Either the nights are getting longer or he’s getting older because Peter’s exhausted ; he’s beat, achy, and hongry , and it’s barely four. He remembers when he could inhale a granola bar for breakfast, hit class, come home for some studying, then head back out again. G-d college was hectic, so much work, and for what?
He’s got a doctorate in biomechanical engineering and what’s the point? He can barely get by, even with the monthly alimony his ex-wife pays on time like clockwork.
“Time to call it night, Spidey,” Peter sighs, shooting a web, missing, and falling ten more stories than he meant to.
Yeah, he remembers when this was easy .
Easy, like being in Miles’ universe, where he wasn’t a washed-up Spider-Man, where he was actually important. It’s been nearly six months and sure they’re still in contact with each other and sometimes they visit, because a Spider-Man from a capitalist dystopia future figured out how to do that, but it’s not the same. There’s no subtle understanding over chat and there’s no way he could say it face-to-face.
Say how much loves them and needs them, and how scared he is of messing this up too.
He lands on his building and sighs again. MJ agreed to give them another try, to put their best foot forward, and they are but it’s hard. Peter checks his phone, the This Universe one, as he climbs down to his fire escape; no new messages .
That hurts, just a little bit, a lot. They had a date tonight, him and MJ, and he got there on time but she didn’t. Peter waited and she…never showed up. And he knows, he knows , he’s stood her up and apologised later so many times but it hurts. He’s been trying so hard to manage his time better, to be there for her, and…there’s someone in his apartment.
He almost thinks it might be MJ but he smells the cigarette smoke as he climbs through the window and sighs, it’s not her.
“Hey Benjamin,” Peter calls just loud enough for the Spider in his kitchen to hear him. The one from the 30’s who doesn’t usually show up unannounced, he’s pretty good about asking first and all that. He’s still a Peter Parker though so Peter’s not all that surprised to hear him around.
And he does mean hear, there’s all kinds of rattling and banging coming from his kitchen but the smell ain’t half bad. Sometimes Benjamin just comes over and cooks, never explains why, but he’s got this uncanny knack for showing up when things are getting bad. Peter wonders if it’s a Benjamin thing or a Spider thing, could be both.
“Stew’s finished, come grab a bowl,” Benjamin says when Peter appears in a kitchen that looks way better than he left it hours ago; dishes are drying on the rack, he can see the counter, and there’s a pot on the stove. There’s also Benjamin, in black and white as always, wearing Peter’s neon green “ Kiss the Crook ” apron and smiling soft like Uncle Ben used to.
“Don’t mind if I do,” Peter says, sniffling just a bit, and taking the bowl Benjamin’s holding. And if he cries a little while they eat, well, no one says anything about that.
Peni…doesn’t really remember Peter Parker, and it scares her. When she was little, her dad was her favourite person, he was her only person.
She doesn’t know her mom, the woman with dyed red hair and big brown eyes. She doesn’t know Uncle Ben, or even DD, not the way she knew her dad, and now, she barely knows her dad. That’s scary.
‘Don’t Sad,’ Spides coos in the back of her head, scuttling onto her hand. He’s been doing good outside of the suit, better than either of them thought, so she’s not super worried about him anymore. He’s a tough little spider.
“Sorry Spides,” she sighs, rubbing his little head with a finger. She knows she’s just feeling like this because it’s the anniversary of Peter’s death. Today makes it three whole years since Peni’s been the only SP//dr pilot and it’s the first year she doesn’t have the original suit. She lost it in a whole other dimension and there’s no recovering it.
Her dad loved that suit and he trusted her with it, and she lost it. He’d be so disappointed. DD says he wouldn’t be but Peni thinks he would. He wouldn’t have blamed her, he would’ve been ecstatic about her interdimensional trip, but he would’ve still been sad. The mech was his pride and glory.
'You Too,' Spides insists, stomping on her hand, defiant as ever. He doesn’t remember Peter at all, he was barely a few hours old when he bit Peter and then he got put in a tank to grow. Spides only knows Peni and he loves her fiercely, he’s the bestest friend she could ever ask for.
The knock on the door shocks both of them because they didn’t hear anyone coming. Peni grabs a wrench and Spides scuttles into their WIP mech as she cautiously hits the doorbell. They’re both ready for a fight but nothing threatening walks through; just Benjy.
“Hold ya fire, slick” Benjy chuckles, holding his hands up, but Peni knows he could take them anyway. Benjy’s one of the dirtiest fighters she’s ever seen, he’s strong and he’s fast, and he’s not afraid to throw people off buildings. She loves him.
“Benjy!” Peni and Spides squeal, launching themselves at him. He catches them neatly, Spides on his finger, Peni around the waist, and hoists them up onto his shoulder. Just like Peter used to do, though he’s taller and keeps a good grip on Peni’s legs, not that she’d fall.
Benjy’s not in his mask today, just his regular old timey clothes, and no colours. His hair feels stiff under her hands and his face is scratchy where he didn’t shave. He’s way younger than Peter B but he’s still way older than her and looks only a little bit like her dad. It’s kinda weird but not totally weird, and it makes her feel just a little better about today.
“How come you’re here?” she asks as he carries all of them over to her covered up window. He knows how to work the mag-lock now and opens it up without help. She’s so proud of him, he figured out future teach so quick and she can’t wait to work on projects together.
“Can’t a fella pop over for a visit sometimes?” he laughs, climbing out the window and onto the outside wall. Peni grabs his collar but his hands are steady on her legs, holding her tight.
The wind whips around them, messing up his hair and almost sending Spides flying but Benjy covers him with a hand. New York’s glitzing and glamming away under them, terrible and great, and Peni sighs. Her dad took her swinging once, to show her the place he’d be protecting. One swing was all they ever got.
“I thought we’d go for a swing, a night out on the town,” Benjy says and Peni’s eyes burn. Spides crawls into her pocket and he’s a little choked up too.
“I—t-thanks Benjy,” she hiccups, wiping her eyes and crawling onto his back. He doesn’t say anything before he jumps, flinging them into open air. He doesn’t say anything when her tears fly away behind them either.
“So, we’re like your junior detectives?” Miles asks as Gwen squints at the pictures Benjamin took. Benjamin cause they’ve already got three RIPeters, a Peter B, and Porker; another one is just way too much.
“If ya like,” Benjamin answers, mouth stuffed full of toast and beans. He offered Gwen and Miles some but uh no. So now he’s pigging out in the kitchenette while Miles and Gwen take over his tiny floorspace with documents and pictures.
“Sweet, I’m putting this in my college apps,” Gwen jokes, sliding a picture over and Miles fits it into place.
Benjamin invited them over to teach them some “ real skills ” and not whatever “ new fangled nonsense ” Peter B did. So, he gave them an old case and told them to figure it out; they’re doing Not That. Gwen giggles as she looks over their masterpiece. The pictures are of mobsters in black and white, the suspects in the case, but Miles is making mosaics out of them.
They’ve got a bunny, a spider, and a sunflower made of crooks and now he’s working on a new one. Benjamin can see them from his tiny kitchenette, but he doesn’t seem to care, he just snorts and drinks his terrible black coffee. Gwen already knows who dun it, and so does Miles, and Benjamin knows they know. This is just a uhm, a chance to bond.
She thinks at least. Gwen hasn’t done the ah “ friends ” thing in a while and never with a group of people like this. They just get her. Miles texts her in the middle of patrols, a smile during a long night. Peni sends her cute pictures of Spides and breathtaking pictures of her New York. Peter B and Ham send her the worst dad jokes and Benjamin invites her over.
When things are tougher than usual, and she can’t reach out for help, he’s there. He always just knows somehow, and Gwen would ask but she’s not sure he knows either. Maybe it’s one of his powers or some part of the universe wants to apologise for being such a dick to Spiders. She doesn’t know but she’s not gonna stare into the Gift Void.
“How’re we looking fellas?” Benjamin asks, wiping his mouth delicately, as if he didn’t just eat a whole pot of beans. The guy can really pack it away; he’s nearly as bad as Peter B and that’s saying something.
Miles snorts then coughs to hide a laugh and Gwen glances over at the…pig, he made a pig. He even folded up newspaper clippings to make a tiny mask for it. Gwen stares for a whole five seconds before she laughs so hard she nearly falls over.
“You made Ham!” she shrieks, cheeks aching with her snorting smiles, but she can’t stop. It’s the funniest thing she’s seen in way too long. It’s exactly what her Peter would do.
Gwen laughs until she’s just squeaking on the floor, hand on Miles’ shoulder and tears in her eyes. She doesn’t even know why it’s so funny, but it is. It just… is .
“Looks like you solved the case fellas,” Benjamin says and Gwen looks up, where Benjamin’s on the ceiling. He’s squinting down at Miles’ work, tongue stuck out and head cocked as he scans the mosaics. Gwen’s laughter dies down to a few hiccups and looks with him.
They’ve used four whole folders for their little art project, half the people here aren’t even from the same case. Benjamin doesn’t seem to mind though, cause he snaps his fingers and smiles broader than Gwen can ever remember seeing before. Makes him look his age for once.
“The pigs did it!” he declares triumphantly and this time Miles starts laughing with her. They’re both laughing too hard to support each other and they just end up sprawled on top of all their evidence.
All the gangsters and policemen get scattered and mixed up together, but that’s exactly how it should be.
“Great work junior detectives.”
Benjamin knows he’s a sucker for punishment, he’s the schmuck that gets beat black’n grey and spits “ That all ya got? ”. He’s the Spider-Man and the city hates him, dicks and flatfoots, moneymen and trouble boys’re all gunning for him. And most of the time, he gives as good as he gets.
He knocks their lights out, strings em from the rafters and leaves em to hang. He beats them in back alleys where the stray cats can piss on their faces. They play dirty, so he plays nasty and it’s all about even in the end. Not tonight though, tonight he got bounced like orphan paper at the races, and he’s feeling every piece of action he got.
Tonight, he crawls back home, don’t even care when his coat trails in the slurry slush, and falls through his window with a thump. Neighbours’ll complain later, threaten to report him, but Benjamin doesn’t care. All he wants is a nice cuppa joe to settle his jittering nerves and warm up his cold everything, then he’s gonna sleep for a good long while.
He makes it as far as the desk which is…not ideal but it’s somethin’. The window’s open and he should close it, there’s more snow coming tomorrow and the heater’s none too good, but that’s too much. It’s askin’ for the moon and he can barely figure out which way is up.
Benjamin falls asleep like that, slumped by the desk, mask’n all. Ribs’re aching and somethin’s bleeding, but he’s cool as a cuke and old cold.
He wakes up in a house he doesn’t know, no mask, no coat, and he’s warmer’n he’s been in a while. There’s a heavy blanket over him, tucked in, and he’s on somethin’ softer’n his creaky old bed. The room’s dark and his heart’s pounding, but he’s not scared. Not worried.
He should be on his feet, evaluating the situation, did he get kidnapped? Did someone follow him home? Where’s this anyway?
They’re all pertinent questions, but he can’t care too much about them. The little tingle in the back of his head is quiet, dosing like he should be, and the longer he stares at the blurry ceiling, the more he thinks it’s actually blue. Dark blue, like the night sky in everyone else’s universe.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to wake you,” Ham whispers, a voice in the dark, then he’s hands in the dark. Warm hands with only four fingers are touching his leg, shifting and climbing until he’s curled up in the space between Benjamin’s thigh and the wall. A solid warmth that he didn’t even realise he was missing until it came back.
“Peni found you, then she called us,” Ham explains, and Benjamin nods, numb. He didn’t think they’d find him, he didn’t think they’d even realise.
“You didn’t answer her texts and you know how kids are with their phones. Miss sixty-seven texts and suddenly you’re on the brink of death, so melodramatic.”
Benjamin snorts, feeling along his chest where someone wrapped his ribs; the bandages feel clean, cleaner’n the ones he keeps washing and reusing at least. There’s bandage around his upper thigh too, not the one Ham’s pressed against; he got stabbed there. He got stabbed and he was limping, probably made a mess all over the floor, and… Peni found him?
His heart flumps painfully, and his throat closes up tight. Peni’s a tough gal, she’s a Big Apple dame, but she’s only twelve. Twelve-year olds shouldn’t go around seeing people bleeding out, and kids shouldn’t be solving criminal conspiracies with pie in the sky gangster types, and good men should get a break sometimes. The universe just ain’t fair to Spiders and Benjamin’s just about had it with this kinda injustice.
He twitches, half ready to get up and fight the whole damn multiverse in the middle of the night, and realises there’s someone on his other side. The bed’s bigger’n he thought, and he had to be real outta it not to realise, because there’s Peni. She’s curled up against his arm, just as solid as Ham, and Benjamin figures this is May’s house in Miles’ universe.
“Hey, you okay?” Peter B’s voice comes from across the room, quiet and sleepy but not fuzzy. He wasn’t asleep in the bunkbed May’s got up here, was he waiting up? Staying up for Benjamin?
“Ye-ah, I’m…I’m swell,” Benjamin croaks, swallowing hard. Over his own too loud heart, he can hear two more sets of breathing, Miles and Gwen. They’re all here curled up on the beds May keeps for them. They’re all here for him .
“I’m just fine,” he mumbles as Ham settles comfortably against his thigh and Peni snuggles against his arm. As Peter B lays back down across the room and Miles and Gwen breathe quiet and steady.
“I love you all,” he breathes, sniffs, and relaxes back into the soft bed. He still wants to fight the multiverse but later. After he gets a good night’s sleep and a good breakfast with his family. The family he loves so much, that’re here for him, clustered all around.
“Aw, we love you too old timer,” Ham says, and Peter B hums something like 'we sure do', and Benjamin smiles as he closes his eyes.
They’re all here for him. He loves them so much.