Things were good. It was a warm August evening, and the Protectors were on patrol again.
No, really. Things were going well for Peter Parker and Co. Peter breathed in deeply as he swung from building to building. Even the slightly metallic tang mixed with otherwise clean air was good – Shuri had finally gotten the filter in the mask to work. She said it was to help deal with any biohazards that Peter might encounter as Spider-Man, but Peter appreciated its more mundane use of filtering out the normal volatile mix of smells that one would encounter in a city like New York.
Before the bite, he had put up with it like everyone else. Afterwards… Well, all his senses were dialed up to eleven, after all.
Peter glanced down the cross street as he swung through the intersection, catching a brief glimpse of Beck as he flew along a few streets down. The guy seemed to be doing ok after the incident in Wakanda, and after their conversation under the stars, which left Peter relieved. If he had to guess, he’d say that there was a lot more going on in Beck’s head at any one time than he said, but at the moment, Peter wasn’t worried about his stability on an emotional or magical level, which is more than he could have said for a significant amount of time after they first met.
“EDITH is picking up a disturbance a few blocks away. Looks like someone’s trying to hold up a convenience store.” Ned’s voice came over Peter’s comms as his HUD lit up to show him the way to the scene of the crime. “Cashier pressed their panic button, you two probably have about ten minutes before the cops show up.”
“On it.” Peter corrected course, seeing Beck do the same as they both started heading in the right direction. “Beck, your turn to call it. What’s the strategy?”
There was a slight pause as Beck considered, and his tone of voice didn’t make it hard for Peter to imagine a shit eating grin hidden behind the mist. “Play innocent?”
“Play innocent it is.”
When Samantha Brown (Sam to her friends) had taken the job two weeks ago at Clyde’s Corner Market, she had been very briefly trained what to do in the event of a robbery. Press the button under the counter. Give the person the cash in the register. Don’t do anything stupid.
Obviously she hadn’t expected to have to use that knowledge. What kind of person would genuinely expect to have a gun waved in their face by someone who was very clearly desperate and willing to do just about anything to get cash.
Desperate, and apparently a decent shot. The first thing the guy in the black mask had done as he strode into the store was to shoot out the security cameras, even the one hidden behind the cheesy Spider-Man poster on the back wall. And then he hadn’t asked for money right away. He had strode into the back of the store, popped the top on an energy drink, and walked right back up to the counter like he owned the place.
Then, very amiably (or as amiably as one could be while pointing a gun at someone) had said, “The cash in the register, a pack of cigarettes, and this candy bar, if you wouldn’t mind, dearie.” The mask hid almost all of his features, but Sam could see the glint of something almost like amusement in those green eyes as he stared at her.
“Uh, I have to get the cash register key out of the office.” Sam gestured to the door behind her, shuffling slightly backwards before a shot that whizzed past her ear stopped her in her tracks. That was no ordinary gun, she realized. That scorch mark on the wall… That was a laser pistol of some sort.
No wonder this criminal was so cocky. He thought he was well armed enough to take out anything that was coming after him. Tilting his head slightly, the man pulled a crumpled five-dollar bill from his pocket and slid it across the counter. “And change for a five, if you wouldn’t mind. Come on now, I haven’t got all night.”
Sam swallowed hard, carefully putting the items the man had requested into a bag and slowly punched in the numbers to open the cash register. Come on Spider-Man. Come on police. Someone. Please.
There was a quiet chime as the bell signaling the door to the shop had been opened went off. Sam looked up in hope, the criminal looked over, tensed and ready for a fight.
And it was just a guy. Sam looked him over quickly before sighing, knowing another civilian just got dragged into the mess. He looked like nothing more than a normal guy: Mets hat on his head, bit of a beard, green polo shirt and khakis. The only out of place thing in his entire ensemble that would otherwise scream “really, just an average guy” was a pair of heavy black boots, the type her girlfriend would call “shitkickers” with an approving nod.
He looked in at the current standoff, gesturing towards the coolers in the back of the store. “Hey, I’m just here to buy some milk. Don’t let me get in your way. I mean, obviously crime doesn’t pay and all that so you might want to rethink your lifestyle choices, but-”
Another blaster bolt that whizzed past his head shut him up. “Sit down in that corner and shut up.” The criminal gestured towards the corner next to the desk that Sam was all but cowering behind at this point. “Don’t make this messier than it needs to be.”
The man slowly started making his way across the room, hands up, but Sam could have sworn he winked at her. There was something oddly familiar about him now that he was closer, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. “Really, there’s no need for violence. I’m sure Spider-Man or the police or someone will come along soon enough and then where will you be?”
“Oh, I’m counting on it.” The criminal patted the side of the gun. “There’s quite a bounty out on the Spider’s head. I’m just doing a job, collecting it.” He took a long swig from the energy drink. “So sit down and stay out of the way and you won’t get hurt.”
“I’m not the one getting hurt tonight, trust me. Last chance.” Sam watched as the man carefully pulled the hat off his head, placing it down on the counter. “I’d suggest you get down behind there, ma’am. Things are about to get a little messy.”
The criminal rolled his eyes. “A pity. I didn’t want to have to kill anyone extra tonight.”
Sam let out a short scream as the gun went off, squeezing her eyes shut for a moment, waiting for the body to fall. When no thud followed, she allowed herself a quick peek between her fingers.
The criminal still stood, gun extended towards the other man, who was now standing completely upright, hands extended in front of him. In front of his hands, between him and the criminal, floated a glowing golden shield covered in intricate, arcane designs.
And Sam knew where she knew the man from. Still hiding behind the counter, she carefully pulled out her phone and started filming. This would look amazing on her Instagram.
Quentin Beck let the shield flicker into nothing, cracking his neck as he activated his armor. “I really did try to let you go, give you a second chance. But if there’s dangerous weaponry like that in this city in the wrong hands, well, I’m not about to let that go.” The armor finished covering him, his voice metallic through the helmet. “And then, well, you had to go and threaten the kid, didn’t you?”
The criminal took a half step back. This wasn’t what he had bargained for at all. He carefully squeezed off another pair of shots. Both of them should have impacted Mysterio directly in the chest, but a golden shield flickered into existence before they impacted, absorbing the energy of the bolt.
What the hell were this guy’s reflexes to be able to react that quickly? They say madness is trying the same thing more than once and expecting different results, but the criminal wasn’t giving up that easily. As Mysterio started to perform some other type of magic that didn’t seem to have any direct impact on him, the criminal kept firing, growing frustrated as each shot was deflected or absorbed with ease.
Then he felt a tug on his gun. It was sudden enough that by the time he looked down at it and realized exactly what the webbing covering the barrel meant, it was being wrenched out of his grasp and into the hands of Spider-Man, who was now perched behind him on the top of a shelf, having just come out of a portal that snapped shut.
“Hey there, Mister Criminal. Where’d you get this? Doesn’t look like the type of merchandise that’d be sold at a corner shop like this.” Spider-Man gave a little wave to Sam behind the counter. “You ok, ma’am?”
Sam managed a quick nod, her hands shaking as she made sure to keep filming. Spider-Man and Mysterio? In one night? Her girlfriend was going to love this. Spider-Man gave her a quick two finger salute before returning his attention to the somewhat confused criminal, quickly webbing him up before he could try to run or pull another weapon.
Mysterio turned back to her, deactivating his helmet. “We’ll take care of this. Was anything else stolen, did he have any accomplices?”
Sam shook her head quickly. “It was just him. It was kind of a slow night. Aww man…” She looked at the scorch marks on the walls, the busted cameras. Beck followed her line of sight.
“Yeah, you’re probably gonna want to call your manager or boss or something, maybe shut down for the night. Hey Spider-Man, what’s the eta on the police?” Beck looked over his shoulder as Spider-Man continued securing the criminal.
“Ned says five minutes.”
“Huh. Not bad.” Beck nodded to himself slightly before turning back to Sam. “We’re gonna leave him with you so they can take care of him. With your camera footage, you shouldn’t have any trouble with making sure criminal charges are leveled against him. We can’t do much about the damages, though, sorry.”
“No, no, it’s totally fine.” Sam was still looking between the two heroes and the criminal, eyes wide. “Hey, can I get your autograph? My girlfriend collects them, she’d think it was cool.”
Beck looked back at Spider-Man, who shrugged.
Five minutes later, when the police arrived and Mysterio and Spider-Man were long gone, Samantha Brown was convinced that she might have just had the coolest night of her life.
“Ok, opinions?” Beck carefully landed on a rooftop nearby, watching as the police began to investigate the scene. Peter climbed up next to him, deactivating the mask on his suit as he shrugged.
“I think Play Innocent definitely has potential.”
Peter shrugged. “I dunno, I just think it needs work?”
“Needs work?” Beck nudged Peter playfully, rolling his eyes. “It went perfectly? I distracted the criminal, there was minimal property damage, and we got another dangerous weapon off the street.”
“Ok, but what if you hadn’t been fast enough with the shield?” Peter met Beck’s eyes, completely serious now. “This gun is the real deal, it’s dangerous stuff. I haven’t seen a weapon like this out on the street in years, not since Toomes went to prison. I know some of his outfit escaped, but I didn’t think they had any more supplies to build stuff like this.”
“Hey.” Beck placed a hand on Peter’s shoulder before he carefully got back to his feet. “I’ll always be fast enough. You forget, I actually have training. And we’ll figure out what to do with the gun.” He carefully opened a small portal into the vault hidden in the Parker apartment where the two of them had stashed any dangerous objects they’d come across on patrol. Until now, it had been nearly empty other than a few pieces of debris from a drone still controlled by the remnants of the other Beck’s crew. “But for now…” He trailed off as he reactivated the helmet on his suit.
“Beck to Mission Control. Next assignment?”
The voice that came over the comms wasn’t the one that Peter or Beck expected. “Sending coordinates now. You guys are gonna want to see this.”
Peter and Beck looked at each other in concern. Matt didn’t often call for backup while he was on patrol, lone wolf instincts too deeply ingrained to ask for help until he was already in over his head.
“Matt? You ok?” It was Peter who spoke first, already getting ready to leap off the roof to head to the action.
“I’m fine. I was on my way to a disturbance, but someone else got there first. And trust me, you’re going to want to see this.”
The trek across town took only a few minutes as Peter and Beck raced their way between skyscrapers, both fearing the worst. Both knew that Matt wasn’t the type of hero to leave his quarry in as good shape as Beck and Peter tried to, his title of vigilante rather than the one of hero was accurate. For him to call in the aftermath of a fight as something Peter and Beck would want to see was unusual, and worrying.
But when they got there, it was a very different scene than they were expecting. Matt, in his full Daredevil armor, leaned up against the wall of the alleyway where three grown men sat against the far wall. Two appeared to be conscious, halfheartedly struggling against some sort of cord that had wrapped them up, while the third was slumped on the ground, what looked like a dart of some sort sticking out of his shoulder.
“What the hell happened here?” Beck deactivated his helmet and carefully stepped past Matt, looking around the alleyway for signs of a fight.
Matt shrugged slightly. “According to them, they ‘were just going to mug some chick, when fuckin’ Robin Hood appeared and took them all out with trick arrows.’ Is Barton in town?”
Beck looked to Peter, who shook his head before saying out loud, “If Mister Barton were in town, I can’t imagine he would have gone out on patrol without saying hello first. And he’s definitely not the type of person to leave his prey behind without waiting for us to show up and laughing about how he got here first. This is someone else.”
At this point, Beck had made his way over to the men who were currently conscious, carefully inspecting them. “These definitely look like the type of arrows Barton is known to use. I don’t recognize this particular variety, but the arrowheads are similar.” He carefully pulled on where the arrowhead had embedded itself back into the cording securing the man, activating the camera in his armor to stream pictures back to Ned and MJ in mission control.
“What about that one?” Peter gestured to the unconscious man, and Matt shrugged.
“I think some kind of taser arrow. Looks like a dart because most of it got snapped off when he fell over. Heard the rest of it fall over there.” Matt gestured in the vague direction of the far wall, and Peter walked over, shifting through a pile of debris before he found it.
“That’s not right.” Peter made his way over to Beck, who was still inspecting the criminals on the ground. “Hey Beck, look at that.” He handed the shaft over to him as Beck dusted his hands off and took a closer look.
“Something interesting?” Matt called over from his position at the mouth of the alleyway. “We should probably get out of here soon, by the way. I can hear sirens heading this way. Whoever they tried to mug probably got around to calling it in.”
“I don’t think Hawkeye is in town.” Beck carefully ran his finger down the fletching on the shaft. Rather than Clint’s no-nonsense, standard issue black shaft and fletching, the feathers on this arrow were bright purple. “But someone who wants us to think he is might be. Get up.”
He aimed a weak kick at one of the tied up criminals, who sat up and tried to scoot away from him. “Who attacked you. Describe the person who prevented you from hurting people.”
The criminal gulped, looking between his tow accomplices and Beck, whose eyes had begun to light up golden. Beck wasn’t doing anything, all of the energy was being channeled into the wristbands, but he knew how to intimidate people without having to do the damage that Matt was so fond of.
“I dunno man! We didn’t get a good look!”
“Lie.” Beck glanced back over at Matt, who had finally entered the alleyway and joined him in staring down at the criminal. “Don’t waste our time.”
“Alright, alright!” The criminal’s eyes flickered, terrified, between Beck and Matt, while Peter started climbing up the wall of the alleyway to watch for the police. “Ummm… Short. Thin. Purple and black armor with a hood up. Didn’t miss a shot with that bow of theirs. I only caught a glance under the hood but they were wearing a mask.”
Beck quickly ran through his mental picture of Barton. It confirmed his suspicion – Barton was of pretty average height and build, never wore a hood, and hadn’t worn purple in his costume in years. This was definitely someone else. But just to make sure… “Verdict?”
“Truth,” Matt quietly replied. “Police are two minutes out. Quick escape?”
By the time the police arrived a minute later, there was no evidence that the three Protectors had ever been there other than a single fading golden spark in the air and a missing arrow shaft from the ground.
The mood in the Parker apartment that night was best described as confused. While Ned and MJ were excited for the prospect of another hero joining the roster, Beck and Matt weren’t so sure. A newcomer who could take out a group of criminals before any of them got there, and avoid EDITH’s detection to slip back out could be a valuable asset to the team, but was also an unknown quantity.
Therefore, the team met at the place that they always met to discuss the direction of their plans: the Parker apartment dining room table. Matt, Peter, and Beck had all removed their costumes at this point – it was easy for Beck and Peter, who simply disengaged the nanites and were back in comfortable civilian clothing, but Matt had excused himself for a few moments to change into the extra clothes he had left at the apartment for this very reason.
A warm pot of coffee and several slices of May’s walnut-date loaf later (she had made some improvements on the recipe, it was actually pretty good these days), the team was ready to discuss.
“So obviously you guys are going to call Barton in the morning, right?” MJ was direct, already starting to list the steps the team would have to take. “The likelihood that he doesn’t know anything about this is miniscule, and even if he really doesn’t know anything about it, there’s no way he’d be cool with someone stealing his schtick.”
That got a round of nods from the table. “I’ll have Foggy follow up with an old contact of his in the police department, see if the criminals our new Hawkeye brought in say anything new that they didn’t tell us.”
There was a slight pause in the discussion before Peter swore quietly under his breath, getting up from the table and running to the vault. “A new hero wasn’t the only thing interesting that happened tonight. Look at what we ran into.”
Peter tossed the gun onto the table, making doubly sure that the safety was on before he did so. Ned gasped, his eyes going wide as he noticed the purple glow coming from the power core built into the body of the gun. “Is that one of the guns that Toomes was selling?”
“I don’t know.” Peter frowned as he watched it come to a halt in the middle of the table. “Toomes is still in jail, but the battle at the Compound left a decent amount of technological debris, even if the vast majority of Thanos’ army got dusted. It’s not impossible to consider that there’s someone new in the game. They never did catch whoever was actually producing the weapons that Toomes was selling, after all.”
Beck took a careful sip of coffee before offering, “So it seems like we have three problems.”
“Wait, three?” MJ looked at Beck in confusion, not sure where he was going with this. “New vigilante and new weapons. What’s the third?”
“Someone has a bounty on my head.” Peter quietly spoke up now, although he had been hoping that it wouldn’t have come up. This wasn’t really anything new, the criminal underground of New York City had been gunning for him since he first put on his sweatpants and swung around the city, but if someone was supplying those criminals with high tech weapons to specifically come after him, that was a problem.
Beck nodded along, gesturing to Peter. “The criminal we stopped in the convenience store seemed confident that he could take Peter out with the gun he had. Personally, I think that’s a little overconfident even at the best of times, but if whoever gave him the weapon in the first place is trying to take Peter out, that doesn’t strike me as the type of thing you give up on after the first failure.”
“Ok, so it seems like we have a plan of action, then,” MJ summarized. “Call Barton in the morning. See what he knows. Do some research on Toomes’ old crew, see if any of them have been sighted in the area recently. Contact Pepper, see if she has inventories on the tech salvaged from the battle at the Compound, and if any of it is missing. Keep an eye out for the new vigilante. Am I missing anything?”
There was a warehouse by the waterfront that had sat empty for years. Now, while on the outside it still appeared empty, the inside had become a busy hive of activity, a handful of illusion projecting drones concealing the growing operation.
The Crew, which was what they called themselves, had once been scattered, disaffected remnants of groups that they really believed in. Now, after their lives and visions were destroyed by a certain wall-crawling loudmouth, they were united under one goal: revenge.
All of them had been individually approached over the last few months, some before the disaster in Europe, some after, by an unknown and wealthy benefactor who promised them riches beyond their imagination and a place among the giants of technological innovation like Tony Stark.
It was that second promise that had caught the eye of Phineas Mason, once known to his coworkers as the Tinkerer. He was going to be so careful this time. Only send the tech out with people who had proved themselves worthy.
Or that the Benefactor told him were. Mason hadn’t been happy about sending a Chitauri powered gun, even one as small as it was, out with an unknown and untested small-time criminal. But he had done it, and he hadn’t been happy about it, and now it seemed his worry was coming to fruition.
“And we’re sure he got taken into custody without the gun?” Mason turned to one of the newer engineers – what was his name? Doug? – who nodded.
“The video is all over the news. Mysterio foiled his plan to knock over a convenience store. I don’t know…” Doug trailed off, looking around nervously before dropping his voice, “I don’t know why we gave a gun to that guy. A weapon that small, it’s not going to do anything to Spider-Man, much less Beck.”
That last name was spat with venom. Doug hadn’t made it back to the States from Europe after the disaster before the rest of Beck’s old crew was taken into custody, and while he wasn’t sure he believed the current version of Mysterio was actually from another dimension, if he wasn’t that kind of betrayal was unacceptable.
Mason shook his head. “The Boss says to give a gun to someone, we give them a gun. Just hope it doesn’t come back to bite us in the ass while we work on the real showstopper.”
That worry wouldn’t go away any time soon. No one was really sure what they were building, but they were getting paid to do so, and there was the promise of revenge against the people who had ruined their lives.
And the threat against their own, implicit in the understanding that if they had gone this far under the direction of their mysterious benefactor, they weren’t getting out until the end, one way or the other.