Chapter One: Tell Me What You Want to Hear
“Peter, calm down!”
He shook his head, pacing the alleyway. MJ ran her hands through her hair, smoothing out the wind damage from her curly locks. “Calm?” he gasped. He was nearing in on hyperventilating. “Calm!”
“Yes,” she snapped. Her phone was ringing off the hook. May, or Ned, or Betty… A plethora of people who couldn’t get a hold of him calling her because he was too busy panicking to pick up his damn phone. “Peter, you can’t do this here.” He was still in costume, but his mask had been discarded on the sidewalk. “You can’t freak out… not here.”
He stopped his pacing and turned to her, his eyes wide and terrified.
“Look, everyone knows you’re a hero! Who cares if they know who you are? We all knew the identities of the other Avengers. Hell, Tony Stark—”
“Don’t!” Peter snapped, pointing at her. “Don’t… mention him!” She took a step back. He was stressed and she didn’t blame him for being so defensive. He seemed to notice that he had spooked her. “I…I’m sorry, MJ.”
She shook her head. Now wasn’t the time for her to panic or be upset with him for the outbrust. They only had time for one person to panic in their little duet. “It’s fine, Peter, but you need to get somewhere private and then you can scream all you want into a pillow. And May will make you some wheatcakes and make some phone calls--” She hesitated, unsure if she’d trigger another panic attack by mentioning Pepper. She decided to risk it. “--to Pepper and we can make this whole thing disappear. They all knew you’re a hero. It’s going to take more than some guy on a shady news source to turn this city against you.”
Peter looked at her for several moments before he nodded slowly, finally finding some sort of peace for the time being. He walked slowly and carefully to his mask, replacing it over his head. She decided now wasn’t the time to joke about the mask being pointless. They still had no proof that he was the true holder of the identity. It could very well be that Mysterio had been lying.
He turned to her and looked prepared to say something. She offered him a tight smile before he fired a web and jumped into the air, leaving her alone in the alleyway. Once he was gone, she fell against the wall and put her head against the brick with a soft groan. Her phone rang again and she picked it up. “Hey, Ned,” she said as she started for the alley entrance.
“Is he okay?” Ned asked. She wanted to smile.
“Not right now,” she answered bluntly. There was no point in avoiding the elephant in the room. Peter wouldn’t be okay for a while; but the city would heal. She usually had a pessimistic attitude, but she had seen the good in people and the world. They would see him for who he was. They had to.
“Is he with you?”
She shook her head. “I think he went home.” She stopped at a bus stop and waited patiently. “I’m on my way there now. He’s going to need someone to anchor him…” They hadn’t been together very long at all and it felt like everything was falling apart. She couldn’t imagine what he was going through, though. If she was this close to freaking out, she could only imagine how close he was to it; if he wasn’t panicking already. “Where are you?” One thing she couldn’t shake was that they needed to get into hiding. Weren’t they in danger too?
She shook her head, trying not to think about it. It wasn’t about them… But, in a way, it was. Their connection to Peter put them on some hit lists. “I’m fine. I think I should get to his house, too,” he answered. MJ nodded even though he couldn’t see her. “Stay safe, MJ.”
“You too…” She hung up and wrapped her hand around the handle on the bus so tightly, her knuckles began to hurt.
Peter landed heavily on the fire escape leading to his room. After the Blip, they had to find a new home. Pepper had been more than happy to donate whatever they needed, but May had wanted to not rely on Tony Stark’s money. It was a good sentiment, but now he wished they had the entirely of Fort Knox. It wouldn’t take long before the press showed up looking for a statement. Even if they could somehow make this go away, it wouldn’t for most people. The toothpaste was out of the tube and it could never be put back in. Or… however that saying went.
He stared into the window leading to his bedroom. May wasn’t in there. He hadn’t even bothered checking his phone. Happy had probably just left if he was gone already. She was probably calling him off the hook to make sure he was okay. He had made it back without incident and he hoped that it wasn’t just luck. They could fix this… couldn’t they? They had to fix this. He wasn’t about to let Mysterio ruin his life. Not like this.
The man had already taken something from Peter he could never get back. He couldn’t let Mysterio have everything. It didn’t seem fair.
He opened the window and stepped inside, pulling the blinds closed behind him. “May?” he called. When she had found out who he was, she had hated it at first. She hated that he was risking his life out there. She had tried to convince him that it wasn’t his fight; or at least it didn’t have to be. There was a lot of yelling and then a lot of silence. She had come around eventually and he was glad that she knew long before this. If this was how she had found out, she would have killed him.
The door swung open and she crossed the room to him, gathering him tightly in her arms. He steeled himself. “I’m fine,” he said. He was more worried about her. He could fight off anyone who came after him. She couldn’t. “Are you?”
“Yes… I’m okay.” She held him at arm’s length. “I called Happy. He wants to get with Pepper before coming back. He told me not to answer the door for anyone.” Peter nodded. “Get something else on and I’ll…” She paused and he knew why. There was nothing they could do. This was something he couldn’t fix by punching his way out of it. Nothing would work. This wasn’t a superhero problem. He clenched his fists and backed away as May watched him. She offered him the slightest grin. “It’ll be okay,” she tried to assure him. It wasn’t much assurance.
If Tony was still here…
He shook his head without finishing the thought. It didn’t matter what Tony would do. He wasn’t there anymore. Mysterio’s illusion flashed in his head. That was one thing he hadn’t told anyone. They knew how that encounter ended, but he hadn’t mentioned anything about how Mysterio had led him into the path of the speeding train. That was private. He still had nightmares.
May smiled one more time and left the room as he turned to lock his window and remove his mask. How could she smile at him? Their lives were falling apart. “Maybe she just thinks that after getting Blipped, this doesn’t really compare.” And maybe to her, it didn’t. To him… it was just another notch in the list of terrible things that were just happening with his life. His reached up to lock the window and noticed his hand trembling. He looked back to make sure May hadn’t seen it before quickly locking it and grabbed his shaking hand.
He shook his head. Not now… Now wasn’t the time. He pulled off the black and red suit and changed into a shirt that was too big for him and shorts. He tugged at the collar of the shirt and took a deep breath, closing his eyes. Tony’s grave flashed in his mind, startling him. His eyes snapped open and he found himself staring at the EDITH glasses case on his dresser; a thing that he was given and he hadn’t been ready for. Tony made a lot of mistakes in his life… that was what Happy had told him.
Peter never imagined he’d be just another one of Tony’s mistakes.
Peter jumped out of his skin when the doorbell went off. He scrambled towards the door, but May grabbed his arm as he passed her. “Let me answer it.”
“Aunt May…” He didn’t want to tell her that if it was someone who was there for a fight, he’d rather he be the one who got shot. Her stern look responded to his unspoken fear. She was here for him and she wouldn’t let anyone hurt him if she could help it.
May held her arm in front of Peter like a mother holding a child without a seatbelt in car. She locked the chain bolt on the door and then opened it.
“May Parker?” The voice behind the door was male, but it wasn’t Happy.
May scowled. “We aren’t talking to press,” she snapped. Peter couldn’t help but smile slightly. Her tone was as stern as ever. She wasn’t missing any beats.
The man laughed slightly. “I understand, ma’am,” he said. His voice was rather calm, and Peter wasn’t sure he liked it. “I’m not with the press, but if a reporter sees me out here, you will be front page news for a very different reason.” May didn’t budge. “Please. I merely want to help you and your nephew.”
May turned to Peter and all he could do was shrug. His judge of character wasn’t great at the moment. May sighed and shut the door to unlock the chain. She reopened the door to reveal a red-haired man in a suit that looked like it cost more than their apartment. He stepped inside and she shut the door behind him.
“I appreciate it, Mrs. Parker.” He held out his hand and she took it carefully. “Norman Osborn.”
“Osborn?” Peter asked. “As in… Oscorp?” The man nodded. “You bought the Avengers Tower.”
“I did.” He withdrew his hand and observed the apartment. Peter saw it in his eyes that he was thinking about their meager living arrangements. It was nothing special. Their apartment was probably the size of his bedroom.
May broke the tension in the room. “Would you… like some coffee, Mr. Osborn?”
“No, thank you.” He smiled. “I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m here.”
“It crossed my mind,” May said, crossing her arms.
Norman seemed mildly taken aback by their slightly rude behavior towards him. Peter wanted to tell him that it probably wasn’t personal. Everyone was a little on edge at the moment. Norman cleared his throat in the silence. “Yes… You see, one reason I wanted to move headquarters to New York was the surplus of metahumans here.” He nodded to Peter. “Your nephew being one of the ones I was most interested.”
May’s stance changed instantly, and Peter tensed. Did he want to run tests? Run him through the ringer? Norman looked between them and then seemed to notice how they were reacting to him.
“Oh… I understand that sounds bad. I admire Spider-man,” he clarified. “Nothing more. When this happened, I wanted to be sure that I was there to help him through it.”
May didn’t relax. “How?”
“One, I’d like to move you two to my apartment. It will have the highest security in the city. I can handle the press and make sure this all goes away in a matter of days.”
“We have Stark Industries for that,” she challenged. Peter nodded slowly.
Norman looked between them again. Peter could swear he saw the man’s eyes narrow. “Of course… I understand.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a business card, offering it to May. “But if you need anything, Mrs. Parker, do not hesitate to call me.” He smiled at both of them, lingering slightly on Peter, before nodding and heading towards the door. May opened it.
“I appreciate it, Mr. Osborn,” she said with a strained smile. As she opened the door, everyone froze. Happy was standing with his fist up to knock on the door.
He stammered slightly and looked at the situation in the room, clearly trying to comprehend it. “Uh… Hello…?”
“Mr. Osborn was just leaving,” May said, ushering the man into the hallway as Happy passed through the open door.
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Osborn,” Happy stuttered. Norman nodded his greeting and walked down the hall as if nothing had happened. Once he was gone completely, Happy looked at May. “What was he doing here?”
“He wanted to help,” she answered with a shrug.
Happy laughed. “Him? Wants to help himself is more likely,” he said. “Tony’s tangled with him once or twice. The man’s a megalomaniac. He’s probably taking this whole situation for his advantage.” He shook his head. “But we shouldn’t talk about that. Pepper wants you two to come with me. You’ll be staying at their lake house outside the city until she can smooth things over.”
Hide… that was what they wanted him to do. They wanted him to turn tail and run. If he was that kind of person, he wouldn’t have gotten on that spaceship. He would have gone like he had been told and stayed out of danger. Peter shook his head. That wasn’t who he was; who he could be. He turned his back to them with a soft sigh.
“Pete?” May asked, worried.
“You go to the lake house,” he said to her without looking at them. “I can’t just run from this… I can’t ignore it. This is my problem.”
May put her hands on his shoulder and a shiver went down his spine. “No… this is our problem. The moment I found out about this… Even before that…”
It became our problem. He knew that was what she wanted to say, but she couldn’t. If she did, it meant that she’d be putting the blame on him for this whole mess. It was his fault. No one was denying that; but no one wanted to be the one to point it out. “I can’t ask you—” to put yourself in danger.
“You aren’t asking,” May snapped. She tightened her grip on his shoulders. “And neither am I.” He squeezed his eyes shut.
“Be that as it may,” Happy said before Peter could respond. “Right now, you two probably shouldn’t stay here. The press will find out where you live before long and they’ll bombard you. If you insist on staying in the city, we’ll set you up somewhere, but you can’t stay here. If you’ve already got Norman Osborn knocking at your door, more sinister people won’t be far behind.”
Peter nodded. “Ten minutes,” he said. “Can you grab the Iron Spider suit and the EDITH glasses?” Happy nodded and hurried to Peter’s bedroom as he turned to his aunt.
She smiled warmly at him. Her ability to smile despite all of this was infectious; but it didn’t make it much better. He was grateful for her. He didn’t deserve her. “We’ll be okay,” she assured him. He nodded. Yeah… they would be okay. It always worked out in the end… always…
In the limo, Peter typed a text message to Ned, his fingers flying over the keyboard on the phone. Happy hadn’t wanted him to contact anyone, but Ned needed to know. He needed to make sure that his friend was okay. He was getting texts and calls from people who weren’t even saved in his phone. They said they would get him a different phone when they got to Stark Industries.
<I’m fine,> Ned wrote. <Are you?>
I will be… he thought, but instead he typed, <Yeah. Looks like I’ll be staying somewhere else for a few days. Vacation?> He wanted to brush this whole thing off. He’d need to talk to Happy about making sure MJ and Ned at least were safe. He’d rather Happy and Pepper be getting those guys out of the city.
<Alright. My mom’s freaking out.>
<You haven’t told her anything?>
Peter leaned against the back of the seat and let out a long sigh. May turned to him with a soft smile. He returned it; but it faded as they neared the building. There were the sounds of people clamoring and camera shutters coming from outside. “Damn…” Happy grumbled. “I was hoping it would take longer for them to get here.” He slowed down as the car was swarmed by the press. “It’s not far to the front door, you two. We’ll get you inside and then we’ll deal with this.”
“They aren’t on your property?” May asked.
“Not yet, but Pepper will buy this entire block if she has to.” Happy stopped the car and stepped out, shouting at the vultures. May grabbed Peter’s hand.
“It’s fine,” he said with a soft grin. She nodded, telling him silently that she believed it was okay as well. The door opened and Happy pushed back the reporters.
“Let’s go!” he snapped. May got quickly out of the car and Peter followed her without a word. The second he stepped out of the car, he was bombarded with camera flashes and questions. The people of the press shouted at him and shoved their microphones towards his face. May and Happy both shouted at the reporters, pushing them away from him. Happy handed him a clipboard so he could block his face as they made their way through the sea of the press.
“Leave him alone!” Happy shouted. Apparently, he had told May to keep her mouth shut because she said nothing to the reporters… though he was sure she’d be shouting their ears off for heckling him. He clenched his fists and suddenly, his senses shot up slightly. It wasn’t enough to call for action, but it was enough to send shivers down his spine.
He spun, letting May and Happy get a few steps in front of him. Standing amongst the reporters was a man. He wasn’t shouting like the rest of them and he didn’t have a camera or a microphone. He was just standing there, staring through the crowd directly at Peter with what looked to be one good eye and one that he been messed up based on the scars and the glazed pupil. There was a tattoo of a scorpion on the side of his neck. The man locked eyes with Peter and smiled.
A shiver went down Peter’s spine as the man stepped back and disappeared into the crowd.