Chapter One: A Loaded God Complex
Peter sat with his elbows resting on his knees and his head buried in his hands. On any other day, he wouldn’t be caught dead sitting crisscrossed on ground level; But today wasn’t an ordinary day. “Today we gather to remember those lost in a horrific terrorist attack that took place a year ago…” The voice droned on and Peter closed his eyes tightly. He didn’t want to be there, but he had made a promise.
He flinched and looked up as MJ walked towards him. She had a press badge on her jacket and a camera around her neck. He hoped that she wrote a fair story about him when the time came. And he hoped that nothing exciting happened today to make a story worth anything. “Hey…” She approached him gently. He tried to keep his voice as calm and steady as possible. “Big crowd out there?”
She knelt in front of him, putting a hand on his arm with a nod. Great… “I thought you’d be on the rooftop, waiting for your cue.” They were honoring him and his part in taking down the Demons and Otto Octavius. “When do you go on?”
“After the police chief gives her speech,” he muttered. He wasn’t used to being honored for anything. His territory was being briefly congratulated or yelled at by citizens and bystanders. There was a small subset of people that didn’t believe he deserved to be honored for anything that had to do with those attacks. He was inclined to agree with them. He hadn’t been there to save the people who had died in the bombing or afterward when the Demons gunned down the survivors. He hadn’t stopped Otto before he unleashed a bioweapon on the city. He hadn’t saved May. “I don’t deserve their praise.”
She released a longsuffering sigh. “Yes, you do. You can’t save everyone and you’re going to kill yourself trying to.”
It was an old and tired argument and he knew she was sick of it. He had a guilty conscious. If someone died in a drive-by shooting across town while he was saving a bus full of people, he’d feel guilty about the shooting victim. MJ had learned to help him through his thoughts of self-doubt, though. She knew him too well to just tell him to get over it. They both knew that he would eventually stop feeling sorry for himself, but it took a while. “I just don’t feel like a hero today.”
She stood and looked down at him. “You know you did all you could. Those people who died… that wasn’t your fault. May wasn’t your fault.” He flinched. The weeks following his Aunt’s death had been some of the hardest in his life. Having MJ and Miles, and his job at F.E.A.S.T, to help him through it had been the only reason he survived. Invoking her name was a low blow, but she hadn’t meant it to make him feel bad. She invoked May’s name because she knew he needed to hear it.
He sighed, giving in. “I don’t deserve you.”
“I know.” She held out her hands to help him up. He hesitated a moment. “Do you know what you’re going to say?”
He took her hands. “No. I figure I’ll just wing it… Or, web it.”
She smiled and bopped him gently on the head. “Not as good as your usual material.”
“I’m running on fumes.” He stretched his arm over his head. “I did several sweeps of the area. There doesn’t seem to be any copycat criminals out there today.”
She nodded. “That’s good.” He turned towards the direction of the memorial service as the mayor finished the moment of silence and introduced the chief of police. “That’s your cue, Tiger.”
He sighed and jumped onto the wall, heading up to the roof of the building. The chief of police was giving a great memorial for the officers lost and a promise that they will work diligently and make sure these things never happened again. Peter crouched on the lip of the building. The chief should be Yuri… but that was another problem that he had to deal with. She hadn’t gone completely AWOL, but she was heading in that direction. Another person he couldn’t save. She doesn’t want you to save her, Pete, he berated silently. If she didn’t want saving, though, then she needed something else… and neither one of them were ready for that.
“And with the help of Spider-man, stability has returned to our city.”
He sighed. That was his cue for real. He took a deep breath and jumped from the building before heading towards the stage. He expected his senses to go off as he walked up. This was one of the few non-combat situations where the villains knew where he’d be and when. Everything seemed quiet. He passed one of the officers and nearly flinched when he noticed the large gun the man was carrying. This was ridiculous.
He stepped onto the stage and nodded to the chief. “Thank you, Officer,” he said. He had agreed to say a few words, but he felt like he had nothing to say to these people to help put their mind at ease. This was probably the first time many of them had seen him up close and personal. “One year ago, tragedy struck our city…” He trailed off as some hecklers began shouting at him in the crowd. He scanned the area until he saw MJ standing in the crowd. She nodded slowly, encouraging him to keep going. He tried. “I—”
“Where were you?” a voice shouted, cutting off his speech.
Peter swallowed. “I—I…” he stammered. He had been unconscious in the middle of the bombing. What could he say? He was busy stopping a mugging while the second largest terrorist attack in New York City was going on? “I can’t be every—”
“What was more important?” a woman shouted. Peter clenched his fists. He locked onto MJ, who now looked worried. She tried to offer him an encouraging smile. It had no comforting affect.
“Nothing,” he admitted quietly. “Nothing is more important to me than saving lives.”
“Then where were you?” the woman challenged. He could see her now. She was middle-aged and her eyes were bloodshot, and her face was puffy and red.
The chief stepped forward to stop this, but Peter put his arm up. “Let her talk,” he whispered. He needed to hear this. He needed them all to hear this.
“I lost my son in that bombing!” she snapped, cutting him off. “And you weren’t there to save him!”
Peter flinched as she walked towards the stage. The police there reached for their guns as she neared them. Peter also stiffened in preparation. She wouldn’t try anything… would she? That would be suicide.
“I’m sorry,” was all he could say. He had gone through this with Miles; but he had the ability to tell Miles that he had been there, but the bomb had caught him off guard. He couldn’t tell these people that. He wasn’t a human to them; he was a hero; an idea.
“He can’t save everyone!” MJ shouted from where she was. Peter looked towards her and silently begged her to keep her mouth shut. He didn’t need her help. He didn’t want her help. If she drew attention to herself, she might be dragged into this.
Shouts rang out from the crowd as people argued with one another. Peter looked at the gathered group, clenching his fists. He wanted to run, but that wouldn’t help. All that would do would show them that he was a coward. He needed to face this. “Please!” he called into the mic, trying to pacify the crowd. “I wasn’t there, and I’m sorry! I can’t be everywhere…! The bombing… it happened so quickly…!”
“Sorry doesn’t bring my son back!” The crowd fell into a hush as the woman reached into her bag and pulled out a handgun. Peter froze and the officers around him all drew their weapons. “Your apologies are empty, Spider-man, and their blood is on your hands! You killed my son.”
He held his hands up and stepped out from behind the podium. The police chief gave him a warning look and he merely nodded back at her, assuring her that it was okay. The woman couldn’t hurt him. He walked towards the edge of the stage, but not close enough to where if she fired a shot, he couldn’t dodge. “No… my apologies don’t make it better,” he said as gently as he could. “But that’s all I have to offer you.”
“You can offer your life.” And she fired. Peter was quick. He jumped into the air, and the bullet passed harmlessly under his back as he fired a web to take the gun from her hand. But it was too late. The officers fired their weapons. Screams echoed throughout the crowd as Peter landed back on the stage. The woman’s body lay strewn on the ground in a growing puddle of blood. He dropped the gun he had taken from her and the sound it made as it clattered on the stage was deafening. His eyes darted around the crowd and his stomach churned as he saw the looks on their faces. Fear and anger were reflected back at him in their eyes.
He took one last look at the body. He wanted it etched in his mind. He wanted to never forget it… because the people of New York wouldn’t.
He fired a web and took off away from the ceremony. He had known this was a bad idea. When he was far away, he tore off his mask and slid down against on air conditioning unit; and then he screamed.
“The people now are being forced to ask the question; what role do superheroes and vigilantes play in our society.” The reporter turned to the guest she had on the show. “J. Jonah Jameson, a local radio show host is here to discuss the dangers of our superpowered residents. Mr. Jameson, you’ve been an outspoken opponent of super heroism in our city.”
The man shook his head. “I hate that I was right about this. The death of Angela Mason was an inevitable consequence of having masked vigilantes running around our fair city, and Spider-man should be held responsible for it! But where is he? He’s hiding behind his mask like the gutless coward he is!”
MJ sighed behind Peter and turned off the TV from where she stood in the doorway of the living room. “You’re torturing yourself. You aren’t to blame for her death.”
Peter closed his eyes. He had been watching the news non-stop since the ceremony and it was torture… but he couldn’t stop. He had to own up to what happened. “They’re being very specific about my involvement in her death.”
“She fired a weapon in a sea of police officers. She knew what that meant and she made that choice, Peter,” MJ tried to assure him. She hadn’t been home in the two days since the incident, but he knew she needed to go to work soon. They both did. “There was nothing you could have done.”
He stood. “I could have saved her son.”
“You were unconscious!”
He leaned against the wall. Maybe now wasn’t the time to be having this argument. It wasn’t an easy one to have because he couldn’t just let these things go and MJ could never understand why. “Yeah, I was.”
She rolled her eyes. “Don’t do that.”
“Act like you’re ignoring this.”
He bit back a retort. If he moped about it, she got angry at him. If he tried to deflect, she got angry at him. He wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do. So, he just smiled. “At least I gave JJ enough material to riff on me for months,” he said with a laugh.
She looked away from him. She didn’t appreciate the comment. “I have to go to work, Pete. Will you be okay?”
“Yeah, I’ll be fine.” He offered her a genuine smile. He would be fine. This was just another speed bump in the long list of speed bumps in his life. It wasn’t anything special. She didn’t look convinced. “I promise, MJ, I’ll be fine. I’ll take Miles out tomorrow if that’ll make you feel better.”
“I’d rather you go talk to someone.”
His smile faded. “I would if I could… you know that.”
She walked to him and kissed him gently on the forehead. “I know. You call me if you need anything, alright? I’ve already told Robbie that I’m on call for a friend.”
He frowned. “Friend?” She laughed and pushed him gently on the chest. “I kid. Go, write stories, expose lies! I’ll… visit Otto.”
The good humor in the room vanished at the mention of his old employer and friend. MJ shifted and he figured that was because she didn’t like that he still visited the man. After everything he had done, it was probably weird to her to think that he still cared enough to visit. “How… how is he?”
Peter shrugged. “Not good and deteriorating fast. He’s lost almost all motor function…”
She wanted to say that it was a good thing. He could see that on her face. Maybe it was a good thing… but he had been driven mad by his failing body and the wrongs that others had done to him. Under certain circumstances, Peter could see himself falling into the same trap. He didn’t bother trying to get her to understand, though. He knew that MJ didn’t like his weekly visits to the Raft; but he was all Otto had left. He hadn’t told her that the man knew his secret and so far, none of the villains knew, so maybe Otto was keeping it a secret. For what purpose, Peter didn’t know, but he liked to pretend it was because deep down, Otto still cared.
MJ walked him to the subway, and he took the now familiar route to the prison and the ferry. He was one of the few people that even visited the Raft. Most people who had family in there were more than willing to let them rot to hell. It was always depressing. They were hesitant to even let him in for visitation, but once Spider-man vouched for Peter Parker to be allowed in, the warden had given him visitation rights.
He scanned his visitor pass and he was led through the prison to the medical ward where they were keeping Otto. When he first got there, the man had been kept in the normal area of the prison, but as his condition deteriorated, he had been moved to the medical ward. The doctors didn’t give him much longer, and a small part of Peter almost looked forward to the day that Otto Octavius died.
“You have an hour,” the guard told him. Peter nodded his thanks and noted the man’s annoyed expression as he walked in. “Are you ever going to give up on that guy?”
“No,” Peter said without looking back. He sat down beside the chamber that they were now keeping the Doctor in. “Hey, Doc…” he muttered, putting his hand on the little window. The man inside was a sad sight. His body was withering away, and his muscles were atrophied. It hurt him every time he came; but like MJ had said, he was torturing himself. He couldn’t help but feel like he could have prevented this as well.
“Parker…” Peter winced. His voice was strained and weak. “Again?”
“What can I say?” he asked with a shrug. “How are you? They’re feeding you okay, right?”
“Yeah…” he grumbled. “Why are you here?”
“To see you.” Otto asked that of him a lot. Maybe it was because his mind was deteriorating as well; but he doubted that. The doctors had said that his mind wouldn’t be touched by the disease. That was the terrible truth of the disease. One day Otto would lose all function and his body would wither away... but his mind would remain aware throughout the process. No… he asked the question because he was hoping one day that Peter would give a different answer.
Otto laughed; a sad, wheezing sound. “You’re here to watch me die slowly.”
“Don’t kid yourself.”
Peter sighed. It always came to this. Usually it took longer. Otto usually let him talk for a while about the news and how the outside world was going. Now the man just seemed impatient. “How long do you have?”
“A few months… at most.” He laughed again and Peter looked away. He hated that the news was coming as a relief to him. Maybe he could finally move on from that time of his life once Otto was gone. “Counting down the days?”
“N-no,” Peter gasped, horrified that Otto would think that, and even more horrified that he was almost correct. “Not at all. I just… wish there was a way I could help you.”
Otto shook his head. “Always so… noble, Peter… wanting to help people who don’t deserve it. Who don’t appreciate it… That’s what’s going to get you killed out there.”
“I’d rather die trying to protect people than live as a coward,” he said with a shrug. “Even if they don’t shower me with praise… this city is worth it. They are worth it.”
“I still come here every week, don’t I?” he challenged.
“That’s the stupid thing about you,” Otto laughed. Peter nodded in agreement. Yes, it was stupid. He shouldn’t care about the man. He should just give up, move on with his life and leave Otto to rot in this prison… but he couldn’t. He still wanted a cure. He wanted to help Otto. Even if helping him meant that he would still just rot in prison. “I heard the news about the memorial.”
“They hate you, Peter… no matter what you do, they will always hate you. You’ll lose everything. Everything you’ve ever lived for will abandon you…!” He coughed and Peter stood. He didn’t need to take this and coming here had been a mistake. It was a mistake every time. “You think you can carry on like this? That city is one bad day away from turning on you!”
“You’re sick,” Peter said after a long pause. He didn’t mean it in a rude way. Otto was sick, and he wanted to help him. “And I will get you help.”
Otto shook his head. “So… foolish… an imprudent, irrational child. You think you can save the world? Keep the city safe? Your God complex is worse than the villains you face because you think you can control what won’t. You can’t save the people who don’t want to be saved.”
Peter clenched his fists. “And what do you want, Doctor? Do you want to be saved?”
“If you were trapped in this useless body, would you?” Otto asked.
Peter blinked. He hadn’t thought about it before. If someone was jumping off a building to kill themselves, was it his right to save them? If a woman stepped forward with the intention of committing police assisted suicide, should he save them? His gut reaction was to say yes… every life was worth something, even the ones that the people didn’t want. After all, he could have killed Otto when he had the chance… but he didn’t. Would it have been better if he had? “I’d want to give myself a fighting chance,” Peter answered at length. “Even if that meant living in your condition.”
“We’ll see, Parker…” Otto coughed as Peter backed away. That sounded like a threat. Maybe he wouldn’t come next week… or the week after. “We will see…”
Peter turned away from the chamber and hurried out of the medical bay. He looked at the rude guard as he walked by him. He tried not to look like he had been shaken. That would mean admitting that the man had been right about his visits to the Raft. “See you next week, Peter?”
Peter kept walking without answering him.