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Crowl-ing in my skin- The Ms. Crowl Story

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          The crisp Autumn breeze whisked through Marjorie’s graying curls as she made her way out of the coffee shop. It was one of her favorite places in all of New York, a quaint little cafe tucked between a bookstore and large department store. At 7:30 every morning she would leave her apartment, walk to the shop, pick up her usual order of a blueberry bagel with honey cream cheese and chai tea, then be at work by 8:20. This was her routine six out of the seven days in the week - she had Sundays off - and it was not often interrupted.

          Today, in fact, she actually had an early start, so she could take a little longer on her stroll and get a chance to admire the changing leaves that brought color to the city. Sipping her tea, Marjorie strolled contentedly down the sidewalk as the familiar sights and smells surrounded her. Everything seemed perfect. Until disaster struck.

           A burly figure shoved her to the side, knocking her to the ground. Passersby stopped and gasped, a few even moved to grab him, but the man was already barreling quickly away through the people on the sidewalk. Marjorie was helped to her feet by a kind older gentleman, resignedly brushing the crumbs of her ruined bagel off her coat. Her tea was also splattered across the pavement, running in milky rivulets into a drain by the street. For a moment, she was too upset by her wasted breakfast to realize the jerk who had knocked her over had grabbed her purse as well, but when she did her heart dropped. It wasn’t much, but the bag had contained her phone, wallet, and most importantly, her key card to get into her work. The phone could be turned off, and her cards canceled, but without the card she wouldn’t be able to get anywhere in the building apart from her desk. Security was such a stickler about reprints.

          Marjorie was fretting about what to do next when the people around her started cheering and pointing. A flash of red and blue whipped by in the direction of her attacker. Within a minute, Spider-man had swung back to where she stood, purse slung over his shoulder to the applause of the onlookers. She couldn’t help but grin as he landed squarely on the sidewalk and scanned the crowd. In her opinion, the vigilante was pretty reckless, and a little annoying, but she couldn’t deny the good he did for the people of New York.

          “Hey, Spidey, over here!” someone yelled, directing the hero in her direction. He made his way towards her, occasionally quipping or making a joke to someone in the crowd. When he finally got to her, she didn’t expect for his weird lens eyes to blow wide.

         “Oh, hey Ms. Cr-ahem, concerned civilian!” He seemed to stutter, before recovering and quickly handing her the purse. Why was he making his voice deeper? “Sorry about that, but don’t worry about him, he won’t be stealing anymore purses for a while.”  She smiled graciously at the masked hero.

         “Thank you, Spider-man, my boss would’ve killed me if I didn’t have my key card.”

         “Yeah I bet err, I mean, that’s what I’m here for!” Spider-man said quickly, before patting her awkwardly on the shoulder and leaping onto the nearest building and out of sight. Not her weirdest encounter, but how did Spider-Man at least seem to know her name? Ah well. Marjorie glanced at Stark Tower rising in the distance. It was only a few blocks away, she had time to run back to the cafe before the Tower opened its doors.

         As it turns out, the walk is far less enjoyable the second time around. Especially now that the sidewalks were significantly more populated, and her back was sore from her earlier encounter with gravity. She made it to Stark Tower right before nine, which wasn’t too bad all things considered, but left her no time to actually enjoy her breakfast before people began to flood in for their appointments and meetings. Normally Marjorie would have moments between check-ins and helping confused newcomers to relax or grab a bite, but the amount of people made even the vast Tower lobby feel cramped.

           So, Ms Crowl spent the better part of her morning busy and hungry. It was nearly twelve when the last cranky businessman made his way onto the elevator and she let out a sigh of relief. Finally, all the trouble she went to this morning would be worth it. But to her dismay, she reached around her monitor to find that her tea was lukewarm, which is decidedly the worst temperature. Groaning, she stood from her chair. Usually this would be easier, but her back was absolutely killing her.

         Lucky for her the staff and secretary lounge was practically right behind her. Marjorie popped her tea in the microwave and tapped out a suitable time, two minutes on low, before sinking into the much more comfortable couch. Once the machine beeped she realized just how short two minutes was.

          Just as she placed the steaming mug down on her desk, the glass doors of the lobby swung open as a young teen stumbled in, hastily zipping his hefty book bag. The kid was out of breath and his face was red from windchill, but as soon as he saw the secretary he grinned ear to ear and waved across the room.

           “Hi Ms. Crowl!”

           “Good Morning Peter,I didn’t expect to see you here today.” She smiled back. The boy was practically a ray of sunshine. Infectious happiness in human form right there.

           “Oh! Mr Stark asked me to come in early so we could work on some new tech that’s super cool but also top secret so I can’t tell you even though I really want to.” He rambled, practically bouncing across the lobby before leaning on the tall counter of her desk. “Actually, he might have said something else but I didn’t want to ask him to repeat himself so I just nodded along and agreed with him.So how are you? Are you okay after this morning?” Peter cut himself off as if he let slip a secret. She raised an eyebrow at him.

           “ I’m fine, a little sore I’ll admit, but just glad to have all my belongings back. I guess you saw?” Marjorie explained.

           “ uh, yeah, sorry I didn’t stop I was just late to this, this thing I had and I saw uh Spider-Man helping you out so-“ He stammered before Marjorie cut him off with an exasperated laugh.

           “Don’t worry about it, Peter. It all worked out in the end, right?” He seemed to relax, and laughed with her.

           “Heh, you’re right Ms Crowl, I’m just glad you’re-“

           “Ah!” She interrupted him again as the steaming tea burned her tongue. The microwave may have not been on low. Peter winces as she hissed and gingerly set the cup back onto her desk.

           “I wonder if I can get workers comp for that.” Marjorie laughed, turning to Peter to hear him giggle at her horrible joke. But he wasn’t paying attention to her. His eyes darted around the room, every muscle in his body seeming to tense. Suddenly, he leaped over the counter-how did he do that?- and shoved her below it, covering her body with his just as a massive explosion ripped through the building. She squeezed her eyes shut, flinching away from the glass shooting into the lobby from the now destroyed windows. She didn’t open them again until the sound of boots crunching over shattered glass filled her head. The weight covering her lifted itself away and another pair of shoes met the boots.

          “What do you want.” Peter’s voice rang through the room, more a statement than a question. How he sounded so sure of himself, Marjorie did not know. Silence, then a dark chuckle filled the void.

           “Heh, you better move kid” someone snarled “before we make you.” She pulled herself up, gritting her teeth as she put weight on her probably broken wrist.

           “I think King T'challa's scary spear friend put it better,” The boy quipped back “I feel bad that I can never remember her name, but I think she’d be flattered that-“ Ms Crowl stood just in time to see the teen enveloped by a purple glow and slammed with a sickening thud into the wall. Before she could even react, a slab of the ceiling lifted by the same hues of light followed him, crashing down on the tile where his body lay. She couldn’t even see him anymore.

           “Well hey there little lady” The man who attacked Peter crooned, slinging the hefty weapon over his shoulder. Marjorie didn’t even acknowledge him, she was frozen in place, staring at the spot Peter had fallen. There was no sign of movement beneath the wreckage. The goon with the gun did not seem to appreciate this, as he growled and stepped towards her, grabbing her chin and yanking her face towards him. Under any other circumstances, Ms Crowl would be indignant at being manhandled in such a way, but even with the hot tears beginning to build behind her eyes she couldn’t bring herself to care.

            He was only a kid. Heck, she didn’t even know him very well, only from their fleeting daily interactions as he came and went. But every wave, every quick conversation, every rapid fire question or kind comment about her appearance left her with a smile on her face. Even on the worst of days. But now, that light-up-the-room grin had been snuffed out, gone forever under some concrete just because these, these assholes wanted money, or fame, or world domination, or something! She felt rage in her stomach, twisting her insides as she locked eyes with the large man sneering at her. He snorted at her glare, apparently amused by her defiance. So, Marjorie spit on him.

            It was disgusting, really. Not even a spray, just a few big globs landing right in his eyes and mouth. She felt a bit proud of herself at the gloating look on his face morphing to shock and disgust, and a bit less proud when it changed to fury and disgust.

            “You little bitch!” Gun man roared, roughly letting go of her chin to wipe his hand over his face. Marjorie took this opportunity to back up, stepping around the side of the round desk. The desk stood between her and him but now, regrettably, there was nothing between her and the rest of the gunmen. At least they seemed too busy doing terrorist things or laughing at the big gun guy to actually do anything.

            It seemed that the only two options she had were to run or surrender, both of which would probably get her killed. Marjorie was drastically unprepared for either option, and definitely unprepared for gun guy to vault over the desk and back hand her so hard she fell and rolled into the center of the lobby. Glass sliced her palms and legs, and she couldn’t help but cry out when the shards pushed into her hands when she tried to sit up.

           The situation was certainly worse now, as gun guy stalked towards her, the other terrorists watching on with toothy grins and smug glares. All Marjorie could do was cower and close her eyes as he stood over her, drawing a large serrated knife from a sheath strapped to his leg.

           The waiting was the worst bit, one second stretched into a lifetime, but to her dismay, it brought no peace, no one moment of clarity. All she felt was terror, dread, and grief.

            Her misery was interrupted by a gust of wind whooshing by her, followed by the confused and urgent shouts of the men around her. Her eyes snapped open to see gun guy whirl around, facing an unseen attacker. He stumbled back, a thick white substance covering half his face. A flash of red and blue sailed over her, landing low beside gun guy and sweeping his leg, sending him tumbling to the floor. The knife skidded a ways away, clattering against glass until it met the concrete Peter was buried under.

          Really, Marjorie had never been happier to see Spider-Man. The lithe hero flipped over to her desk, snatching the too-hot tea that managed to survive the blast, before leaping back over to gun guy, who was desperately trying to rid his face of the webbing.

          “Y’know, treating nice ladies like that gets me really hot and bothered.” Spider-Man joked, splashing the scalding tea onto gun guy, who screamed and fell back to the floor. He dashed towards Marjorie, scooping her up with one arm and shooting another web to the high ceiling with another.

          “I don’t think that means what you think it does, Spider!” One of the men shouted back. The vigilante, with Ms Crowl firmly held to his side, swung through the air and landed on the far side of the lobby. He deposited her behind a slab of marble leaning precariously against the wall, creating a tunnel through the destroyed window to the street.

          “Sorry about that Ms. Crowl” So he did know her name, “I swear I’ll buy you another tea.” She couldn’t even thank him before he shot back into the fray, slinging guns from hands and sending powerful kicks into chests at lightning pace.

          “I know it was the wrong thing to say, I just couldn’t think of another hot pun!” Spider-Man yelled, seemingly to no one in particular, before using a web to slam two Kevlar clad men into each other. “Coming up with things on the spot is so hard, I just get so fired up, ya know?” He paused,ducking under a fist thrown at him, and easily sending the owner back out into the street “Oh, shoot, I should have just used that!”

          Marjorie knew she should leave, heck, she should be high-tailing it out of there as fast as her kitten heels could carry her. But something kept her rooted in place, peeking out from behind the slab to watch the fight in silent awe. Maybe it was to see the Spider’s slick, elegant moves, some sort of strange loyalty to the place she works. Maybe it’s just because she can’t stand the thought of what happened to Peter happening to the vigilante, she can’t leave either of them, she can’t just leave his… body. And Spider-Man was slowly growing on her, apart from the saving her life bit, his awkwardness and quick quips were oddly adorable, reminiscent of Peter himself.

          Peter, who was dead. Who was buried under chunks of concrete and ceiling tiles only yards away from her. Her eyes kept tearing themselves from the fight to fix on that spot, despite it being the last thing she wanted to think about. It was almost unbearable, and Marjorie forced herself to look back to where Spider-man was webbing the last few guns to the ceiling.

         “Out-gunned, out-manned!” He shouted, lunging between the remaining foot soldiers, gluing them to each other and the floor with strands of webs. He didn’t seem to know the rest of the song he was mentally singing, as he was reduced to garbled words and a mumbled tune. With the last of the men tied up, he devoted a bit more brainpower to remembering the song, not seeming to notice that big gun guy was up and crawling towards his knife.

         “Where’d you even manage to get some of Toomes’s weapons?” He chirped, kicking an odd looking rifle away from the almost-literal pile of men “Kinda thought I got rid of all of those a while ago- AhH!” He jumped out of the way of the gun guy’s lunge, just a second too late. Marjorie nearly retched as the blade sliced through Spider-Man’s side, sending him flailing to the ground.

          To her surprise, he leapt up, clutching his side and eerily silent. Faster than she could blink, his arm flicked out, sending gun guy’s knife to the far wall with a thwip. With a running start, Spider-Man hopped and planted both feet firmly in the center of gun guy’s chest, sending him flying back into Ms Crowl’s desk. Spider-Man fell to the floor, groaning, his gloved hand dripping with crimson blood. She stepped out from the tunnel, hesitantly creeping towards the hero. The eyes of his mask were squinted in pain, and widened slightly at the sight of her.

          “G-gotta, get o-outta here,” He wheezed, waving her back. The effort pushed him onto his side. Marjorie opened her mouth to respond, to tell him no way, she wasn’t going to just leave him there to die, when a low whined grabbed both of their attentions.

          Gun guy, slumped by the desk, held his gun under one arm, and leered at them, aiming the barrel at the cracked ceiling above them.

          “I guess you don’t need a boot to crush a spider.” He snarked, before pulling the trigger.

          “NO! DON’T-” Spider-Man was cut off by the roof of the Stark Tower lobby caving in above them.

           Marjorie woke to distant sirens, distant screams, and decidedly not so distant wheezing breaths. And one horrible headache. She put her fingers to the knot on her forehead, pulling them away to find sticky, near dried blood. Fantastic. She tried to take stock of her surroundings, which was difficult since her leg was stuck between some pretty heavy pieces of ceiling, so she could only see what was right in front of her. And quite frankly, she didn’t want to see it.

          The red, masked head of Spider-Man, along with the top half of his torso, stuck out from under a massive slab of concrete. He didn’t move, just sucked in shallow, wheezing breaths as his mask blinked disjointedly. For a moment, Marjorie thought he was truly dying, and her breath caught in her throat as the vigilante went still. But then he lifted his head, looking around disorientedly. She could have cried she was so relieved.

          But her relief was short lived. Spider-Man attempted to lift the rest of his body, but when he could not shift the weight of the cement above him, his entire demeanor seemed to shift. The vigilante’s breath hitched, and his gloved fingers scrabbled in the rubble, searching for something, anything to grip onto.

          “N-No, please! Someone!” He cried, voice raw and filled with terror. “Not a-again! I can’t, can’t do this again!” Marjorie tried to call out to him, but the dust hanging in the air filled her throat and prevented anything other than a gag to slip out. She resorted to yanking on her leg, trying to free it from the rubble it was trapped under. Inch by inch, she pulled herself free. Spider-Man struggled on.

         The next few minutes filled her ears with his desperate sobs and pleas, he sounded so young, nothing like the smooth talking vigilante that fought off twenty armed men just minutes before.

          Her leg was only halfway free when Spider-Man managed to find purchase and drag himself out from the debris. It seemed almost effortless, as if the struggle earlier had been an exaggeration, an act. She couldn’t believe that though, as the small body, too small to be that strong, collapsed again once free. Curled up in the fetal position a few yards from her, Spider-Man took in great gulps of air, hacking and coughing in between gasps.  

           He ripped of his mask, to her surprise, revealing honey brown curls matted with blood, sweat, and dirt. Marjorie could not see his face, but she didn’t honestly know if it was her place to know. She turned away, finally managing to release her leg from the debris trapping it. For a split second, Ms Crowl considered leaving him to his suffering, surely he wouldn’t want her to invade his obviously important privacy, the guy kept his identity securely under wraps. This thought was overwhelmed, however, by the gut-wrenching whimpers coming from the vigilante.

           Despite the fire burning in her leg, Marjorie carefully crawled towards the shivering form. As she neared him, Spider-Man drew in on himself, covering his head with his arms and bringing his knees up to his chest. The quick movement jarred his side, causing him to scream as fresh blood began to seep into his suit. Marjorie gingerly laid a hand on his shoulder, expecting him to startle,but he only whined miserably, and turned to face her.

           Whoever she was expecting, it wasn’t this.

           Peter stared back at her, face bruised and eyes red rimmed. Tear tracks marred the dirt covering his cheeks. She hugged him as gently as she could without harming him, feeling her own tears begin to fall.

           “ m’ sorry for g-gettin blood on your c-clothes.” He said. Marjorie could only roll her eyes.

           “Oh, Peter.” She rasped, using her hand to gently put pressure on his freely bleeding side. He flinched but didn’t make a sound.

           “K-Karen” He said, out of nowhere “c-call Misser Stark p-please.” Before she could question him, a small display on his wrist blinked an affirmative.

            “You realize you don’t have to buy me breakfast, right?” She manages to choke out, but the boy only nods, his eyes half closed. Marjorie just holds him, feeling herself begin to tire as what sounds like the iron man repulsors get steadily louder.


 

Two months later


 

          Marjorie hobbles over to her desk, sighing as she settles into her comfy new desk chair. She was cleared to go back to work a few days ago, but Stark Tower had only just reopened the doors to it’s new lobby that morning, so she’d been relaxing and getting used to her temporary cane.The thing wasn’t horrible, but made her a lot slower. She had to forego her cafe breakfast for a rather tasteless cup of coffee just to be on time for work today.

          It had really been an eventful few months, what with the attack, repairs, and finding out that kid was Spider-Man. She almost lost her job over that alone, what with Iron Man storming into the ruined lobby to find her sitting with his unmasked protege, both of them practically inches from death. After numerous NDA’s, promises to never tell a soul, and kind words from Peter, she got to remain Stark Tower secretary, so long as she only works at Stark facilities until Peter shares his secret with the world on his own. Not that she’d ever spill, why would she?

         As it turns out, the attack was perpetrated by a radical Hydra fringe group that believed ‘going to the source of the Avengers’ with twenty armed men would go well for them. In the official press statement released by Tony, they posed little to no threat, considering all but two of the members were dead, but the Avengers would keep an eye out for any odd occurrences or pop up groups.

         She was shaken from her thoughts by the loud squeak of the new doors opening. A very red-faced, grinning Peter bounced into the lobby. He was desperately shoving  red sleeve into his book bag while trying to carry a small paper bag and cup at the same time.As soon as he caught sight of her, he made a beeline across the space towards her fancy new desk. If it was possible, his smile got even wider. He plopped the bag and cup down in front of her before she could even speak, gesturing for her to open it.

         “Go on, I know you’re gonna love it!” He chirped, hopping from foot to foot as she undid the carefully folded top. Inside, she found a pleasantly warm blueberry bagel and a small container of honey cream cheese.  She smelled the steam coming off the cup, and sure enough, fresh chai. Marjorie was pretty sure her smile rivaled even Peter’s right then.

          “Peter! I told you that you didn’t have to buy me breakfast!” She chided, but there was no bite behind her scolding.

          “Well, yeah, but I felt bad!” He grinned sheepishly back “Plus, I saw that all you had was that nasty coffee while I was on patrol earlier, so I just had to swing back around and find that cafe, and then grab what you normally have.”

          “Well, I won’t complain so long as you don’t make a habit of this.” She levels him with a stern look “And because this is incredibly sweet of you.” Marjorie holds up the bagel “Like the bagel.” Peter thinks this is uproariously funny. After taking a bit to calm down, the teen launches into an extensive explanation of the attack, which was honestly quite informative.

         “ So basically, remember how I told you that I didn’t actually know what Mr. Stark wanted me to do? Well turns out he actually needed me at the compound, which is crazy, right?” He rambles “So the attack was a coincidence and all but since he was so far away it took him awhile to get over here and-” Peter keeps talking, and Ms Crowl absorbs every word. She doesn’t know when listening to a super-powered teenager talk about anything and everything became the best part of her day, but she’s sure glad it has.