellow and blue make green, and if I want to, I can add more yellow and change the shade…” he did so. “Or conversely add more blue…” he mixed it together, and then tapped next to the pretty shade of…green. It was green, and it was beautiful. “And change the shade again. Green’s just a mixture of these two colors, which are two out of the three primary colors, and you mix the primaries together to get every other color.”

            “What happens if you mix…red and…um…blue?” he asked, pointing to the colors, checking from his chart to make sure he got it right.

            Miles grinned as wide as possible and mixed them together. “You get purple,” he said, his voice holding a laugh. Peter stuck his tongue out at him, and Miles finally broke into bright and happy laughter. “If you mix red and yellow you get orange…” he demonstrated. “And so, you have these original three, red, blue, and yellow as the primary colors, because everything comes from them, and orange, green, and purple as the secondary colors, because they come afterwards. Make sense?”

            Peter nodded immediately, and he had a feeling his eyes were huge. He’d never seen anything like that. Everything always was some form of gray or white or black for him, he’d never seen anything like what Miles was doing. Miles eventually handed him a paintbrush, telling him to mix a few colors, and that’s how they spent a good deal of the afternoon, mixing colors and talking about the various things that could be made out of them. Peter didn’t necessarily think that he would memorize them all in an evening, but he didn’t feel quite so pressured anymore. If nothing else, he had a chart he could reference.

            He wouldn’t be left out of that kind of world-ending choice again.

____________

            Rio came home carrying shopping bags, as well as a solid lunch that she thought would be good for the three of them. Pan-Asian takeout in honor of Peni. She thought that they might be able to teach Pete the basics of chopsticks, but she wasn’t sure. Perhaps they’d leave that for Peni herself.

            Peni’s aunt and uncle hadn’t endeared themselves to her much at all, and while on one hand she understood that their priority was obviously Peni, there was no reason to be so harsh. Particularly when the one that had placed most of their ire on had grown so used to harshness. It wasn’t fair. The only thing that she could really hope was that they applied that obvious protective streak in such a way that it warmed Peni, and didn’t smother her. She placed the bags on the ground as soon as she entered, cracking her back out and closing the door behind her with her heel.

            “Boys,” Rio called out, Miles and Pete both sticking their heads out of Miles’ room at the call, neither of them noticing that they’d managed to splatter themselves with paint. Rio smiled brightly at the sight, taking in the yellows and reds that had splattered their way up Miles’ face, and the blues and greens that had somehow found themselves dotted across Pete’s face almost like freckles. Pete himself, was upside-down, likely standing on the ceiling. She wondered if they had gotten into a bit of a fight with the paint, or if it had just come from Pete’s excitement at dealing with the colors. “Would you mind helping me put the groceries away? I brought home lunch."

            Pete walked out of the room on the ceiling, following Miles. Rio picked up one bag holding plenty of black clothing and held it out to him. Pete blinked in shock, taking it from her, and looking in.

            “Oh…Mrs. Morales, I can’t take…” he started, his eyes wide, dropping down to stand before her.

            “You can,” Rio nodded. “It might not reflect the light properly in your world, but there’s enough underthings and socks to make sure that you have some changes, which I thought was the most important part. Your coat should hide the shirt, I’m assuming…”

            Peter looked at the bag in horror and then back to her. “But you just said…”

            “Peter, it’s fine,” she said, finally giving into the impulse to cradle his cheek in her hand. His skin was warm, she’d almost call it flushed, though she was uncertain whether that was due to fever, or simply because of his metabolism. Peter B had also run very warm, so she thought that might simply be a spider thing. He swallowed heavily at her touch, and she could feel the slightest way he leaned into it, the way his body sought out the feeling even as he seemed like he wanted to run, a tension running through him that was palpable. “You need it. You can’t take care of others if you aren’t taking care of yourself, and at the moment you need a bit of extra care. That’s fine. We’re capable. They were also all on sale, so I didn’t have to spend much at all.”

            “But,” Pete started, still staring at her with those eyes, wide and horrified.

            “Peter,” Rio said softly. “You literally gave a part of your soul for my family. You gave a part of your humanity. If you think for one second that some underwear and socks are worth that… Sweetie,” she rubbed a circle on his cheekbone with her thumb gently, “you’ve given so much already, let me catch up.”

            Pete stared at her, his eyebrows pinched, before finally he looked away, taking a step away from her, and pulled the bag close to his chest. “Thank you…” he said softly.

            “Thank you,” she responded. “Now, you can either shower and change now, or eat.” Peter hesitated, looking towards the restroom, and Rio had to laugh quietly. She didn’t blame him. He’d been wearing that for close to two days now. “Go on, don’t worry. Miles and I will put away the groceries, and the takeout will be warm for a while yet.”

            Pete hesitated, before giving a shallow nod, walking to the laundry room, still holding the bag. Eventually he came out, his pants thrown over his shoulder, standing out in contrast to his pajamas. She hadn’t really appreciated how void-like his hair or clothing was with either his own skin or everything else until it was placed directly next to something so bright. Rio picked up some of the bags, Miles taking the others and carrying them into the kitchen.

            “So, what did you two do while I was gone? Did Pete finish the omelets? I actually forgot to ask before I left.”

            “He did,” Miles answered, grinning. “He actually taught me how to make them. I burned a few but he ate them, anyway, didn’t mind.” He put the bags on the counter and began helping to put stuff away. “Then I showed him a few colors, and the color wheel.”

            “I can tell,” Rio said smiling. Miles blinked, looking at her with wide eyes.

            “How?”

            “You have paint on your face,” she laughed, getting a washcloth and scrubbing it off for him, even as he complained and pulled away half-heartedly. “Pete had some, too, did you notice?”

            Miles grinned. “I put it there,” he laughed. “We were trying to see if we could figure out his eye color if he came from our world. We didn’t think that he had brown eyes, but we couldn’t decide between blue like…well, like ours, or if his would be green. I got him with both colors as a joke, told him that we’d just have to see which looked best. I didn’t notice that I got paint on me. What colors?”

            “Red and yellow,” Rio answered.

            “He got me, and I didn’t even notice,” Miles said, very seriously, frowning. Rio laughed and kissed his forehead.

            “It sounds like you boys had a good time,” Rio said, smiling. “I’m glad.” They finished putting the groceries away right around the same time Pete entered the room. The black of his new shirt was much warmer than his pants and even his hair, almost disconcertingly so, reflecting the soft yellow of the kitchen light. It fit around his shoulders, though, which was the thing she had been worried about. What she hadn’t quite been expecting was for the realization that nothing fit him exactly.

            The pants were just slightly too big, though he had obviously used a belt to make sure they stayed up, he’d rolled the cuffs of his pants up, and she had the sudden realization that they were hand-me-downs. She thought of the coat that belonged to his uncle. She wondered if he had ever owned anything truly his.

            “Looking sharp, Pete,” she said, grinning wide. Pete’s eyes narrowed slightly, his head tilting, and Rio had the startling realization that he didn’t know what she meant. “Oh, I’m sorry, Pete, I didn’t think of that being slang you wouldn’t be familiar with. Sharp in this context means…nice, you look nice, all clean and dressed.”

            Pete scrunched his nose, slightly, gray playing over his face in shadows as he looked at what he was wearing. She hadn’t noticed it as much when he had color near him for whatever reason, but now that he was wearing what was meant to be black and so obviously wasn’t, she could really see the difference. His skin was still white as chalk, but that gray was really what leant that not-from-this-dimension feel to him. The way his pupils caught the light as he looked back up to her, reflecting as white, was definitely another.

            “…Okay?” he finally said, and Rio couldn’t help but laugh.

            “Does everything fit okay?” she asked, frowning at the shirt closer. The shoulders had been accommodated, but there was no doubt that it was too baggy on him at the same time. The term string-bean came to mind, and she had a feeling that even if he had been properly filled out it would still be hard to find clothes that fit properly.

            “Well enough,” Pete answered. “I can alter some of it if I have to…” He ran his fingers over the black top, frowning at it. “It’s weird. Your black isn’t…it’s not black.”

            “It’s definitely different from your black,” Rio agreed. “Your hair is darker, actually.” She hesitated. “Pete…who cut your hair?” she finally allowed herself to ask.

            Pete touched it, before finally giving her a slight grin. “I cut it with a knife,” he answered. “I know it’s terrible, but it’s not like anyone has to…well, it wasn’t like anyone had to see it.”

            “Would you let me cut it for you?” Rio asked.

            “…Now?” Pete asked, his eyebrows flying up. “I knew it was bad, but I didn’t think…”

            Rio shook her head. “No, no, not now, we’ll eat lunch first, but would you let me?”

            Pete hesitated, before giving her a tiny shrug.

            Rio would accept it for now. Miles had put the takeout on the table, organized from rice, to vegetables, to beef, to chicken. There was no pork. Rio didn’t think she’d put pork on the menu ever again. He’d also placed three pairs of chopsticks on the table, a smile on his mouth.

            “Alright,” she clapped her hands together. “You had some takeout the other day, but I think it’s best when fresh, and this is pretty good stuff.” Pete sat down across from her and Miles. “Now, you’ve never used chopsticks before?” she asked to clarify.

            “Nope,” Pete answered, shaking his head, poking at the chopsticks.

            “I think Peni wanted to teach you, but I don’t think she’d mind too terribly if we did instead,” Rio frowned slightly, hoping that it wouldn’t make Peni feel upset. Pete shrugged, picking up the chopsticks in his fingers loosely and fiddling with them.

            “Okay, so, you take one of them like this,” Miles said, holding it like a pencil around a third of the way from the top, Pete following the instructions. “And then you take this one and slide it underneath right here…” he pressed it between his ring-finger and his thumb. “And then you just kind of pinch the top chopstick to the bottom one with these fingers,” he said, pinching the chopsticks together repeatedly.

            “It’s kind of hard if you’re not used to it,” Rio allowed. “If you have too much trouble, we’ll just get you a fork, it’s no issue at all.”

            Pete had followed the directions well enough and had a grip on the chopsticks, doing his best to keep his hold on them even as he practiced a few times. His eyebrow was raised, but he seemed game to try. Miles pushed the orange chicken Pete’s way with a grin.

            “Give this a go,” he said. “I think you’ll like it, it’s kind of sweet.”

            Pete opened the box and poked at the chicken with the chopsticks. Miles immediately went for the Szechuan Chicken, and Rio smiled, even as she went for the vegetable box. It wouldn’t be good to stare at Pete while he struggled with something new. He deserved the opportunity to practice without people ogling him. She did still watch out of the corner of her eye as he managed to pick up a piece of the chicken, looking mildly pleased, and then immediately dropped it back into the box. She had to look up at the ceiling to avoid letting out a snort at his nonplussed expression.

            What Rio learned from this was that Pete was stubborn. While he did fail repeatedly, he still went back at it, and eventually he even managed to eat a few pieces. He looked like he liked it a good deal, and eventually was able to eat it consistently. Rio had to hide a smile at the way the dent between his brows smoothed over. Miles, Pete, and Rio all traded boxes, not bothering with plates, something more communal in passing it around and telling him to try something new. They kept him away from the spicier stuff, but he seemed to enjoy the flavors very much.

            Though, perhaps that was just hunger. Metabolisms were tricky, and it was obvious that Pete needed to eat. She didn’t have any idea what kind of caloric intake would be necessary for him to run around the city the way he did and still maintain a healthy weight. She did have an idea that it would be positively obscene.

            Miles and Rio passed their boxes to Pete after they had eaten their fill, leaning back slightly as they talked, the conversation easy and light. Pete seemed to listen, but he was definitely more invested in eating. When he finally pushed away the last box, Rio smiled at him, and began gathering the empty cartons with Miles, Pete taking a moment to breathe. He finally stood up and helped, pushing the chairs in and wiping off the table. Rio wanted to shake her head, fondness and amusement spreading within her at the sight, but she refrained.

            Peters.

            Rio held out the heavy-duty thread and the needle she had kept for him, and Pete took them immediately. He looked to Miles then with a raised eyebrow.

            “Wanna help?” he asked. Miles hesitated, looking at her.

            “I mean…” he said. “I really don’t know how to sew…”

            “I’ll teach you,” Pete shrugged. “It’s a good skill to learn.”

            Rio pushed Miles along with a grin and a wink. Pete wasn’t wrong. Besides, it was the least that they could do. She gave Miles the pack of needles, and Pete tied both of their threads for them. The two of them sat and Pete began quietly instructing Miles on how to sew the pieces together. It would be so much easier if she owned a sewing machine, but she hadn’t been sure what to get, and Pete likely wouldn’t know how to use one, and she certainly didn’t. It would be something to investigate for a later purchase. As it was, she sat down next to them, getting her own needle and beginning to thread it.

            She was used to stitches.

            Miles and Pete made their way up one side of the coat, sewing the pieces together carefully. They were half-way through one side of the coat when there was a tap on their window. Rio looked over and saw Peter B there, giving them a wave. Rio immediately went over and threw the window open.

            “Hello! Sorry to come back so soon, but I thought I’d check on…” he paused, looked at what Miles and Pete were working on and then his gaze fell on the coat. His eyes widened in horror and he hopped through the window immediately. “Oh! Do you have another needle?” Pete held one up without question and Peter B joined them on the floor, unspooling his own black thread. “Dang, kid, what happened?” he asked. “I thought the coat might be a bit torn up, but…”

            “I washed it,” Miles said miserably. “It came apart in the wash.”

            “You didn’t know it would happen and I already said it’s fine,” Pete said, his voice the tired sort born from repetition. A ringing startled them then, and they looked at Pete’s watch. Pete immediately answered it with a questioning, “Hello?” even as he got back to sewing.

            “Is it okay if I come over?” Peni’s voice called out. “I have your vest, Pete, we put it back together again!”

            Pete almost visibly relaxed but shot a glance to Rio before answering.

            “Absolutely, Peni,” Rio said, her voice warm and bright. “Peter B is here again as well.”

            “Excellent! I’ll be right there, thank you. I’m not going to bring the mech this time, just me and Spider.”

            “That’s fine, Peni, will you be coming…” the sudden opening of a portal against the wall startled them, and a moment later Peni hopped through. She was carrying a black vest in her arms and she was grinning as wide as possible, a large spider on her shoulder. It took Rio a moment to realize that Pete had stilled next to her. Rio looked at him, but he seemed to push whatever initial reaction he had had down and stood up.

            “Thank you,” he said, walking towards her. Peni grinned at him brightly.

            “No problem! My aunt and uncle fixed it after they…” she hesitated, her expression falling. “I’m sorry, Pete, I didn’t even think of it at first. They took some of your blood as a sample… I didn’t even realize until I saw them looking at a mock-up of your genetic makeup.” Peni had pulled his vest close and Pete froze for a moment before taking it from her, his motions gentle even though she could see the way his body had tensed, his mouth in a thin line.

            “Won’t be much use to them now,” he said, and his voice was cold. “Tell them the next time they want a blood sample they can take it off my corpse, because that’ll be the only time that that particular brand of eugenics bullshit is likely to work.” Pete pulled the vest on in a sharp motion, smoothing it down.

            “…Eugenics?” Peter B repeated, his voice vaguely confused, and slightly alarmed. Peni didn’t even look like she understood, when Rio looked at the girl, though she was obviously alarmed and a bit upset. Pete seemed to recognize both the confusion and the way that Peni was looking at him. Initially he stiffened, before sighing.

            “I’m sorry, Peni,” he said. “I shouldn’t snap at you, it’s not your fault.”

            “That’s…that’s okay, but what do you mean…” Peni hesitated. “What’s eugenics?”

            “Disgusting,” Peter B said shortly, standing up slowly. “It was disproven and eventually phased out. It was used to do terrible things to people under the name of progress and keeping lines ‘pure.’ Eugenics just…it’s not used anymore, Pete, or at least it’s not recognized in most circles. I don’t agree with them taking your blood without asking, but that probably isn’t what they were after.”

            “They called me inhuman,” Pete mumbled numbly. “I didn’t think my mutation was enough to give them that opinion. Not completely… I thought maybe a remnant was still going on.”

            Peni had put her hands over her mouth, and Rio was suddenly very aware that she had no idea what her aunt and uncle had said.

            “It’s not because of that,” Peter B finally said softly after the silence grew long and brittle. “It’s not because we’re Jewish. They…they had no right to call you inhuman. But it’s not because we’re Jewish.”

            Oh.

            Oh.

            Pete hadn’t just meant socialist when he said, ‘our circle.’ Rio felt her heart freeze as she realized he had meant passing Jews. Pete was a left-handed socialist Jew in the 1930s.

            “You’re Jewish, Peter?” Miles asked, surprise in his voice.

            Peter B said “Non-practicing,” right around the same time that Pete said, “Passing.”

            Oh, this poor boy.

            “Passing,” Miles repeated quietly, and then his eyes widened. “You mean you just…you just look white?” He was on his feet then, realization, and amazement obvious, looking from Peter B to Pete. “But…” Rio saw the moment he pieced it together, saw the moment his expression crumbled. “Oh. No wonder your favorite thing is punching Nazis.”

            Pete’s mouth twisted slightly. “Yeah,” he agreed quietly. “No wonder.” There was a long pause, and he looked away, before quietly saying, “I don’t want to talk about it. I was wrong in my initial assessment. I’m sorry.” A slight grin spread over his face, bitter and twisted. “Least I know that the mutation’s enough that it qualifies me as inhuman.”

            “That’s…” Peter B hesitated, before frowning. “I bet mine would, too. And maybe we’re not human. Maybe the mutation altered our chemical makeup enough to make us something inhuman. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t exist, or we don’t deserve courtesy or to be treated with respect, or we’re somehow lesser beings. We’re here. We’re sentient. And now we’re not alone.”

            Pete didn’t say anything for a moment, staring at Peter B with a slight frown on his face. Peter B returned the stare, his eyebrows pinched together. Pete finally looked away; his hands balled into fists.

            “Nice sentiment,” he finally said, his voice cool. Peter B closed his eyes and heaved out a sigh. There were things that she wanted to say on the tip of her tongue, reassurances, bits of empathy or even promises, but she held them back. She somehow felt that it wasn’t her place.

            “Let’s…let’s fix your coat, Pete,” Peter B said. Peter B and Pete both moved back to the needles and the thread that they had abandoned, working their way through it. The quiet peace had died a sudden death, Pete’s needle flying through the fabric, every stitch perfectly placed, but almost vicious. Peni sat down off to the side, her Spider in her hands, tapping gently against her forehead. Peni hadn’t said a word, just hunched up close and quiet. Rio was worried. Rio hoped that it wasn’t something that had been engrained into her. Rio hoped that she didn’t cope with silence.

            When they finally finished it took quite a few spools of thread and Rio was glad she had gotten so much. Pete stood up, flaring the coat out, before pulling it on. The vest and the coat both hid what she had started to think of as the not-real black of the shirt she had bought him, and really helped make him look cohesive.

            “Thanks,” he said, his voice stiff, but he nodded at them in turn, and then walked back to the laundry room. When he came out, he was wearing his boots and had tucked the pants into them. His mask was in one hand, the goggles in the other. He put the goggles on for a second and hissed, before taking them back off and popping the lenses out. The laundry basket with his things in it was fished in before he pulled out a black satchel, dumping more lenses from inside the bag into his hand, pocketing the ones from the goggles. The realization that he had made corrective versions of his lenses hit her right around the same time he fit the old lenses in place.

            The realization that he had had the foresight to keep the originals because of the nature of his transformation was hot on its heels, and it was like a punch to the stomach. The sight of him picking up his knives and slotting them into areas of his coat and into pockets, followed by every other object he owned twisted her heart.

            “Pete…” Rio started, standing up. “Wait, what about your…”

            “Stitches?” Pete asked, looking at her with those grey eyes that had darkened considerably, she’d almost call them stormy. “I cut those out already.”

            “But…”

            “I have to go,” Pete said, his voice stiff.

            “You still have to recover,” Rio said, standing up. “You lost a lot of blood, and…”

            “I’m fine,” Pete shook his head. “I don’t have any residual dizziness; my stitches are out. You’ve fed me, given me clothing, and let me sleep here. There is no reason for me to stay, and every reason for me to go.”

            “But Pete,” Peter B started. “Why don’t we talk about this…I…”

            “We’ve talked enough,” Pete answered. “The only thing we’ve done is talk. I can’t stay here anymore. It’s been two days, they’ll have found the Lizard, they’ll have found their bodies. If I’m lucky I can get back before they try and pin it on me, but I have to go.”

            “If it’s that bad, why don’t you stay?” Miles asked. “If they beat you because you’re left-handed, want to kill you because you’re a socialist and…and don’t think you’re human because you’re a Jew, why don’t you stay?”

            “Because I could never live with myself if I never went back,” Pete answered, his voice quiet. “Because I don’t belong here.” Peni was on her feet next to Peter B. Pete looked at her, his mouth in a thin line. “Are you going to show me how to go home? Or do you think I’m too stupid to do it by myself?”

            Peni flinched, obviously hurt, her eyes wide and tearful. Peter B took that in and immediately turned back to Pete.

            “Hey! That is absolutely out of line, you know that she doesn’t think you’re stupid…” Peter B said, snapping his hand out to the side. “Don’t take it out on her just because you’re feeling vulnerable. Trust me, the only thing that leads to is regret.”

            “And you’d know all about regret, wouldn’t you, Peter?” Pete asked, and his voice was the closest it had ever gotten to waspish, his eyes narrowed and angry. “You’re so full of regrets you gave up.” Peter B blinked. “You’re so full of regrets and self-loathing that you let yourself fall apart out of, what…some form of self-flagellation? Were you hoping that if you let yourself go enough your love would sweep you back off your feet and come back because of pity? What was her name, MJ? She deserved better.”

            There was a ringing silence, Peter B looking a bit as though he had been struck. Peni and Miles both looked stricken, their eyes so wide, sending glances towards Peter B and then back to Pete, who had squared his jaw and was staring directly into Peter B’s eyes as though daring him to do something about it. Rio didn’t know what to say. She didn’t know whether to reassure or to scold, knowing deep in her soul that Pete had been stretched thin these last few days, baring so much more of himself than he had ever wanted to, surrendering control and even bodily autonomy.

            “You’re going to regret that,” Peter B said finally. “You’re going to get into your universe and you’re going to stare at the ground, or the sky, or the buildings around you, and you’re going to regret it. You’re right, I know regrets, and I know what I regret, and unfortunately for you…I’m a few left turns and bad decisions from you. And because I know you’re going to regret it; I’m not going to tell you to apologize. But I am going to tell you that you have to come back when you’re hurt. You made a deal.”

            “We break vows all the time, Peter,” Pete said, lazily.

            “But if you break this one, I’ll come after you,” Peter B returned, even as he curled his left hand into a fist, his eyes dark. “I will find you and I will drag you back here kicking and screaming. You think you can challenge me; I’ve been Spider-Man for twenty-two years. I’m still alive and I’m still kicking, and buddy, I’ve faced things scarier than you. Don’t make me come after you.”

            “You don’t want to come into my world, Peter,” Pete said, his eyes narrowed. “I’m not the thing you have to fear. It’s everything else.”

            Peter B took a breath, nodding. “Yeah. Which is why you’re going to keep me out by coming to Rio. Only way, buddy,” he said with a shrug. 

            Pete bared his teeth, and finally looked away. “You shouldn’t want to go in my world at all.”

            “I don’t,” Peter B agreed quietly. “But I will.”

            “You have no fucking idea,” Pete said, his eyes narrowed. “You have no idea. You come through and all you’re going to do is get me and yourself killed.”

            “Then give me an idea,” Peter B said, his eyes narrowed. “I want to know.”

            “I’m not taking you…”

            “Don’t,” Peter B answered. “Just…make a phone call. A simple phone call that shows exactly what you’re living with. I won’t have to take a step over, and if I decide it’s bad enough then I’ll stay away.”

            Pete narrowed his eyes. “You want to hear it?”

            “Sure,” Peter B answered, shrugging.

            “Fine,” Pete said simply. “Fine. I’ll show you what it’s like. If you decide you still want me around afterwards, then I’ll come back. If you don’t, well. I don’t blame you.”

Chapter Text

            “We should wait until my husband gets home,” Rio said, drawing their collective attention. Peter nodded, opening his mouth to agree.

            “No,” Pete interrupted anything he could have said, his hands balled into fists, empty goggles flashing as they focused on Rio. “I’ve waited long enough. I can’t just stay here…”

            “Pete,” Rio started patiently, her voice pointedly calm. Pete focused on her, and Peter had a feeling that he would object to the tone.

            “I’m not some toddler throwing a tantrum,” Pete said, his voice a low hiss. “I don’t need you to calm me down. I need you to let me go.”

            Rio hesitated, before nodding. “I know, Pete, I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m not trying to treat you like a toddler, but you…”

            “’But,’” Pete repeated, that hiss building in the back of his throat.

            “Let him say goodbye,” Peter interrupted, holding his hand up. “You’ve been staying with them for two days. There’s got to be some feelings there, bud. If you just vanish without saying goodbye…well, how thankful is that going to be?”

            Pete jerked at that, and his head ducked slightly, before he gave a quiet hiss, and crawled up the wall to press himself into the corner.

            “Fine,” he hissed, “I’ll wait.”

            Peter had a feeling that he wouldn’t be moving anytime soon.

            “Alright,” Peter said, nodding. “We’ll leave you to sulk,” Peter turned his back, feeling the glare on his neck that would burn holes through him if it could. As he turned, he found Peni staring up at Pete with eyes that were practically swimming with unshed tears, and Peter hesitated, before scooping her up to place her on his hip. Peni curled up into him, giving Pete one last long look over his shoulder, before Peter followed Rio into the kitchen, ushering Miles along before him. This wasn’t turning out like he expected at all.

            “Does he hate me?” Peni asked quietly, before they entered the kitchen, the words barely a whisper in his ear. Peter heard the creak of leather, and if he had to guess, he figured that Pete had straightened up really quickly at the sound of that question. Peter looked at him out of the corner of his eye, seeing those goggles that were staring at Peni, thoughts hidden, but then Pete looked away. Peter closed his own eyes, bowing his head and giving a sigh.

            “No,” Peter whispered back. “He could never.”

            “I don’t blame him if he does,” Peni said, and those tears had started to fall. “I didn’t know…I didn’t know they would call him that. I wouldn’t have let them talk to you.”

            “Oh, kiddo,” Peter said so softly and heaved out a sigh. “Don’t own it, alright? You didn’t know, and you can’t be blamed for it. Pete knows that, really, he does. He’s just…” Peter hesitated, thinking. “He needs a moment to cool off,” Peter finally settled on. “Don’t take it personal. I know it’s hard, but try your best, okay?”

            “Should we have Gwen come, too?” Miles asked, “and Porker?”

            “That’s probably a good idea, mijo,” Rio answered.

            “I’ll contact them.” Peter sighed, putting Peni down on a chair and squatting down so he was eyelevel with her. “You didn’t do anything wrong by letting them talk. You were trying to keep them in the loop, and that’s admirable. It’s something I never did with my aunt, and while on one hand I understand you don’t have much of a choice, that’s still very good of you. Pete loves you, kiddo, he said it himself, he loves all of us. What do you do with the people you love, Peni? Why did you choose to pilot the SP//dr mech?”

            “To protect them,” Peni answered, wiping her eyes. “I did it to protect them.”

            “There you go.” Peter poked the tip of her nose, making her eyes go cross, even as she let out a tiny giggle. “He’s just doing a terrible job at it, mostly, I think, because he’s very out of practice. Now I’m going to contact the others, alright?”

            “Okay,” Peni agreed, wiping her eyes.

            “Do you understand that he really doesn’t hate you, kiddo?” Peter asked softly.

            “I do,” she agreed. “I just wish he wasn’t so…angry…”

            “Yeah,” Peter nodded, and sighed, standing up. He texted Porker first, letting him know that Pete was going to be leaving and he was going to show them what his universe was like, and that he should probably get over to Miles’ as soon as he could. Gwen was next, and after a brief moment of hesitation, he looked to Rio. “I think I’m going to call Gwen, if that’s okay.”

            “So, you can tell her father what’s going on?” Rio asked.

            “Yeah,” Peter confirmed. “We stole his daughter for a while already, I think hearing it from someone else might help a bit.”

            “Would hearing it from you be good, man?” Miles asked, his eyebrows pinched with worry. “You…you’re dead in their universe, right? Won’t it be weird hearing it from you?”

            “That’s a point…” Peter hesitated. “Can you call, Peni, and we’ll go from there?”

            “Yeah,” Peni agreed, nodding. She called Gwen, and after a moment Gwen’s tinny voice answered.

            “Hello? Peni? What’s up, I wasn’t expecting to hear from you so soon! Is everything okay?”

            “Pete’s leaving,” Peni finally mustered, her voice still pinched. “He’s going back to his own universe as soon as Porker and Jeff are back…” she took a breath. “We’re all saying goodbye…I didn’t know if you wanted to be here in person.”

            “Oh…I thought…” Gwen was obviously fumbling around and getting ready. They could hear thumps and small under-her-breath curses as Gwen stumbled around. “I thought he wasn’t going to be leaving yet! I have to…I have to get over there, hold on. I’ll…

            “When you come over, make sure that you come to the greatest number of signals and not anywhere else,” Peni said, wiping her eyes. “You can set it to do that in the options menu, where you’d choose who to text. Pete is…he’s alone right now. He’s…”

            “Sulking,” Peter finished for her. “And it’s probably best that we leave him alone for now. Do you need to have us tell your dad what’s happening?”

            “If you won’t mind,” Gwen answered. “My dad wanted to ground me from being Spider-Woman for a month, but I talked him down. I do think hearing it from you would be better…”

            “Alright, we’ll stay on the line,” Peter agreed.

            Gwen was heard running down the stairs, yelling out, “Dad, dad…!” there was a hesitation there, her voice trailing off, almost as though she was afraid of telling him who was on the line. Peter understood that.

            “What is it Gwen? Is something wrong?” George Stacy’s voice asked, and Peter took a deep breath.

            “Hello, Mr. Stacy?” he called out, and while one part of him knew this was the exact opposite of what he had initially said he would do, another couldn’t help but call out to the man that he hadn’t seen in decades, a man he had looked up to. “This is…Peter B Parker. I’m sorry to get in touch with you like this, but…we were wondering if Gwen could come over to the Davis-Morales’ universe for a short bit. Pete’s leaving, and we thought it would be best if Gwen was able to see him out. We don’t know when he’ll be back, and we thought it would be best if we were able to give him a proper send-off.”

            There was a long silence. When George spoke his voice was choked. “Peter?” he repeated, and a breath was taken.

            “Yeah, that’s me,” Peter answered.

            “God,” George said softly. “This is…it’s one hell of a trip. Alternate universes…” He sighed. “Yeah,” came a soft agreement, George rallying as well as he could. Peter wished it wasn’t this hard, but he knew from seeing Gwen just how painful it could be. “Yeah, she can come over. You’ll send her back the same day, right?

            “Yes, Mr. Stacy,” Rio answered. “She won’t be staying the night tonight.”

            “You’re Mrs. Rio Morales?” George asked.

            “That’s me,” Rio agreed. “I’m sorry I didn’t introduce myself immediately. My son, Miles is here as well, and Peni Parker. I just wanted to say that your daughter is a delight. She was a wonderful guest and I was happy to have her over.”

            “That’s my girl,” George said, his voice fond. “Thank you for telling me and…thank you for taking care of her, all of you.”

            “It was no trouble,” Rio assured him. “We’ll send her home as soon as we can."

            “Take your time,” George answered. “A goodbye…well…it’s best if done properly.” George was quiet for a long time, before finally. “Hey, Peter B…”

            “Yes?” Peter asked.

            “I was…I was thrilled to learn you made it to your thirties. Gwen’s friend…he didn’t even make it to his twenties. Can you do me a favor and try and make it into old age for me? Die peacefully in your sleep with family surrounding you, maybe?” George asked, his voice slightly teasing, and fond, but there was such an overwhelming sadness beneath it. Peter found himself smiling, a prickling behind his eyes at the thought that his George had never had that opportunity, either, and desperately wishing it for this one. 

            “No promises,” Peter answered finally. “But I’ll do my best. Thank you.”

            “Thank you,” George responded, his voice heavy. “She’ll be over as soon as she can.”

            They hung up, a heavy silence lingering over them, one born of regrets and sadness, and the ghosts of old memories. Rio stood up finally, clapping her hands together and clearing her throat, putting on a brave face, and a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes.

            “Would everyone like hot chocolate?” she asked.

            “That sounds good,” Peni said, wiping her eyes.

            “That does sound good, yeah,” Peter agreed. Miles had already walked over to the fridge, taking out a few bars of chocolate and the milk. Rio pulled a saucepan out from the cupboard with a smile.

            “Alright then, it will only be a couple minutes,” she said. Miles put the chocolate bars on the counter and got the chopping block and a knife.

            The sudden sound of a portal opening next to them caused them all to look up, and then Gwen tumbled through.

            “Where’s Pete?” she asked, looking around, her eyes wide and worried. She’d changed her clothes. No longer wearing her Spider-Woman costume, she had changed into a black shirt, and a dark blue skirt, very much civvies, and very much Gwen Stacy. For a moment Peter had to close his eyes against the memories that outfit conjured up.

            “He’s in the other room,” Rio answered. “We…we’re giving him some space.”

            Gwen blinked, looking out towards the living room, before turning back to them. Her expression had pinched, and while she was definitely calmer, there was no doubt that she was also upset. “Finally exploded?” she asked.

            “A bit,” Miles answered, his tone flippant, but there was a shadow in his eyes that couldn’t be ignored. “He just went off! He said…he said some things to Peter B and Peni.”

            “I wondered if he’d do that,” Gwen said, sighing. She sank into another chair, her legs pressed together at the knee, and her hands under her chin as she leaned on the tabletop.

            “Did yours use to do that often?” Peni asked, wiping her eyes.

            “Not often, exactly, he just…” Gwen hesitated. “Peter was…he was my best friend, but I don’t…I don’t think anyone else saw him that way. Peter was bullied. Constantly, awfully, and just…they hurt him so bad. He was under almost constant pressure, and one day he just…blew up. He didn’t hurt me or anyone else, he just yelled a lot, and then stormed off. When he came back, he apologized, but some of the things he said…” Gwen hesitated. “It didn’t destroy our friendship. It wasn’t that bad, but I had never known just how much they were beginning to get to him until that moment.”

            “So, the rage thing is just something that happens with Peters?” Miles asked, his voice falsely light, before he frowned, and looked at Peter. “Was it a thing with you?” he asked.

            “It absolutely was,” Peter answered nodding.

            “Oh no way, man,” Miles exclaimed.

            “I can’t see that with you,” Peni denied, shaking her head, her eyebrows pinched. Gwen said nothing.

            “Well…it was, a long time ago,” Peter finally said, rubbing the back of his head. “I don’t know if the bullying is universal to Peters, but it was definitely something that happened to me.”

            “They bullied you?” Peni asked.

            “But why?”

            “I was smart, I was awkward, I wore a sweater vest?” Peter shrugged. “You can pretty much take your pick. Point is, I was an easy target, and someone…not a lot of people cared about. They’d do pretty much anything you could think of. Shove me in lockers, flush my head in a toilet…” he let his voice trail off for a moment, letting out a quiet sigh. “I’d almost call them unimaginative if…” Peter rubbed his face with his hands.

            “If what?” Gwen asked, her hands balling into fists, her eyes locked on him. He wondered…

            “I hated getting changed for gym class in the locker rooms,” Peter started, his voice soft. “I’d go into shower stalls or something like that. I just…didn’t like anyone looking at me while I was changing.”

            “Oh, I hate getting changed for gym,” Peni complained, sticking her tongue out. “It’s awful. I don’t blame you at all.”

            “Yeah,” Gwen agreed, Miles nodding.

            “They did,” Peter said, a grin that he knew was twisted starting to curl up the corners of his mouth. “For whatever reason…for whatever reason they seemed to find it offensive. Or…I don’t know. I don’t know the reason. They…” he hesitated. “Well, the long and the short of it is they harassed and pushed me away from my usual changing spot, laughing as they did it. There were others that didn’t, they just…sat there, watching quietly as they…str-” he hesitated, momentarily choking on the word, “as they stripped me, and finally shoved me out of the locker room, locking it behind me.”

            “Dios mío…” Rio managed softly, Gwen putting her hands on her face, and Peter wondered if that had happened to her Peter. Miles had fallen into a look of shocked horror, even as Peni clapped her hands over her mouth. “Were they suspended?” she asked. “Expelled?”

            Peter laughed, a wheezing bitter thing. “Star athletes like that? Nah,” he shook his head. “They called it ‘boys being boys’ and…” he rubbed his face. “I didn’t live that down. It followed me my entire high school career and I hated them for it.”

            “That’s awful,” Peni whispered. “They should have… Something should have been done.”

            “What did your…” Miles hesitated, his eyebrows pinching. “What did your guardian do?”

            “I didn’t tell them,” Peter answered, his tongue suddenly thick in his mouth, a heaviness in his voice. “I didn’t…I couldn’t…” he shook his head, rubbing his face. “The point is I was definitely angry. I was angry and I’d find myself fantasizing about what I could do to them to get revenge… When I got my powers…” Peter hesitated. “Well…” he finally sighed. “I was still angry. Believe it or not suddenly finding out you have superpowers doesn’t automatically make you a hero. I did some pretty…selfish and very uncool things with them at first…” he paused. “And then it backfired, and one of the people I loved the most payed the ultimate price for my selfishness.” He sat backwards on the chair with his arms crossed over the top, his back bowed, the memories a physical weight. “It’s one of the reasons I was so impressed with your…well your newest Spider-Man. It takes some serious moral fiber to be able to gain powers and run off to be a hero immediately.” 

            “I bet he had a good model,” Miles said, his voice quiet. “I mean, when you already have a Spider-Man, what can you do but follow in his footsteps?”

            “That’s probably true,” Rio agreed. She looked to Peter with her eyebrows pinched and a look of concern on her face. “Did you hurt those boys?”

            “No,” Peter answered, shaking his head. “I scared them. I scared them bad, but the idea of being what they were to me… I’d been raised better. Not better enough, I guess, but better than to torment them like that.” Peter frowned; his head lowered. “But yeah, I was definitely angry. I think most of my early career was built off that anger. Anger at the people that would take their powers and use them in order to beat other people, anger at the ones that would try and hurt the innocent, as though having a bigger stick gave you the right to hurt people with it, which was all it came down to – bigger sticks…” He rubbed his face. “I had a lot of anger in me. I don’t know when I started to mellow, honestly. I just know that I did.”

            “People can be horrible,” Gwen said softly, looking down. “If some of the other stuff that happened to my Peter happened to you…I wouldn’t blame you for being so angry.”

            “Yeah, well, it’s in the past now.” Peter shook his head and, straightening up. “I’m bigger than it, and I’ve learned from it. It’s all you can really do, honestly.”

            “I honestly can’t see you that angry,” Miles said, an eyebrow raised.

            Peter laughed. “Nah, I was definitely angry. I was so mad I’d even get mad at the adult heroes that just wanted to look out for me. Granted, the way they did it was stupid. Acting like I could just give up being Spider-Man, as though I didn’t have a responsibility, and I didn’t actually make a difference, or…” Peter paused. “Oh… Oh, I am an idiot.”

            “What’s wrong?” came the general chorus.

            “Ah, it’s nothing, I just…give me a second, guys, I’ll be back.” He hesitated and grabbed one of the mugs Miles had laid out, clearing his throat and indicating the pan on the stove that had been lowered to a slow simmer, Rio having finished mixing the hot chocolate sometime during their discussion. “Can I…” Rio gestured for him to go ahead and he gave a quick thanks, before going over to fill the mug.

            There were times when Peter thought he had to be the smartest idiot that ever lived. He should have known.

            “Take one for you, too, it’s good, I promise,” Rio told him, reading his mind, and Peter followed directions, giving a quiet thanks as he left.

            Peter carried the mugs over to where Pete was still pressed into the corner they had left him in. Pete didn’t make a move to register his presence. Peter didn’t take offense, instead carefully walking up the wall, instinctively keeping the warm liquid in the mugs. He perched next to Pete for a moment, before holding out the spare mug.

            “It’s probably going to be amazing,” he said. “Rio made it. I think there’s three types of chocolate in here. No whipped cream, but that’s too much sugar, I guess.”

            Pete stared at the mug but made no move to take it. Peter left his arm out, taking a sip out of his own.

            “I’m not trying to get you to stop being the Spider,” Peter finally said. Pete turned to look at him. “I don’t want you to quit trying to save people. I don’t want you to stop doing what you’re doing or…anything like that.” As he spoke, he watched as Pete relaxed slowly, the lines of his shoulders evening. “I’m not even trying to make you check in after every case. I just want you to have people you can go to afterwards if you’re hurt.” Peter sighed. “I had those people, you know. They’re important. I don’t think I would have lived as long as I have without them…” He hesitated, looking at the wall across from them. “We’re two out of four in regard to dead human Peters,” Peter said, finally turning his attention to Pete. “Let’s not make it three out of four, alright, kid?"

            Just like that, Pete clammed back up, looking the other way. Peter sighed but was spared further attempts to get him to come out of his shell by the front door opening. Jeff walked in, wearing his police uniform, and Peter felt Pete tense significantly next to him, fingers starting to press tighter against the wall. Peter carefully tapped Pete’s hand with the mug, silently reminding him to watch his grip. Pete relaxed his hold but pulled his hand away.

            Jeff took his hat off, sighing heavily and starting to remove his belt that held all his cop stuff, when he caught sight of the two Peters in the corner. A tired smile spread, and he took a few steps forward. “Peters, how’s it going?” He asked, that smile widening. “I wasn’t expecting to see you yet, Peter B, and…” he paused, taking a look at Pete’s full uniform, letting out a thoughtful hum and a nod. “That’s actually a pretty slick ensemble you’ve got there, Pete.” Jeff frowned slightly, then, and his head tilted slightly. “But…why the costume?”

            “I’m leaving,” Pete answered. He dropped down from the corner, and Peter was left holding two hot chocolates, and still squatting in the corner. He rolled his eyes heavily and walked his way down before handing the hot chocolate to Jeff.

            “He won’t drink it,” Peter answered the unspoken question, and turned back to look at Pete, taking a disapproving sip as he did so, his eyes narrowed over the rim. Jeff blinked, looking at the cup, and then back to Pete as the rest of the Spiders and Rio left the kitchen, all of them holding mugs, and all staring at Pete. Rio walked over and kissed her husband, Jeff accepting it automatically, even as he still looked confused, hugging his son close.

            “What do you mean you’re leaving, don’t you…?”

            “I’m fine, I have to go.” Pete had balled his hands into fists again, and there was no denying that the uniform not only helped bulk up the frame beneath, it made him taller. The boots added a solid inch to his height, not enough to stare Jeff in the eye, but definitely enough to make him the tallest Spider, and certainly enough to grant him a bit of intimidation. The coat flaring out didn’t help, that breeze something that hadn’t been as noticeable until it was given something to act upon.

            That breeze

            A portal suddenly burst open, and Porker came tumbling out of it. He was in civilian clothes as well, a bright multi-colored top and a pair of loose-fitting shorts, his hooves firmly wedged in sneakers. He pushed himself upright, looking around, and then made eye-contact with Pete.

            “You can’t leave me!” Porker cried out, and jumped on top of Pete, grabbing hold of his collar and planting his feet firmly on Pete’s chest, leaning back properly to look into his eyes at direct eyelevel. Pete jerked back slightly, his arms akimbo, arching backwards away from Porker but not really able to escape. “Who’s going to be the straight-man to my comedy act? Who’s going to be…”

            “Get off of me,” Pete hissed, his voice a low dangerous thing that rumbled deep in his chest, and made Porker freeze, blue eyes widening. He immediately jumped off.

            “Well, if you insist,” he said, dusting his hands off, examining Pete out of the corner of his eye. Peter caught the slight worried wrinkle between his eyebrows, but was really too busy looking at Pete, who looked about ready to explode. Pete had balled his hands into trembling fists and was just about shaking with suppressed rage. Before he could do anything, could say anything, Peni took a step towards him, reaching up to grab his hand. Pete visibly flinched, but seemed to force himself to relax, watching.

            “You push,” she said, taking his other hand and pressing it down on the face of the goober. “And then you twist,” she twisted it six distinct clicks, “six to the right, which leads to your universe because it was the last one I connected to. After you open a portal to that universe by pressing down on the face twice, it resets, and you can click through it again. It’s my universe, Gwen’s, this universe, Peter B’s, Porker’s, and then yours.”

            “Six for me,” Pete said softly. He pressed it twice, a black and white portal opening, standing out as much as he did, and then he frowned at her. “I can’t have you talking in my ear constantly. Is there a way to make it so I can only hear you when I need to?”

            “Peter B, do you want to call him?” Peni asked softly. Peter followed instructions, pressing the button for contacts and scrolling until he found Pete’s name. Upon calling, Pete’s goober lit up, and he answered it. Peni pointed to a red button just underneath the one he used to answer. “This is the way to mute us. If you want to take us off mute, just press it again.” Her voice echoed tinnily from both goobers, until Pete pressed the button, muting it.

            Jeff still looked vaguely confused, as did Gwen, and finally Jeff took a step forward.

            “Wait,” he said. “I don’t…I don’t understand, what’s happening?”

            “You wanted an idea of what it is I live with,” Pete started, his voice low. “You want to know exactly what it is you’re letting around your family. I’m going to give you a practical demonstration. You deserve to know,” he said, coolly. “Did anyone happen to grab my hat?”

            “Aw, shoot,” Porker grumbled, snapping his fingers. “I didn’t even think of it.”

            “No matter,” Pete said. Rio suddenly held out a grocery bag to him, filled with articles of black clothing.

            “Don’t forget this,” she said. “Even if…” her voice trailed off, and she closed her eyes for a moment, taking a deep breath. “You need them,” she rallied, and Pete took it from her. He wrapped the bag in black webbing without thought, creating a shoulder-bag that he slung over his chest in a way that Peter himself had done.

            There was no mention of how it felt, no mention of the spinnerets, and how much it must hurt. Porker’s eyes were narrowed, eyebrows pinching together as he watched, but he said nothing. None of them did.

            “Miles,” Pete finally said, his voice rough. “Where’s my dynamite?"

            Miles blinked, and immediately went to get it, even as Jeff started, and turned to look at him with wide eyes.

            “Dynamite?” he asked, “you brought dynamite into my home?”

            “If you’ll kindly remember I didn’t have much of a choice,” Pete hissed, straightening to his full height. “I was kind of bleeding out at the time, I went where I was took.”

            Jeff hesitated, but before he could say anything, Miles ran back. Pete took what looked to be six sticks of dynamite away from him, and stuck them in his coat.

            For a moment there was silence, Pete staring at them all, and then he fell back into the portal.

            There was no goodbye. No, I love you. No, I’ll be seeing you.

            Nothing.

            More regrets.

            The sound of the void between crept up their spines, something that Peter hadn’t even considered would be a thing. A consistent crackling that snapped and popped like static, an empty, desolate sound.

            Suddenly, all of the crackling was replaced with the sound of rain, the distant sound of a car honking, and quiet voices just on the edge of their hearing.

            “Welcome to the show,” Pete’s voice rumbled in their ears. “It’s going to be a trip.”

………………………………..

            Very rarely had Jeff ever felt as completely off-balance as he did now.

            Jeff had had barely enough time to take his belt that held his gun and other police paraphernalia off when he saw Pete in full…costume? Uniform? Whatever it was, he’d never found himself quite as uncertain as to where he stood with someone he thought he knew. Jeff had been aware of Pete’s understandable distaste for cops. Jeff had been so aware he had done his best to stay in Pete’s line of sight and not give him a reason to be afraid. Yet that, having Pete stare up at him with those goggles, a sourceless breeze sending his coat billowing out…

            Pete was intimidating. The Spider was intimidating.

            For Pete to suddenly fall back into that portal without a goodbye, without a thank you, without anything that Jeff had expected… Something had to have happened. Pete was obviously reacting to something. Pete had seemed about ready to strangle Porker, a violence inherent in the motion that Jeff hadn’t seen before and honestly…didn’t expect, at least not towards someone he knew Pete cared about. And now…

            Rio’s hand gripped his, and he looked to her, his eyebrows pinching.

            “What’s happening?” he asked softly. “What happened?”

            Rio took a breath, her head bowing, before kissing his jaw. “I’ll explain more later. For now, Pete is showing us, as well as he can, what his world is like, and what he’s used to. I think…” her voice lowered, so quiet as she leaned towards him, and Jeff obligingly lowered his head so she could whisper close to his ear, “I think he’s trying to push us away. I think he still is afraid of us somehow getting hurt and he’s lashing out because of that fear.”

            Jeff closed his eyes, taking a deep breath and sighing it out, before he walked to the couch, sitting there heavily, Rio curling up next to him. Miles sat on the arm of the couch, Jeff instinctively pulling his son close. Gwen and Peni sat on the other side of the couch, Porker sitting on the back. To his surprise, Peter B leapt up to sit cross-legged on the ceiling, his eyes focused on the goober, brown hair sticking straight up due to gravity, and his eyes focused.

            “You’ll have to forgive me,” Pete’s voice came softly, which Jeff felt was a bit of an understatement, “I don’t know if it was ever stated specifically, but Curt came from my universe. It followed me through, put your son in danger, and was ultimately sent back into my universe after I killed him. It’s been two days now so they must certainly have collected the body.

            “What’s your point, Pete?” Peter asked tiredly.

            “I’m going to tell you what they do to someone like Curt,” Pete answered. The ‘someone like me’ was unvoiced, but heard all the same, Jeff closing his eyes against it. “But that’s later. First, I have to see about a drop, see if my…informant gave me the information I need, or if he thinks I’m dead. I’m going to put you on mute now.” The click that sounded was expected, and then Pete started moving.

            Jeff figured he had a good idea as to why the kid was thin as a rail, he moved like the devil was hot on his tail. Interspersed between clattering footsteps were moments when the only sound Pete made was the soft thwip of Pete’s webbing.

            That was when they could hear the rest of the city

            Jeff pulled Miles and Rio tighter against him.

            They rarely if ever heard full conversations, rarely were given full understanding of what exactly they were privy to, but what they did hear was enough to turn their stomachs.

            The sound of crying was the first thing that they really noticed, the soft sound of a mother hushing the crying baby, a male voice filled with desperation and pain, saying:

            “I told you we shouldn’t have had it. We shouldn’t have done it, we can’t feed it…” and then trailing off as Pete put distance between them, and then they came upon another conversation.

            “Mom, I’m hungry…”

            “I know, baby, I know, your father…he’s coming back. He’ll come back.”

            “He ain’t coming back! He’s gone, and you might as well face it! You…”

            Another, two men, broken, and soft…

            “No jobs, no food, no nothing, they’re trying to kill us, they have to be.”

            “Don’t give a fuck about us, starving here. What are we going to do when winter comes…?”

            “I have a family! I can’t…I can’t live like this! No one can live like this… God, my poor…”

            Another, a husband and wife, desperate and pleading.

            “Maybe if we move? Todd, what if we move, what if we go somewhere…”

            “There’s nowhere to go, Linda! There’s nowhere to go, everyone’s out of work, everyone’s starving. There’s…there’s nothing out there. I’m sorry. I’m sorry you married someone like…”

            They continued like this, crying, snatches of conversation that spoke of a total lack of hope, of hunger, and building desperation.

            “How can he live like that?” Porker asked, his voice so quiet, and Jeff looked at him. The pig’s ears had drooped, his eyebrows pinched. He’d taken hold of Gwen’s and Peni’s hands, running a thumb over their knuckles gently, both of the girls so quiet, leaning into him. “Listening to that…” Porker trailed off, and for the first time, Jeff really thought of Porker as not just a pig, but…a cartoon. Something Looney Toons. Something soft, something happy, something that rarely, if ever, really lingered over the sad things.

            Not that they couldn’t ever be sad or be steeped in tragedy - Jeff had vivid memories of crying over a small cartoon mouse that had lost his family when he was younger - but Porker came from a world of color, and likely from a world of happiness. This… Pete’s world was the practical antithesis to Porker’s. It was little wonder he was so affected. Peni scooted slightly back as Gwen picked Porker up and placed him down on the cushions, both girls cuddling up to him, and all three turning their attention back to that goober.

            They finally passed whatever it was that Pete had been swinging over, the snatches of conversation turning less despairing, only to change entirely. Jeff had a sudden realization Pete’s path had taken him to a different part of the neighborhood when a loud man’s voice called out,

            “Hey, sweet mama, why don’t you come over here so I can take a bite out of you, huh?

            Another one gave an even seedier comment and Jeff had an urge to cover Miles’ ears, and also to tell Pete to get away from that kind of language, there were kids present.

            It was as that particular thought crossed his mind that he came to the realization that Pete was a kid. Pete was seventeen years old, and he had grown up with this. Pete hadn’t realized that what he had been saying about his world was traumatizing, hadn’t realized that it would hurt the kids he was telling about the man that set himself on fire, that… Jeff felt his heart clench at the realization that this…this was just what he was used to. This is what Pete lived with.

            It was little wonder the kid had a mouth on him. He was honestly glad it wasn’t as bad as it could be….

            It was little wonder he seemed so out of touch with his own emotions, outside of maybe rage.

            Pete’s feet clattered to a halt then, having passed the comments and instead coming to something much quieter. Pete gave a thoughtful hum, and Peter B’s goober gave a soft beep as he took them off mute.

            “Still with me?” he asked.

            “Yeah,” Peter B answered, his voice hollow. “We’re with you. Pete…where was that? Where did you swing us over?”

            “That was the Hooverville where I grew up,” Pete answered, and Jeff felt that like a punch in the chest, Rio’s hand finding his and squeezing, even as Miles pressed up against him. He saw both girls lean against Porker, who reached out and hugged them both close, his eyes still so far away. “It’s one of the shortest ways to get to my drop point,” he said, and Jeff wondered if the effects had been intentional, or more evidence that things that so affected them were just so normal to Pete he hadn’t even thought of them. And then he remembered the way that Pete could hiss, the way that he had attacked so pointedly, and he decided that it was still very intentional. “Which…” Pete gave a thoughtful hum, and then a short exclamation. “Oh, thank you, Jameson…that’s my hat. And…nothing else. Probably did think I was dead. Safer to leave the hat and not the information.

            “Jameson?” Peter B managed, blinking, looking at the goober with narrowed eyes. “Jameson who?”

            “J Jonah Jameson,” Pete answered. “Why, do you know him?”

            “JJJ’s your informant?” Peter B squawked, eyes wide, expression horrified.

            “…Yes?” Pete answered. “Why? What’s wrong with Jameson?”

            “He hates me!” Peter B exclaimed. “He’s been working on a smear campaign for years, he blames me for everything, I think he’d blame me for climate change if he could!”

            “What the hell did you do to him?” Pete asked, voice incredulous.

            “Absolutely nothing! Did he like your Peter?” Peter B asked, looking at Jeff and Rio, his expression mildly horrified, as though desperately looking for confirmation it wasn’t just him.

            “He didn’t,” Rio answered, shaking her head. “He did a similar smear campaign. I don’t think it worked very well because our Spider-Man was constantly interacting with the public, but Jameson absolutely hated him. Spent a lot of his time blaming our Peter for the things that he had nothing to do with.”

            “I work for him, he’s a jerk!” Porker called out. “Runs me like a dog without any consideration of the fact that I’m a pig.”

            “He smears my name, too,” Gwen confirmed. “He blames me for everything.”

            “He’s not allowed to smear me,” Peni denied. “I’m technically government, we have a specific press core.”

            Jeff had a moment where he froze, staring at Peni. Government? What kind of government would invest in a literal child soldier?

            God, these Spiders. His heart couldn’t take this.

            “You’ve got to be kidding, he…” Pete interrupted his thoughts abruptly, before falling silent for a moment. “Here, in my world at least, you can’t buy him. He says what needs to be said, he won’t be intimidated by any of the usual hatchetmen, and he’s no twit. He runs one of the most inflammatory papers in the city, but that’s because he speaks the truth, and puts the actual suffering of the people front and center. He’s a man of grit and integrity, and he’s worth his salt.”

            “Grit and integrity!” Peter B exclaimed, clapping a hand to his forehead, his eyes wide and amazed. “Well, fuck!” he said, dropping the first curse that Jeff had heard out of him, “The only time that Jameson’s allowed to be decent is in the Great Depression!"

            “Does he still have the mustache?” Gwen asked, her eyes wide. “I mean, what with…what with Hitler…?”

            “Jameson says that the day he shaves off his mustache is the day that freedom loses,” Pete answered. The burst of surprised and utterly hysterical laughter from the Spiders that followed was startling. “He gave an entire rant on it, something about now bowing down to bullies and thugs.”

            “That’s amazing!” Peter B wheezed. “Can…can you go say hi to him? Or…get close enough that we can hear him? I just…I can’t imagine this. I’ve got to hear him.”

            There was a pause, Pete obviously considering. Jeff had a feeling Pete had a very specific route that he had been planning on, and this would be a detour he hadn’t anticipated. It all depended, Jeff thought, on whether or not Pete really believed this was goodbye. If he believed it was goodbye, there was a chance he might honor the request. If he didn’t…

            “Alright,” Pete agreed, and Jeff took a heavy breath, his head bowing. He hoped he was wrong in his estimation, hoped that he’d simply agreed due to request, but he doubted it. Pete placed something on the ground, before climbing up the wall, and perched to wait. Pete placed them on mute again, waiting, and they settled in for however long it would take.

            Not even ten minutes later there was the sound of small running footsteps, before a gasp split the silence. Those footsteps ran closer and something was picked up and looked at, before a little girl’s laughter rang out, happy and bright. Those footsteps turned and ran in the opposite direction, and Pete followed from the rooftops.

            They ran until they could no longer hear the sound of the Hooverville Pete had grown up in. Finally, the little running feet came to a halt, the girl panting for breath. There was a pause, and the sound of doors swinging open reached them, as well as a burst of noise. Pete moved away from the noises, the yelling for copy, papers shuffling, the clacking of a typewriter. Instead, he seemed to climb up, and then there was the grating of something metallic being pulled away from stone. It took the hollow tinny sound of Pete climbing into something for Jeff to realize it was a vent.

            Pete climbed deep into the building, before finally he took a turn and the sound died down. They could hear footsteps pacing below, a low voice grumbling quietly, just on the edge of hearing. The Spiders had all turned, their attention sharpening at the sound, focusing wide, and almost excited eyes on the goober, waiting. Jeff had no doubt that that was Jameson. The door to Jameson’s office swung open then, that little girl’s voice ringing out.

            “Mr. Jameson, Mr. Jameson, sir!”

            They heard as Jameson turned, making a sound of recognition, and the sound of the little girl being picked up with a loud squeal of laughter as he swung her in the air before plopping her on the desk sounded.

            “Betty!” Jameson called out; harsh voice smoothed as well as he was able. “What’s the news?”

            “He’s alive!” Betty cried back, a gleeful sound as she clapped her hands. “He took his hat and he left this! The Spider’s alive!”

            “Ha!” Jameson cried out, taking whatever it was from her. “I knew that son-of-a…begging your pardon, miss,” he trailed off, Betty giggling. "He must have gone off to lick his wounds. Take some time to recover…I did bet some of that blood was his. Good to know I’m right and he’s tougher than we thought. Now what on earth is this…” There was the sound of rustling paper as Jameson paced. “New drop point, huh…figures. Alright, alright…” he heaved a sigh. “Alright, Betty, thank you for your service, you’ve done the people of New York a huge favor passing that information onto me. Now we can get the truth out there and start making those twits that thought he was down and out really start to squirm, how does that sound?” He asked, and Betty clapped her hands gleefully.

            “Keen! I’m so happy!” Betty laughed, a giggling thing, before seeming to sober. “I…I thought he was dead Mama was saying he was dead…”

            “Well it’s alright now, kiddo. He’s alright and he’ll be doing his best to help as soon as he can. We’re going to be alright. As for your poor mother…well, don’t hold it against her. She’s faced enough hardship; I’m not surprised she’s begun to expect the worst.” Jameson gave another sigh, and then they heard the creak of bones straightening and he gave a soft groan. “Betty, take my advice and take better care of your back. When you’re older you’ll thank yourself.” They could only imagine that Betty nodded seriously because he let out a gruff, “that’s right. Now…onto the rest of our business. Here, this is for you.” He handed her something that rustled, and Betty made an awed sound, taking it gently.

            “But…” Betty started softly. “But I just…I just told you he’s alive, and brought you…

            “The best news I’ve heard in three days. Take it to your mother, Betty. Buy yourself and your mother something nice. Thank you, Betty. If I need you to run another errand for me, I’ll let you know. Now scram, a man’s gotta think.”

            Betty gave a soft sound, something like a sob, before the sound of a small body being thrown onto a larger was heard, Jameson giving a loud “oof!” at the impact. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” she cried out, and then ran out of the office.

            Jameson sighed as soon as she was gone, pacing in his office once again. “Well, you son-of-a-bitch, it’s good to know you’re alive,” he said to himself under his breath. “I’ll be seeing you soon.”

            Pete began climbing his way out of the vent, closing it up behind him, and then unmuted them.

            “How much did he give her?” Jeff found himself asking.

            “Five dollars,” Pete answered.

            “Cheap,” Porker griped.

            “Are you shitting me?” Pete exclaimed, coming to a halt. “Fuck, I’d be able to buy eight shirts for that, or feed myself for over a week. That’s more than generous, particularly for information like that.”

            “Inflation is real,” Gwen managed, her eyes wide.

            Pete’s silence spoke for itself, before finally he took a few more steps. “Well, I think we detoured long enough. If you don’t mind, I’ll be continuing to my original destination."

            “Go for it,” Peter B answered. “Just know…that was the craziest thing I’ve ever heard, and I still can’t quite believe it.”

            “I can’t believe he’s a bastard in your world,” Pete returned, and then once again they were put on mute, and Pete started running. The path he took was winding and long, and when he finally reached its heart, they had passed two more Hoovervilles.

            The one thing that was immediately noticeable was just how quiet it was becoming. The city seemed like it was going to sleep, mothers calling to children, doors and windows closing. The silence that eventually surrounded them was broken only occasionally.

            It was unholy.

            Jeff felt a shiver run up his spine, finding himself pulling Rio and Miles close. Jeff had never heard the city that quiet. He couldn’t imagine why…

            “There’s a curfew in effect,” Pete said softly, answering a question that hadn’t been voiced, his breathing reflecting his exertion. “There always is after an attack by something like Curt. It’ll be removed after a week, but by now…” Pete hummed softly, thoughtfully. “By now, most people don’t go out after dark. The only ones that do are ones that are either terribly brave, terribly criminal, or terribly desperate.

            Jeff idly reflected that Pete could technically classify as all three under the law. At the same time, Jeff knew that of the three, Pete was definitely terribly brave. Pete landed on another building, climbing his way along it, looking for something.

            “Here we are,” Pete hummed, and another vent was removed. Pete climbed into it, the vent’s soft echoing clanging out around them, so gently, the faint rush of air audible. Another vent was opened, and Pete fell into another room, landing on a stone floor carefully, boots clattering. The sound echoed in the eerie silence, an empty, hollow sound. The space he was in was large, there was no doubt of that, and as Pete walked each step reverberated.

            “This is the basement of the Brooklyn morgue,” Pete said, his voice a quiet rumble. “This is where they take the ones like Curt after they die…” He tapped his fingers on something metal, and Jeff’s brain was suddenly filled with the images of their morgue, of their Peter’s body lying on the metal surface, chest broken open, revealing congealed blood and pulverized organs and bone. “It’s where they take them to be dissected.

            Suddenly, that image changed, replaced by a black and white Peter lying on a metal operating table, changed somehow, multiple limbs, pedipalps, multiple eyes… His body opened to the world; organs placed around him.

            “They aren’t given funerals…” Pete continued softly, tapping gently on metal, walking. “There’s no burial. They’re not human, so what’s the point? Why waste the resources, the space, the manpower? If the bodies are too destroyed, they burn the bodies, and the ashes are cast away.” Pete stopped walking, giving a soft humming sound. “They cut you up bad, Curt…” he said under his breath, his voice so quiet. “I haven’t seen that cut before…” he gave a thoughtful hum, and there was the slick sound of gloves sliding into opened flesh. “I like it, opens everything up nicer,” he said finally, and Jeff idly wondered how often Pete came here. How often it was that Pete stared at what he figured was his future to the point he could make a comment about a dissection technique.

            How he could look at the remains of what had once been his friend and remain completely detached.

            Then he remembered what Curt did to his family, and he wondered if there was an element of bitterness there, particularly when Curt should have known better. Apparently, Curt had been working with Pete before, he should have known what would have happened if he had… Jeff paused.

            “Do you think…” Jeff started, a slow budding horror rising up within him. “Do you think that they’d have files on Pete? When he was working with Connors… They were doing experiments on his biology. Would he have…?”

            “Oh…*#&@,” Porker hissed. Peter B looked at the goober with wide eyes.

            “Is there a way to contact him past the mute?” Peter B asked. They looked to Peni, only to see that she had already opened up the holographic menu and was furiously texting. The beep of Pete’s goober sounded, and they waited in anticipation.

            There was a pause, Pete obviously reading the text, before he gave a soft hum.

            “It’s hidden and unless they can climb walls, they’re not going to be able to get it,” Pete said. “But it’s funny you’d bring that up. We’re going there next.” He jumped back towards the ceiling, crawling through the vents. “I’m sorry for leaving you on mute,” he said, “but I go through some crowded areas at times. If I have you talking in some of these places I’m going to get caught. As soon as I get closer to Connor’s I’ll take you off mute. It’s residential, so the area goes silent and stays that way.”

            That sounded alright to Jeff.

            There was a pause, Pete not providing any commentary, and the others lost in their own thoughts.

            “Ese pobre chico…” Rio said softly, leaning against him. “Ese pobre chico…”

            “How can he just…look at the dead body of his friend like that?” Gwen asked suddenly, her voice so soft. Jeff looked over at the young teen, seeing her curled up, her eyes staring at nothing. Porker immediately leaned against her, and she wrapped her arms around him reflexively, Porker’s size making him almost a stuffed doll in comparison. “How can he not care?”

            “I think…” Jeff started. “I think there’s a lot of bitterness there,” he finally finished, watching Gwen carefully. Gwen turned to look at him, her eyebrows pinched. “Connors…Connors was working with him,” Jeff extrapolated, saying what he had been thinking earlier. “I think Pete’s spent a lot of time stuck with the feeling of betrayal and ultimately a good deal of suppressed anger. Connors had plenty of time to see what it was doing to that kid, see what terrible thing it was imposing upon him, and yet… He still made a deal.”

            “He still killed his family,” Peter B said softly, looking at the goober with pinched eyebrows, his shoulders hunching. “Martha and Billy were always kind to me,” Peter B said, looking to Gwen. “If Curt hurt them…for one, he’d never forgive himself, and for another he’d never want me to. Outside from that I think that there is…a lot of emotional distance.”

            “He has walls on top of walls built up,” Rio agreed. “I think if he didn’t have them… I think Pete would have been dead a long time ago.”

            Gwen slowly nodded at these explanations, hugging Porker close to herself, the pig squirming around so he could hug her back tightly.

            Peter B’s goober beeped.

            “Alright,” Pete said. “We’re close, so I can take you off mute now. Thank you for your patience.”

            “It’s no problem, bud,” Peter B answered. “I get why you don’t want to be caught swinging over places.”

            “Hoovervilles are tightly packed,” Pete said, sighing. “At least in the residential areas you have space, even if it is in the Bowery.”

            “The Bowery?” Jeff asked, blinking.

            “That’s where we lived after we got out of the Hooverville,” Pete answered. “It’s beat to shit, but it was home, and we couldn’t afford much else. It’s also where Curt Connors and his family lived. Lot of down-and-outs around here, but even they don’t come out at night.” He gave a quiet chuckle. “Actually, it’s probably better to say they especially don’t come out at night. This is where most of the changes take place.”

            “Not in Hoovervilles?” Rio asked, surprise in her voice.

            “You’d think so, but there…people don’t really have anything to lose. Not to the extent as the ones in the Bowery, at least,” Pete explained. “People in the Bowery have got homes, places they’re actually living in. To be forced to live in a Hooverville, that’s the final destination…before you’re six-feet-under, or otherwise put on ice.” 

            “People hear they’re losing their job and that’s when they get desperate?” Jeff asked, rubbing his forehead.

            “Yeah,” Pete answered. He paused then, unmoving, the only sound him breathing. “My Aunt still lives here. I went past her house almost every day, but Connors is too far away to be a true neighbor and is absolutely not a peer.”

            “Have you spoken to Aunt May?” Peter B asked.

            “Not since Ellis,” Pete answered, his voice trailing off. “Not since I realized the full extent of what was happening to me.” There was a pause, heavy. “She doesn’t…she doesn’t like the Spider. She never did. If I were to…I…”

            “I never told,” Peter B said softly, his gaze far away. “I don’t blame you for not telling, not really…”

            The thought suddenly hit Jeff that Pete was scared. He was scared of how his aunt would react, scared of what she would say. In a way he understood, not only was Pete a vigilante, he was also…cursed. At the same time, that woman had loved and raised him.

            “That’s up to you, bud,” Porker said, his voice soft and almost apologetic. “Frankly, I never told mine either. She’s…a little nutty. I think the shock would kill her.”

            Jeff found himself looking at his own son, his eyebrows pinching, and hoping that Miles would come to him with his secrets, would trust Jeff to love him enough to work through anything. As it was, it wasn’t his kid, and apparently secrets were common among the vigilante crowd. With Pete…he even figured he understood why Pete would be so hesitant.

            “We’re here,” Pete said finally, and began jimmying what sounded like a window. A moment later and he spilled into a room that didn’t echo at all like the others did, but Pete’s footsteps sounded wet. “Oh…” Pete managed softly.

            “What’s wrong?” Jeff asked.

            “It’s nothing. Not really. Just…the icebox melted. It was left open. The floor’s wet.” He took a few more steps, splashing evident.

            “Icebox?” Peni asked.

            “It’s…” Pete hesitated on his explanation, falling silent. There were a few more steps, and then he let out a shuddering breath. “That’s black,” he finally said softly. “That’s black, it’s not…” he trailed off again, walking further into the house, the sound of wet tile traded for wet carpet.

            “Pete, what do you mean? What’s black?” Porker asked. Pete ignored him, just kept walking

            It was as they got closer to whatever Pete was walking towards that Jeff realized he could hear flies buzzing. Black, what on earth was…

            Black as blood, Pete had said. Pete’s blood was black.

            The carpets were wet.

            Flies.

            Pete fell to his knees suddenly, making a quiet sound, the flies buzzing more as they were disturbed.

            “They didn’t remove the bodies,” Pete said, his voice quiet. “Martha and Billy are still here.”

            “Pete, I want you to get away from there,” Rio said, her voice serious, her eyebrows pinching, worry bright in her eyes. “They’ve been decomposing for two days, you don’t…you don’t need to see that…”

            “It’s alright, Rio,” Pete said, his voice still that hollow sort of quiet. “I’ve seen worse.”

            “It’s not a matter of seeing worse, it’s the fact that they were close to you,” Rio retorted, her expression a desperate sort of sadness. “We never treat family members in hospitals, our emotional connections are too much…Pete, it’s not wrong to retreat.”

            “There’s nothing to retreat from,” Pete answered. “We all die. Everyone dies. And I’ve seen enough people get eaten that there’s nothing new to be seen. The only thing different are the approaches. Though…you know what’s funny?” Pete asked, and there was the slightest hint of a laugh in his voice, the slightest hint of something broken. “The things…the things like Curt…they can’t eat them properly. Their jaws are so filled with teeth, so contorted that the most they can do is tear apart the flesh. So, you’ll find a limb over here, and a limb over there, bits of internal organs strewn across…but they can’t really feed.”

            Jeff was suddenly hit by a vivid image of two bodies torn asunder, flies on the exposed parts of the flesh, maggots beginning to feed, crawling over organs and soft tissue. The feeling of Miles pressing into him caused him to cup his son’s head, pressing it into his chest, holding him there. Pete was so used to this. He was so used to this that he’d catalogued a pattern, something that Jeff would have used to identify a serial killer. Only this was no human monster, no despicable dreg of humanity.

            This was the product of fear and desperation turned on its head. This was the ultimate fate of the people that wanted, more than anything, to feed and help their families. People that were scared. People that had no hope. Victims of a nameless and formless god that they likely never expected to hear their screams.

            Jeff couldn’t imagine living like this.

             “There’s one other thing that’s odd,” Pete continued, drawing Jeff’s attention back, even though he wished he could ignore it. “They never eat the head. I don’t know why. Maybe the skull is something they can’t crush, or maybe…maybe they get such a good look at the faces of their loved ones that even their current state can’t stop the shame from building up deep inside…”

            Jeff wondered how often Pete pictured doing that exact thing. How often he thought of that aunt of his, of looking down at her face from whatever small corner of his mind that was still his and being driven to such terrible agony and horror that it broke through enough to make him run.

            He wondered if Pete thought of that with them.

            “Either way…” Pete hummed, “it’s funny to me that even if they are finally granted a boon from the gods the only thing they get is more desperation and more pain, because eventually… Eventually they’re just going to starve to death. It’s an ironic kind of kiss-off.” There was silence for a moment, and they heard the rustle of his coat as he did something. Looked around, maybe. “I can’t do anything for them,” he finally said, and stood up. “I’m going to grab my file and go. The longer I stay here the more likely it is that I’ll get caught…”

            “What will they do if that happens?” Jeff asked, mustering up the will to ask, the others having fallen silent, lost in their own thoughts. He should have sent the kids home; he should have sent Miles to his room. He should have known that Pete’s world would have been this rough. He hadn’t been thinking, and now it felt like it was too late. Peter B dropped to the ground suddenly, surprising him, but when he went over to the couch and picked up Peni and Gwen, and by default Porker, and placed them all on his lap, squeezing them tightly, he understood.

            All of them needed a hug when dealing with something like this.

            “They might blame me,” Pete answered over the sound of him climbing up the wall.

            “But how could they blame you?” Rio asked. “They’ve been decomposing for days; they should know upon sight that there was no way you could have killed them.”

            “It’s not like you have the teeth for that kind of mess, too,” Porker added.

            “I wear a mask,” Pete countered, and there was a pause. “As for the signs of decomposition…I’m not sure that will really stop them. It depends on who’s got the most leverage, and at the moment, I don’t have any. Particularly based on where I am.” He trailed off again, and there was the sound of scraping before something was removed, a false part of the wall perhaps… Either way, Pete finally spoke again as he got what he was after. “Wherever I go the wind follows, and the wind smells like rain… That in and of itself marks me for what I am. No one in my world would miss the significance.”

            “That’s why you said that when we first found you,” Peni said, her eyes wide, shock in her expression, the other Spiders gaining a similarly amazed expression. “You were…you were warning us, seeing how we’d react…”

            “I was,” Pete agreed. He paused. “I also may have thought it was a good line…”

            The laughter that bubbled up then was startled and thankful and real, a nice reprieve from everything else. Pete hummed thoughtfully.

            “This is it…” he said, taking  the file with a rustle of pages.

            “Is it something you can use?” Rio asked. “It has…well, information of what changed you, doesn’t it? About your…biology?”

            Pete was quiet for a moment as he slipped the folder into one of his many pockets and dropped to the ground, feet squishing on the wet carpet. “My biology is constantly changing,” he finally said softly. “I said before that the only way to be sure you had a clear understanding of my biology, of what I was and what was happening to me, would be when I was dead. Because once I’m dead there’s no more changes. No more taking of my soul, no more tearing my body apart to give it some other feature… Static. Until that point, though, the folder just contains a record of what has been done to me. It’s helpful as that, but not much else.”

            “It’s already out of date, isn’t it?” Peter B asked, his voice echoing a quiet sort of realization. “Because of your eyes…it doesn’t reflect that.”

            “Exactly,” Pete agreed. “Though it does have a good idea of my healing.” He paused. “You know…it might be for the best that they haven’t gotten here yet,” Pete said thoughtfully. “I might have a better chance of making sure they don’t connect me with them. Curt kept a journal, I think Martha did, too…”

            “Pete…” Jeff started. “If you’re worried about leaving traces…” He hesitated, thinking. “You wear gloves all the time, don’t you?”

            “Yes,” Pete agreed. “I leave no hair, no fingerprints, and the boots are custom. I know how to go in and out of places undetected.” He was quiet for a moment. “The roof is partially collapsed. I forgot…well, I didn’t notice how Curt got out. I just ran. It’s been raining. Everything in the living room is soaked.

            “So, you’re not leaving footprints going up the wall, then,” Jeff clarified, a slight smile on his face.

            “No,” Pete answered. “I get rid of traces like that.” He went further into the house, a door opening.

            “He collapsed the roof?” Rio asked finally. “And you just ran?” there was a slight hint of tease in her voice, forcefully injected. Jeff could see her eyes, see the way they darted, the way her eyebrows pinched together in worry, the lines around her mouth.

            “I’m not sure if you’ve ever walked in on a three-meter-tall lizard with teeth bigger than your head crouching over the dead remains of people thknew, but running is usually the best course of action.”

            Jeff reflected that while Pete’s natural tendency to go for the throat was justified in most circumstances, there were times when it could be qualified as not just overkill but damn hurtful. Rio flinched at the statement, and Jeff immediately gripped her shoulder, surprised, but yet gratified to see Peter B immediately put the watch on mute and turn to Jeff’s wife with his mouth pulled into a frown“I’m sorry,” Peter B said. “I can’t really apologize for him, but he’s…I don’t even think he’s aware.”

            “I know he’s not,” Rio replied with a sad smile. “He doesn’t mean anything by it. I just wish he came from a world where he didn’t have to have his defenses that high.”

            Peter B gave her a slightly rueful grin, shrugging slightly.

            “I’m sorry, Martha…” Pete suddenly said under his breath, and there was the sound of something being picked up, the rustle of pages, and Jeff came to realize that he was looking through her diary. There was the soft sound of Pete humming a quiet tune under his breath as he flicked through it, and Jeff came to realize that he knew that sound. He made a sign to Peter B, who immediately unmuted.

            “Pete…is that Cab Calloway?” Jeff asked.

            “…Yes,” Pete finally answered, pausing in his flicking of pages. “You…you’re familiar with Calloway?”

            “He’s one of the greats.” Jeff grinned; amusement bright on his face. “He’s one of my favorites from that era.”

            “My era?” Pete asked, something almost teasing in his voice. Jeff allowed himself to laugh.

            “Yes, your era, kid. I didn’t even think of that…man, you have to have a lot of good music and literature going on. You hang around Harlem ever?” Jeff asked, and for once he actually felt like there was a common ground he could work with. Maybe with this, a little conversation about jazz and music…maybe there was a bridge that could be built here.

            “’Course,” Pete answered, seemingly interested in the conversation. “I go where I’m needed and Harlem’s one of those places. Granted, I don’t go there that often because I’m…” Pete hesitated. “Trying not to tread on toes. Luke Cage operates out of Harlem mostly, and I only go when asked.”

            “Luke Cage?” Peter B asked, his voice full of recognition, a grin on his face. “You know him?”

            “In passing,” Pete answered, and he had begun flicking through pages again, but he had obviously not checked out of the conversation as he continued. “It’s hard to know anybody if the requirement is to give away your soul.” There was a pause as he huffed a sigh, and Jeff found himself closing his eyes against the reminder. “But to answer the original question, yes I go to Harlem. When I was…human, I went more. I had friends there…”

            “I’ll be damned…you a jazz fan then?” Jeff asked, rallying as well as he could.

            “I like it, yes,” Pete answered. “I obviously can’t listen to it much because of the amount of people that it attracts and also because I…” Pete trailed off, the pages stopping their hypnotic flicking.

            “Pete…” Rio finally asked, after the silence grew too long. “Pete, what’s wrong?”

            “’It’s a shame about the poor, absolutely wretched dear, about what we have to do, but it must be done…’” Pete said, or…perhaps read, his voice quiet, almost lilting. “’Sometimes I find myself feeling pity, but then I remind myself that it isn’t human. I wish that Billy hadn’t taken a liking to it, but I think it is Billy that it has the most fondness for, as much as the thought fills me with dread…’”

             Oh…oh no… Oh no.

            The diary was flicked through more, a diary Jeff recognized as Martha’s, before finally being closed with a snap. There was the rustling of pockets and Jeff came to realize that he had put it in his coat, and then another book was picked up and opened. Pages were flicked through in dread-soaked silence.

            “’There is no doubt that the curse has changed the subject’s body as well as its soul, its body gaining an ability to heal beyond anything I have ever seen. If I could but find a way to unlock the secret… Injecting its…’” Pete hesitated, taking a rattling breath, before continuing in a low hiss, “’injecting its blood into my own veins has produced no connection to the beyond, no ability to heal, nothing that would come of the old writings of alchemy. As such, it is impossible to connect with its patron this way.’”

Jeff felt like he was listening to a dispatch call that he couldn’t get to in time. He had never felt more helpless, had never felt more ill equipped. Jeff closed his eyes, feeling the way Miles squeezed him tighter, Rio immediately pressing into him. When he finally opened his eyes, he found Peter B cuddling the other three close, so close, Gwen’s and Peni’s eyes filled with bitter and angry tears, Porker hugged tight in-between, his own blue eyes so sad, and at the same time so angry. Peter B was staring straight ahead, his jaw locked, a muscle twitching.

            Jeff idly reflected, in the small corner of his brain that wasn’t devoted to horror at what Pete was saying, that he had never seen the other man so obviously angry.

            “’I will have to choose another route, more direct,’” Pete’s voice continued, a biting sharpness to his tone. “’I will have to contact them myself. Now, quite obviously the detrimental qualities to its transformation are many. The pain it has spoken of is not to be ignored, nor is the fact that a bit of its soul is taken for every single transaction of power. But there is also no doubt that the Thing-That-Was Peter Parker belongs to a cast of…undesirables. It is likely that what is happening is nothing more, and nothing less than a matter of…’” Pete’s voice sank lower, a rattling hiss leaving him as he hissed out, “’inferior breeding and genetics.’”

            Jeff closed his eyes once again, tilting his head back.

            A laugh slowly rumbled then, hollow, biting, and so, so bitter. Jeff had never heard a sound that was supposed to hold joy hold that much hate.

            “I guess they had my number all along, I guess they wouldn’t dare do what they did without making sure that I…that they knew…” Pete managed finally, biting the words out between that ugly, vile laughter. “Fucking figures… It figures that when I actually start to…” he trailed off, and didn’t continue, the creak of a leather-backed book being squeezed filling their ears, before he seemed to stop.

            ‘Inferior breeding.’ What a fucking nightmare. This was a nightmare. This was a tragedy of the worst kind, the kind that sunk into your bones and left you miserable for days afterwards. A slow train wreck that you couldn’t look away from.

            “Pete…” Peter B started, his voice so quiet, so broken. “Pete, I’m sor-“

            “Save it,” Pete snapped, and put them on mute.

            “He trusted them,” Porker said, after the silence once again grew long, after hearing Pete collect the diary and then go elsewhere in the house, wet footfalls and creaking doors the only sign of his passage, followed by more paper, and finally by the sound of that paper being ripped to shreds. “He trusted them, and they… How could they betray that? How could they? It doesn’t even seem to be about desperation… Injecting his blood…?”

            “I bet it still was about desperation,” Jeff said softly. “The only thing is… it was desperation mixed with entitlement. Desperation mixed with that awful thing that allows you to hurt someone else and justify it to yourself. Calling him inhuman, referring to him as ‘it’…it allows you to distance yourself from what you’re doing. If you convince yourself that it’s just a thing, then there’s absolutely no reason not to betray that. Who cares, after all… It’s not like it has got an actual soul, or emotions, or its thoughts actually matter. It’s that far beneath you.”

            “They knew he had a soul, though,” Peni whispered. “He gave it for them.”

            Jeff closed his eyes, bowing his head low. “He did,” Jeff agreed, carefully putting his hand on her head, feeling her press into it. “He did.”

            “I’m going to take you to one other place,” Pete finally said, his voice biting. “One more place… You can decide what you want to do after that I…” Pete’s voice trailed off, “I don’t care anymore."

            “I know what I want to do,” Rio said, taking Jeff’s hand in hers, holding it so tightly. “I know what I want to do…”

            Pete ran in silence, climbing, and jumping, and swinging. They could track the quality of the neighborhoods by the voices that started to talk, ignoring the curfew. The more affluent the neighborhood, the more people congregated. Jeff felt a pit open up in his stomach at the idea of Pete swinging across the Hoovervilles, the Bowery, all of the pain, all of the death that he saw on a regular basis and then coming to these places of glitz and glam and decadence. Jeff had to figure that it was lucky Pete wasn’t more bitter than he was. He could see that dynamite being put to another use, which reminded him that he really needed to figure out what it was for…

            Pete didn’t strike him as the terrorist sort, but what on earth could he possibly want it for?

            Pete finally stopped running, and Jeff could tell that he had wandered into a poorer neighborhood due to the fact that there was no sound. All the voices had ceased.

            “Here it is, folks, the moment you’ve been waiting for, the ultimate cumulation of your being…” Pete said, his voice affecting that of an announcer at an auction, or perhaps that of a stage manager. “Come one, come all, to the Manhattan Freak Show.” The sound of a tent flap being thrown open rustled in the air like batwings flying off into the night, and Pete stepped forward into a deadened sort of silence.

            “A freak show?” Peni repeated. “What’s that?”

            “A remnant of times past, when dehumanization became entertainment, and you could stick a bearded woman in front of a group of people to get heckled and laughed at,” Peter B said, his voice quiet. “I’ve only heard of one freak show that was decent, and that was because the people involved were there by choice and had an equal cut in their performances. It was also formed more recently, when laws and regulations could be put into better effect. But with Pete’s time…”

            “Step right up, step right up,” Pete hummed, interrupting unintentionally, and jumping up onto a raised platform. “View the monsters of your nightmares,” Pete’s coat rustled, and Jeff had an image of him spreading his arms to an imaginary audience. “See the beings that lurk in the dark and in the beyond, far beyond our touch, but there. Always watching. Always waiting. The inescapable, formless beyond…” There was an element of recitation to Pete’s voice, something that spoke of multiple viewings, and a long memory.

            What had Pete seen?

            “This one, I’m sure you all will have noticed, is formed in the likeness of those awful terrors, the mighty squid of the deep…” he walked towards something, tapping against a glass case that echoed hollowly. “With its eight tentacles and terrifying beak, it is obviously a horrible sight. But you know what this once was? This…was once a man, like you or I, he paid his taxes, loved his wife, and had two beautiful children, that he loved as much as life itself.”

            Jeff could hear the sound of Pete’s hand running across the glass, the tap of his boots in that horrible silence that seemed to deaden them, deaden his voice. He could also see the man in his mind’s eye, a man that came home from work to catch two children that threw themselves at him, laughter and joy in their voices, a wife that kissed his jaw and was always happy to see him, even when they fought. 

            “Then he lost his job… And the bills came in, and the jobs were few and far between, and he couldn’t pay, and eventually…he couldn’t feed his family. His poor, beautiful family, that was starving, and looking up to him to save them. So, he reached, and in his desperation… He landed himself some beautiful suckers and tore apart the family he had loved so dearly.” Pete gave a soft laugh that sent shivers up Jeff’s spine, his head bowing, his arms wrapping around Miles and Rio so tight. “Needless to say…he no longer had a family to feed…”

            The crack made Jeff flinch.

            Pete almost skipped over to another part of the room, boots tapping out an irregular rhythm. Another case was skimmed over, his gloves squealing against the glass.

            “And this one, oh, this one is a true tragedy, folks…” He turned, projecting his voice out to the audience that was, and was not imaginary. “This one, as you can see, has the wings of a bird, and the beak and feathers to go with it. It’s a beautiful specimen… The wingspan, the iridescent feathers, the beautiful pewter of its beak…”

            There was something about hearing Pete call something an ‘it’ that hurt deep in Jeff’s soul, and that was the moment when he realized that this…was a recitation. This was a show, one that Pete had listened to enough that he could recite from memory. Another thing that Pete had been around so long that it was seen as an inevitable.

            Pete had said that if the bodies were too ruined, they were burned to ashes. Jeff bet that the ones that weren’t were brought to the Freak Show.

 “It’s a shame, of course, that it killed thirteen people before it was eventually put down. Can you imagine the horror and the shock of the people that realized that this horrible creature… Was once a seven-year-old girl named Marsha?” 

            “Seven…” Rio whispered.

            “That’s right, you heard it here first, ladies and gentlemen…Marsha was just seven years old when her father lost his job, throwing her life into a downward spiral of pain and poverty. Her father took to drink, her mom took to despair, and poor Marsha…beautiful, desperate Marsha… Wished for nothing more than to escape everything, all the pain, all the fear, all the hurt…” Pete’s voice was sing-song and deliberate, full of false pauses and wrong emphasis. Fake and awful and wrong. “So, she wished, and she wished…and what answered her wasn’t some beautiful star in the sky. Wasn’t some benevolent being of light… It was a god of death and hate. She got to escape, alright, but before she did that, she tore her mother and father to shreds, scattered their pieces, and flew into the sky.”

            Misery on top of misery on top of misery. Pete moved to another glass case.

            “And this one, folks…oh this one’s a rare treat,” he tapped the surface, once, twice, three times. “This one is something that may or may not have ever been a man. This one is something that held New York under their spell for years. A man that killed men, women, and children, all in the name of the highest bidder. A man that was known as Norman Osborn but was actually the Goblin.” A vicious shriek of leather on glass followed, as though Pete had clawed it. “He ordered the deaths of hundreds, kept the city in an iron fist. But the question is…how can someone so monstrous, someone who came from a Freak Show in his youth, someone with no real connection…gain so much power and so much control?”

            There was a pause, as though waiting for them to make a guess at an answer, but they were still on mute. Pete hummed quietly, drumming his fingers on the glass.

            “Have you guessed the awful truth?” Pete asked no one. “Have you guessed what allows a man to grow up with scales, what gives them silver eyes with no iris, what gives them lipless mouths and awful strength?” He gave a slow rumbling chuckle and finally, quietly, his voice rolling, no longer using the announcer’s tone he had been using. “No one else knows, but I’ve seen things. In my connection to the Void, I am granted knowledge beyond most men, and so I grant it to you: he was only half-human. The product of a mating between a monster and a human woman.”

            Rio made a low sound, a sound of horror, Peni and Gwen both hugging Peter B so tight, Porker huddling them both close. Miles pressed tighter against Jeff’s chest, as though trying to burrow under his very ribs. Jeff engulfed his son and his wife both in his hold, trying to help them do so.

            “This isn’t as uncommon as you’d believe, and in fact extends to this thing in this case. A terrible wretch that gained the appetite for human flesh, that was ordered to consume Osborn’s enemies. Teeth as long as an inch, with the claws to match, a monster in a vaguely human shape,” Pete’s voice was filled with hate, leather creaking as he balled his hands into fists, his tone a hissing, spitting thing, so low, so angry. “And someone I shot.” *TAP* “Three.” *TAP* “Times.” *TAP* “The Vulture. The one who ate my uncle and was going to kill my aunt.”

            Pete turned, his coat swishing out around him at the abrupt movement, walking back into the middle of the platform.

            “The Manhattan Freak Show. The ultimate fate of anything that isn’t too destroyed, preserved, stuffed, and displayed before crowds of rich dandies. But even they, in all of their distance and their pride and their decadence…never come here at night.” Pete let his voice trail off, quiet.

            “Those poor people,” Peni whispered. “Those poor people…they didn’t…they didn’t know what they were doing,” she hiccupped.

            “They just wanted to escape from what was happening to them,” Gwen added, turning to press her face into Peter’s chest. “And those monsters! The things that aren’t even fully human…how awful. How awful…”

            “He shot him three times…” Miles whispered. “He must have been so scared. So angry…”

            “There’s twenty here,” Pete finally said, interrupting their quiet contemplation, “twenty bodies, not counting the fourteen I obliterated. Throwing dynamite down their throats solves a lot of problems that not even bullets can.”

            Oh. That’s what Pete used the dynamite for, Jeff thought to himself idly, numb.

            “All of them with some sob story all their own, all of them with agony in life, and agony in death. All of them treated like the monsters they actually are.”

            “Like the monster I am,” Pete whispered, his voice strangely loud in the deadened silence. “This is how it always ends. Two fates. Burning, or display. This is what waits for me and all that know and love me. It happened to them, there’s no reason it can’t and won’t happen to me.”

            Jeff closed his eyes, heaving in a heavy breath, his head bowing.

            “So now you know,” Pete said, stepping off the platform. “Now you know the fate of the poor bastards in my world. Now you know what they do to the ones that stay intact. Now you know what awaits me.” Pete was silent for another moment, the only sound his breathing. “I’ll give you a minute to decide what you’re going to do, and then I’m going to hang up and your decision will stand. No matter what you decide.”

            “So now…”

            “Choose.” 

Chapter Text

            Jeff could think of nothing to say.

          In the wake of such horror, what was there to say? Jeff needed to gather his thoughts, he needed to…

          “Oniichan,” Peni whispered, her voice so soft, so broken, tears streaming down her face, large, almost bubbled tears, so many, so many… “Oniichan, please…please, please…” the spider that was still perching in her hair began tapping against her scalp rhythmically with…whatever those front little legs were called. She wound up picking it up in her hands and almost cradling it, and while on one hand, Jeff very much thought that was weird, it was obviously trying to help.

          “We need time,” Jeff said, when it became apparent she wasn’t going to stop anytime soon, her tears turning into hiccupping sobs, even as the spider kept up its tapping on her hands, and then on her face, being careful of her tears. “We need more time, just…give us a moment, please.” 

          “You have ten minutes. I’ll call you back then,” Pete agreed, and hung up.

          There was an immediate rush to hold or otherwise comfort Peni, shushing her gently, carefully avoiding her spider, that churred in a way that might have been comforting and might have been pleased.

          “It’s not fair, it’s not fair, it’s not fair,” she whimpered. “He can’t be alone; we can’t leave him alone!”

          “Pete…” Peter started, his voice quiet, “He’s going to be on his own sometimes, Peni…”

          “No! No, then it… then it will take him over, then it will hurt him, we can’t, we can’t…” Peni sobbed, the spider rocked back and forth, soothingly, rhythmically, and Jeff had a thought that if it could hum it would.

          “Peni,” Peter said, putting his hands on her face, brushing her tears out of the way with his thumbs, “Sometimes, Peni. Sometimes. He can’t be around us every hour of every day. But I agree. We…we can’t just leave him to that. We can’t just…” He paused, his head bowing. “I can’t. I can’t force that decision onto you…”

          “Nuh-uh!” Porker said, waving a finger. “You’re right, we can’t, as in I’m going to help you every step of the way. You’re not alone anymore. It’s about time that Pete realizes that, too, and we’re going to be the ones to teach him.”

          “I’ll help, too,” Gwen said, her voice firm, her eyes flashing even past the tears. “He can’t…I can’t leave him to that. I can’t.”

          “He’s my oniichan,” Peni whispered, wiping her eyes. “I can’t…”

          “Alright,” Peter agreed, taking a breath, “But I can’t ask either of you…”

          “I’m in this,” Jeff said, his voice holding a firmness to it that he hadn’t expected, but as he said it… 

          Jeff had many regrets. The biggest regret was what had happened between him and his brother. Jeff had turned his back on him, disowned him in a way that had left his brother without the support and lifeline he had had. Jeff sometimes wondered if that was what had made him spiral so far down to the point where he eventually ended up in Kingpin’s services. If Jeff had supported him more, if he had stood up for him no matter the difficulty, no matter the hardship…

          Maybe Aaron would be alive today. Maybe things would have turned out different. Maybe his brother wouldn’t have made those choices… And maybe he still would have. There wasn’t much that had stopped him.

          Not even Aaron’s love of Miles had been enough.

          Now that Jeff was given another opportunity, where the choice was turn his back, or stand with someone no matter the consequence, particularly when it might stave off the very thing that Pete was becoming… Particularly when they might literally be the difference between life and death, and ultimately…

          Even if Pete did turn, even if the worst did occur… They would be able to rescue his body and give him a proper burial. They’d be able to save him from being an exhibit.

          And Jeff would know he had done all he could.

          “I’m in this, too,” Rio said, putting her hand on his. “We can’t…I can’t walk away from this. Pete…he needs help. He needs help, not for us to turn our backs, and I can’t…I can’t do that to him. I…” Rio shook her head. “I don’t think I could live with myself. Not when…I’ve seen people that have. People that have come to see an estranged family member that’s sick or dying. In those moments…there’s only regret. I can’t live like that. I know…I know how much it hurts…” Rio’s hand tightened her hold around his, and Jeff closed his eyes, bowing his head. “I don’t…I don’t know how I feel about Miles, but…”

          “No!” Miles called out, his voice firm, his eyes flashing, even past the visible redness. “You can’t shut me out! Not when…not after all this! You raised me with better values than that, you raised me with…I can’t, I won’t. He needs help and all the help he can get and…” Miles hesitated, rubbing his face, wiping away tears. “I had fun…I had fun with him, I liked him. I wanted to be friends, and I still…I still never showed him the photos I picked out for him, and we were going to work on colors, and…”

          “De acuerdo,” Rio said, kissing his forehead gently, “De acuerdo, Miles, tú también.”

          Jeff held him tightly, pressing his own kiss to his temple. “I’m proud of you,” he whispered into his son’s ear. Miles blinked, before pressing himself tighter to him.

          “Alright,” Peter said, a smile on his face. “I guess that’s our answer then.”

          The spider began cheering. Jeff couldn’t decide if that was cute or terrifying.

          “I need to remake his goober,” Peni whispered, her voice broken.

          “What do you mean, Peni?” Porker asked.

          “I was planning to…when we had contact with him,” Peni answered, wiping her eyes. “His goober will stand out as it is, it needs to be remade, if only coated with external parts to disguise the interior.”

          “He asked for a do not disturb feature,” Peter said.

          “But what if he never comes back?” Peni shouted. “What if I give him that and he never comes back? It…it’ll be my fault, and…”

          “No, no, hush…” Peter said, petting her gently, pulling her close. “It won’t be your fault, no one would blame you. Pete makes his own choices and we’d recognize that. It would never be your fault. But what if someone accidentally calls him and he’s in the middle of a case, or facing one of those monsters? If that happens…then he could die, Peni. It’s a very practical request, and it wouldn’t be for running, it would just be for safety.”

          Peni wiped her eyes, sniffing, before finally nodding. “Okay,” she said. “Okay, I’ll make one…”

          Porker pressed a swift kiss to her forehead, careful to avoid the Spider, making Peni blink, before throwing her arms around the pig and holding him tight. The sudden chime of Peter’s watch made them separate, all of them doing their best to wipe their eyes and regain some composure before Peter answered.

          “Well?” Pete asked, his voice almost toneless. It had the same amount of space, though, in the way it sounded, that made Jeff realize that Pete hadn’t left the Freak Show. “What’s your decision?”

          “Sweetie,” Rio started, clearing her throat as it cracked. “If you think for one second all that would scare us away…you’ve got another thing coming.”

          “Yeah!” Peni called out. “You’re my oniichan,” she sniffed. “I could never leave you. I love you.”

          “I have to show you more colors, I even looked up the history of television for you,” Miles added. “I’ve got so much to show you, man!”

          “I lost one best friend,” Gwen said, her voice soft, but still clear. “I refuse to lose another.”

          “You’re stuck with us,” Peter said, shrugging even though Pete couldn’t see it.

          “We’re with you until the end, bucko,” Porker affirmed. “And if that means it ends like you fear…well…”

          “We’ll steal your body,” Jeff said, his voice firm. “We’ll steal you back and put you to rest. You won’t end up like that.”

          There was silence for a very long moment.

          “Copper wants to steal…” Pete finally hummed softly.

          “If it means you’re properly put to rest and treated with the respect and dignity you deserve…yes,” Jeff insisted. “You shouldn’t…you shouldn’t fear that. It’s sick and it’s wrong, no matter what those people did, they…they were just wanting to help. It isn’t their fault.” Jeff paused, his head lowering. “It wouldn’t be yours either.”

          There was a longer silence, before suddenly a portal opened up, and Pete tumbled out of it.

          Everyone stood up at once, moving towards him, but he scuttled back and away from their press, right in the farthest corner of the room and perched there. He waited for a moment, making sure that they weren’t going to come for him again, probably, and finally spoke.

          “If you’re really going to do this…if you really want me to stick around, then I have to show you how to find it.” He looked out the window at the sun that was just starting to set. “Grab the Davis-Morales family, we have to swing. Get ready. I don’t know who has to carry who, but you can decide.” 

          “I need to get SP//dr!” Peni cried out, and opened her own portal, jumping through. Gwen, who was not at all dressed in appropriate wear for swinging immediately leapt through her own portal, Porker, and Peter both giving out quiet curses before also leaping through to get changed.

          Soon, it was just them and Pete. For a moment there was silence, Pete still wedged into the corner. Jeff didn’t know what to say, and then Rio gave a soft sniffle, wiping at her eyes. Pete’s attention shot to her immediately, and then shot to Miles’ and then…he slowly crawled down the wall, his expression hidden by that mask.

          “What’s wrong?” he asked.

          What’s wrong…? What’s wrong…?

          “I think, sweetie,” Rio said softly. “What’s wrong is…well…”

          “Your world sucks,” Miles interrupted, earning himself a hissed,

          “Miles!” from both Jeff, and Rio.

          “It’s where I’m from,” Pete said, his voice mild. Miles flinched at the statement. “You’re not completely wrong,” Pete finally finished quietly. “Your world…it’s got something I never expected to see again.”

          “What’s that?” Rio asked.

          “Hope,” Pete answered, in what would have been such a cheesy statement…if it wasn’t for the fact that Jeff had been listening to Pete’s world. Pete was right. His world lived without hope. Pete fighting day after day wasn’t so much hope as it was its own brand of stubbornness, Jeff thought. One last ‘fuck you’ to the gods that preyed upon it, and ultimately Pete himself.

          The others began jumping back through before he could respond, Peni’s mech careful in how she arrived. Soon they were all there in full costume. In a way it was a bit intimidating, honestly, even though he knew all the people under the mask.

          “Alright, who’s carrying who?” Porker asked, “I volunteer for Miles!”

          “Are you able to…well, to hold him securely?” Jeff asked, looking from the much shorter pig to his son. Porker rolled his eyes expansively, taking a few steps over to Miles.

          “Sure!” he called out, reaching one arm out….and reaching, and reaching, and finally taking that expanse and wrapping it around Miles’ carefully, literally tying it in a bow around him to hold him steady. “Ta-da!” he cried out.

          Miles looked somewhere between amazed, amused, and mildly fearful. “Can someone else carry me?" he asked.

          “I got it,” Gwen said. “You’re gonna have to piggyback, if that’s alright?”

          “What’s a piggyback?” Porker asked, frowning, even as he literally untied his arm, which snapped back to his side. There was a moment of awkward silence before Gwen moved into position, and Miles clambered up, Gwen hopping him more securely into position as his arms wrapped around her shoulders. Porker took one long silent look while his ears drooped lower and lower and his head tilted back farther and farther, before finally. “That is…highly inappropriate.”

          “Wo~ah!” Miles shouted out, hopping off immediately, Gwen launching herself across the room to stick against the wall, their hands coming up.

          “Why’d you have to say that?” Gwen yelled out.

          Peter burst out laughing, which started Peni off in her own series of mechanical-sounding giggles, which was somewhere between odd and amusing to watch as the robot moved to reflect a little girl ducking and covering her mouth as she laughed. It made Jeff smile, and Rio finally laughed herself. Porker pouted, crossing his arms.

          “Well it is!” he called out, stomping his hoof. “How would you feel if I called it a peopleback?”

          Peter wheezed, covering his face with his hands.

          “We don’t have time for this,” Pete said finally, voice sharp and pointed, a hiss building. “I don’t have time for this. Pair up, I don’t care with what or how.” Pete moved to the window and threw it open. “Catch up,” he said, and dove out.

          “Shit!” Peter shouted, “Jeff with me, Rio with Peni, Miles with Gwen, Porker after him!” Jeff immediately moved over as Porker jumped out after Pete, and Peter moved towards the window, climbing out and sticking just outside of it. Jeff hesitated when Peter indicated that he climb onto his back, before shrugging mentally and grabbing on. How else was the man supposed to swing after the whirling dervish that was Pete with only one arm? After making sure that he was situated, Peter leapt from the window, Peni taking his place a second afterwards, Rio grabbing hold of some struts that appeared and locked her in place against the body of the mech. Gwen was once again carrying Miles.

          Jeff decided he did not much like webslinging. While he was thankful Peter had used a bit of webbing to keep him locked in place, it was still not much fun to have the terrible stomach-dropping feeling of falling to his death, suddenly interposed with the stomach-rolling feeling of ascent. While Peter did his best to keep them mostly level and checked with him periodically to maksure he was still alright, it was still cold, it was still windy, and he wished he had grabbed a coat.

          How the hell did Peter do this kind of thing in spandex?

          Pete lead them to the middle of Times Square, which surprised him at first, particularly when he landed on one of the taller buildings and stood there still. Peter removed the webbing with a solvent he plucked from inside his glove and carefully made sure Jeff could stand on his own two feet before letting go of him, which was definitely something Jeff appreciated. Porker was already standing there with his hands on his hips.

          “-and another thing,” the pig was saying, looking up at Pete with his eye-lenses narrowed in a glare. “You can’t just expect for people that have never web swung before to do it without a coat! It’s cold and it’s windy, they’re not used to that! You wear one, how’s it right for them to wear less?”

          “You lot wear spandex,” Pete answered, looking at the pig with an almost bemused glance, even with the goggles covering his eyes. “I didn’t realize that was a Spider thing. I don’t…carry people. I didn’t know.”

Porker visibly deflated, rubbing his face, and sighing. “That’s fair, kid. I’m sorry for snapping. But now you know. First rule, make sure they get a coat.”

         Pete looked at Jeff, and then glanced over at Rio, whose hair was a disheveled mess, and Miles, who had the wind-swept look that Jeff figured he had as well. Jeff immediately went over to huddle with Rio and Miles, the wind racing across the building at this height almost cutting. Peni’s SP//dr moved forward, positioning itself to block most of the wind, which was a big help.

          For a moment Pete did nothing, and then he took three large and decisive steps over, swinging his own coat off of his shoulders and wrapping it around them, Jeff instinctively grasping the edges.

          “Thank you,” he said, almost missing his son’s surprised gasp, and the way Rio took hold of it as well, her fingers almost reverent as they carefully ran along the inseam.

          “I’m sorry,” Pete said, actively looking in the other direction. “I didn’t think about it.”

          “It’s alright,” Rio said, and Pete gave them a harsh jerk of a nod, before walking towards the edge. He stood there for a moment, his head tilted.

          “Are you sure it’s here?” Peni asked. “None of my sensors can pinpoint it,” she said.

          Pete turned to look at her in what seemed to be surprise, before asking, “How wide of a range do you have?”

          “At the widest my SP//dr picks up anything in a 400-meter radius,” Peni answered, her voice proud. “It helps to make sure no one can sneak up on us.”

          Pete frowned, looking over at a building less than a city-block away and then back to Peni. “I don’t think your sensors can pick it up, Peni,” he said.

          Jeff felt his stomach drop.

          Peni’s sensors had been one of the things that had initially assured them that the thing had gone. If she couldn’t pick it up, then how…?

          “Regular humans can sense them,” Pete said. “I’ve seen it before, so I know it can happen. I’m not sure how much easier it is with spidersense, though I will say I think the fact that we’re constantly on the alert for something like this…we might have a bit of an advantage. I don’t think that you have to be from my universe, but we’ll test that theory regardless.”

          “Where is it?” Peni asked, her voice shaking.

          Pete pointed to the side of the building in front of him, his other hand holding his hat to his head. “Right there,” Pete said, his voice affecting a melodic, almost rhythmic tone. “You can’t trust your eyes, they lie to you, and it hides, but you can feel it.”

          Jeff stared at where Pete was pointing, doing his best not to blink.

          “I feel it in my gut, not with my spidersense. A subtle wrongness, a feeling like you’re going to throw up, a…sickness, call it what you will. It doesn’t belong here, and when you see it, when you know that it’s there, your body rebels at the sight of it, at the feeling of it.”

          Jeff listened, and tried to reach out, tried to find what it was that Pete referred to. He tried to remember the feeling of standing in his kitchen a couple days before, staring up, up, up at something that he couldn’t see, at the feeling of Pete trying to keep it away, trying to remember if he felt anything more than fear, than confusion.

          And then he remembered.

          A snaking dread that had welled up in him, right before Pete had drawn his attention to him completely by gripping his shirt, as he stared up at something and.

          It.

          Stared.

          Back.

          Jeff felt it then, knew he was looking at it, knew it was there. Could feel it in his very marrow, could feel it in his stomach, his skin breaking out in a cold sweat that made the wind that much more biting, his eyes widening impossibly as though that would allow him to see it. He wanted to run. He wanted to scream.

          It was there. It was there. It was there.

          Jeff clung to Miles and Rio, held them both tighter, felt the urge to run and hide, to drag them with him. He knew that Miles had seen it when he gave a sound like he had been punched, and pressed back into him, into Rio, his eyes wide, and so horrified, the whites of his eyes showing all the way around his iris. Rio was next, clinging to them both, but it seemed that the Spiders were slower.

          Jeff wondered if the reason for that was because they were so used to relying on their extra sense that they had to force themselves beyond that.

          Then they finally did see it and it visibly affected them more. Gwen clasped her hands to the back of her neck, taking a physical step back, even as she hunched in what had to be pain. Peter jerked back as though struck, his hands moving forward as though to ward it away or otherwise deny it. Porker literally threw up in a way Jeff hadn’t expected, stepping away from the puddle of sick a moment later, and looking up at it with lenses that pinched in the middle, still hunched. Peni crouched low, a low moaning sound rattling through those speakers, hugging herself.

          Jeff wanted to comfort them, but found himself physically unable to move, pinned under the weight of the awful thing pressed against that building.

          “That’s it,” Pete said, his head tilting. “You can’t see it, but you’ll always know when it’s close, just by the feel.” Pete looked at them, then. “If you ever feel it when I’m not around, if you ever notice that creeping dread…you need to tell me immediately. It will have broken a blood-oath, and the consequences to that, even to that…thing, are dire.”

          Jeff held onto his family tightly, closing his eyes against it. It was too much. It was all too much.

          “We can take them home now,” Pete said. “If you need to take a moment to recover, look around you. There’s enough grounding points that it shouldn’t be hard to shake the feeling.”

          The sudden realization that Pete had brought them to Times Square because of the multitude of billboards and advertisements hit him then. Everywhere Jeff looked was another reminder of home, another reminder of what was tangible, what was… Jeff couldn’t refer to the thing as unreal. As much as he couldn’t see it…it was there, it was real. Jeff could feel it now, and he would always be able to feel it.

          For Pete to see what caused that. To not just feel but actually see… The thought was enough to give him nightmares, and Jeff focused on an ad for Kola.

          After a few minutes of staring around at all of the advertisements, at breathing the smell of the city and feeling the wind, at the feeling of his family in his arms, and the Spiders around him, Jeff no longer felt like throwing up.

          He no longer felt as though he had stared into the Void and it had stared back.      

          The Spiders, however, looked much the same, and Jeff had to wonder if it was because his world wasn’t as familiar, or if it was the fact that they were standing on their own. Pete hasn’t moved to help them, goggles and mask as impassive as ever, but his coat was still around Jeff and his family.

          “You still want to do this?” Pete asked over the wind, just as it suddenly changed direction. The sudden smell of rain washed over Jeff as it came from that building, cloying and thick, sending shudders down the length of his spine, and he felt his family press into him, huddling further down into the coat that was acting as a blanket. “This follows me wherever I go,” Pete said. “It won’t touch you, but it will be there. Are you sure you want to do this?”

          Jeff clung to his family, felt them cling to him, and then Peter walked forward. The man’s legs were shaky, and he looked visibly sick, but he still managed to walk directly up to Pete, and finally threw his arms around him.

          “We ain’t letting go, bud,” Peter whispered, the wind carrying his voice back to them. “Not even that can make us let go.”

          Jeff forced his own legs to move then, and with him his family walked, too, collecting Porker with them, and then Gwen. Peni coming up behind them, until finally they were all able to press against Pete, holding him tightly. He was stiff in their midst, until finally he bowed his head, and quietly, so quietly,

          “Okay…”

          They parted finally, and Peter once again moved to carry Jeff back, before Peni’s robot revealed two sets of struts. “I can’t carry Miles, but I have enough for two people!”

          “Why didn’t you mention that before?” Peter griped.

          “You all jumped out too fast!” Peni answered, her hands on her hips.

          “I was going after Pete,” Peter responded, Pete took that moment to dive off the building, all of them looking after him. “And there he goes again. After him!”

          Porker jumped off of the building, followed by Gwen who pulled Miles back onto her back. Jeff threw the coat that he was still holding around Rio, and they both climbed into the harnesses, which locked them tight. Peni leapt off then, and Jeff had to admit this was a bit smoother than getting there had originally been, but not by much. The swing was still the same, and due to the position, the wind was actually much worse, as there was nothing to cut it in the same way Peter’s body had done. Peni swung them in silence, which was fine. Plenty more time to think.

          And there was so much to think about.

          The wind smells like rain.

          The Void stares back.

          They finally arrived home, all of them carefully sneaking into the window of the living room, where Pete was once again pressed into the corner. Jeff got the idea that he really didn’t want them to touch him, and he thought he could understand that. Rio removed the coat from her shoulders and held it up to him. After a moment, Pete climbed down and took it back from her.

          “Thank you,” he said stiffly.

          “No, thank you,” she responded, shaking her head. “I know how much that coat means to you…just… Thank you for entrusting us with it.”

          “It was my fault,” Pete answered. There was a moment of silence.

          “More hot cocoa?” Rio asked. Pete shook his head.

          “Not for me, I have to go back.”

          “Wait!” Peni cried out, and the mech opened. Peni tumbled out then, her eyes still wet and red from crying, her face pale and drawn. “Wait, I…your goober… I need to remake it. I need the hardest steel you can find from your world, something that can be the basis for the covering of the goober, since…since your world is in black and white… As it is, the goober stands out.” Peni took a deep breath. “I also…I also need to make a do not disturb feature,” she said, wiping her face. “I need to make sure you don’t get caught.”

          Pete paused for a moment, before giving her a nod. “I’ll be back,” he said, and a portal opened after he slid through the clicks to reach it and opened it with a careful double-tap.

          Rio went into the kitchen with Miles and Gwen, the three of them moving to get the hot chocolate started. Porker walked over to Peni and tugged her down to his level, before wrapping his arms around her tightly.

          “I’m proud of you, kiddo,” he whispered. “I know that was hard, but it’s important.”

          Peni nodded miserably, hugging onto him tightly. Peter ruffled her hair, stooping down and pressing a kiss to her forehead. “He’ll be back.”

          After a moment, the portal once again opened, and Pete stood there holding a pale gray metal that reflected the light in the same odd way Pete did. It was a spike, he noticed, something that looked like it had been driven into concrete. “I couldn’t bend it,” Pete said in explanation, holding it out. “They use them to secure the cases. There’s a bit of fear that they might actually get up and walk one of these days, so they make the cases just about indestructible. Most I could do is work it out of the concrete.”

          “That’ll probably work perfectly,” Peni said, taking it from him. She hesitated then, taking a breath. “You know…you’ll either have to take it off now, or I’ll have to take it from you in your own world.”

          “You can’t go to my world,” Pete commanded.

          “But…” Peni started.

          “No.” Pete swiped his hand in front of his chest. “None of you are allowed to go to my world. Aside from the fact that there’s an entire problem with poverty and crime and awful racism…I’m worried about the spiders… I haven’t been able to kill them all, and I have a feeling that if it finds you… I think they might try and bite. You do not want my curse.” There was a moment while he waited for their agreement or otherwise acknowledgement, before he finally took a breath. “I’ll give it to you now…but how am I going to get back?”

          “The goober has another feature,” Peni said, wiping her eyes. “If you open the menu,” she said, doing so. “You can go to this screen here,” she shifted through the screens until one marked ‘doorway’ appeared, “and this will allow you to open a doorway into another’s world, as in…basically bypass the falling through the void, bit. It will open it where programmed if you insert the formula here, or the last place a portal was opened if you just open it like usual.”

          “So, it’s just like opening a doorway into another’s world, and I won’t have to worry about getting stuck between the dimensions without the goober, or accidentally heading somewhere else?” Pete asked.

          “Exactly,” Peni answered, nodding. “It will…it will make your world visible to us, but none of us will go through.”

          Pete hesitated for a moment, before giving a sharp nod. “Okay,” he said. “Let’s do it…”

          “Wait!” Rio called out, Miles and Gwen both helping her carry out hot chocolate for everyone. “It was cold, and you never drank any,” Rio said, and she held out the extra cup she had brought for him. “Take it, drink.”

          Pete hesitated, before finally rolling his mask up enough to reveal his mouth and taking it from her. “Thank you,” he said.

          Jeff took his own hot chocolate that Gwen handed to him, and idly wondered if the reason Pete wasn’t taking his mask all the way off was because he didn’t want to reveal that he had been crying, or how much everything was affecting him. Either way, Pete still stood against the wall, even as the rest of them moved to sit or stand around him, not touching, and giving him enough gaps to let him escape, but there.

          Pete had been on his own for over a year. In the grand scheme of things, that wasn’t much, but for a seventeen-year-old whose entire life was a series of isolating traumas… If it wasn’t for the fact that the kid had basically had service to others drilled into his brain, Jeff wouldn’t have been surprised if he had eventually started taking it out on the world around him. As it was, it seemed that most of that pain had been turned inward instead of outward.

          Jeff’s general takeaway, however, was the fact that Pete was not used to people that cared about him. Pete wasn’t used to people that wanted to hug him, and he certainly wasn’t used to people accepting him completely, curse or no curse. Jeff wasn’t surprised that Pete was behaving like he was, he was honestly surprised that he wasn’t acting worse.

          Pete needed time to realize that he couldn’t push them away, and even more patience.

          Rio leaned into him, and Jeff leaned back, bringing Miles into their midst once again. The cocoa was nice, cutting into the chill and warming him back up from the swing, and also from the lingering dread that…thing had inflicted. Pete seemed startled after his initial sip, looking at the cocoa, his mouth pulling into a slightly surprised shape.

          “Told you it was good,” Rio said smugly. Pete hesitated, before raising the mug to her in something like a toast and taking another sip.

          The silence that swept over them was calming, the cocoa and the company combining to make something of a shelter from the thing that waited in the night. He hoped that Pete was able to take in some of that comfort as well. Too soon, the cocoa was gone, and Pete was looking impatient again. Pete frowned slightly and pulled his mask on fully.

          “Alright, who’s going to open the portal for me?” he asked.

          “I will,” Peter answered, immediately opening the screen that Peni had shown them and clicking the icon. It blinked twice.

          “Spin it six for Pete,” Peni instructed, and Peter did so. “Press the button once.”

          There was a pause as Peter hit it, and then, like a doorway opening in air, the wall of Jeff’s living room opened.

          It made his eyes hurt.

          Any attempts Jeff might have made at staring into Pete’s world more closely were interrupted by Pete ripping the goober off. The glitch that passed through him was strong, and he fell to his knees, before keeling over in a graceless heap, black and white tearing him apart, and to Jeff’s horror, it looked like he was glitching in the direction of his own world. Cries and shouts of alarm echoed around him, terror running through them at the sight. For a moment he wondered if it would literally tear him apart, that it would split him in half in its desire to bring him back when the door was right there, and then Pete solidified.

          Pete pushed himself upright shakily, panting, and stood there with his arms wrapped over his torso. He held his goober out to Peni, who took it with trembling fingers. He gave them a nod, and then strode into his universe.

          Pete turned to look at them one last time, and that was when Jeff finally got a good look at Pete’s world…and the Freak Show Pete had brought them to.

          Pete stood in the center of a ring of glass cases, each of them holding something that much more frightening than the last. The shadows were black, amorphous things that almost seemed to reach towards them, cast from some light source that Jeff couldn’t see. There was the man that had been twisted and torn apart into something with multiple tentacles, all of them positioned in such a way to appear as though it was slamming them against the glass, large eyes the size of dinnerplates black as night staring out of a malformed head. There was the little girl who looked as though her back had been ripped apart, feathers and wings sprouting out of it, forcing her into a crouch, her beak catching the light and glinting cruelly.

          There was the humanoid forms of the Goblin and the Vulture. The Goblin with its scales and its eyes, and the Vulture, whose large fanged mouth was pulled into a terrifying smile, claws held out beckoning them closer.

          The other cases that surrounded them all held unimaginable horrors, twisted and malformed, their bodies rotten to the core.

          Pete stood in the middle of this, as human-looking as Jeff, framed perfectly by a glass case just behind him.

          In that one moment, Jeff swore to himself that this would never be Pete’s fate, and then Peter closed the portal, and Pete was gone.

 


 

         It took Peni three days before she was fully finished with the modifications to Pete’s goober and the changing of the casing into something that would fit in his world. The first day…Peni had had the most terrible nightmares, and when she had reached out to Gwen and Miles, she found that they had much the same. The nightmares had calmed, but the anxiety had not.

          The metal that Pete had brought her had been harder than she had first suspected and she needed to ask Pete what it was at some point, because it didn’t read as properly…inorganic. If Peni didn’t know any better she might have suspected it to be a type of bone, but that didn’t make much sense. Or perhaps the metal was mixed with bone… It was possible that due to Pete’s world being the way it was, people would have a great deal more…superstitions. Regardless, she had eventually crafted it into something that housed the internal structures securely and protected them completely to the point where it was on par with the rest of them.

          And then she had to create the do not disturb feature, as well as make it so his alert tones could be felt by a soft vibration on his wrist, noiseless, but something he would be able to feel. The thing that had initially caused her so much grief had now become a priority to do right, though this took a great deal longer than she had initially anticipated.

          Part of the issue had stemmed from making it so Pete’s goober, when the do not disturb was activated, would block any portals from opening into his world. It took a while to modify the necessary jamming signal and make it so the only thing that could be done would be that doorway so when he could finally jump through, he could do so quicker.

          Peni was certain now that Pete would mostly be using it when he was investigating something, or when he was under immediate threat. Giving him the ability to make a quick escape was necessary, so she had spent a long time making it so Pete’s goober would connect to any doorway that was opened for it automatically, with special precedence going to the one who had opened it first.

          When she was finally done with that, she spent time with one last feature that she thought would be wonderful for everyone.

          The ability to take pictures and video. She had created a spot for the lens already, as well as the microphone, so when she finally finished crafting everything and setting up the internal storage, it slotted into place without a hitch.

          Peni held the finished goober in her hands, looking it over one last time with a critical eye, before opening the camera option and taking a quick selfie with her Spider, smiling wide, her free hand giving a peace sign even as her Spider crossed his pedipalps and leaned back. It made her laugh. That would be the first thing he saw when he looked through the photos. She hoped he liked it. After a moment of hesitation, Peni began programming her goober to find Pete, dictating to a small machine that printed out a series of directions that she would tape to the back of the goober before she threw it to Pete.

          Peni had learned her lesson the first time. She would never doubt Pete’s capacity to understand and follow directions again. It would be best to open a portal like she had with Peter B and throw the watch through that way. That way she wasn’t really in his universe and she could still make sure it got to him at the same time.

          Peni took a breath when the page finally finished printing, and carefully folded it. It had taken a long time to find paper and a machine that still typed, but it was necessary given the people she was giving directions to. It was also easier than programming an entire tutorial for the goober. She found that she liked it, though, mainly because it gave her a chance to draw with the markers that Miles had given her on her last visit.

          When Miles had learned that she had never colored on paper before he had spent most of the visit showing her how to. Peni found the texture weird, and the fact that the page had…almost a resistance to it, was very odd. But it was also very cool. Peni had had so much fun that Miles gave her a spare pack of markers, and she used that now to color Pete a picture. It wasn’t anything too special, she thought, just a rendering of SP//dr and her giving twin peace-signs, but it would hopefully give Pete a spark of something colorful in his life. When she checked the directions, she noticed that the marker had…bled, she thought Miles had called it, through the page some, though not enough to obscure the instructions, which was the important bit.

          Finally satisfied, Peni gave it a small smile and carefully attached it to the back of the goober. For a moment she held the goober that belonged to the one she had claimed as her older brother and just looked at it, examining the odd sheen that belonged to his world. Peni closed her eyes and bowed her head. It was time to give it back. It was time to bring Pete back to them. She hoped he missed them as much as she knew they missed him.

It was late now, but she figured that would be the best time to reach him. With any luck, Pete would be about to go to sleep and not running around trying to solve cases.

          Peni finished the program that would locate Pete where he was, and opened a portal, throwing the goober into Pete’s lap as he swung gently in the breeze in his web-hammock when he sat up to look at her. He tipped his hat to her in thanks, and she shut the portal after giving him an excited wave and a wide smile. Peni knew she couldn’t linger. 

          It would be the last she saw of him for what felt like a very long time.

 


 

          The first night after Pete had left had been…painful to say the least.

Miles had woken up with a terrible nightmare, a vision of himself growing eight limbs, just as many eyes, and wickedly terrible fangs that he had used to tear apart his parents, limb by limb as they screamed, and screamed, and screamed.

          Miles had woken up in a cold sweat, trembling, a scream tearing its way from his own throat. His parents had been quick to come into his room, looking around for what had caused his panic. When they had found him trembling and sweating, eyes wide and wild, they had hugged him tightly, and apologized for being negligent, saying that they shouldn’t have let him listen. Miles had insisted quietly that he was glad that he knew, it wasn’t their fault, and it wasn’t Pete’s fault… It just was the way it was. Pete didn’t get to trade in his world for a new one, Pete didn’t get to escape that fear… It was only right that someone experienced it themselves.

          His parents had stayed with him until he fell asleep again, and this time he slept without dreams.

          That was a week ago. He hadn’t seen Pete in a week, and while he knew that Peni had spent three days of that week fixing Pete’s goober, he also knew that she had sent it back. Peni had visited in order to fix his parent’s cellphones and give them the ability to talk with the other Spiders, as well as his own phone, due to the fact that Miles’ goober had to remain a secret. Though Peni had also revealed she planned to do it with everyone’s cellphone, so they could talk to each other without it being so obvious.

          They were still in the business of negotiating to let Miles’ have his own goober, as well as ones for his parents and potentially Peter B’s MJ. As it was, Peni had appeared the day after she had given Pete his goober back to let them know that they would have communication with the whole gang, and then spent the night fixing their phones until they had perfect reception no matter where anyone called or texted from, as well as the ability to send and receive pictures or video.

          It was wonderful.

          The first thing Miles had done was go throughout the city, taking pictures of his favorite tags, and sending them to Pete.

          Miles hadn’t heard back, but the images were all left on Read, so he kept sending them. There was the possibility that Pete was busy, or that he was having trouble seeing them properly. He supposed that opening up colorful images in a world of black and white would be difficult to hide, and he had no cellphone he could use to blend in.

          When he arrived home, he found his mother kneeling in the middle of the room, black blood-stained gauze in her hands, her eyes staring at nothing. Miles’ heart stopped.

          “Where’s Pete?” Miles asked, looking around, hoping to see the black-and-white teen. “What happened?” he asked, moving towards her. His mom seemed to blink back into focus and turned around, pulling her gloves off, she caught his hand and pulled him down, holding him tightly. “What’s wrong, mom?” he asked, putting up with the sudden hug, doing his best to hug her back. “What happened?”

          His mom pressed a kiss to his forehead. “Pete estará bien,” she said finally.

          “What happened?” he repeated for what felt like the hundredth time, anxiety running through him.

          “He was stabbed,” his mom answered. “It was in an odd spot that he couldn’t reach on his own. He came to get help.”

          Miles felt his heart skip a beat, looking around wildly as though that would make Pete materialize. “He got stabbed?” Miles exclaimed.

          “Pete…” his mom took a breath, her head bowing. “He said it wasn’t the first time it happened. He made the implication that he’d had it worse, he just…couldn’t reach.” She rubbed her face, her expression so sad. “I talked to Peter B afterwards, called him up. He wasn’t able to tell me the number of times he’s been stabbed. I suppose…I never really understood just how dangerous and just how much these vigilantes sacrifice, often without proper care. If he hadn’t had me, Pete would have had to try and deal with a knife in his back on his own… Peter B never had someone like me. MJ, bless her heart, isn’t a nurse and only has so much training…”

          Miles didn’t know what to say, his eyebrows pinching together, searching for something to say, when his mom blinked, and looked at him.

          “Oh, mijo, I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to vent at you. My brain is just going a mile a minute.” She rubbed her face. “Don’t worry about me, and don’t worry about them, I just…”

          “They have you now,” Miles said quietly, looking at his mom with wide and imploring eyes. “They have you now. You’re going to be able to help them, and they’re going to have better medical care than they know what to do with."

          His mom blinked before laughing, smiling at him. “Gracias, Miles,” she said with a wide grin on her face. Miles gave her an answering grin, nodding.

          “You bet, mami. You’re so good at this stuff, they’re lucky to have you. And you were able to fix Pete up, I’m sure,” Miles said, leaning back, an eyebrow rising, that grin turning smug.

          “I was,” his mom agreed, nodding.

          “Then…where is he?” Miles asked, looking around as though he would appear. “Did you put him to bed somewhere to recover?”

          “Pete…left already,” his mom answered, standing, her mouth in a frown. “He wouldn’t stay, though he insisted the reason was because something big was happening in his world.”

          “But he had a stab wound!” Miles waved his arms over his head. “What happens if he pulls the stitches?”

          “…Well…” his mom said, sighing. “We’ll just have to see, Miles.” She gave him a kiss on his forehead and began cleaning up the gauze and the spools of thread.

          “Were you able to feed him at least?” Miles asked, following her into the kitchen to see her throw away the gloves and bandages.

          “I did,” his mom answered with a nod of her head, the lines around her mouth and eyes softening slightly. “He ate well before he left, so at least one thing went right.”

          “Good,” Miles said, nodding. “I just…I wish I had gotten to see him. He hasn’t been answering my texts.”

          His mom looked at him with surprise on her face. “No responderá tus mensajes, mijo?”

          “No,” Miles answered, shaking his head. “From what I understand he won’t answer anybody’s.”

          His mom sighed. “I wouldn’t take it personally, Miles,” she finally said. “I think he’s just…testing the water so to speak, and he’s not quite sure how to feel about what’s happening.”

          “I wish he’d figure it out, soon,” Miles huffed. “I’ve got stuff to show him…” he paused, wondering how well admitting that he missed seeing him would go over when, according to his parents, he’d only known him for a couple days. Though, in the grand scheme of things, he supposed that he hadn’t really known Pete for that much longer. He’d been seeing the other Spiders pretty much regularly, even if it had only been a week, and if not actually seeing them at least texting with them. Miles had been surprised at realizing just how close they had gotten, with how quick everything had moved, but he also thought that… They were like him. He was like them. They had fought together and bled together and…

          It was odd, they were like family, it was the only way he could explain it.

          And he was missing a brother.

          Peni had been right to call him oniichan. The idea of Pete being on his own, of doing his best to push them away, of accepting help from his mom, but not staying around to chat, or acknowledge him in any way… It hurt more than he thought it would.

          It felt like he had done something, but he knew he hadn’t. Pete was probably still doing his thing where he thought he had to protect him, protect them, but didn’t understand that by staying away… No one wanted him to stay away, no one but Pete himself. Miles sighed, rubbing his face.

          “Why’d he have to be so stubborn, mami?” Miles asked, looking up at her with a frown on his face. “Why’s he like that?”

          “Well…” his mom sighed, rubbing her face. “For one, Miles, you really just…you have to remember that Pete’s been on his own for so long… I don’t think he realizes just how lonely he actually is.” She sat at the kitchen table and motioned for him to sit as well. “For another…I think if he wasn’t half as stubborn as he was, I think he’d be dead by now.”

          Miles blinked, his eyes widening, before he sagged bodily against the table, coming to realize it was true. Her hand found his and she smiled at him gently, rubbing a circle on the back of his knuckles.

          “We just have to show him that together…we can be even more stubborn than he is, and I think he’ll come running back to us,” she smiled. “He’d learn that with other people he can be even more stubborn, and then we’d never get him to do anything.” Miles laughed, grinning wide.

          “Alright, mami, I can do that.”

          “Todos podemos,” his mom said, pressing a kiss to his forehead.

          One week passed into two.

          Still no sign of Pete.

 


 

          Gwen’s nightmares had been filled with blood.

          Blood on her hands, blood on the floor, blood covering the walls, blood covering Peter, and blood covering Pete. They lay on the ground motionless, staring up at nothing, partially turned, one black-and-white that she had known for such a short time, the other as flesh toned as her, and one she had known for most of her life. In the end they were both dead, both dead to her hands, bodies strewn on the floor, black and red intermingling, and Gwen stood there screaming.

          The screaming continued when she woke, her dad always there to hold her and comfort her, whispering her name, telling her it was okay.

          Gwen couldn’t look her neighbors in the eye, couldn’t look at the Parkers when they gazed at her in worry as she left the house. Couldn’t look at the ones whose nephew she had killed.

          The nightmares had continued intermittently for two weeks. Her dad was getting worried, the Spiders that knew were worried…

          Gwen didn’t know what to do. She thought, quite a lot, of texting Pete, and trying to get him to answer her. Gwen thought of telling him what she dreamed of. But a part of her was scared that he wouldn’t answer her, just like he hadn’t answered everyone else. Gwen knew that Pete was still showing up to Rio when he was injured beyond even his capacity to either power-through or fix, but other than that he had no contact with them.

          Gwen didn’t want to send another text into the void only for it to never come back answered.

          Gwen had done that at first. It was how she had started coping. Sending a text to Peter’s old social media profiles, the ones that his aunt and uncle hadn’t closed off yet… Gwen had sent him more messages than she cared to remember.

          They’d never even be put on Read. Never answered. Never seen.

          The idea of doing something like that with Pete, only for him to never look at them, never answer… It hurt too much. It felt too much like her dream.

          Gwen had killed him. Killed them. Their friendship dead in the dirt, six feet under.

          Gwen wished…a lot of things. She wished that people had seen just how wonderful Peter was, just how good of a friend, just how much potential… She wished they hadn’t hurt him so badly.

          Gwen wished that she had been a better friend.

          Gwen wished that her career hadn’t begun in tragedy, that she hadn’t… 

          Peter B’s had also begun with tragedy. The death of someone that they loved seemed to be an intrinsic part of their Spider career. Porker, if she really thought about it, had changed completely. He was no longer a spider and was now a pig. She wondered if he ever talked to his original family, if he even could. Peni’s father had died and left her the SP//dr mech, a burden and a responsibility that no one else could take on. Miles had lost a potential mentor in his original Peter, something that he had talked to her and Peni about in one of their late-night texting sessions, withholding sleep as long as they could. Then he had lost his uncle.

          Pete was losing his humanity, his control, and his soul.

          Gwen wished, more than anything, that being a Spider wasn’t associated so much with loss.

          Gwen was startled when her dad sat next to her on the couch, holding out a mug of hot chocolate, topped with a swirl of whipped cream. She took it with a thank you.

          “Quarter for your thoughts, Gwen?” her dad asked, blowing on his own drink before taking a careful sip. He flinched slightly and Gwen let out a bit of a chuckle. “It’s hot,” he said unnecessarily with a grin, and Gwen laughed harder.

          “I…” Gwen hesitated, looking at the mug in her hands. “I miss him,” Gwen finally whispered. Her dad hesitated, looking at her with pinched brows.

          “Peter?” he asked, tilting his head, “or your new friend. The one that hasn’t been talking to you.”

          “Both,” Gwen answered, a laugh slipping out, this one wet. “I miss them both so much. It’s…so hard to look at him sometimes, dad,” she whispered. “I wish it wasn’t, but he…it’s like looking at a ghost.”

          Her dad tilted his head back thoughtfully, before sighing. “I’m sorry, kiddo,” he said. “I…” he hesitated, tapping his leg thoughtfully. “It was hard to meet Peter B,” he finally settled on, which Gwen thought was a bit of an understatement. After Gwen had begged her dad to keep from telling Peter B who their neighbors were, Peter B had come over to meet her dad in person.

          Gwen had expected the hurt from her dad, she had expected there to be that lingering sadness, but she had not expected for the way that her dad had hugged Peter B, nor the way that Peter B had hugged back. Gwen had been thinking of her dad’s relationship with her Peter as that nebulous ‘one of Gwen’s friends,’ but she had failed to realize just how much her dad had cared for Peter.

          Peter B had sat with them for a long time, talking, discussing the differences in their universes, and in a whispered and broken confession told her dad that they were both dead in his world. It explained the hug. It explained why he kept looking at them both with those lost brown eyes that were so much like her Peter’s. It was probably why her dad had finally excused himself to the bathroom.

          She wondered if he had cried. Either way, he had eventually come out to tell Peter B that he had to promise to take care of himself, that he had to get to old age, and to shake on it. Peter B had given him the saddest smile that Gwen had ever seen and told him that it was a promise that, in all probability, he couldn’t keep, but he would do his best. Peter B also promised to help make sure that Gwen was the best Spider-Woman that she could be. Training included.

          It had been something that her dad had been thrilled by, and Gwen, when she thought about it, was also happy about. Gwen needed to live. Gwen needed to make sure that nothing else was taken from them again.

          “I can’t imagine,” her dad finally said, interrupting her train of thought and bringing her back, “just how hard it would be to see Pete.”

          “You don’t think…” Gwen whispered, “you don’t think I’m being…unfair to him? Unfair to Pete, by…by thinking of Peter?”

          “No,” her dad said firmly.

          “And you don’t think…” she started, opening up her heart of hearts, opening up the secret that had been kept between them that she had promised not to have, “you don’t think that I’m being unfaithful to Peter’s memory…by trying to be friends with Pete?”

          “Oh, Gwen…” her dad said, his voice low and soft, and before she even knew what had happened, he had bundled her up in his lap, pressing a kiss to her forehead. “Oh, kiddo, you could never be. Pete…he’s an entirely different person. You’re making a new friend, Gwen, not replacing an old one. You’d never replace Peter, and Pete wouldn’t want to be a replacement. In making friends…you don’t get rid of the old ones just by making new ones, and you don’t get rid of their memories… They’ll always be with you, Gwen, Peter will always be with you.”

          Gwen found herself crying, holding onto his shirt as she pressed her face into his shoulder. “Why does it have to hurt so much?” she asked. “Why can’t I just…why can’t I be happy? Why doesn’t he answer?”

          Her dad rubbed her back gently, humming softly. “It’s a loss, Gwen,” he said quietly. “Losses always hurt, particularly when this loss…you can’t ever have him again, Gwen. He’s gone, and to have someone so close…it’s a reminder. Pete can’t help it anymore than you can.” He pressed another kiss to her forehead. “The difference is, sooner or later you’re going to be looking at Pete and just seeing him for him. You’ll recognize him as the one that…oh, likes pineapple on his pizza, has a bad habit of biting his fingernails, or…or burning matches…” he hesitated, his eyes closed, Gwen doing much the same. She had told him about the scars on his fingers, the burns, self-inflicted. The self-hatred. The truth, the fears that Pete had had, warning him of what her new friend could be.

          “Eventually,” he continued, “you’ll know him well enough that these things will be the only things you think about when you see him. As for happiness…oh Gwen, happiness is fickle. Sooner or later happiness runs out, but the joy that you find in other people and in friendship and in fellowship…that lasts. Just keep moving, Gwen, just keep going. You’ve got so many people that care about you and that you care about. You’ve got so much love to give, so much that you’re doing for others. Give yourself some time, give yourself some grace. Don’t feel bad about where your mind goes, don’t make yourself feel bad over feeling sad, particularly when you have every reason to be sad.” He brushed the tears from her face with his thumbs, a soft smile on his face.

          “As for why he won’t answer…” her dad’s expression changed then, looking into the middle-distance, thoughtful. “I think, given what you told me, that Pete has spent so much of his time hiding from others…I don’t know that he knows what to do with himself now that there’s people that want to be with him. He’s no longer able to hide properly, and I think…in a way, that’s the scariest thing for him. All these people that know his fears and his weaknesses and his story…” he sighed. “I don’t blame him for being scared. He told it in a vague hope that it would push people away, and I have a thought that it might make people in his own world stay away, but here…” he chuckled under his breath. “I don’t think he expected how hard it would backfire.”

          Gwen laughed, wiping her face, really thinking about it, and finally gave a nod. “Yeah,” she agreed softly. “Yeah I think…I think he really is afraid.”

          “Wouldn’t you be?” her dad asked, and after another moment of thought, Gwen gave a firm nod.

          “I would be,” she agreed. “I’ve spent my entire time being told that I’m a monster whose only inevitable end is in killing the people I love… I…ran away, or was…or was thrown out of the one home that had been mine, the one that had the only person I loved, and then… I meet a scientist and his wife who seem to care about me and love me, and for once I let my guard down, only to be betrayed?” Gwen shook her head, her eyes wet with tears. “And then I get this entire other group that are like and yet not like me, that love me, and I love them?” She waved her hands in the air. “What if I really do turn and kill them, or what if they are just using me, and pretending, and are secretly just as bad as the Connors? Isn’t it better to stay away?”

          “Isn’t it?” her dad asked with a raised eyebrow.

          “No!” Gwen protested immediately. “Because we love him, and because he…because he deserves kindness. Because he’s not a monster. Because he’s our friend.” Gwen hesitated. “Because we can take care of ourselves. We’re not as fragile as an ordinary human, and we’ll be with him all the time, so if he…if he does…”

          “You can stop him,” her dad said. Gwen closed her eyes, her head bowing. “That’s the root of it, isn’t it?” he asked. “You’re afraid you might have to stop him.”

          “It isn’t fair,” she whispered. “It isn’t fair.”

          “You’re right,” he agreed softly. “It’s not fair. But think of just how unfair it is for Pete. Think about being in the wrong place at the wrong time and just…being turned like that. Think about how awful that would be, when you just want to help…and think also, Gwen, of just how much he’d want you all to stop him. Remind yourself at all times, kiddo, that in the end, the worst thing you could do for Pete is promise yourself that if the time comes…you won’t stop him. Pete would want you to, Gwen. Pete would need you to. And you have to be honest with yourself, Gwen. If you don’t think you can do that…then you shouldn’t be his friend.”

          Gwen froze for a moment, before closing her eyes, and pressing her face into her dad’s chest.

          “I’m Spider-Woman,” she finally said softly. “It’s my job to stop him.” Her voice shook, and she felt her dad’s hand rubbing against her back. “But that’s…that’s just assuming that it eventually does happen. It might not…”

          “It might not,” her dad agreed. “And if it doesn’t, then you’ve spent all this time worrying…when you could have just spent all of this time focused on getting to know your friends, and on being with them.” He hesitated. “And Gwen…even if it does happen…eventually, what you’re going to be able to do is just remember all of the good things that happened, all of the things that you used to do together that you loved so much… It’ll get here, Gwen. It’ll get here.”

          Gwen nodded, hugging him tightly, and after a long moment they finally parted.

          Gwen found herself in her room later that night staring at her goober, looking at the option for Pete. She watched the curser blink in and out of focus until her vision blurred, and finally:

          ‘We love you enough to wait, Pete,’ she texted, ‘I miss you so much. Do you like pineapple on your pizza?’ After a moment, she added ‘you don’t have to be afraid. We love you enough to stop you.’

          Gwen sat there for a moment, staring at the message, before finally hitting send before she could think about it for too long. Gwen let out a deep sigh, rubbing her face with her hands, rolling over in her bed, when she saw the text indication jump.

          For just a moment, Pete typed something…

          And then he left her on Read.

          Gwen gave a slow smile. She’d promised she’d wait.

          Another week came and went, she practiced with Peter B, hung out with Miles and Peni, and Porker was in the process of teaching her how to knit. Still no sign of Pete.

 


 

         Porker was rolling out dough for the sixth time in one day. This time it was an apple fritter, one that used his ‘Aunt’s recipe, and one that he knew would make him very popular at the office should he bring it in to the Daily Beagle. Porker couldn’t decide if that was where he would bring it, however. There were a few other families that had become his top priority.

          As a compulsive stress-baker, he’d started baking when he had gotten a text from Rio earlier that day, stating she had noticed bruises coming back on Pete’s arms the last time she had seen him, and he hadn’t stopped since. The apple fritter would be the next in a series of three pies – strawberry, blueberry, and cherry – two dozen chocolate chip cookies, and one positively massive chocolate cake.

          Porker didn’t know how he would eat all of them. While he was a pig, and also a Spider, which came with an increased metabolism, this was definitely a little much. Porker rolled out his dough that had already been filled with the lovely spiced apple chunks that would make it delicious, and pressed his biscuit cutter evenly through the dough until he ran out of room. After pulling away the scraps he carefully deposited the fritters onto a pan, trying to avoid spilling the apples unnecessarily, and rolled out the dough again to make more circles. Eventually he had them all in nice even rows and went to heat up the oil.

          Porker knew that what he really wanted to do was invite Pete to share in this. He wanted to bundle the kid down with a bunch of food, look over his spinnerets again, and then teach him how to use them properly.

          Porker had started talking to his family again, his real family, extended cousins and aunts and uncles, which…was always a bit painful. It reminded him of what was and what would never be again, and while they always…acted happy to see him, there was a sense of belonging that he would never have again.

          Porker had found to his horror that he had forgotten how to tap some things, and he had spent a great deal of time reteaching himself long into the night. Regardless, Porker had spent a good deal of time discussing the mechanics of spinning, trying to figure out how it could have possibly formed itself into the spinnerets that were located on Pete’s wrists and the likely muscles that would be in use. What they eventually decided was Pete wasn’t using the spinnerets themselves in the way that they were meant for.

          Due to the fact that they were so new, Pete hadn’t been trusting in them and instead had been utilizing muscles in ways they weren’t intended. What should have simply been a matter of one had turned into several that protested the movement.

          Porker had texted the theory to Pete over the goober, telling him that he should put a little more trust in his body, that even though it was new it was still his and it was made for it… And then he hadn’t gotten a response. Which had sent him into the spiral that saw him currently turning the fritters in the hot oil to make sure it was all a golden-brown. Because after Pete hadn’t responded, Porker had gotten a little frustrated.

          Porker had made the mistake of taking that little pocket of frustration and making a jab at the fact that not everyone had much of a choice when it came to trusting their new bodies, texting that to Pete in a fit of pique. And then he had immediately been overcome by a wave of guilt.

          Porker hadn’t been given a choice, but he had also been given almost unconditional support. While his Aunt May wasn’t…really his aunt, she had taken him in without fuss, and done everything she could for him. Porker had been able to find a job without issue, immediately accepted as Peter Porker, a new ID had been made, a new life had practically been handed to him on a silver platter… While it had been difficult at first to adjust, two legs just weren’t as stable as eight, there was no doubt that he had taken to it quickly.

          Pete…had never had that opportunity, had never had that support…and more than likely, was completely unsure how to handle it now that it was being given. Pete came from a world where his changes, his new body, was something that was looked upon with nothing but fear and revulsion. How the hell could Pete be expected to trust himself when he’d been told in no uncertain terms that he was something to be reviled?

          Talk about some serious self-image issues.

          Porker sighed, looking at the goober, considering sending one more apology in his chain of three monstrous and equally rambling ones, and then just decided to do something else:

          ‘I think you’re pretty neat,’ he typed, ‘I think the fact that you can see in the dark is really cool, and the fact that you can spin your own webs? Dang kid, when I was first turned I would have killed for that! You can stick to walls and you can pick up a truck, and you’re pretty dang durable. Not many people can say they’ve been thrown against a wall and got out of it with some minor fractures, a bruise the size of my entire body, and a hell of a lot of stitches. Most people would be a torn-open pancake! I know the changes are scary, and that they come with a whole lot of baggage, but you’ve already helped so many people with them, and you’ll continue doing so for the rest of your life. That thing…it can’t take that fact from you. No one can. Don’t take it from yourself.’

          With that final message, Porker signed, rubbing his face with his hands, and turned to making the glaze, having placed the last fritter on the cooling rack a minute ago. He’d said his piece. It was up to the kid now what he’d do with it, as it was, he had entirely too many fritters to glaze and a few families that would be getting a lot of treats.

          The week bled into the next. Porker was just about ready to start a search party. Either way, he sent a group-text to the Spiders, Jeff, Rio, MJ, and George stating that if Pete didn’t eat any of the treats he made, even if he broke into his damn house and stole them, he’d be really upset

          It started a sudden influx of people telling Pete to break into their houses and eat their food. It would have been funny if it wasn’t so essential.


 

           Peter B had begun noticing something…

          It had been subtle at first, but as his apartment kept getting cleaner, he would notice when things were out of place. He also noticed that things were getting clean, things that he knew he hadn’t washed. The other Spiders had been bemoaning the fact that they didn’t think that Pete was taking them up on their offers to break into their house and steal their food, but considering what Peter owned, and just how messy his apartment could get to be, he noticed when things changed. And he definitely thought that Pete really was taking them up on it.

          Peter had woken up in the middle of the night once or twice with a warm feeling tingling in his brain, something that spoke of home and familiarity and peace, and that’s how he knew it was Pete. He’d never been able to catch Pete in the act, Peter suspected that his sleeping brain had been so lulled with that feeling that it was only the absence of it that woke him, but he couldn’t think of anyone else that would both raid his pantry and wash his windows for him.

          Peter rubbed his face quietly, a miserable sort of empathy washing over him. Peter had a thought that even if they had given Pete a direct invitation, he’d never take anything directly without giving something in return for it, regardless of the fact that it was freely given.

          Peter would never take it. He couldn’t imagine that Pete would either.

          That was the problem, he thought, with being told that your responsibility was in serving others. The idea of taking something without paying for it in some way was almost reprehensible. Peter had noticed that Pete never took much from him, and had only really started after Peter had landed his job.

          The Fantastic Four had owed him a favor, and now he was a part of their research team.

          It was…nice, Peter found himself thinking in an idle sort of way when he was busy working on the latest in a series of inventions that would hopefully create marketable spider-silk for commercial use… But there was also that ugly feeling of being a charity case that came when he’d look at his other coworkers.

          Peter hated taking favors from people, he always had. He hated the way that they looked at him and that almost worried pity that would spread when he mentioned that he was having troubles. He hated the implications that he couldn’t take it, or that he was somehow a failure for having difficulties…

          Peter had been living like this for years, he was used to it, he could handle it. Miles…well, that had been different. Miles didn’t have the frame of reference necessary, so the fact that he was worried about Peter hadn’t chafed as much, but the other adults, the ones that would look at him as though he couldn’t handle it and try and offer him handouts?

          No thanks.

          Peter knew there had to be an amount of stubborn pride there, but he’d been doing it for so long he almost didn’t know how to take things from others, not…big things at any rate. It was an odd sort of painful kinship to know that even in a different universe, Peter Parker seemed to have the same issue, to where he would do his best to offer whatever he could in exchange for what he took.

          Peter still remembered the day he had gone to Johnny Storm to ask him about paying back that favor, telling him that he needed the job and that he would be more than happy to provide qualifications… Johnny had waved them off, telling him that Peter was one of the smartest people he knew and he didn’t need to see them. When Peter had started to niggle at that, at the fact that it seemed Johnny was being dismissive of what he could give, of what he had actually done…

          Johnny had put his hands on his shoulders and basically scolded him for being silly. He’d told him that he knew that Reed would be happy to have him on the team, that they’d been after Peter for years, so to finally have him accept would be perfect. Peter had looked away, mumbling something about not liking charity. Johnny had shook him.

          “Don’t be stupid,” he had said, “this isn’t about charity, this is cashing in a favor! This is exactly what you need! Reed knows your situation, my entire family does, we’d be able to give you the job with the flexibility you need to be a hero, and we’d keep your secret! There’s no law that says that Peters have to be chronically out of a job, unlucky, and broke as hell."

          Peter could only think of a version of him that was living on the streets, doing chores for food, and giving them all collective heart attacks, and laugh. “I think you might be surprised,” was all Peter had said, having no desire to fill Johnny in on the whole situation. Either way, Johnny had shaken his head, laughing.

          “Well, today we break that law. Come on, Pete, take the job, take what’s owed. Cash in your favor.”

          Peter had. It was the steadiest his life had ever been. He had a paying job that was decent, gave him benefits, and understood that sometimes his life was really damn crazy. It…it was nice. When Peter had given the news to the others the happiness that had greeted him was unmatched.

          When Peter had told MJ, she had given him that soft smile of hers, kissed his forehead, and whispered, “Finally."

          So here Peter was, able to buy a decent meal for once, and the knowledge that, also for once… his talents were being put to good use. No boss to snarl at his pictures and drag his name, no boss to complain at his chronic lateness… For the first few weeks Peter wondered how he had lived without it, and then he thought again of Pete.

          Pete…Pete had mentioned the fact that he was basically considered dead. There would likely be no favors that he could cash in, no people that he could go to in his own world for help when the world upended him, and he finally got tired of being chewed up. Pete was well and truly on his own, and if he was anything like Peter had been at his age, Peter rather suspected that Pete hadn’t told Aunt May what had happened, and simply run away.

          Peter had never been able to look his aunt in the eye to tell her what he was doing, could never stand to worry her when he knew just how much she cared for him, just what she had sacrificed… There were times when he felt like he was throwing that away by throwing himself in danger, but…he had a responsibility. Peter had been given a powerful gift and he had to use it.

          Pete had been given a curse and he had chosen to use it.

          Something that caused Pete no end of grief and pain was something that he was using to save people, and there was something so familiar about that, something so absolutely resonant in the fact that Peter had done the same. The thing that was meant to be a gift had absolutely felt like a curse. His responsibility had cost him more jobs than he could count, more grief, more loved ones…

Peter’s body, his happiness, his marriage.

          Peter knew intimately the frustration there, the stubbornness, the idea of standing in front of an uncaring world and screaming that he existed, he was there, and he wouldn’t be stomped out. Peter had never wanted to bundle someone else up into his arms more and tell them that it would be okay, that they’d get there…

          Peter hadn’t expected how much it would really be like looking at a younger version of himself. Peter hadn’t expected for the desire to take Pete under his wing, so to speak, and try and keep him from repeating Peter’s mistakes. To try and tell him that it was okay to accept charity sometimes, that sometimes…sometimes it wasn’t about pity, and there was no reason not to take it.

          Sometimes it wasn’t pity at all, sometimes it wasn’t even charity, sometimes it was payment for all the shit that they had been put through, and Pete had been put through a lot of shit. It was time to cash it in, dammit…

          Peter wondered vaguely if the feeling was as parental as he was afraid it was, and then decided that he’d done weirder things in his life than trying to parent himself. Why not? In a lot of ways, they really weren’t the same. It wasn’t so much trying to grow Pete into Peter; it was helping Pete grow into himself.

          Peter thought that was the biggest difference and he wanted nothing more than to be the one to help him do it. Until Pete let them in, though, he could only continually offer the training that he was offering Gwen, Miles, and Peni. They’d worked out a schedule, one that allowed them to practice after they all got out of school, be seen in Miles’ world, and assure the Davis-Morales household that they had made good on their word to train that world’s Spider-Man.

          All of them missed the last black-and-white member of their team, though. It was lucky, however, that Pete missing was as big of a concern as it was, because the Davis-Morales family had been doing their best to persuade them to bring that Spider-Man into the fold. Miles had been horrified, and what they all eventually went with was simply informing them that while he appreciated their offer, he still wasn’t quite sure yet on whether or not he wanted to take them up on it.

          Secret identities were a big enough deal that they could all honestly say that it was that Spider-Man’s decision as to whether or not they’d show their face, and the Davis-Morales family had been more than understanding. Particularly when they mentioned what happened to that Peter and the fear that was there still. Jeff still remembered that hug that Miles had given him in the heat of the moment, but there was a definite understanding that it was very much heat of the moment. After meeting the rest of the Spiders, after having seen the injuries that they could receive…

          They were both a bit more understanding.

          As it was, Miles had done his best to keep away and out of sight of his father in costume, and they’d done their best to train in places that they wouldn’t be spotted or tracked. The less that was seen of New York’s newest Spider-Man by his parents, the better.

          Miles already had it rough trying to hide the fact that he was enhanced, his style was so obvious as Spider-Man that they’d been trying to help him hide it.

          As it was, they were all mostly still waiting for the moment when Pete came back to them, and that had caused enough grief to be distracting. While Jeff and Rio had been worried about their universe’s Spider-Man, after they had been assured of his safety, of the fact that his parents were greatly competent, and they had his back it was easy to slide back into worrying about the one that didn’t have anyone.

          And that was the thing. Peter had had so many people, he had had a favor he could call on because of the fact that Peter had helped so many, Pete…didn’t have such a luxury. Pete was chased down and hunted for what he was, only thought worthwhile as something displayed in a case… Pete had known Luke Cage, but wasn’t willing to talk to him or help him. Peter wondered how many other heroes that Pete was aware of in the grand scheme of things that he’d never be able to talk to.

          They were all Pete had so far, and if he wouldn’t even really take advantage of it, he didn’t even have them.

          That was the thing about an open hand, it was always there on offer, but it was up to the person whether or not they took it.

          Peter had done his fair share of not taking it. He never thought it would be as agonizing as it was watching someone that refused to take it. He felt he owed people an apology

          But he also knew how hard it was.

          ‘Hey,’ Peter texted in the dark of his room, staring at the lighted hologram. ‘I know how hard it is to accept help from people. Believe me, I’ve struggled with that for my entire life…but now that I’ve taken it… I realize just how silly I was to fight against it in some ways. You don’t have to struggle. You don’t have to fight against the offer, fight against us… We love you, kiddo, and nothing’s going to change that. Not the fact that you might need a little help, and, while I’m at it, not the fact that you won’t accept it. We’re all there for you, Pete…just…reach out. We’ll be waiting for when you finally can, alright? If you want, I’ve actually made a pretty decent stir-fry. It’s in the fridge, and it’s really nice if you add a bit of soy sauce, which is in the bottle on the second shelf of the fridge, with the green label. Don’t use too much, it’s pretty salty.’

          Peter woke up the next morning to his floors scrubbed spotless, and a large section of the stir-fry missing. The bottle of soy sauce had one of his post-its stuck to it with a frowny face drawn on in blue pen. Peter laughed so hard he was almost sick, and promptly sent a picture out to the others, complete with a message that Pete was definitely taking stuff, they just had to be on the lookout for things that were cleaner than when they had left it.

          The sudden onslaught of pleased messages that greeted him was well worth it. 


 

          Rio had had it.

          Pete had been to her house several times at this point, each and every time with an injury he wouldn’t explain, a refusal to see the others, and an almost feral energy coursing through him. He wouldn’t explain what was happening, only that it was urgent and he had to get back as soon as possible.

          He also refused to look her in the eye.

          At first, Rio had thought that it was guilt due to the fact that he kept running, but the more she saw of him, the more he hid…the more she realized it was shame.

          Miles got that look sometimes, most often when he was trying to lie. Pete wasn’t even trying to lie, he just refused to say anything. There was no doubt that there was something that was going on, something that he wasn’t willing to tell, and something that was obviously hurting him. Rio had decided that she was done with it. The next time he showed up, Rio was going to bring the rest, and he was going to have to explain what was going on, no excuses.

          First, though, Pete had to show up, and he had been extremely elusive as of late. On one hand, Rio was glad, because when he showed up Pete was inevitably hurt, but on the other hand… It had gone on for weeks, and Pete was still missing. They knew that he was still taking food, he’d started leaving little notes after Peter directly called him on it, and if they told him to try something, he’d always leave a note that he had taken it, but they’d never actually see him. Scrubbed their floor? Sewed a curtain that had had a rip in it for the longest time that Rio had never gotten around to fixing? Cleaned the windows? Didn’t matter, Pete would do it, somehow avoid all notice, and then vanish again into the night.

          It was starting to become frustrating. Rio and Jeff had tried to stay up in order to see him, Jeff more often than Rio as the hospital was still understaffed, but all to no avail. Pete somehow knew when they were trying to spot him and would stay away. It was like having a friendly ghost that washed the dishes and took food as payment instead of scares. Rio wanted nothing more than to sweep him up in her arms and ask him why he was avoiding them. What was the cause of this? Why was he running?

          They’d already done their best to impress upon him the fact that there was nothing that could happen that would push them away, and yet he was acting like there was.

          Something was happening. Something that was causing Pete to need to use his spinnerets more frequently, something that was putting him in danger…

          Rio was worried sick, and she was done with it. She had a feeling that something big was going to break and she hoped it wasn’t Pete.

          Rio sighed after coming home from her shift, rubbing her face tiredly, unlocking her door, and swinging it open. Jeff would be home shortly, and Miles after him. They had made him promise to finish his homework before he came home so they could spend the weekend doing stuff as a family. It was another of those rare instances where their schedules synced, and they wanted to use it.

          Rio took a few steps into the room, and promptly dropped her keys. Pete was sitting in the middle of her living room with his legs crossed, pressing some towels to his side. He wasn’t wearing a shirt, revealing some absolutely ugly bruises, and he wasn’t wearing his regular pants she came to realize. They almost looked like Miles’, and immediately she wanted to ask what had happened, why he would have stripped.

          As he almost reflexively removed his left hand from holding the towels to his side to wave at her, all thoughts of that came to halt as she came to realize that he was bleeding from a gunshot wound, as it gave a spurt of blood. His face was also a beaten-up mess. His right cheekbone looked broken, swollen and black, his eye squinting as he looked up at her. To her shock, Pete actually smiled at her, gray eyes squinting with it, a bead of blood welling up from his split lip, which seemed to have reopened his original scar, and sliding down his face.

          “Hello,” he said almost brightly, “I tried not to bleed on your carpet.”

          “Pete!” Rio shouted, slamming the door shut and immediately running over to him. “What happened?” she asked, falling to her knees before him. “Who did this? What…? Why didn’t you go to Peter or someone else, why did you wait for me?”

          Pete squinted at her for a moment, confusion evident on his face, before he gave a brief, “Oh…” he frowned slightly. “I didn’t think of that.” There was a longer pause. “I’m pretty sure I’m concussed,” he said, giving a slight nod, and Rio could have absolutely told him that. This close one of his pupils was obviously bigger than the other, and he was swaying slightly as he sat there.

          Rio went to grab her emergency kit and ran back over.

          “If you want,” Pete said, swallowing blood, “You can call the others over. I’m ready to tell you guys what’s been happening.”

          Rio almost froze, before pulling her cellphone from her pocket and immediately making a group-chat, telling them all to get there ASAP, Pete was here, and he was talking.

          It didn’t take long for the first of them to arrive, which was Gwen. Gwen took one look at Pete, and clapped her hands to her mouth, stumbling back a step.

          “Pete!” she cried out, worry and fear in her face. “What happened? Oh god, Pete…”

          “Hi, Gwen,” Pete said with a grin, more blood sliding down from his lip. Gwen stumbled and fell to her knees, still with her hands on her mouth. “Sorry,” he said, his mouth falling into a frown. “I’m concussed,” he explained with the tiniest of shrugs. Gwen gave the tiniest of hiccupping laughs, her eyes bright.

          Peni was next, and she dropped to her knees next to Gwen almost immediately, letting out a terrible sounding moan.

          “Hello, Peni,” Pete said, smiling at her in the same way he had Gwen. “How are you?”

          Peni couldn’t muster a response, leaving Pete to frown at her slightly with his head tilted.

          “I have to call my dad,” Gwen said, interrupting whatever Pete was about to say, “he needs…he wanted to know what was happening. I’ll put him on speaker, is that okay?”

          “Go ahead,” Rio agreed, nodding. Gwen held up her phone, looking at Pete with her eyebrows pinched.

          “Hey, Pete, smile for me, please?” Gwen asked. Pete turned to her immediately and gave her a smile, a wide one that revealed he was missing two of his molars on the side where he’d been hit with what had to be a crowbar or something, and she snapped a picture. She sent it to her father and then immediately called him.

          “What happened?” George Stacy’s voice asked, horror evident. “Pete, can you hear me, are you alright?”

          “Hello, voice,” Pete said, frowning slightly. “You’re Gwen’s dad?”

          “Yes, I…I’m sorry Peter, that’s me. My name is George Stacy, you can call me George.” George introduced.

          “Oh, hello,