Chapter 1: Prologue
“‘You can’t actually network with homeless people, Spider. That’s dumb. That only works in cheesy detective shows.’ Well, look who’s laughing now. It’s me. I’m the one laughing now. Haha.”
Mr. Nichols gives me a weird look, but I don’t mind it. Because A) I was totally right, this was an awesome idea, and B) I finally got the break I need on this little ‘case’. So, I grin behind my mask, and hand Mr. Nichols his share of the bounty. ‘The bounty’ in this case being a styrofoam container full of soup.
“Seriously though. Thanks for the tip.”
“Don’t know what you’re talkin’ about.” The old man grunts, snatching the soup out of my hands and trundling back to his little cardboard lean-to. Mrs. Ramsey, at least, offers a ‘thank you’ as I throw a web-line at the nearest fire-escape, and ‘Johnson’ actually waves. I might have taken a second to appreciate it more, if I wasn’t already in the process of jump-spin-yanking myself into the air.
“He acknowledged my existence!”
And wow, do I have some low standards. Is that a bad thing? Maybe.
Wait, that’s the corner ahead. ‘Not far’ was right. Okay. Time to hit the rooftops.
Three guys. A manager on duty and two meatheads acting as security. Pretty generic, all told, but...the goon on the right has a tattoo poking up from his shirt collar. Right shape. Right colors. Mr. Nichols has sharp eyes.
So. One definite target, two incidentals. I’ll probably leave at least tattoo-man conscious, but maybe the manager too? Multiple sources can only be useful, right? Right.
So goon on the left gets a foot to the face from five stories up. Minus some momentum bled off with a webline, because no matter what anybody (CoughJamesonCoughcough) says, I’m not actually all about that murder. A quick thwip thwip pastes him to the asphalt, just in case his head is harder than it felt, and then-
“What the fuck!?”
“It’s the Spider!”
Wow, manager guy is on top of things. He’s almost got his gun out, too. “You know who I am!” Web the gun, yank. It comes loose immediately, flying up, over my shoulder. “I feel so validated!” Another pull swings it back around, where it smacks tattoo guy in the stomach. Hard.
So hard, in fact, he doubles over to vomit all over the ground. Which is eww.
“Oh my God, I’m sorry!” Can’t focus on that, though, because the manager’s recovered. Wading in swinging. I catch (like I was taught), twist (like I’d practiced), and toss the guy headlong into the nearest dumpster. “I didn’t think that would happ--oh that’s so gross!”
More webs. Web the manager down, web queasy-guy’s hands to his knees. Seems like he’s done evacuating his stomach, so I jump, and flip, and come down behind him. Catch him by his collar to haul him back a few steps and put him on his ass.
And that’s that. Baddies disarmed but still conscious. Great.
“Hey, do you need some water or something?”
“Right, sure, I don’t have any, anyway.” I shrug and hop up to the nearest clear section of wall. It takes a second to get my phone out, but then I’m snapping pics and dialing the cops. “So hey, I figure you guys got about ten minutes before somebody comes by to check out your totally legit back-alley setup here-” Including open duffel bags full of saran-wrapped white. Which, you know, classy. Not ridiculous or stereotypical at all. “-but in the meantime, does anybody feel like sharing?”
Vomit-shoes curses me out a little bit, which is about what I could have expected. But manager looks curious. “Sorta sharing?”
I grin again, tucking my phone away and giving the guy a thumbs up. “I’m so glad you asked.” That said, I ‘stand’, walking sideways along the wall until I can look ‘up’ at the guy directly. “Let’s talk about home base.”
‘Home base’, it turns out, is an old factory complex on the river. Which is...wow. “How the heck does a street gang warrant a cooler hangout than an honest, hard-working vigilante? And come to think of it, how is it that they can operate out of a place like this without anybody noticing?” Because we’re not exactly in the middle of nowhere, here. “All good questions. I’ll have to ask the guy in charge.”
Once I get in and find him, of course. That comes first.
The outside is quiet, all smokestacks and tangles of pipes, but I can make out at least two lookouts tucked away on shadowy catwalks. They’ll have to go first. Then I can play it by ear. No big. That’s how I do my best work, anyway.
“You got this, Spidey.” I pop up from from my perch; the edge of a building that just-so-perfectly overlooks the place. “Big night. Big bust. You da man.” A couple steps back. A pair of weblines secured on the sturdy brick. A few more steps back, tension building. “Aaannnd-”
Flinging myself headfirst out into the void is still a heck of a thing.
As the world turns around me, the factory comes into sharper view. I see the lookouts, three guys, not two. Too high to land as I am; I twist in the air to adjust, to orient, to latch a fresh line onto a smokestack and turn my flight into a nearly-horizontal swing. It takes a bit to kill momentum, but after a couple of revolutions (and some completely intentional flailing) I drop from stack to pipe to catwalk.
A successful infiltration, if I do say so myself.
“Stealth mode, activate. Bwee-yoooo.”
The lookout standing maybe ten feet behind me turns just in time to take a Spider to the knee. And then the jaw. And then he’s covered in webs and won’t be alerting any of his friends hopefully.
“Note to self: make adjustments to ‘stealth mode’.”
The lookout groans. I sigh, and get back to work.
“What the f-”
“Go to sleep.”
“Somethin’ weird is goin’ on. Frank! Jimmy! Get your shit together, we’re gonna check on the boys upstairs!”
“You guys need radios or something.”
“I’m not spilling my guts to some circus freak that runs around in fucking spandex.”
Wow, spandex jokes. I gasp, make a big show of looking down at my trusty old red-and-blues. “Hey, do you have any idea how many people can’t pull off ‘spandex body-sock’? Huh? Let me tell you, it’s most people.” I pause, rocking on my heels for a couple seconds. Then, I hop up on the heavy desk that takes up most of the office. Crouch there, cocking my head at the guy webbed up in his little swivel chair. “Plus, seeing as you and your guys have a strange and unnatural affinity for tracksuits, I don’t think you have much room to talk. And don’t even get me started on the gold chains. I mean, really?”
Yeah, that goes over well. Big bossman doesn’t say another word. Which is fine.
“Oh no! Stony silence and a disapproving glare! It’s so intimidating, I might just have to run away and never come back!”
Still nothing. Bleargh. “Look, I’m gonna level with you; I’m only here to rifle through your rolodex. Tell me where you keep your important files, your ledgers, whatever, and I’ll leave you and your little buddies to the cops.”
The guy snorts. “Oh yeah, tough guy? And what if I don’t?”
“Oh god please don’t please please-AAAaaaaaaaaaAAAAHHGH, FUCK!”
“You know, I was never really got why people liked yo-yo’s so much, but I gotta say this is pretty fun.”
“You’re a goddamn lunatic! Lemme go!”
“Well, since you asked so nicely…”
“WaitwaitwaitwaitWAIT NOOOOoyouffffucKING PSYCHO!”
“Maybe I should try some tricks next. Don’t think I could ‘walk the dog’ with this setup, but maybe an ‘around the world’? That’s supposed to be pretty easy, I think-”
“I’ll talk, I’ll talk, just fucking let me down, you fucking psychopath.”
“First, apologize for insulting the spandex.”
“SON OF A biiiiiii-”
The boss talks, of course. Tells me aaallll about their little computer lab down in the bowels of the factory. Apparently even guys like this are getting wise to the internet and all the wonders it provides. Supplementing their drug operations with 419 scams, sales fraud, and friggin’ gold farming.
Seriously, if they weren’t a bunch of scumbags, I might actually be impressed. It’s like a renaissance of petty crime. Diversification at its best. Worst?
Either way, it isn’t important anymore. I know where to find what I’m after, and once I have it I’ll call the cops in to break this operation into teeny-tiny little pieces. A heck of a good deed.
“And a great way to spend a Saturday night,” I gripe, padding down another set of stairs that creak ominously beneath me. “Getting out, seeing the sights. Of all the things I could be doing right now…”
Well, a dilapidated factory isn’t actually the worst place I’ve had the chance to explore. Heck, if I’d brought my camera I’d probably stop to get a few good shots. It’s too bad I probably won’t be able to come back for a little while. What with the place being a crime-scene in the making.
Oh, okay, there’s the door. Lights on inside. When I stop to listen (to really listen, eyes closed and breathing slow) I can tell there’s somebody inside. Creaking chair. Clicking keys.
I take a deep breath. Bounce back a couple of steps.
Then kick the door in with enough force to send it flying.
I was hoping for surprise or shouts or something, but instead the guy hogtied ass-up in the middle of the walkway just snores and oh shit-
A webline diverts that door into the nearest wall instead of the apparently useless guard. Because, c’mon. “Okay, uh...sleepover. That’s cool. Late night LAN party?” I hop to the ceiling. Better visibility.
There has to be at least half a million dollars worth of equipment in here. How long has this place been running? And why do I not have a bad feeling about all of this? I mean, there’s still someone in here, typing away. Behind...an absolute mountain of stuff. Some of it’s tech; mismatched computers and a surprisingly high end server tower. But then there’s a box of documents threatening to spill loose, a couple bags of that ‘mystery powder’, and what has to be a gallon ziplock of counterfeit...diamonds.
“Seriously, Spider?” The irritation is as familiar as the voice. It’s Cat (because of course it is). She’s somehow been here long enough to clean the place out (because of course she has).
“I’m more of Jokey-Spider. Wanna hear my standup routine?” She groans, but still hasn’t looked away from the screen. “It’s mostly knock-knock jokes.”
I drift down on a web line, turning my attention to the screens laid out in front of her. It looks like she’s deleting security footage, at least on one display. The other’s migrating files. “Knock-knock.”
It seems Cat’s found what she’s after. She hits the spacebar and my voice plays back, “Stealth mode, activate. Bwee-yoooo.”Apparently Cat has jokes too. It’s a bit weird watching myself from the grainy off-angle of a security camera.
“I think that’s my new ringtone, so, thanks for that.”
“I aim to please.” And I can’t believe they’ve actually got a security system that’s wired for sound. At least she’s enjoying herself, I guess? “So what’s with ye-olde loot bags? I can make you a backpack, you know.”
“In those colors?” Cat arches a brow, spinning in her office chair to face me. “Pass.”
“My other suit’s at the dry cleaner.” She has a little flash drive in her hand. It’s black, because if nothing else Cat certainly understands consistent branding. “I thought you were busy tonight.”
“I am.” She huffs. “I thought you had nothing planned?”
“I didn’t!” I hold up my hands in mock-defense. “I got a guy, you know, on the streets. Gave me some real good intel.”
Her cat eared headband is askew. Did she have to do any fighting, coming here? The guy on the way in didn’t seem to indicate as much. I adjust, smoothing her hair as I puff up my chest a bit. “Yep. So I came in, dispensed some justice. Figured I’d crack the whole place open before dinner, you know.”
God she’s merciless. “Right, well, you’re lucky I was here, because this uploads offsite.” A gesture at the rapidly wiping security files. There’s a file uploading, too.
“Working on it.” She spins, and I catch a faceful of silver hair. Cough.
“Okay, Pantene. So, uh, Did Mister Nichols give you the intel here, or…?”
“Ohho-ho. The shoe is on the other foot, now. It is I that has sources.”
“Did you get a tip from the pizza guy again?”
“I could go for some pizza.”
“What, there’s not takeout in your bag of goodies, there?”
“All they had in the fridge was vodka and week-old kimchi.”
“You raided their fridge?”
“My lunch date flaked.”
“That was very rude of them.”
“I’m sure they had very important things to do.”
“You’re not gonna let that one go, huh?”
“I’ll treasure it always.” Cat’s smirking now, as she pulls up another folder, but the expression goes brittle as she clicks through it. Pictures, mostly women, and girls. Dates, and-
Yep. Those are prices.
My Spider-Sense buzzes a warning as Cat takes a deep breath and offers the flash drive over her shoulder. I take it, and while I’m at it I bundle up her bag of loot too. Drop to the floor to get a better look at things.
“Some of those are local.” Some of them are next week. “Say, what are you up to next Friday night?”
She looks up at me. Her goggles are recording, the polarized lenses glowing in eerie LED green. (And that had not been easy to get working right). “Working. You?”
“Same.” She touches my shoulder wordlessly, then stands up.
“Alright. I got a spin class later, so-”
“Oh, yeah, wouldn’t want you to miss leg day.” Because obviously the sudden urgency has nothing to do with the fleet of cars pulling up on camera one. “You get cranky.”
“Sure do, Spider.” She’s heading out on foot. I’d kind of expected a vent crawl, but she’s really just speed-walking up the stairs. Toward open doors, where there’s already some orders being shouted.
Three cars full of guys, that makes about...fifteen of them, maybe? Armed and sweeping the place with flashlights. I almost feel sorry for them.
I mean, not that sorry. Like, just sorry enough that I take a minute to lug Cat’s goods out the nearest window before dropping in. Give them a little time to think they might have a snowball’s chance, facing off against one pissed off ‘concerned citizen’.
Of course, then-
“Hey, is this a private party, or can anyone join the beatdown!?”
Yeah. This wouldn’t take long.
(Probably better than a lunch date. Right?)
“Honestly, I’m just surprised they managed to convince anyone to come in for a Freshman fundraiser game. Especially last second.”
The school’s newspaper office is really more of a large storage closet. Granted, it’s much nicer than the actual storage closets, and definitely comes equipped with just enough equipment (that’s just close enough to being ‘up-to-date’) that we can actually turn out a decent product.
Plus, they have AC. AC that’s running.
So yeah, “I don’t mind so much. It’s not like it’s hard. Snap some action shots, write up half an article, composite the whole thing into a passable ‘Summer Newsletter!!’ that can be sent out to all the good little boys and girls who were kind enough to subscribe.” I spin around in the comfortable office chair a few times. “Where it’ll promptly be dumped into the trash-bins of at least five different email providers.”
The chair jerks to a stop as MJ plants a scuffed basketball shoe on the arm. She smirks down at me from her perch on the desk in all her exhausted, post-game glory. “Keep talking like that, Tiger, and I’ll start to wonder whether you’ve got any school spirit at all.”
“So hey, looks like those photos are done transferring, isn’t that great? I’d better get back to it.”
I turn back to the computers, but don’t get a chance to do anything before a blur of blonde and black barrels through the open door, shoves my chair bodily to one side, and disappears under the desk.
MJ looks about as confused as I feel, folding in half to get a look. “Hardy? What the heck?”
“I’m not here.”
Wait, that was--that’s Felicia? “Is there a particular reason you’re not hiding under a desk?”
I hear more than see as she moves, edging further back. “Don’t worry about it. Just be cool.”
MJ catches my eye, tipping her head curiously. I shrug. And, as I roll my chair back into place, she shifts closer to let her legs hang a little further over the edge. By the time I’ve got the editing software up and running, footsteps echoing up the hall turn into a figure in the door.
The campus police officer, actually. Which is a thing.
“Hey, Officer McNab.” I offer a vague wave, keep most of my attention very firmly on my work. “How can the wannabe-reporters club help you tonight?”
“Just checking in, Parker.” McNab smiles, but it shifts quickly enough into his ‘stern cop’ face. “Have you two seen any other students in the last few minutes? We had a bit of a kerfuffle down at the gym and I need to speak with everyone involved.”
“Whoa.” MJ leans forward, entirely attentive. “Guess I missed out on that. What happened?”
“Nothing bad,” he assures, waving his hands disarmingly. “Just need to check up on things.”
Yeah, that’s vague. ‘Nothing to see here, citizen, move along’. I make a show of thinking it over before shaking my head. “A few people have passed by, I guess?” Very true, what with all the people vacating the premises now that the game’s over. “But I didn’t get a good look at anyone.” Also true, technically. “MJ?”
“No, yeah, I’ve been trying to get Mr. Sportsball Enthusiast here to actually pick a decent shot for once.”
“Hey, nobody’s ever complained about my photos before!”
“Not to your face, maybe.”
McNab laughs, and waves us off. “Alright, well, I’ll get out of your hair then. Don’t work too hard, you two.”
“Good luck with your manhunt!” MJ waves after him as he leaves. Shoots me a Look, before nodding pointedly at the door.
I give it another few seconds, then propel myself over to the doorframe with a careful kick. A quick check of the hall shows it’s empty in all directions, but I still close the door as quietly as possible.
“I always wondered what harboring a fugitive would be like.”
Felicia snorts as she extricates herself from under the desk, fitfully sweeping flyaway hair from her face. Like MJ, she’s still in her uniform.
Unlike MJ, she’s got the makings of a nasty shiner on her face.
“Jeeze, how’s the other guy look?”
“Worse than this, Red.” A faintly bloodied smile. “Marcie should really learn not to run her mouth so much.”
Yikes. “You, uh...want to stick around for a bit? Lay low?” I scoot back over to the computer. “Give a third opinion on the layouts for this thing?”
Felicia hums, thoughtful, and moves to peer over my shoulder. “Well, I do owe you two for the save…”
“Oh, helping him is one thing.” MJ lets out an ominous laugh. “A favor from Felicia Hardy? That’s something I’m gonna hold onto.”
Well hey, everyone’s getting along. Awesome.
(And, actually, it’s not bad. Maybe it’s something that can keep happening.)
There’s been a lot of change, the last few years. A lot of life throwing one curve after another.. But Sunday morning on the J line to Manhattan? That’s a constant. Something I can really depend on.
Truly, I’m living the dream.
Okay, so it’s not actually that bad. I’ve got a seat to myself. I’ve got my gross energy drink. And there are people on my morning newsfeed that are surprisingly ambivalent to the whole ‘vigilantes still running rampant in the streets’ issue. Legit news-people, too! Not just the lovable wackos that follow NYCWallCrawler.
(While I’m thinking about it, might as well spread the joy. ‘@NYBulletin No need to thank me. The track-suits were just too terrible. Those guys needed help. #FashionVigilantes #OrangeIsTheNewGucci’)
Really though, last night was productive. Not much commentary from the police, but it looks like there was enough evidence of wrongdoing on-site that those guys are actually going to see the inside of a courtroom. So a job well done on that front. New leads on new problems, though? Oh, that is something to be excited about. Or, well, not ‘excited’. Because it’s some serious, Capital B Bad Stuff that’s going on. But I know about it, now. Which means I can do something about it. On Friday.
This week is going to drag on, isn’t it?
I sigh, shoving my phone into a pocket and summoning the courage to take another gulp of syrupy, caffeinated awfulness.
“Bleargh. Why the heck are these things so universally awful?”
“Because they’re loaded with caffeine, which has a naturally bitter flavor. So companies overcompensate with artificial sweeteners.”
I turn to look at the guy two seats over, with his rumpled scrubs and five o’clock shadow. He looks back at me with a thousand-yard stare. The expression of a man who’s Seen Things.
“Thank you, mysterious subway resident.”
He doesn’t react, and says nothing more. He has embraced death.
Which, you know. Cool.
Man, I’m hungry now.
Well, it looks like Jameson finally got his teeth into the story. Not so fast on the uptake as to avoid being scooped, but still, he got his piece in before noon. On a Sunday.
It’s the usual hatchet job. Loses a little punch with the lack of photos or first-hand accounts, but it seems like he decided to make up for it by focusing on Cat’s involvement. Really pushing the ‘criminals fighting each other’ narrative. Nothing actually new there, but it’s a nice bit of variety. Plus, he only calls me a menace once!
Maybe he’s learning?
“...nah.” J.J. is too smart to learn. “Lessee.” I’ll just drop a link, thank @JJJamesonOfficial for the glowing review.I’d say something about feeding cats and expecting them not to follow you around, but something tells me that wouldn’t be appreciated. And while that’s most of my humor (apparently), I have a weird feeling that I won’t like the consequences, this time.
“Yeah, I can exercise self control,” I say, as I casually poke the bear on social media for the nth time.
Nobody responds, of course, seeing as I’m twenty stories up and sitting on the edge of a rooftop.
Before the whole spider-bite thing, I wasn’t great with heights. It didn’t come up much, obviously, but it was a thing that I knew about; heights made me dizzy, and the few times I was up higher than ten stories I could swear I felt the floors moving.
As it turns out, powers do more for you than fixing your distance vision and giving you the ability to do a sweet standing backflip. Who needs depth of field when you’ve got superhuman kinesthesia to help you maintain your sense of balance and spatial orientation? Not this vigilante-man, that’s for sure. Spidey’s got no time for ‘vertigo’ when he’s got a late breakfast to focus on.
Street food is awesome. So’s the view. It’s Sunday morning and, technically, I have nothing I need to worry about. It’s just...it’s nice. A chance to enjoy the perks of the job.
Of course, the moment that thought crosses my mind-- that I have nothing to worry about except filling the gaping void that all teenagers call a stomach --that’s when some jerkwad cuts across traffic and makes a mess.
It doesn’t look like anyone’s hurt? A self-inflicted fender bender isn’t technically anything that they need a superhero for. Right? Right.
Horns blare. People shout.
“Oh that’s a fistfight.” Shoot, okay, food down phone down, jump-
Nobody gets seriously hurt, and clearing the way for traffic is a cakewalk. But, by the time I’m done my kati rolls are cold. So, y’know, so much for that.
The little bell over the door chimes when I push it open, and I have to take a second to appreciate that. An actual bell, not one of those electronic tones that goes off every time the wind blows a little too hard.
‘Course, then I get out of the way, because people are busy and don’t have no time to deal with uppity Spider-men blocking the entrance.
There’s not much of a line, seeing as it’s still before lunch on a Sunday. By the time I reach the counter, I’ve remembered, searched for, and found my ticket. A good thing too, because the guy running the place doesn’t look like he’s in the mood to deal with my nonsense.
“Heya Mr. Emmerson.”
“Do you have your receipt this time?”
I hold it up, pointedly.
He doesn’t bat an eye, plucking it out of my hand and turning to disappear into the back. A little time passes, quietly and just a little awkward. Faint music from a fuzzy radio, the hum of a fan somewhere behind me. Somebody coughs.
And then he’s back, dropping my plastic-wrapped suit over the counter with a huff. “That’ll be fifty dollars.”
“You’re killin’ me, Mr. Emmerson.” Kind of. In that it’s really kind of awkward, paying for things in cash. Almost painful, fishing the bills out. How many kati rolls could I get for fifty bucks? “You’re lucky I like the place so much.” He snorts. Takes the money, and gives me a receipt before shooting the suit a pointed look. I take the hint, wasting no time slinging it over my shoulder. “Uh, have a good day, I guess.”
I’m almost out the door when he speaks up again. “I like this one better than the spandex!”
“It’s-!” It’s still actually mostly spandex, because it’s a practical material and there’s a reason athletes use it for literally everything, but it’s also not worth arguing about?
A guy in a suit shoves his way past me through the door. I take the hint. Again. Just hints all over the place today.
“Nobody respects the classics…”
Whatever. I need to go find a place to stash this.
With my suit secured away, it’s time for some heroing. Scheduled heroing, this time. Which is kind of a misnomer, I guess, since it mostly involves swinging around and waiting for something to happen. I’d call it ‘patrolling’ but that would imply something a little less...I don’t know. Haphazard?
“If it’s stupid and it works,” I twist at the top of my arc, fall into a dive that ends with me skimming the side of a building to fling myself around the corner (and there’s a buzz). “Then again--huff--there’s gotta be a better way.”
Maybe I’ll cave and try the police-scanner idea that’s been rattling around my head for the last couple months. Might be easier than trying to use my spidey-sense to dowse for trouble. Like, it still sort of seems like a bad idea seeing as it involves ceding the initiative. But maybe having a little direction would be worth it?
“What do you think, maybe it’d improve our working relationship?”
“Yeah, that was basically what I was thinking too. They don’t really like being shown up like that.” And that wasn’t taking into account the other downside of following the police around; you tended to run into them more. After all, “They’re not exactly in love with the whole ‘Vigilante’ thing, for some re-” Duck--oh, right. “That was rude.”
The would-be mugger makes a noise that’s probably supposed to be intimidating, but, uh...isn’t. Actually, it’s more like-
-one of those videos of lion cubs trying to roar. Only less cute-
-and more pathetic, actually. “Really man, you should probably just stay down at this point. Like, you got moxie, don’t get me wrong, but…” No, no, he’s getting up again, shaking off garbage before rushing. Again. Like it’d actually do anything?
Spoiler: It doesn’t. Because I web his feet to the ground and he faceplants on the pavement. “Yeah. Rhino, you are not.” Even if...whew. “You’ve got the smell down, but that’s about it.” Oh man, there was something ripe in those cans.
“Holy shit, that was awesome!”
Would-be-mugging-victim is looking much better than his counterpart. A little starstruck, maybe, which is a particular kind of strange that I’m still not used to, even with the recent upswing of public opinion. (Which, you know, hey, only took people two years to figure out maybe the guy going around busting up violent crimes wasn’t necessarily planning on terrorizing the city, despite some of his other hobbies.)
“I think this is yours?” ‘This’ being the wallet I’m fishing out of the mugger’s coat. ID looks right... “Might want to call the cops, so they can take care of this chucklehead.”
“Fuck off,” Chucklehead slurs, obviously dazed from his latest misadventure. “Gonna turn me in for trying to make a living?”
“Um, yeah? Since you’re kind of making your living as a violent criminal?”
“Make’s you any different?”
Haaa. Well. “Probably this.” I shoot for lighthearted, as I toss the guy his wallet. Not a bit of guilt there, nope, what would I have to be guilty about? “Anyway, good talk, such crimestopping, very hero...I’mma go now.”
And I do exactly that, hopping from dumpster to windowsill to wall. Not hard to get swinging from there.
It’s barely noon, after all. Still plenty of time to get some more Good Deeds in.
It’s maybe three in the afternoon by the time I make it home to the old brownstone duplex. Actually not late, for once. I think that merits a little mental back-patting. “Wow Parker, way to be a functional human being.”
Mister Watson’s out front, sitting on his porch like he owns the place. Which, technically, he does, because it’s his porch, but also-
I don’t wave, pushing past the front door and into the front hall. By the smell of things, May’s already got something in the oven. We did always like to do Sunday dinner together, but with just two a whole roast feels like a bit much. “Hey!”
“Hey, Pete!” She’s not in the kitchen. Living room? “Just finishing up a lesson. Stir the potatoes!”
That’d explain why I’m hearing halting C major instead of the Ramones.
I head for the kitchen. Stir the potatoes. There’s a sticky note on the cabinet nearest the stove with my name on it; May loves these things. Why sticking a piece of paper somewhere important is easier than just texting has to be...well. I guess she’d gotten in the habit with Ben before texting was a thing.
SODA IN FREEZER
I can’t help but crack a grin, because May got the good kind. From the bodega down the street. Mango-kiwi flavor. And a Dr. Popper, which has to be May’s. She loves the stuff.
I grab some plates and get a table set, craning my neck a little to look into the living room. There’s a kid I don’t recognize on the piano bench, plinking away. My aunt is supervising and, when she catches me looking, I raise my soda in a ‘toast’.
Very cool. I find a spot to lean, fish out my phone, and spend a little time browsing. Social media again, though now the focus is a little closer to home.
Looks like there was a party last night, maybe? Instapic says as much. Definitely worth missing for busting up a crime ring. Or, like, a really good rerun. Or even a mediocre rerun, honestly. Flash’s inebriated smirk isn’t all that interesting.
What’s really amazing, what just blows me out of the water, is that I didn’t merit an invite. Ha.Ow.
I manage to stop myself before I get too deep into the scrolling. Try and take a minute to actually think about important things. Like is there anything I actually need to be working on right now? There’s a paper due on the history of the textile industry next week. I’ve kind of been assuming it was some sort of punishment or something, but I guess I should still, you know...do it. At least get it outlined before dinner, maybe.
I startle and unstick my face from the table. When had I moved to the table?
“Long day?” May’s looking quizzically down at me. Done with lessons, I guess. It’s incredible how easy it is to time travel when you’re tired. I swear, I gotta figure out how to harness those powers. “How’d it go?”
‘It’ being...not swinging around New York and standing on tall things, probably. “It was,uh, good. I think.” I rub my face. “Did you get a new student?”
May slides my plate in front of me with a quirked eyebrow, taking her own seat. “Sure did. Apparently I’m getting 5 stars on google. Can you imagine?”
“You do have a pretty slick website.” It had been one of the first ones I designed. Pretty basic, but she’d refused to update it since 2012, so… “Guess all that time I spent bribing voting bots paid off.”
“Ha!” She throws a balled up cloth napkin. Underhand, bless her. “No need, nephew. I got the whole Ackermann family in my pocket.”
And they’d sent what, three of their kids to May? “Can’t argue with that.” The roast practically melts in my mouth and I lose my train of thought for a few seconds. “Hey, uh-”
It’s so good. Holyshit. “Pash the ketchup?” We’re gonna have to get more soon. Speaking of, “Thanks for the soda. And uh, dinner. You went all out, huh?”
“Gotta up my leftover game.” She spears a green bean on her fork, then uses it to gesture. “You’re stillgrowing, incredibly. And somehow I don’t see pizza as a vegetable.”
She looks pretty chipper. Maybe I can ask. “Hey, I uh, thought you took Sundays off?” I know things are tight, I know she’s been having to pinch for pennies. She keeps refusing to just let me-
May shakes her head, nonchalant. “Not anymore, kiddo.” Brief eye contact. “Just for a little while, until we get used to things.”
I sit forward in my seat. “I can pick up a job, I bet.” We’ve talked about it before, and I can see the answer on her face before she says a word. “Just something part time.” Something with minimal documentation. That would pay in cash. And that didn’t have a phone on the premises so May would never know it didn’t actually exist as more than an excuse for why a teenager has money to burn.
“Your job is school, Peter. Do your best, get into a good college, and knock undergrad out of the park.” Her tone is dismissive, and a little uncharacteristically tense. “Waste your energy on some pointless gig and you’ll miss out on the important things, bud.”
Yeah. Pointless gig. Sure.
“Guess so.” I pull on a smile, despite the heavy feeling in my gut. “I’d like to help out more though.”
“You’re plenty of help, Pete.” The warmth is back. “How’d study group go this morning?”
Oh, hey, would you look at that, the knife can actually twist a little further. Good to know. “It’s good, or uh, was good. Just, you know, got plans together for this presentation.”
“Glad to hear you’re making some progress. It sounded like a pain in the ass.”
What had I told her it was about this morning? Shit, I can barely remember leaving the house. “Uh, yeah. I think the biggest challenge is gonna be keeping the audience awake.”
“Might start by keeping yourself awake.” May smiles. “Tell you what, kiddo. Go get cleaned up and I’ll do the dishes tonight. Catch an early night tonight, maybe?”
“Yeah, that sounds good.” It does. But it would have been great if I’d made more than halfway up the stairs before the phone started ringing. The landline. Isn’t there a law or something about telemarketers after 5 pm?
“Peter?” May’s holding the phone to her chest. “There’s someone on the line for you~” If the tone weren’t enough, she’s waggling her eyebrows. Ugh...who do I know that would call the landline and warrant that sort of response?
I trudge down the stairs and regard the archaic technology with a suspicious eye.
“Hey, Tiger.” Tha-thump.
“Uhh...hey. What’s up?”
“Just thought I’d give you a ring.” Ever so casual. She’s putting on airs; that faux-casual tone is more grating than endearing, which I think is half the reason she does it.
“Uhhuh. Why’d you call the home phone?”
“Wouldn’t miss a chance to chat with May.”
“What, you two exchanging recipes now?”
“As a matter of fact…” I can hear her smirking. “Just checking to make sure you haven’t forgotten we have plans tomorrow.”
“Nope. I’d never plan.” Ha. “Unless it were tomorrow. Then I might.”
That earns me a sigh. “Alright, well, after school. Plan on taking a few pics and maybe doing something illegal.”
“Bye, Pete.” The line goes dead. I stare at the traitorous phone for a few seconds before setting it back on the cradle and heading upstairs.
Maybe I’d better clean up a little.
“You know, I’m pretty sure I could free-climb this anyway.”
“First off, stop being such a try-hard,” I snort (while pushing aside the thought that I could literally just jump from here and be fine). “Second off, the faster I get this check done, the sooner you get your ‘awesome aerial view’. So maybe quit squirming?”
Felicia snorts, gives her harness one more irritable tug before falling still again. “Just watch those wandering hands, Parker. I’d hate to have to snap you like a twig.”
“Yeah yeah. Where’s the trust?” I sigh, and pick up where I’d left off. Harness belt looks good. Leg loops too, attachment points...elastic is still good. No wear on the metal, or the clips. Everything is clean, solid, secured.
And vaguely familiar, actually. Well, yeah, I know how to hook up a harness. This seems different than just being familiar with the basics, though. Especially these bits at the shoulder. In the half-light, like this, it reminds me of that wannabe superthief I ran into last week. Similar enough to get me thinking. Maybe she’s using modified climbing gear to go along with the grappling gloves? Added security? Or maybe a necessity?
“Hey, you still alive back there or what?”
And I’m letting it distract me. C’mon, Parker, get your head in the game. “Looks good. You ready to go?”
Judging by the way she practically leaps into action (completely ignoring protocol and barely giving me the time to feed out the rope) she was, in fact, ready to go.
Dust catches the light as it curls through the air, kicked up by Felicia’s passing. She definitely seems comfortable picking her way up the exposed brick. Her speed just barely gives me enough time to give her the slack she needs. “Do you just like stressing me out?” It wouldn’t surprise me, honestly.
“Well, we go climbing and stuff. Like, my family goes to Colorado.” Oh, right. She’s rich. I don’t know how I keep forgetting that. “Try and keep up, Parker. We’ll both have more fun that way.”
“Yeah, yeah.” That’s...wait. I’ve heard that before? Where have I heard that before??
The thief, laughing over her shoulder as she slips out of sight and leaves me to contend with a dozen pissed off security guards.
“No way. Cat?” She freezes, there on the wall, and I know I’m right before she says anything. “Holy crap. You’re that wanna-be superthief?”
She’s free of the rope and down the wall in seconds. “Spider?” Her expression is incredulous. “No fucking way. I flirted with you!” Her expression wavers between afraid and challenging. “You-are you going to be cool about this, or-?”
Cool about it? I...I don’t know? What the hell am I supposed to say to that?
Apparently, it wasn’t ‘nothing’. Because by the time I find my words again, she’s long gone.
I wouldn’t see her again for a month.
Ah, back on the subway again. Home to the masses, harried businessmen, and high school students on their way back to Forest Hills. That’d be me. And MJ, on days when she doesn’t have five extracurriculars to tackle. The fact that she’s chatting on the subway instead of engaging in the more socially accepted ‘scrolling social feeds’ is absolutely mind blowing, but she’s nothing if not a social butterfly. Even with both of us propped against some guy’s sweaty back.
Oh, what I wouldn’t do for a more comfortable spot. Maybe something on the ceiling.
“So, did you get your presentation done for history yet?” She raises her voice to be heard over the rattling of train over tracks, but it still takes me a second to realize she’s talking to me now. “My bibliography is a hot mess.”
It really is. But the rest of it (or, at least, the bits I proof-read earlier) are actually incredible. Not that I don’t believe MJ doesn’t do good work; it’s just surprisingly engaging. Who’d expect the fashion nerd would be passionate about the textile industry? If I didn’t already have plans with Felicia for the afternoon I’d probably try to pick her brain a little.
But I digress.
“Uh, it’s done. Ish.” I wrote the conclusion on the subway ride to school this morning. And that’s the important part, anyways.
“Uhhuh.” She shoots me a knowing look. “History’s such a gimme. Don’t bomb it because it’s boring.”
“Says the girl that refused to take organic chemistry on the basis of ‘having better things to do.’”
“Uh, yeah? I play two sports and have an actual job. What’s your excuse?”
Ouch. “I came here to have a good time, and honestly, ” I clutch dramatically at my chest, “I’m feeling so attacked right now.”
That gets a laugh out of her. “Okay, well, if you decide to do something more productive than dumpster-diving for computers to rescue, let me know. I might be persuaded to edit for you.”
Oh yes, how magnanimous. “Did you break your phone again?”
“Parker, I swear to god-“
“I stocked up on your screen size after the last time.”
“Oh, cool.” She relaxes, again. It’s good to see. “In that case, I might have some work for you.”
“Parker’s Electronics Repair is always open for business,” I grin, even as the train jostles and threatens to topple more than a couple people. (Not including myself, obviously, because I’m much too...prepared and well-balanced for that. Totally.) “Barring unexpected book-club meetings.”
“I can’t believe your aunt actually has those, it’s adorable.”
“We’ll just have to agree to disagree.”
“What, not a fan of Wuthering heights?”
“You know what she’s reading? “
“I get the emails.” She’s grinning now. “Maybe I’ll swing by for Gone Girl, next month.”
“I don’t deserve this hatred. Aren’t you ‘too busy’ for commiserating with my relatives?”
“I could free up some time if you feel that strongly about it.” The train stops abruptly, and mercifully. The absolute Hulk of a human being behind us does a fantastic job of absorbing inertia.
It takes me a second to transition between commute mode and move mode. Mary Jane is already way ahead of me, weaving between people and bags with deft ease. “Keep up, Parker!”
It’s a good thing we don’t live far from the stop; just enough time for small-talk and a couple of witty observations before the inevitable distraction occurs.
In this case, the motorcycle in my driveway. All sleek black and silver accents. MJ lights up the moment she sees it. “You didn’t tell me Felicia was coming over!”
Probably because I wouldn’t have expected this level of excite? “Yeah, she mentioned wanting to work on some of her hobby stuff.” Vague but, technically correct (which is, of course, the best kind of correct). “I guess she skipped the subway.” Rich kid syndrome, honestly.
“Her bike’s so cool.” MJ is unabashed as she hops the stoop to my front door and lets herself in. “Hey ladies, wassup!?”
“Oh, hey Mary Jane!” May’s there in the living room chatting with Felicia. “It’s good to see you! Do you have dinner plans?”
“As a matter of fact, I’m free!” She flops down on the couch, a tumble of red hair and ripped jeans. “What’re you making?”
Aaaand, I’ve officially lost control of my night.
Two pizzas and about half an hour later, Felicia’s giving me Looks and, and pointedly glancing back and forth between Mary Jane and the clock. The height of subtlety. And okay, yeah, we are supposed to be casing the docks tonight so Felicia can scout out security and put up a few cameras of her own. But, it’s becoming increasingly likely that our plans are going to have to wait. May and MJ have been talking scholarships for the last ten minutes, and I’m pretty sure if I interrupt it’s gonna be my turn to hem and haw about how many applications I’ve put in.
“You absolutely should be applying everywhere that interest you, MJ.” May points with her fork for emphasis. “And you should be applying for scholarships too. You’re a well rounded candidate, I’m sure any school would be lucky to have you.”
“Well, I guess so.” MJ worries at her lip. “I don’t know, I’m mostly interested in fashion and acting. Dad says trying to go to school for those is a waste of money. “
“Is he in fashion?” Aunt May pipes up, leaning over the table with a frown. “Is he an actor?”
“So he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Do what you want, girl!”
MJ cracks a smile at that. “Guess so.” She drags a hand through her hair and heaves a sigh. “It probably wouldn’t hurt to put in a few.”
May’s still looking thoughtful. “What do you need to get started acting, dear?”
“Well, I have to go to auditions. I got a part in Pygmalion spring semester this year, so that’s, uh, good.” She rolls an empty cup between her hands. “Pay for membership in the actor’s guild if I ever go bigger than the high school. Get some good headshots. I guess I could use my senior photos next year, maybe? Fashion, you need to go to school, or get lucky with an apprenticeship...I guess I could try modeling too. That just needs a decent agency and some pictures.” She’s frowning, looking down at her hands. Chewed nails. “Not exactly the easiest things to come by.”
I see May’s eyes sparkling. I see it, and I know exactly what it means, but I don’t have a chance to say anything before-
“Peter’s a good photographer.” She smiles, and nods my way. “He’s gotten a couple of pictures in the Globe now!” Her tone is casual, but she’s giving me a Look. (Lots of those going around, today.)
Time to deflect. “I mean, I’m alright, but I haven’t really got the equipment for like, glamour shots.”
“Well, it’d be good practice, don’t you think? Something other than background pics for newsletters... and Felicia said you two were going to go take some pictures tonight anyways.” Well. Damn. And I really don’t see a good way around that little factoid.
MJ’s grinning too. She looks excited. Crap. “C’mon, Parker. I’ll make a more engaging subject than an old brick wall, doncha think?”
“We have to get our project done tonight, though. “ Felicia is trying for an out. “Red, you can swing by next week or something, right?”
“I wish. I’ve got the tri state conference.” I distantly remember her talking about that. “It’s no big deal, Pete, I’ll just hire somebody, maybe.”
She absolutely won’t. May’s been on her to try and achieve her dreams for literally both of our collective childhoods.
“You don’t have to do that.” I said it without thinking, but now it’s out and...there’s no way I can get through this without being in trouble, is there? Smile, Parker. Give the people what they want. “We should give it a try sometime, then! What’s your schedule like on-”
“I did say I’m free tonight, Tiger. I could just tag along? ”
“Uh…” Crap. Well, I tried. “You’ll have to go change.”
I sigh. MJ cheers. Felicia’s smile looks entirely too brittle to be anything but barely polite.
Still beats that history report. I think.
We’ve been waiting in the station for maybe twenty minutes when Felicia finally shows. Tromping through the crowd, decked out like G.I. Jane-
MJ stifles a snicker, but I keep my own face very carefully blank. She still shoots me a glare, which is yet more proof that I’m not allowed to win.
“Alright nerds. Ready to go?”
“Hey, you’re the one with the game plan. We’re waiting on you.”
“Not my fault I bothered to do my homework instead of bumbling into things.”
“Ahem.” A flash of red, as MJ steps between us. “I’m waiting on both of you jerks. So how ‘bout we get started on the whole trespassing and reckless endangerment thing, huh?”
Felicia shrugs, apparently unconcerned. “Let’s get moving then. Parker, you want to take the lead?”
Again, despite the fact that she’s the one who knows where we’re going. “My pleasure.” My heavily sarcastic pleasure. “That way?” She nods, and I shoulder my bag, start toward the far end of the station. Follow that wide, yellow line as Felicia gives MJ a quick rundown on ducking security. It doesn’t take long to reach the end, and once we’re there, it’s just a matter of waiting.
Felicia pulls out her phone. MJ pops a stick of gum. I do my best to look bored and impatient. Just another group of shiftless teens here, no reason at all to look twice.
The Transit Officer across the tracks doesn’t even look once.
I can’t fault Felicia’s timing, though, because the next train arrives barely a minute later. Screeching and rattling up from the direction we’ll be going. Soon enough it’s stopped, lines of sight are cut...and, when I edge toward the tunnel itself, there’s no subconscious buzz of danger, either.
I hop the railing, onto the narrow walkway that runs out into the dark. When nobody continues to notice, I wave the others after me. Break into a quick jog, because we’ll need to get some distance, and quick.
“Holy shit.” MJ laughs breathlessly somewhere behind me. “Is it seriously that easy?”
I can hear Felicia’s grin. “You’d be amazed just how much security depends on people not planning on breaking the law.” I can’t help scoffing at that, and it earns me a shove from behind, nearly throwing me out of step. “Bite me, Parker.”
“Gasp! Felicia! Not in front of MJ!”
“Won’t see me complaining, Tiger.”
“Oh wow, they’ve both got jokes...alright, assholes, I think this is far enough.”
Right, enough jogging then. I stop, shoot a careful glance up and down the tunnel before unslinging my backpack to dig things out. “I’ve got the vests, and a spare set of goggles. And some hair-ties.”
“Think we’re good on that front.” Felicia is already tying hers back, her own bag sitting open between her feet. “Go ahead and grab a face-mask, Red.”
“You could have mentioned there was a uniform…”
It takes a little shuffling around and a couple of demonstrations, but soon enough we’re all kitted out. Respirators, safety goggles, hi-vis vests; with long sleeves in dark colors, we could just about pass for city workers. From a distance. If you squint. Which is close enough for this, as long we don’t run into any actual maintenance guys.
Still, it’d probably be good if we got a move on. “Miss Hardy, now that we’ve officially embarked, I bequeath my title of ‘Expedition Leader’ to you.”
She rolls her eyes, slinking around MJ before shoving me into the wall in passing. “How gracious of you.”
“Owie.” Why all the shoving today?
“So! We’re looking for a door. Or maybe a hatch, I’m not really clear on which.”
Great. “Glad to know our fearless leader is on top of things.”
MJ smirks at me, but doesn’t say anything, falling into exaggerated lockstep behind her.
“Next time, we’re doing our research as a team.”
“I’m so glad you agree with me on this.”
There’s some wandering involved. We move from one tunnel to another, following worn signage and fresh graffiti, until Felicia finally stops at a particular door.
“Should be the place.” She mutters, giving the handle a sharp yank, then another. Metal pops. “Shit. Parker?”
“Got it.” I edge in behind her, poking through pockets until I find a battered multi-tool. The kind of thing I’m more used to seeing on my work-table than in Felicia’s hands. “Why is it I always wind up caddying for you?”
“When you learn how to jimmy a lock, then you can complain.”
“You’re not doing anything with the lock.”
“Yes I am.” She tips her head to side-eye me through her safety goggles, before giving the tool a twist. The broken handle hits the ground with a clatter. “I’m removing it.”
Oh yeah, because that’s so not something I could do. “I’m just sayin’, where’s the finesse?”
“How about you quit your bitching and finesse me up some light, Parker?”
There’s a sharp click, light glares, and I flinch away from the dayglo yellow in front of me.
“You guys do remember I’m here, right? Like, you’re third-wheeling me pretty hard, I’m not sure I appreciate it.”
Oops. I edge back to make space for MJ, catch Felicia’s eye as she shuffles a couple steps to the side, too. “Uh...sorry.”
“Yeah, guess we kinda suck at this tour guide thing.” Felicia huffs, the sound muffled and echo-y. “But hey, live and learn. For instance, today you can learn that this is an easy way for you to open pretty much any door with a tumbler lock, as long as you’re not trying to be subtle.”
There’s a complaint about teaching people how to subvert basic security features on the tip of my tongue, but all things considered...yeah. I don’t say anything, choosing instead to exercise a little forward thinking and dig out my own flashlight and headlamp. Which proves to be a good decision when the door swings open into a pitch black corridor.
“Let there be light.” So we can see the water-stains and years of dust and rust in all its glory. Eargh. “You take us to the nicest places, Felicia.”
“See if you warrant an invite next time,” she deadpans, before waving down the hallway ahead. “We need to head about a hundred meters that way. We’re looking for another door.”
“Oo, this is getting real ooky-spooky, huh?” MJ lets the door swing shut behind her, scanning up and down the corridor with her flashlight. “For real though, is this what you guys do in your spare time? Break and enter and take pictures of city utilities?”
“For your information, pics of rusty sheet metal are an easy A in any photography class.” She snorts, and I give a vague shrug. “Seriously though, there can be some cool stuff down here.”
“I mean, I’d hope so with all this effort.” MJ shrugs. Scuffs her heels for a few steps, before kicking a loose piece of concrete so that it goes skittering off ahead. “Like, how do you even get into this stuff? You just decide to take a trip down a manhole one day?”
Not...really. “Actually, you can blame Felicia for this one. She’s the one that decided to share her scrapbook of empty warehouses.”
“Never needed climbing gear before you got involved, Parker.”
“You still kept dragging me along.”
“It seemed like you needed a hobby.”
Yeah, she’s not wrong. Considering I’d been running myself ragged, at the time. Spending every night trawling for a needle in a haystack. One particular gun-toting thug in a city with an annoying overabundance of those…
“Y’know, most people just play video games.” MJ turns a slow circle, peering back down the corridor in the other direction. “Or enjoy a solid position on, say, the school basketball team.”
Felicia doesn’t even spare her a glance. “Um, excuse me, whom amongst us has never missed practice even once?”
Always nice to see these two getting along...wait, hold on. “Is that our door up there?”
Felicia’s already picking up speed, almost bouncing in excitement as she closes the distance. It’s as securely locked as the last one, which means it’s maybe twenty seconds before she’s throwing it open with a cry of success.
MJ lets out a low whistle, while I, with my two free hands, offer a congratulatory slow clap.
“I’ve seen a few brick walls in my time, but this one is certainly among the most impressive.”
“Wow, I’m so glad you guys invited me out to help me take pictures for the prospective career I might be staking my entire future on.”
I stifle a laugh as Felicia whirls on us, hold up my hands in surrender before she can do more than glare. “This...is not going to stop us.”
And while I hate to point out the obvious, “I think ‘they bricked up the exit’ is a pretty solid stop, honestly.”
Oh no. Why are her eyes crinkling like that. She’s smiling. Why is she smiling?
“It doesn’t look like they did that good a job, does it Red?”
“Uh, how the heck should I know?”
Oh, I’ve got a bad feeling I know exactly where this is going.
“Seriously though, if you actually look at it, it’s practically falling apart. I bet even Parker could knock it down.”
Dammit. It’s my turn to glare. Felicia just tips her head in a very particular way. I’m pretty sure she’s sticking her tongue out at me behind her respirator. Because she’s a pest.
Still, everyone’s looking at me like they expect me to actually try. Or, y’know...‘try’. I sigh, trudge up to the door, and ever-so-obligingly push against it. Make a big production of things, ‘leaning’ into a shove or two before giving a much more careful jab with my palm. A brick pops loose.
“Well, that’s one.”
I take a deep breath, and inject as much strain into my voice as I can. “Hey, why don’t you see if they’ve got cell reception working this deep, huh? I wanna talk to my union rep.”
“Yeah, sure thing. I’ll let May know to run you a nice bubble-bath for later, while we’re at it.” What the heck even? “C’mon Red, I wanna see what’s going on down here anyway.”
Oh yeah, sure, now she takes our completely normal friend aside. I huff, straighten up, elbow a few more bricks out of place. That opens up a decent gap, enough for me to snake an arm through and get a solid grip. “‘I bet even Parker could knock it down’. Yeah, I’d love to see you do the dirty work sometime…”
“Hey, everything okay back there, Mike Rowe!?”
Bricks clatter. And I remind myself that voices carry pretty well down here. “Just peachy!”
At least this won’t take long.
I do my best to focus on the all-important fiddling with my camera, instead of the excitable MJ as she pokes around the abandoned station to the slightly-tinny beats of Maroon 5. Or the subtly fuming Felicia who decided to post up beside me while I ‘work’.
It...doesn’t really do me any good.
“I don’t know why you’re mad at me.”
“Who’s mad? I’m not mad.”
“We’re having fun. This is fun, right? Hanging out? You always tell me I need to socialize more.”
“Again, implying I’m somehow upset by things.”
“May suggested it. You know I had exactly zero chance of saying no.”
“Like you would have turned her down if it hadn’t been May’s idea.”
Okay, wow. “And when’s the last time you shut MJ down when she asked you to do something?”
She snorts dismissively, and doesn’t answer, because we both know she’s exactly as bad at that as I am.
“Besides, you weren’t exactly offering up alternatives. You invited her along, and had all of this ready to go.”
“I was planning on checking this place out anyway.”
“We could have just hit an old building or something. A couple hours hanging around, then back home to get ready for tonight.” Instead...well, here we are. “Like, we probably still could make time for the other thing, so-”
“We shouldn’t have to make time.” She snaps, continuing through clenched teeth. “And seeing as how you just love to play Superhero, I would have thought you’d be a little more interested in making sure we’re ready for Friday. Instead, I’m playing tour-guide so you can take glamour shots.” She punctuates that with a pointed gesture at MJ. Who is, in fact, posing dramatically on the edge of the platform. “I mean, get your priorities in order or something. Jesus, Spider.”
“First off, names, please.” She scoffs, and looks away again, but...dammit. “And I get that you’re ticked off about ‘outdated info’, but I really don’t get why you’re mad about MJ. I’m not the one that made the call.”
“Well maybe you should have.”
Aaand there she goes. Off to...challenge Mary Jane to a race across the rusted out cars languishing at one end of the tracks. ‘Get some action shots, Parker!’
Yeah, sure, just some action shots. Just everybody being buddy buddy.
“...and why do I feel like I’m the bad guy?”
It’s going to be a long afternoon, isn’t it?
The fact that I don’t see Felicia for a while after the whole ‘discovering each other’s secret identity’ thing isn’t that weird, for a few days. I’d expected her to quit talking to me, or just straight up avoid me, but...she’s doing more than that. By which I mean she hasn’t even been at school, as far as I can tell. At all.
After a week, I check with MJ.
“Yeah, she’s skipped practice too.” A little frown, there, but she shrugs it off. “Felicia’s always been kind of flighty, Pete, and I know she’s got some family stuff going on.”
Oh, sure. ‘Family stuff’. The Family Business, so to speak...
“It seems weird that she’s not coming at all, though.” I’d slipped a note in her locker to see if I’d get through that way, but that was sort of pointless if she wasn’t even coming in.
“She didn’t text you?” MJ frowns. “I’m surprised. She always tells you her stuff.”
Uh, what? “Really? We barely talk personal stuff.” Mostly, when we hang out, we’re focused on photography. Or heckling bad movies.
And suddenly I’m getting a full Mary Jane Watson Staredown. Yeesh. “Tiger, you know she likes you, right?”
I...I know what?
“I can ask around for you if you want, Pete. But you’d be better off just going to see her.” It’s a bit difficult to absorb that, at the moment, with my head all full of static. So I give a mechanical nod and turn toward my locker.
I do know where she lives. Should I actually go, though? With the whole...super-thief thing, it doesn’t seem right to just show up. Even if she has been missing school. Even if we are, presumably, still friends.
Time drags on. Still no Felicia.
The of the month has me stepping up to a gated entryway and telling someone on a video-system I’m here to see Miss Felicia Hardy.
Her mom’s usually the one that would greet me, but...not today. Today, she’s in the living room, surrounded by paperwork and dressed from head to toe in black velvet. Which is...definitely a look.
My heart sinks.
Stairs up to Felicia’s room. The door is cracked, opens with a nudge. She doesn’t look up, even when I knock. She just balls herself into a bristle of silver hair and tense muscle.
She’s in black too. She usually is, but context is a hell of a thing.
After...when Ben died, what is it I wanted? Thinking back, I mostly just wanted to be left alone. But Felicia had dragged me across town, snuck us into her house, and taken me up to roof to foist pizza and indie music on me. Tough love, or something.
“C’mon, Cat. Let’s go. We got plans.” She’s looking at me now, at least. “Wanna walk, or swing?” The barest fraction of a smile.
We manage to catch the rooftops by the time the sun’s going down.
It’s hard to forget the way she leaned in, after. Crying and laughing and holding tighter, and tighter-
I wouldn’t have let go for anything, then.
The text comes in just after ten, Wednesday night. Impersonal and straight to the point; ‘Midnight’, along with an address somewhere on the East Side. It gives me plenty of time to get into the City, get suited up and ready to face down the worst parts of the world again. But it also gives me plenty of time to worry about the whole...angry Cat thing.
It had kinda come out of nowhere, hadn’t it? Or maybe it hadn’t. She’d been pissed about Saturday, sure, but then she’d seemed okay. Everything as normal. And sure, I can see how our sudden change of plans the other night was frustrating. I wasn’t exactly enthused about being voluntold, myself. But, I don’t know. Felicia’s always been hard to understand.
It just seems like she’s been extra prickly since.
Not that that’s particularly important right now. Considering we have actual, important things we need to be doing. And that I need to be getting ready for, actually.
The subway serves me well, getting me close enough to where I need to be, with just a little time to spare. Enough time to find a good, solid fire escape and make my way up to a decent rooftop that has plenty of cover from overlooking windows.
I’ve got my newer suit tonight, which is particularly nice since it’s all undamaged and freshly cleaned. That’s enough (in my mind anyway) to make up for the additional hassle of getting the thing on. The old body-sock was a piece of cake; step in, peel out. Just adding a couple of resistant fabric layers hadn’t changed that too much, but the hard plastic pieces that ‘armored’ the thing? Those take some work to get secured and settled.
And okay, it’s better than the tights. I can admit that I enjoyed the challenge of making it, and the fact that it requires much less upkeep. I’ll even go so far as to say I appreciate the muted color scheme (even if I would have preferred blue to gray).
I’m mature that way. And I’m distracting myself, checking over gear that I know is fine. Because angry Cat.
Time to face the music.
I find her on a rooftop, of course. What looks like a completely innocuous office building. Perched on the edge of an AC unit, she doesn’t even look up from her phone as I hit the gravel beside her.
“About time you got your butt in gear. I was worried I’d be flying solo tonight.”
Aaaand she’s definitely still mad. “What, you thought I’d miss the opportunity to ruin some trafficker’s night?”
She shrugs, and drops her phone with a clatter that sets my teeth on edge. “You’re a popular guy, Spider. Might have gotten a better offer while I wasn’t looking.” There’s an incredulous question half-formed in my head but I don’t get a chance to ask before she’s down, stalking toward the access door. “You ready for this or what?”
“I might be more ready if I knew what ‘this’ is.” Still, I follow her over. “Doesn’t seem much like a hideout.”
“More like a middle-manager’s office space.” She nods, fanning a familiar set of picks between her hands before digging into the locks. “But, y’know, with more Scumbag. Unfortunately, we’re gonna have to make our way down to the fifth floor for that.”
Okay. Fifth floor. Shouldn’t be too hard. “Uh, how many legitimate businesses between us and them?”
“Six? Something like that.” She shrugs again. Pops the first lock with a twist. “Not like we haven’t done this before.”
Our first actual team-up had been nerve wracking. It’d been exciting too, getting into the technical details of research, problem solving, and application. Hadn’t really bothered me as much as I’d expected. At the time, it was even fun, slipping through security like it was nothing. That feeling, like nothing could stop us, like we could do...anything.
Allan Chemicals had been the beginning of the end for the first Black Cat. I guess it’s hard to regret helping Cat out with that sort of thing.
Hard to figure why I’m feeling so conflicted about it now.
The second lock clicks, and Cat secures her tools with a magician’s flourish. Steps aside and tips her head to side-eye me through her goggles. “Alarm check.”
All part of the routine. I take a deep breath, rolling my shoulders as I move to examine the door. Tarnished handle, clean locks, solid frame. Getting closer, I follow the lines. The cracks where it’s held flush to the jambs. I spread my fingers over the cold metal, feeling for anything that might indicate a problem.
Nothing. So, I reach for the handle. And when there’s no telltale buzz of danger, I nudge it open. Scan the inside for any sensors or detectors I might have missed.
“Looks like we’re clear.”
“Then what are we waiting for?” Cat practically slithers past me, jogging down the the landing before throwing herself over the rail. Not even a backward glance.
Yeah. She’s definitely still mad.
It’s unsettling, going into something like this blind. More unsettling that it’s going so well.
“Yeah, I noticed that.”
Yes, great, she noticed. That isn’t stopping her from cracking yet another lock; this one on a fire door leading directly onto the fifth floor.
“Probably means no night janitors or anything.”
Nothing. Okay. We can do ‘quiet’. Super sneaky. Not awkward at all.
The door opens, and Cat slips through without a sound. I follow a moment later, easing it closed behind us. Still no lights; probably on a timer then, and not a motion sensor. Good for us-
A snap, Cat flicking her wrist; plastic crunches, as the grapnel launched from her glove buries itself in what used to be a camera. I pinpoint another with a quick glance down the hall, web it over as thoroughly as I can from a distance. Not exactly subtle, but I guess that’s not what we’re going for, tonight.
“We’re looking for the boss’ computer,” Cat says, arm outstretched as her grapple reels back in. “Obviously, something’s changed. Everything I have says this place is supposed to be busy.”
“And we snuck in to check it out anyway?”
“What, you don’t think we could sneak past some bored office drones?”
Actual bored office drones? “We absolutely could. I’m a little more concerned with the office drones that work for a group that traffics people. They tend to be armed.”
“Yeah, gotta watch out for those itchy trigger fingers.”
Cat’s in rare form. Usually there’s more banter.
And I guess we’re going this way, now. Okay. That’s fine.
She wastes almost no time, barely checking nameplates before shoving open doors, scanning offices and cubicles. Honestly, it’s not even a two person job; I wind up trailing after her, consigned to keeping an eye out for surprise late-night workers or...I don’t know. Booby-traps? Do organized crime guys set traps?
It feels a bit demeaning to be reduced to a glorified perception check.
“Well, this looks important.”
It does. Corner office, nice (but not too nice) desk set into the east corner, with a smaller desk sort of wedged off to one side. And, when she immediately commandeers the larger of the two, I settle into the other and start the computer to booting. Spin the chair around a couple of times. Poke around the desk until I find the little post-it with the password and username I’ll need, stuck under the upper level of the desk, just above the lowered keyboard shelf.
“This is really weird,” I mutter. Login, looks like that info’s correct at least. “I mean, seriously. Really weird. Where is everyone?”
“Not here,” Cat growls, hitting a couple of keys just a bit harder than necessary. Poor hardware peripherals never saw it coming. “It’s almost like a SWAT raid is enough to make the bad guys a little uneasy about doing bad things.”
Okay, well, on one hand, problem identified. On the other hand, are we really back to this? “You’re not going to let that go, are you?” Of course not. Why would she? Also, why would anyone keep their desktop uncluttered? Clearly this schmuck needs five of the same shortcut...
“Well, if it ends up costing a dozen people their lives, you can bet I won’t.” I glance back to see her hunched in her seat, laser-focused on the screen in front of her. “I mean, why the hell did you even call the cops? We were breaking in, doing things, stealing shit...we had plans to do this Friday! Why not at least wait until then before trying to bust them?”
“Okay, first off, you were stealing their shit.” I turn back to my search. Accounts maybe? Spreadsheets seem promising. “You’re also the one that decided to leave in possibly the least subtle way possible. Which, by the way, would give them just as much reason to change their plans as anything else.” Like, I get it, obviously. But she doesn’t get to do the thing and then be mad about the fact that we both did the thing.
“Oh look, another chance for Spider to be right about something.” It’s mumbled, under her breath. She probably doesn’t mean for me to hear it, and I...whatever. I pretend I don’t. I focus on spreadsheets, prices and what might be codes. For a while, the only sound in the room is typing. Breathing.
“You could have asked me at least. Before you had cops swarming the place.”
I scoff, open up another file. “Yeah, I think I can guess what you would have said.” About cops. Because she always says the same things about the cops.
...because her dad was killed by police. Shot dead while on the run after a successful prison break. And I know that. I spent the better part of a month helping her through the aftermath.
“Shit.” I slump back, and just...why did I not pick up on that earlier? It’s so damn obvious. I’m a friggin’ idiot. “Cat-”
“Since when was stealing from creepy Euro crime-lords off limits, anyway?” She cuts me off, way too sharply for her to not know that I’ve finally realized how I fucked up. “Seemed fine when you were upgrading your suit.”
Incoming fire, aaaand it’s a hit. So maybe I don’t think so hard as I could have before returning fire.
“Oh, yeah I’m sorry. I’d totally forgotten just how unsatisfied I was with my ‘clown couture’, and my ‘dumpster gear’. Oh, and let’s not forget the problems I had with your boring goggles and sloppy hand-stitching.”
“You know, for all that you complain about never having money, you sure do seem squeamish about opportunities to change that.” Her voice is dripping with scorn. “Any more insights ? Ooo, I know, try and justify your illegal shit by saying it’s better than mine. “
“I help people, Cat!” I can’t keep the frustration from my voice. “Nobody’s done what I do before.” Sure, there’s the Avengers, maybe the Daredevil, but none of them do what I do. Friendly neighborhood-Hell, if I counted, I’ve saved half a dozen lives, this week.
“Wow, neat, completely original.” She turns to face me, pointing a clawed glove. “In case you forgot, you tagged along on those thief missions. Didn’t have any trouble with it, when you didn’t like the ‘bad guys’.”
“Or was that ‘fine’, for you? Just swan in, help yourself, and then have the balls to whine at me about it afterwards. Get a grip, Spider.”
“Yeah, I’m not the one having a meltdown about it. Cat, why don’t you just-” I still, frown at the soft hum of my spider-sense, and-
My chair tips when I rock to the side, but I manage to avoid the paperweight that flies past me. And goes on to smash the monitor I’d been staring at into scrap.
Then she’s over the desk, and I’m dancing away from a flurry of kicks, strikes, and slashes. Cat’s ferociously single minded attention. And the whole time, a steady assurance from whatever weird instincts I have that she’s really trying to hurt me.
“Dammit, okay, I get it. You’re pissed at m-” Another punch, but this time I reach out to push it aside, put her off balance. “You’re pissed at me! I did so-!” Claws catch across a shoulder-plate, and I wince at the resistance that means they’re actually cutting in. Seriously, this is getting just a little ridiculous. I knew she was mad but- “Cat!”
She makes a frustrated noise, low in her throat. Throws one more half-hearted swipe at me before turning away, stalking back to the computer.
I watch, until I’m sure she’s not trying to lull me into a false sense of security. I sit.
Time goes on, and she’s still tense as a wire, shoulders hunched up. But eventually, her focus shifts.
“I found where they went.” There’s a tremble in her voice. Maybe anger. Maybe not. “They changed the drop-off point...not far. And the drop is tonight.”
Because of course it is.
We manage to cut across town and land in Hell’s kitchen in maybe five minutes. It feels like a lot longer than that, and we’re both too winded to do more than gesture towards the docks below by the time we land. Maybe that’s for the best. Cat’s as fast as I am, almost, and she’s not superpowered. I forget about that sometimes, she’s so damn smooth, but she’s just that good.
I wonder if we’d still talk. If I’d never gotten all mutate-y. If it weren’t for everything that came after that...
The warehouse is just ahead and I can see a guy silhouetted against the sky, there. Guess they were expecting us. Cat’s already flattened herself to the roof, the grey-furred collar of her costume breaking up her shape against the slate.
There’s noise, and movement below. It looks like they’re the only ones here tonight, if the lack of other workers and aimless drunkards is any indication. Sharpish movement around the warehouse. As we watch, two trucks pull up and the first swings open. What must be at least a dozen girls marched out at gunpoint. Hard to tell from here, but several of them are limping.
“Something tells me they aren’t here for a naval reinterpretation of Hamlet.” It feels flat to say, but I gotta say something as I crawl to Cat’s side on the roof. “Oh, hey. They souped up.” There’s not just one roof-guy, but three. No, four. And they’re all holding rifles.
The girls are marched into what looks like another warehouse. “These guys really are committing to the scumlord warehouse aesthetic.” Grungy. I’d be more impressed if I wasn’t busy trying not to rage-vomit in my mask. “Figure they’ll hole up for long?”
“I doubt it’ll be more than a few hours. They need to move them to a sale point, and here is too exposed.”
Since when does Cat know about the logistics of human trafficking?
There’s a few guards loading supplies into the warehouse now, and of the fifteen I count milling around the docks, a dozen of them go inside. Maybe securing the cargo? Seems that second truck is waiting to unload.
“What do you say we stack our chances a little and take out our friends outside, first?”
I’m already hopping to the wall of the nearest building. The sentry up top doesn’t seem to notice, until I peg him in the face with a ball of webbing. A moment of muffled gasping that doesn’t last as I get a line around his ankles. Yanking this asshole off the roof feels a little more satisfying than I’d expected. A few more seconds to secure him, and our count is down by one.
I don’t see Cat, but I do hear ragged breathing. Down by 2 then. No gunshots, yet. Which is good, because the last thing we need is this nest of armed idiots to start shooting. They sure aren’t being subtle out here; this guy I’m leaning over has expensive body armor on.
“It’s like you guys were expecting trouble or something. Can’t imagine why.”
He’s still trying to yell through the webbing on his face, which I take as an indication that his breathing isn’t compromised. I web him again, which takes the muffled yelling down to say, a coughing kitten. Perfect. Mental note: perfect the vulcan nerve pinch to avoid wasting web.
Second verse, same as the first. Well, except my next target’s on the far side of the horseshoe shaped cluster of buildings nearest the docks. Guess it is a good thing I swapped out my red-and-blues for the occasion.
I swing around instead of across, cutting my momentum with twisting hops off of brick walls and making an effort to minimize my time above the skyline. By the time I make it over to the second sentry, he’s actually looking out over the water instead of the warehouses. Of course.
“Looking for Namor or something?”
He does seem disappointed to see me. Not very surprised, but the look of dawning awareness on his face is fun. “Night-night.”
Right. So, how many are left? One on the roof. And I detect a distinct lack of guys milling about on the ground, so either they all went inside or Cat’s elected to focus on groundwork.
Kind of weird that we wouldn’t face the deranged gun-toting mobsters together and do little quips and stuff. She’s probably just thinking stealth mode is more important right now. Which it is, objectively. It’s just kind of weird being on a scene with her and not being sure what she’s doing.
Maybe I should focus. The last guy’s looking left and right, grabbing for something small on his belt. Walkie? Shit. Time to go. I swing across the open space and come up on the last guard with enough speed that he hesitates, trying to decide between using his gun and his walkie. “Yoink!” No communication for you! Aaand “Double Yoink!” No gun either. “Triple yoink!” Krak! He takes a right hook to the jaw and I start looking for a good place to web this guy up. A dull, metallic thud in the alleyway below catches my attention.
Ah. There’s Cat. Loading a body into a dumpster. “You take me to the nicest places.” Eh, the wall is fine. I wrap him up, crawl down head first to say hello to my partner in crime. Or, uh, heroism, tonight. Whatever. It’s been a trip. I’m already getting tired.
“Care for an aperitif?” Cat opens the dumpster lid back up and I’m treated to the sight of what has to be six guys. Apparently there were a few stragglers I hadn't seen. They’re alive. Bleeding some, but I don’t see anything some antibiotics and a prison nurse won’t fix.
“I’m all set, thanks though.” A flip has me on my feet and searching for eye contact in Cat’s mirrored lenses. “Didn’t see much movement from that second truck.”
“I grabbed the driver.” Cat’s flat as she padlocks the thing shut. Yeesh. At least my webbing melts off in a few hours. “The back’s locked still, but I can get it open. Just wanted to clear as much as we could, before I crack it.”
“Cool. Do you think it’s more people in there, or-?” She’s already brushing past me and stalking towards the truck. The warehouse behind us is quiet.
Just a padlock on the door. Not unlike what I used to lock up my bike with, before some punk got ahold of a pair of bolt cutters and ruined that particular day.
Cat’s not the type to lug around something so inelegant as a bolt cutter, though, so I supervise while she works her little picks for the third time tonight. Doesn’t take more than a handful of seconds before she’s tugging the lock loose and prying up the bar that keeps the rear door of the box truck-
I yank her back without realizing I’ve done it. My head’s buzzing electric warning as metal screeches in protest . There’s a...knife? Something sticking through the door, and booming laughter. As the door crumples inward, it reveals a monstrous shape that has to tear itself through the gap it opened. Seven feet tall, at least four wide, and-
“Haaahaaa!!” There’s a fucking tail! It’s not a knife, it’s a metal tail and he keeps jabbing it at us as he just unfolds from the back of truck!
“Guess I get to earn my keep tonight!” His smile is a jagged assembly. Dude’s got fish eyes. Cold.
What the fuck did we just get into?
“You need to get this down, Pete.” Felicia’s standing there and scowling, like that’s meant to be intimidating. It is, a little, but still. “If you’re serious about the whole Masked Hero thing, make sure you don’t half-ass it.”
“What do you mean, ‘half-ass it’? Felicia, I can pick up a car. Like...I can duck away from bullets. This stuff you do is really cool, but do I really need to spend time with it?” All her martial arts stuff is about redirecting energy and I have yet to meet a mugger I couldn’t run circles around.
“Excuse me?” There’s a little heat to that, and I find myself rocking back on my heels.
“No offense, Felicia, seriously, you’re amazing, but like, what’s th-?” My spider sense buzzes warning, and I move just a little too late-
-which means I find myself face-down in the gravel. Ow. I shift a little, getting centered, and there’s a twinge in my arm. The fuck-It feels like she’s about to snap it off!
“What happens when you run into someone that knows what they’re doing, Parker?”
“Uhh-” I’d twist and shoot a web ball at her, if I had one, but I’m out of costume and the high school parking lot doesn’t offer a lot in the way of cover. “Snappy insults?”
“You die.” She lets loose, and I sigh in relief, wasting no time in getting back to my feet.
“Geez, you’re being really pessimistic about this…”
“I’d be less pessimistic if you promised to practice with me.” She reaches for my hand as she says it, and I cringe back reflexively. But she just holds it, wrapping it up in both of hers. “I need a sparring partner that can keep up with me, anyways. “
Guess that’s sort of an interesting proposition.
I move, all reflex, swaying back until my feet leave the ground and still just barely avoiding the sweeping tail that threatens to impale me. Gravity reasserts itself almost immediately, my hands hit the ground, and I kick up, twist, push into the air again because claw-
-web, pull, shoulder to the ground, roll into it, out of it, on your feet Parker-
He’s big. Guys that big shouldn’t be that fast. Or have tails and some kind of souped up jaws-of-life rig on their arm. I mean, what the hell?
His already less-than-stellar features curl into an even uglier scowl as we settle a few paces apart. “You’re a quick little bastard, you know that?”
“It’s come up,” I reply with a shrug.
‘Danger!’ flashes up my spine, and I weave to the side as that tail snakes out from under his arm, the curved blade at the tip hissing as it cuts the air and adjusts on the fly, shit-
I step closer, step into it, my hands out and spaced to cling, control (it’s metal?), and-
-why am I in the air-?
Pain. I slide awkwardly out of the shallow indent I’d made in the metal siding of the truck, hit the ground and only just keep myself from collapsing. I still wind up curling in on myself, struggling for breath, but it’s easy to make that look like I’m just crouching, purposefully. On purpose.
“So uh…” I wince, cough, force in a deep breath despite the very noisy complaints from my ribs. And spine. “Fancy gear you got there. Very nice.”
Big guy grins with a mouth full of too-sharp teeth. “Like it? Fittings were a bitch and a half.” He turns to flex his claw-arm, show off the armored plating that’s visible through the torn back of his leather jacket. The now obvious mechanical click-click-clicking tail as it waves, curls, arches up over his shoulder. “But I gotta admit, it’s growin’ on me.”
Okay, cool. Great. Get him talking. Talking means he isn’t trying to kill me. “I mean, you’re really pulling it off. Like, ‘Giant Biker Scorpion’ isn’t an aesthetic most people would go for.”
“We work with what we’re given.”
“Right, right…” Breathing’s getting a little easier, which is nice, but now I have to worry about the fact that the bad guy is actually talking to me. “So, like...okay, I gotta admit, I’m really curious what you’re doing in the back of a truck that was supposed to be full of kidnapped women.”
More sharp teeth. Are mouths supposed to open that wide? “Oh, the girls’re in there. I was a ‘ridealong’, get it? Guard duty.”
Guard duty. “Which is why you’re trying to kill me.”
“Which is why I’m trying to kill you, yeah.”
“Could you maybe, uh...not do that?” I manage to sound hopeful, even go so far as to offer up a fist-bump. “Arachnid solidarity?”
The claw snaps at the air, and he makes a big show of considering it. “Eh...thing is, I’m being paid pretty w-ergh!”
What, like I was supposed to wait for him to finish saying no, when my web-shooter was so conveniently pointed at his face?
Engine noise. I glance at the truck, catch sight of frightened faces through the hole torn in the back before it starts rolling toward the gates. Not driving. Rolling. Like someone hot-wired it, put it in gear, and took the parking brake off before slinking back into the shadows.
Which I guess answers the question of where Cat went.
Damn! I was hoping that being blinded and potentially suffocating would keep him from immediately charging at me like some kind of whirling death machine. Given he is charging blind, I go up and over, nail his back with a webline and pull with everything I’ve got in the other direction. Not much leverage in mid-air, but enough to unbalance him?
Maybe. It might have been. If there hadn’t been a cable wrapped around his neck, and if Cat hadn’t been pulling from the right. So instead of hitting the asphalt, he just sort of swerves toward her, pulling me after him as he goes.
“Great minds think alike?”
“How is this my fault!?”
Scorpion-man cuts her line, and digs the bladed end of his tail into the pavement when I get the bright idea to try and plant my feet so I can, y’know, yank him off balance again. Seeing as that’s a dead end, and since he’s busy trying to clear off his face, I take the opportunity to skedaddle on up the nearest wall. That being the warehouse where all the goons had gone. Cat takes off around the nearest corner too, the faint, pneumatic pop of her grapple sounding again. Which is great because it takes him all of five seconds to finish tearing apart the webbing I’d hit him with.
Like, I make the stuff to be elastic and strong, not to be a super glue substitute, but damn. He could have at least pretended it was more than a minor inconvenience.
“I just have to wonder!” His attention snaps to me immediately, and I throw another wad of web at him; not surprising that he side-steps. Slightly more surprising that he then cuts it out of the air with that damn tail. Speed, coordination…“How is it a bunch of creeps like this have access to somebody like-”
I drop, kick off the wall, skirt just under a sweeping tail as the guy just flies overhead. “Somebody that can jump real good!” I hit the ground in a roll, already running by the time I reach my feet. A webline catches one of the light poles that dot the loading area and take myself up again. Keep the distance. “Since when is that a scorpion thing!? Don’t they mostly just scuttle around!?”
“Fuck if I know!” I’ve barely settled on my new perch before I have to duck back, letting myself fall to avoid the clatter of something that crashes into the lights. They blow out with a crash, leaving me blinking stars out of my vision as I drag myself blindly through the air toward something big and solid-
I catch myself, palms stinging-
-and immediately make like one of those sticky climbing toys to avoid another spray of debris. Rocks? No, brick, because this nutjob is clawing out another handful from the warehouse beside him.
“See, what I wanna know is what a coupl’a two bit thieves think they’re doing sticking their noses where they don’t belong!”
“Eh. It’s a living.”
What is Cat doing!?
Why, she’s swinging down from the roof of the Warehouse, claws dragging along the face for balance as she lines up a boot with Skorpy’s face. It sends him ass-over-teakettle, but also sets her spinning in midair. Judging by the cursing, it’s not a matter of choice.
And then the men with guns start pouring out the doors.
Alright, time to shake things up.
First, a quick sprint up the wall, get some height so when I jump I can actually get some distance. Scorpion guy’s recovering, gunmen are scrambling, looking for something to shoot...but Cat’s recovered herself enough to start ascending the warehouse again. She almost makes it without being noticed, too.
Not quite. But it’s close.
Shouting below, as she hauls herself over the edge. More, when I follow after her on a web.
“Get inside,” she bites out, limping toward a skylight so coated in grime I doubt it’s been serving any purpose recently. “That guy’s way too mobile out here.”
Right, exactly what I was thinking. Basically. “You-” A very un-subtle screeching fills the air as Cat drags her claws across the glass, and I grit my teeth to make my way over. “Okay. The girls?”
“We get them out. Like we planned to.”
I put my fist through the ‘X’ she’d made. Glass shatters, falling away in clumps as I sweep my arm across the frame to clear it as much as possible before setting down a line and slipping through. “Going down?”
A heavy thud not so far away (what I can only assume is Scorpy hitting the rooftop) cuts off any commentary. Cat’s arms catch around my neck as she drops, and I let her momentum set us falling, spooling out the line as fast as I can without risking broken limbs. And Big Ugly makes his appearance just in time to see us cut and run through the heavy shelving units filling up the space. Floor? Seems like a couple of ‘floors’, but I’m not sure-
Damn. “You go low?”
“We need to clear the thugs out.”
“I’ll keep Scorpy chasing his tail then.”
Cat scoffs, but splits off to pull herself up onto a shelf, squirming through plastic-wrapped pallets almost exactly like her namesake. Leaving me to draw the attention, yet again.
I skid to a stop, crouch low to get a good, standing leap...my fingers brush the rafters, and that’s enough for me to pull myself up, get my feet on the flared bottom of a beam. From there it’s easy to get a Spider’s-eye view.
“Target spotted…” Just crashing along. Not quite a bull in a china shop, but close enough to worry about. “Hey, Dr. Claw!” Yep, attention got. Now to keep it.
This time I’m watching as his tail curls in on itself, going tense as he half-crouches, as he rocks back. He doesn’t so much jump as he does launch into the air. Fast. Powerful.
I was falling the moment his feet left the ground. And while he’s stuck on his arc, trapped by little things like inertia and ballistics, I can turn my straight drop on its side with a couple weblines and some good timing. My shoulders may not appreciate the move, but-
“Where d’ya think you’re goin’!?”
I throw out a hand, just barely catch the strut of a shelving unit as I fly by. It warps under my hand with a sudden jerk and a metallic screech, and the whole thing tilts dangerously, but it serves as a solid enough pivot point. Gets me out of the way of the angry super-thug that had probably thrown himself back down from the rafters, now that I think about it.
I’m still in the air, still have some momentum to work with. Scorpion-man is on the floor, digging his claw out; looks like he’d gotten it stuck, when he’d overshot me. Webbing it down means it’s stuck harder, but honestly I’m not banking on it lasting.
Impact. I hit something heavy, something that slides back a few inches. The shelves tilt again, groaning - oh, there’s an idea - then slamming back down. Not quite the same explosive force as that tail behind the action, but it still gives me a decent springboard sort of boost off.
I hit the ground. Throw out a couple more lines. Catch Skorpy’s eye as he stops struggling with the claw in order to stare me down.
I pull. The shelves to our right tip precariously in our direction.
“Oh, you little piece of shit.”
“The line is ‘Next time, Gadget’!”
One more solid yank topples things nicely, and with the added bonus of helping me not be decapitating by that tail, and also to not be buried by Many Heavy Things. All in all, a well executed plan.
Cue the gunfire.
Better go take care of that, I guess.
So, the good news; Cat got the girls free, the two of us together got them out, and now we’re down to a couple of rifle-toting jerkbags. Bad news? Those couple jerkbags are watching the exits, while their ringer plays the worst sort of hide-and-seek with us.
“Alright, you two! No reason we can’t talk this out like reasonable people!”
Cat hisses from her hiding-spot, wedged precariously between a support beam and wall. “Guy’s really playing the Psycho for Hire thing to the hilt.”
“Seriously.” I tilt my head, trying to get a better look out onto the floor. Not easy, with the way I’m pressed into the bottom of a catwalk. Means I’m having to rely more on sound. Which I guess means it’s a good thing he’s still talking? “Where’d they even find this guy?”
“C’mon, Spider, buddy! Pal! Come on out, have a chat! I promise I won’t kill ya! Arachnid solidarity, right!?”
“And now he’s ripping off my material. Cat, I think I might hate this guy.”
She rolls her eyes, but her smile is forced. A little bloody, from a nasty backhand he’d landed when she couldn’t disengage fast enough. “You’re such a drama queen.”
“Actually, Miss Pot, it’s a lovely shade of charcoal.”
“Black would have been nicer. I could have kept the white fur.”
“Yeah, but I’d like to avoid being labeled a complete edgelord-”
A crash, overhead. We both shut up, freeze...I’m barely breathing, as heavy footsteps shake the catwalk. Vibrations buzz into my bones.
“I gotta admit, you got guts, kids! Put up a helluva fight, for a coupl’a smash-and-grab artists.” Cat shifts again, her jaw clenching. Obviously not very happy about his assessment of her skills. I’d probably be angry too, if I wasn’t very pointedly not moving. What with the size thirteens clomping along maybe three inches from my face. “But you’re really starting to test my limited patience! So how about you both be good little punks-”
I lunge toward Cat, alarms blaring in my head as tortured metal screeches. The bladed tail twitches in the space my head used to occupy, and the whole catwalk lists dangerously as Skorpy drops down over the side.
My arm catches around her waist, hers clamps around my shoulders, and there’s a hiss-thwip as we both act to drag ourselves out of reach. More metal noise, still danger ringing in the back of my head...I split us up, twist in the air, barely intercept the blade before it can catch my side, but then I’m holding onto the thing and-
“GET OVER HERE!”
-did he just-?
Not a hug, not a hug, not a hug. He can’t stab me this close, but that’s not stopping him from literally crushing me. Or from hanging one-handed so he can do his damndest to snip my head off. I snake my arms free just in time to get them up, angle, push, so the pincers can’t find purchase. Edges scrape along the hard plastic protecting my forearms, and his arm overextends. Can’t let him recover from that, can I?
No, I can’t. So I grab, somewhere above where his hand should be in this thing. I dig my fingers in, as hard as I can. I twist, and pull, metal rending-the tail loosens around me, and I bring my knees up, kicking the moment my foot hits something solid. Pushing away, and bringing whatever I can of the claw with me.
Scorpion screams. I hit the floor flat on my back, struggling for breath. He lands in a sprawl, tail thrashing as he clutches at...what should have been an exposed hand. But isn’t. Because it’s just more machine. Which...uh…
He looks up at me. He looks very upset about the fact that I just tore his scary prosthetic off.
“I’m gonna kill you dead!”
That’s when Cat smashes a broken piece of a pallet across his teeth. There may have been nails in it.
She hooks her arm in mine. Hauls me to my feet.
I guess we’re running again.
Okay, this is just getting ridiculous.
“Are they even going to pay you at this point!?” Webs, webs, stay in the air, keep him chasing me. “Like, you’re tearing their place apart!”
The inarticulate rage-roars I get in response aren’t particularly reassuring. Neither is the gunfire coming from the other side of the warehouse. Dammit. A sharp pull brings me into contact with a support beam, and I hit it hard, kicking off to reverse my momentum. Faster than falling...I plant a foot on Skorpy’s face as I pass, throwing him off his flight path and giving me the angles I need to latch new lines to roof and rafter.
Cat is on the move too, slipping away from those pesky door-watchers through whatever cover hasn’t been turned into so much scrap by the rampaging cyborg man. It’s not her usual effortless grace, either; if I didn’t know better, I’d say that looks like desperation.
Like I have room to talk?
She whirls on me the moment I’ve landed, but I duck away from the claws and catch her arm (gently!) to keep her from overbalancing into the twisted remains of a shelving unit. “Jesus, Spider-”
“So this isn’t working.”
“No shit.” She drops into a crouch, dragging me along with her. “We need to get the fuck out of here before that psycho brings the whole place down.” She bares her teeth at the crashing noises that echo from back the way I came. “Trying for the skylight is just going to have him and his goons chasing us outside. I figure we go through a wall.”
It’s not a bad plan. It wouldn’t be fun, but I could make a hole easy enough. But-
“We’re just going to leave this guy here?”
She looks at me. Suit battered, goggles cracked, ears long gone. Reaches out to press a hand to the cut on my side, where that tail had nicked me right through the suit. “And what the hell do you think we should do?”
Ha. Implying I have some sort of plan.
“Well…” Another crash. Louder. Closer, and it’s followed by the dangerous, echoing noise of metal under stress. Inspiration strikes. “We outnumber him severely.”
Claws dig into my side, tension shooting through her for a moment. Just a moment. Then she takes a deep breath, and gives me a shove. “Yeah. Yeah, okay Spider.”
Good. So we’ve got a plan, or the makings of one. “You ever play those video games with the really stupid boss that keeps ramming into things?”
I grin. “I’ll get his attention, you get your sneak on.”
She huffs irritably, but slips away without hesitation. “Bwee-yooo…”
“Get back here, bug-boy!”
And there’s my cue.
Up and over the wreckage, back into the air. Skorpy spots me right away, his bloodied teeth flashing as he flexes his good hand.
“That’s Bug-man to you, ya lug!”
He roars again, and the game begins again. But this time, I’ve got the initiative. The first time is easy. Guy was already charging around like an enraged bull without any of the finesse, so all it takes is landing on a support pillar and ‘slipping’. Just enough of a delay for him to really commit, probably hoping to finish this whole mess in one go by just straight up splatting me.
So when I drop entirely and roll out of the way, he hits the thing shoulder first, at full speed. Metal screeches. Concrete cracks. I jump straight up before he can pull himself out of the dent left behind, throw up a line to pull myself further, into the rafters. Hopefully out of sight of those jerks with the guns.
Shouting below, Cat dancing around the raging cyborg until he plows into another pillar. Which I guess proves that he really is as dumb as he looks? Or maybe not; I think even I would have busted an arm, ramming into solid metal like that twice.
No time to wonder about it, though, because he’s rounding on her again, and I move-
“Death from above!”
I hit him feet first, square in the back, and ride him all the way down. Just barely avoid what’s got to be some sort of instinctive tail-stabbing, tucking into a roll as I hit the floor.
The pop-hiss of Cat’s grapple is definitely a relief.
“The hell are your shoulders made of, anyway?”
Whoops. Duck and weave. “‘Grah!’? Is that one of those cool new synthetics coming out of Oscorp?” Wild-swipe, slightly less deadly due to not being a pneumatic claw. And then a less wild swipe from the tail...I snag it as it passes, let myself be dragged off my feet and into the air. Flip, turn, stick the landing. “I’d have given their marketing team a little more credit!”
"Would you shut up already!?"
One more charge. This time, he tries to get clever, tries to pull left to stab me as he passes. And that's fine. Because it's barely an effort to swing around the other side of the support, to nail his back with a line, slap the other end down. And maybe it’s stupid, but watching his feet go out from under him as the slack runs out just makes my night.
"Hey, looks like he does have more than two brain cells to rub together!"
"Weird," Cat calls from somewhere nearby. "I thought I'd managed to knock those out a second ago. Maybe try hitting him again?"
A lightning shock up my spine cuts off my attempts to reply. It seems like Skorpy's had just about enough of our business, cutting free from the web line and coming at me in a rush of whirling death. The kind of thing best avoided, thank you very much-
"I'm gonna tear off your face and wear it like an old-timey bonnet you little shit!"
Wow. Just...wow. "The hell is your damage, man! We just came to ruin your employers' nights and business deals and maybe get them thrown in jail for a few..." I bounce back, just barely avoiding another jumping slash of that tail. "Actually, you know, when I put it like that-"
His head jerks back as Cat pulls the same trick I just did, leaving him wide open for me to smash a broken pallet over his head. Obviously not enough to actually stop him, given the hurt we’ve been laying on him, but it gives us a little time to regroup.
Or, it was supposed to. Cat seems to have decided that a disoriented cyborg is too tempting a target to pass up, because suddenly she’s clinging to his back, claws digging into his shoulder and raking across his face.
He staggers back, straight for the warped pillar. Planning to crush her against it, probably? Which is less than ideal; I plant my feet, fire a webline, pull him to a stop before they can hit. Success!
Why is Cat firing her grapple at me!?
Webs slip, and I snatch the cable out of the air reflexively as the big guy stumbles again. Move, when Cat pulls, letting myself be dragged forward as she kicks off his back. And I get it, I catch on. Keep the pressure up. Don’t give him time to recover.
I dive forward into a handspring, and slam my foot across his jaw hard enough to send him weaving drunkenly to the side. A twist, a vault, up over his shoulder, and I’ve taken Cat’s place, just in time to brace myself as the cable goes taught, as she winds herself in…
She reaches out. I meet her halfway.
An underhand swing throws her into the air, the force of it rocking our impromptu pommel horse beneath me. A warning hum buzzes in the back of my head as her grapnel buries itself in the floor at Skorpy’s feet, but I was expecting it. Waiting for it. As she rockets back down, I’m twisting to throw myself over the length of that damn tail. Maybe it’s my weight, maybe it’s surprise, maybe it’s the gravity assisted kick Cat slams into the guy...but it drops. Far enough that I can touch the floor and get a solid grip. Far enough that I can pin it down.
And once it’s pinned? Oh, I web the shit out of it.
“You ffffuckin’ punks-”
He tries to turn, the tail straining audibly, but I’ve got it trapped, I’m not about to give him the leverage to get it free. And Cat isn’t willing to give him the opportunity, letting out a wordless battle cry as she starts winging debris at him from outside his reach.
So, we’ve got him stuck. He’s on the ropes.
It makes sense that the next step would be to disarm him, right?
I cling tighter to the tail...then kick. Once, twice, three times, driving into the small of his back as hard as I can. That heavily armored spot where the tail meets his spine.
I know the moment I’ve actually done the job, because he starts to scream.
The tail thrashes, then stills beneath me. I roll to my feet in time to see him a few steps away, slumping onto his hands and knees. Looking back at me with murder in his eyes.
“...something, something, retail store.”
Okay, not my best work.
Punching me in the head with his broken claw still seems like an excessive response.
Tonight...was a mess.
The good news is, we’re alive. The bad-guys are down for the count. Kidnapped girls saved, base of operations uh...demolished. Crazy scorpion-cyborg-man short a couple of crazy scorpion-cybernetics. Everything wrapped up in a neat little bow for the first, second, and third responders milling around below.
“There ya go,” Cat mutters, kicking her feet over the open air as Skorpy is finally loaded up into the back of an armored car by a bunch of nervous looking SWAT guys. “A happy ending to a cluster-fuck of epic proportions.”
Normally I’d have something quippy to chase that with, but honestly I’m just sort of beyond it. Now that I can finally relax enough to stop pacing like a crazy person. To gingerly sit myself down on the edge of the roof beside her. “I’d say ‘my bad’, but I’m not sure I can be blamed for surprise super-villains.”
“Super-villain?” She snorts. “Please.”
“Hey, I’m just callin’ it like I see it. Guy had super-tech, a gimmick-”
“No mask,” she counters. “And if you’re trying to tell me a meathead like that had anything to do with making that stuff, then I think you might’ve taken one too many blows to the head tonight.” Her smile starts off sharp, a pretty clear reminder of, well...earlier. But it does smooth out a bit as she turns back to the mess below. “Maybe next time we do this, we’ll actually try to keep things on the down low until it’s wrapped up, huh?”
‘Next time’. Implying there will be a next time. I manage a smile of my own, reach over to prod at the band holding her goggles in place, setting them askew. “Getting a taste for the lighter shades of grey, huh?” I could have dodged the punch she sends in response. I don’t, but I could have. (And I might have, if I’d known she’d aim for my bad shoulder like that; ouch.)
“What-the-fuck ever, Spider.” Her smile twists again, light and mocking as she insinuates herself against my side (and gives the shoulder she’d just assaulted another painful squeeze). “We can’t both be wide-eyed idealists, here. Somebody’s got to have some realistic expectations of the world.”
Oh, yeah, I’m so sure. I pretend to let it go, slip an arm around her and let the quiet settle for a little bit.
“So...next time, huh?”
Cat hums, a vague little noise that I’m pretty sure means ‘I agree with you in spirit, but say anything to anyone about it and I’ll beat you to death with your own spine’.
She can be very expressive when she wants to be.
I let myself relax a little more, take some solace in the lack of tension. We had trouble, I messed up, but it didn’t turn out terrible. So that means things are good, right?
“Personally, I think I’d prefer that there wasn’t a ‘next time’.”
Cat tenses immediately, her head tipping enough that I know she’s shooting me a Look. Which I feel is a little unfair, because I can’t be our early-warning system all the time. Honestly.
I sigh, and turn to face the new Trouble that’s decided to make our night harder, putting every ounce of my Done With This into my voice. “Oh, sure, I guess we can just pretend not to notice...when…”
“Oh, holy shit.”
Yes, Cat, I agree with that sentiment. Unfortunately-
“Six outta ten for the body-armor, but the helmet just screams ‘Knockoff Batman’, so I’m gonna have to deduct some points.”
-I tend to lack a brain-to-mouth filter. But I mean, give me a break. It’s been a long and stressful night, and now we’ve got the friggin’ Devil of Hell’s Kitchen sneaking up on us? That’s extenuating circumstances or something.
The Devil doesn’t seem like he’s about to try and murder us, though, which is something. Instead, he just sort of stares for a second, all creepy and ominous, before tipping his head. Nodding toward what used to be a warehouse. “Is this what kids do these days? Stealing from gangs, antagonizing crime rings, bringing down buildings?”
“We meant to do some grocery shopping, but the local whole-foods was all outta avocado.”
Cat huffs out a breath that could have been a laugh. “Like, entirely. It was so awful. Literally the worst.”
I give a sage nod. “It be like that sometimes.”
“You two are adorable,” The Devil deadpans, crossing his arms with a rasp of whatever material that armor’s made out of. Not spandex. “But in the future? Stay out of Hell’s Kitchen.”
Cat makes to stand, only hesitates a moment before propping an arm on my shoulder for leverage. And support, once she actually gets her feet under her. “Yes sir, Mr. Crime-Ring-Antagonizing Vigilante Sir.” She snorts, pushes away from me to walk a completely steady and straight line along the building’s edge. “C’mon, Spider. Seems we’re not wanted.”
“Guess not.” I take a breath, pop up to my feet despite my aching...everything. “Catch you later, Big D!”
“No, you won’t.”
“See you around! TeeTeeWhyEll!”
“Don’t come back!”
“Until we meet again, my strapping, valorous-yeouch!” I hiss, rub at the back of my head. Cat looks entirely unapologetic, as she fires off a grapple. “Okay okay, jeeze…”
She leaps, swinging away without a backward glance. And I guess I don’t mind following her lead.
Who's brilliant idea was it to stick the 'post without preview' button so close to the actual 'preview' button? Really?
Uh, if you don't know why I'm complaining about that, congrats and thanks for reading.
“Spider--” He’s halfway across the rooftop and it’s still a thrill to see him still. “Don’t rush off?” I never meant for him to know my real name, never meant to know his, but all the banter and all the circling around and posturing has to come back to something intentional, doesn’t it?
“Look, we both know you’re not gonna do anything rash.” Regarding my literal person-sized sack of loot. “What do you say we sit down for a second?”
I can see he’s not sure. “Promise I’ll be nice.”
“Somebody give you a ball of yarn, or something?” He sighs. “You’re acting awfully proud of yourself. “
“I did just pull off the heist of the century.”
“Heist of the week, maybe. What were there, three guards?”
“Yep. And a Super Hero.” I sidle up next to him, glance up. With that mask it’s difficult to read him, but it’s still Parker, right? That nerd from Typing class.
“I’m not sure you get to claim that one as a victory, considering we didn’t actually fight.”
“Maybe if you’re good, we’ll spar later.” I wrap him up in a hug from behind.
“Hey, so if you add a backpack to your costume design, are you gonna call it your Cat-pack?”
Oh, he’s not getting away with that. “Only if you call yours your egg-sac.” The retching noise he makes behind his mask is sufficient reward, so I move on. “Sure I can’t sell you on like, a Spider-lair located somewhere a lil more central?” Sitting for ten minutes on the roof turned my shoulders into stiff, jagged bits of rock, and storming out on the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen didn’t help at all. I’ve been playing sports my whole life, doing heists for nearly two years, and neither of them come close to the rush of--of today. “You could put a neat little logo on it. I know you like logos.”
He grins behind the mask. “Hey, marketing is all about Brand Awareness. But trying to open up a midtown branch seems like it’d be a lot of trouble.” We’ve run out of roof, though, and I have hella doubt about my grapnel holding up after all that. Besides, you need arms to work a grapnel and mine are done. I’m gonna have a hard time washing my hair tonight, let alone hoisting myself across a busted line.
“Yo, uh…” Maybe we can break into this building and catch an elevator down. Where are we? I don’t fucking care at this point. The whole breaking and entering thing might tack an extra half hour onto the commute though, and I have a policy about being in costume past sunup. Plus, what would we do once we hit the street? Call a cab?
I hold out a plaintive hand. “Lil help?” He zeroes in on the glove , reaching out to check the grapple, but- “No, like physically. Spider, I try to make that jump and you’re gonna be down a partner.” He flicks his fingers over my wrist anyway, checking the mechanism over. Stops when I suck air through my teeth.
Maybe it’s not just the shoulders? He’s still for a moment, then looks up.
“So, we’re partners?” Oh my god.
The eyeroll is unconscious. “No shit, Sherlock.” I just wrap my arms around his neck, and my legs around his waist. Being piggybacked around the city isn’t exactly my idea of a triumphant return, but then, we did just save a bunch of people. And, we took down a badass cyborg mercenary, which, apparently exist.
He’s warm. Swinging brings a funny kind of vertigo when it’s not me ; the timing is weird, and I can feel the give in those webs. But I could get used to it.
“So, uh, do you want me to drop you off at home, then, or…?”
Mom’s traveling for work this week. Home is an empty house and a ‘caregiver’ that will almost certainly be concerned about my growing collection of bruises. So far, I’ve been playing off as sparring practice. But she’ll eventually wise up and actually call the dojo, won’t she?
“I want ice packs and some devastatingly bad tv.”
“So, chill at mine, then.” I mumble something vague and affirmative into his shoulder, but he keeps on. “One might even say, ‘Netflix and chill’?”
I pick my head up just enough that I can whisper directly into his ear. “I’m gonna karate chop your larynx later.”
“Before or after Bachelor : Survival Edition? ”
Mrrrm... “After. I’m behind.”
He laughs. Everything is fine.
The world has soft, fuzzy edges that don’t harden until gravity slows down. Where are we? We’re...oh. Clambering though Parker’s window, apparently. And my ass hurts because...we hit the frame. Good to know.
I’m laughing helplessly as Spider fishes us this way and that. “C’mon, stick the landing!” It’s almost a shame he does, because the exhausted frustration is bordering on adorable. I make up for my disappointment by immediately flopping onto his bed slash futon setup. Dude’s been prepping for dorm life since he was born.
“Hey, hand me my bag before you go?” It’s in his closet, which is two steps that way. Steps I don’t have to take, though, seeing as Spider’s committed to his role as friendly neighborhood pack mule. He tosses the bag underhanded.
“I better be getting 5 stars for all my extra services.” Out the door he goes. Down the stairs. Two at a time, if the creaking is any indication. How’s he still got energy?
Changing from Cat into Felicia is a pretty quick process, all told. Boots, gloves, suit, goggles and ears. My bag’s got soft things and now that I’m seeing myself all blotchy and swollen I find myself grinning.
We won .
Whole big-money operation couldn’t even stand up to a couple high-schoolers in drag. Weak bastards. We’re on the way up. I gotta see if I can pull any more of Dad’s old contacts, maybe start chasing down a few connections. That Scorpion guy didn’t come from nowhere, and if he’s a reasonable response to having a shipment threatened, I expect there’s more like him.
Not a problem, if there’s two of us.
When Spider walks in, mask pulled up over his nose, he’s got a box of cold pizza, a half dozen bags of store-brand frozen veggies, and two bottles of water. He sets all that down and tugs his mask off, hair a jumbled mess. “You’ve got hat-hair.” I’m a little bleary, reaching for him, and he closes the distance with a frown.
“Felicia, uh...you look like a truck hit you. No offense. Sure you don’t want to hit up a hospital, or, like, a really fancy veterinarian? “
“Ha. Give.” I reach and grab his face with both hands. Smushy, smushy. “Go change.” Raising his hands in apparent surrender, he steps into his closet and returns a moment later in people clothes. Costumes are shot. I’ll have to see if I can talk him into accepting another one from me.
“Are you sure about the not-hospital thing? Cause I’m pretty sure I can swing getting you one of those. Hospitals, I mean. We could even go in a car. “
“Dude, shut up. I’m doing way better than ol what’s his face.” My shrug’s a bit stilted. “I was promised bad tv.” He’s hesitant, hovering, and I scooch a little to the side, pat the futon like I’m trying to get one of my cats to jump up. “C’mon, Parker. You can help ice me down.”
We’re lolling on the couch like so many bruised apples when a pebble hits the window.
I’m still thinking about whether it’s worth turning down the trashy tv when the window slides open silently. Mute panic crosses our faces as we both attempt to shove all the dropped costume bits under--couch? Blanket? Couch!
“Heyyy guys.” A flash of red above the windowsill. MJ’s all bouncy confidence, hopping over my discarded gloves and Peter’s wadded knee pads. “Did you guys see the rose ceremony last week?” It’s five in the morning. Why is she here? What’s my reason for why I’m here?
I’m still frozen as she swipes my goggles to the side, dangling them from her wrist as casual as can be. “I hate to be out of the loop on this stuff.” She insinuates herself between Parker and me, all comfortable and easy.
Through the open window, I faintly hear muffled yelling. The sound’s low, masculine, loose with drunkenness. This early in the morning? Yikes. “Red…” Maybe she doesn’t recognize anything? Spider was using his newer costume, and I try to keep a lowish profile, all things considered.
Why’d she know to come over here, anyways? Is ‘drunk parental rampage’ the reason she usually comes over? Shit. That’d explain why May’s all supportive and--“ ‘s a little early to swing by, doncha think?” I shoot Parker a look and he hurriedly wads his mask between the couch cushions.
“Swing’s a funny choice of words.” That’s it. She knows. We’re going to jail, or--Maybe we have to kill her? No, Spider never would. I don’t think I could. She’s soft.
There’s a bruise on her upper arm, fingers clear as day over her pale skin. The chill of nerves jittering up my back turns hot, clenches my hands into claws when there are no claws, because I’m not Cat, here, I’m Felicia and --
“Grab some peas, Red.” I look across the way. Mary Jane’s window is just there. Bed sheets still rumpled. From where she was presumably watching Spider fail to get our collective asses through the window in a seamless manner.
Another point for the ‘lair’ concept. I’m buying an apartment this week. Pretty sure I have an ID that’ll work for that. “You ever heard of Krav Maga?” I press the bag of frozen veggies to her shoulder. “Lessons at 4, meet here. Saturday morning. “
“Surprise me again and I’ll clock you. “
Her expression falls for a second, but then she’s grinning. “I surprised you?”
Wound together as we are, I feel an uncanny sense of novelty. It’s weird. I’m still shaky-mad thinking of MJ’s dad being a useless piece of shit and it’s distracting enough that I’m letting the whole secret identity thing go, for a second. “It’s past my bedtime.”
“You sleep?” Peter, as if shocked. “That’s a shocking development.” He’s grinning, the little shit.
“No kidding. 4 am martial arts and crime fighting on the side?” MJ’s nonchalant, propping herself up on an elbow. “Do I need a costume for that, then?” I flash a look to Peter and he shakes his head rapidly.
“The crime or the krav maga?”
“Wait, you guys do crime?”
“Yeah, do we do crime?”
Oh fuck me, we’re back to this. “Shut it. Show’s back on.” I flop back into the entanglement of limbs and half-close my eyes.
There are worse ways to survive the day.