“This isn’t easy for me to say,” Mary Jane said. “I’ve met someone else.”
There was a brief moment of silence, during which a kitchen towel caught fire.
“What?” Peter said, his voice not quite a squawk, but definitely not as calm and collected as he’d meant for it to come out. “Who? When?”
It wasn’t, all things considered, the worst time she could have picked to say those words. Peter wasn’t having his head repeatedly slammed against the concrete by a convict in a multimillion dollar animal suit, or trying to dismantle a bomb, or trying to dismantle a bomb while having his head repeatedly slammed against the concrete by a convict in a multimillion dollar animal suit.
Still, if he’d had to pick a time, he wouldn’t have chosen one where he was standing by a hot stove, trying to smother a pan full of spitting oil. He wouldn’t have picked the first night they’d had together in over a month. And he definitely wouldn’t have picked his thirtieth birthday.
A romantic dinner, he’d thought. Sure, things between him and Mary Jane had been a little tense lately, especially with her on the road so much, but it was nothing good food, good music, and a good time at home couldn’t smooth out. And alright, so he’d been late coming home with the groceries – when wasn’t he? That was something she’d come to expect, being with him. Something maybe she’d even missed while she was away, the sight of him slinging his leg over the windowsill, banged up grocery bags in his arms.
Distance was supposed to make the heart grow fonder, he thought numbly, switching off the stove.
Mary Jane laid it all out for him: her name was Gwen, she was a human rights attorney, they had met on one of Mary Jane’s assignments for the Bugle where one of them – Peter forgot which – had been dangling half out of a news copter, of course, and they were, quote-unquote, in love.
Peter had upended the coffee table. Mary Jane had sarcastically said that was very mature of him.
Things had spiraled downwards from there.
Peter had told her that she wasn’t serious, then that she was being ridiculous, and finally that it was a phase. So now not only had MJ broken up with him, she wasn’t currently speaking to him, either.
His front door also closed a little wonky ever since she’d slammed it walking out. It was the kind of reminder he didn’t need. Not that he was using the door for much these days besides shoving crumpled tens at the pizza delivery guy before telling him to get lost.
“I’d come over, but your stupid depressing walk-up isn’t wheelchair accessible, asshole,” Flash said over the phone.
Peter groped, one-handed, for the nearest pillow, and pulled it over his face. It didn’t grow arms and suffocate him, putting him out of his misery once and for all, but hey, there was always a chance.
“Love you, buddy,” he said, slightly muffled.
“Apologize to MJ,” Flash said, then hung up on him.
Peter dismissed the suggestion.
“Whoa,” Miles said a few days later, perched on his windowsill. “Who attacked your apartment?!”
“Depression,” Peter declared.
“Oh,” Miles said, taking a second longer and only slightly less judgmental look around. “Uh. Is this about Mary Jane?”
“Take a guess,” Peter said.
“Do you wanna talk about it?” Miles asked, rubbing the back of his neck.
Peter gave it about two seconds of thought before he sat up. Maybe it was Miles’ presence, another spider in the room, but an awareness of the whole city had crashed down upon him, every inch of him preternaturally aware of every inch of it. The summer air was hot and oppressive; cars rushed down avenues, people walked down streets, subways raced beneath the ground. Suddenly Peter couldn’t believe he’d been lying here, feeling sorry for himself, when he belonged out there, in the middle of the throng.
“I think,” he said, very seriously, “I want to punch something in the face.”
“Dude, go to therapy,” Miles said.
Things got better, after that. Or not better, exactly. Things got busier, enough so that Peter didn’t have time to think about whether they were better or not. It was fine. He’d been here before, dumped by Mary Jane. He’d survived then, and he’d figure out how to survive it again.
“I mean, how hard could it be?” he said, leaning against a street lamp. The would-be burglar he’d caught in a broken into brownstone glared balefully at him from where he was webbed upside down. “There’s always internet dating. That’s still a thing, right? J Date? Because I gotta tell you, me and these shiksas.” He put a hand to his heart. “Oy.”
“When I get outta here, I’m gonna shoot you right in that smart mouth,” said the burglar.
“Ooh, Mr. Tough Guy,” Peter said. He put a hand on the burglar’s chest and spun him like a top, just for the fun of it.
One dizzy burglar aside, it was an unfulfilling night, in the middle of an unfulfilling week, and, now that Peter was looking back on it, quite possibly it had been an unfulfilling last couple of years. Excuse him for not having a raunchy affair in a helicopter over a war zone or whatever it was Mary Jane had been doing during all those overseas trips.
He could have gone to bed, he guessed, and gotten a good night’s sleep for once, but the bed was all the way across the apartment. It was so much easier to lie on his face on the couch instead, replaying every single stupid thing he’d done chronologically over the past three years.
It was an improvement, he guessed. A few short weeks ago he’d been face down on this couch, replaying every single moment of his relationship with Mary Jane, looking for where he’d fucked it all up. That had been much worse.
His ears picked up the faint thump of light feet on the fire escape, the scrape of the window against the frame, but his spider-sense stayed silent. That meant only one person.
“Miles, y’know, it’s sweet of you to keeping checking in on me, it really is,” he said, “but it’s really not necessary –”
He stopped, halfway done rolling off the couch, his jaw hanging open. It wasn’t Miles framed in the window but a small child – a little boy of about seven or eight years old, with messy brown hair and a smattering of freckles across his nose and cheeks.
“Who’s Miles?” the kid had the audacity to ask.
“Who’s – who are you?” Peter asked, climbing to his feet.
“Walter,” the kid said, as if that explained anything at all. Peter didn’t know anyone by the name of Walter. He especially didn’t know any small children named Walter, especially not ones who should be climbing through his window at night.
He wasn’t entirely sure where to start with this one. If the kid turned out to be a killer robot or something, well, he could just go menace the Rubensteins in Apartment 6G for all Peter cared. He was not in the mood.
“Walter,” he repeated. “Well, Wally –”
“That’s not my name,” the kid said, scowling, like Peter cared. Not his kid, not his problem.
Except everything was his problem. Peter sent a look towards the ceiling, half-hoping it would collapse in and put him out of his misery.
“What are you doing in my apartment, Wally?” he asked.
“Hiding,” the kid said, as if that made any sense.
“Where are your parents, kid?” Peter asked. “Who do you belong to?”
Wally’s jaw tightened, as if he was debating whether or not to speak. Then, after a second, he said, “My mom’s Felicity Harmon.”
He said the name carefully, like it had been rehearsed. And it had been, of course, because Peter knew that name – Felicity Harmon was one of Felicia Hardy’s aliases, one she’d used on and off for years. Which meant that it was Felicia’s son who’d just come creeping through Spider-Man’s window.
But Felicia didn’t have a son. Peter had known Felicia didn’t have a son since she’d shut him in that shipping container years ago. It had just been another one of her mind games.
Except, apparently, she’d saved the real mind game for right now, six years later, just when Peter had relaxed enough to really get taken by surprise.
“What happened to your mom, buddy?” Peter asked. He forced the fear down alongside the confusion and the shock, telling himself to be focused, to be here. As much as he wanted to swing right out the nearest window in search of Felicia, this kid needed him more.
“She’s taking care of things,” Wally said, lifting his stubborn little chin. He looked a little bit like he wanted to cry but didn’t want to give anyone the satisfaction. Peter knew the feeling.
“Yeah, well,” Peter said. “She’s good at that.”
“I was supposed to go hide,” Wally said.
“So you came here?” Peter asked, glancing over his shoulder at his sad little apartment. Well, if there was one thing he could say for it, it was that nobody in their right mind would look for an international jewel thief’s child here, so maybe there was something to the kid’s plan.
Wally nodded, bottom lip still trembling. Peter tried to think of what Aunt May would have done in his shoes. She’d have comforted the kid, made him smile, made him feel like everything was going to be okay. She’d done that for Peter a hundred times, when he had been Wally’s age.
He did the next best thing.
“Are you hungry?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Wally said, voice small. He was clearly trying his best to be brave, poor kid, and here Peter was, not exactly making it easy on him.
“Yeah, breaking into stranger’s apartments really works up an appetite,” Peter said sagely.
The kid glared at him. Peter gave him a crooked smile, a pat on the shoulder, and then straightened up. He put a hand on the kid’s shoulder, and it felt so small under his palm.
Digging up the last of his sad groceries in order to make a sandwich for the kid was a great excuse to not do the math on how old Wally was.
The kid was so quiet, watching Peter with big eyes like he was cataloguing his every move. Peter had been on the receiving end of that look before, from his mother.
It was awkward, to put a word to it. Even if the kid hadn’t been Felicia’s, it wasn’t like Peter spent his off hours doing a whole lot of babysitting. At least Miles was old enough to do calculus and for Peter to strap a web shooter to before shoving him off a building – his two main means of communicating with the younger generation. But the kid was Felicia’s, and every time Peter thought about that, his brain went down a whole other spiral.
Walter had been Felicia’s father’s name.
In between the second and third slightly stale sandwich, Peter managed to coax Wally into telling him what had happened. It was a little disjointed, the kid a little confused, but Peter got the gist of it: armed gunmen had broken into Felicia’s apartment. She’d told her son to run. The kid had, for some reason, run straight to Peter.
“And your mom told you to run here?” Peter said, gesturing at himself.
Wally took a look around the apartment. His nose wrinkled.
“Well,” he said. “Not here first.”
Peter couldn’t exactly take offense. He wouldn’t run to his apartment first, either. But that Felicia had sent her kid to him – to keep him safe – that was something else. Something Peter didn’t want to name just yet. Not until he saw her.
The kid kept looking at him like he expected Peter to do something, or have some answers. Peter also expected Peter to do something or have some answers, so he felt that they were both probably pretty disappointed in him.
He wanted to go out and look for Felicia. Failing that, he wanted to go out and shake someone down until they told him where Felicia was. But the kid had run to him -- and now it was Peter’s job not to run out on him. To sit and be patient and wait for Felicia to come to him, too.
It was after midnight when the kid fell asleep. He’d been fighting it for a while. Peter thought someone who was better with kids would have probably found a way to get the kid to just lie down and get some sleep, but, well – he was him, floundering. And the kid was scared, and he missed his mom, and he kept looking around Peter’s apartment like he expected Peter’s exceptionally crappy couch to bite him. Peter could relate.
The kid didn’t weigh anything to him, not really, not even gone completely deadweight with sleep. But there was something comforting about holding him, about feeling the warm puffs of Wally’s breath against his neck, chubby little kid cheek pillowed against Peter’s shoulder.
“S’okay, buddy,” Peter said, more to himself than to the sleeping kid as he carried him to the bed. “I gotcha.”
Sleeping and finally still, there was no denying the resemblance. The unruly brown hair, the thick brows, the stubborn set to his mouth. Aunt May had kept photo album after photo album documenting Peter’s childhood and had loved to bring them out at every opportunity. Now those same photo albums were kept safe on his own shelves; he knew very well what he had looked like as a child.
Wally’s eyes, though – Peter knew those eyes.
He crouched down by his window in the darkness and waited. It didn’t take very long – an hour or so later, at most, Peter lulled into an almost meditative state by the soft sounds of the sleeping child in the next room, by the little spider in the corner weaving its web.
A creaking sound snapped him out of it, quiet as the breeze. Anyone who wasn’t listening intently would have missed it.
For the second time that night, Peter’s window slid open.
Felicia Hardy was always a sight to behold, but there was a certain kind of joy Peter took in catching her in the act. She always froze in a funny way, her shoulders stiff and her eyes so wide they almost looked like headlights. The closest analogy Peter had ever been able to come up with was that she looked like a naughty housecat spotted with one paw in the fish tank.
She looked different than last time he’d seen her, but then again, it had been years. Her thick platinum hair hung in a long braid down her back, and she was dressed down in a pair of shiny black leggings, a long sleeved shirt, and deceptively heavy-looking black boots. She was still beautiful, though. She was always beautiful.
“Fancy meeting you here,” he said as he straightened up, his arms crossed. “In my apartment. In the middle of the night.”
“Well,” Felicia said after a beat, her voice a little more stilted and strained than he was used to hearing. “You never liked it when I used to break into other people’s apartments in the middle of the night.”
“If you’re looking for someone yea high,” Peter said, leveling his hand at approximately Wally’s height, “with sticky fingers, he’s asleep in the other room.”
He jerked a thumb over his shoulder.
Felicia nearly knocked him over rushing past him, still quiet on her little cat feet.
“Nice to see you, too,” Peter said to her back.
Felicia dropped to her knees in front of the bed, every line of her body tense as she took in Wally’s sleeping form. She ran her hand over Wally’s hair, so gently that he didn’t even stir. Her eyes fell shut and her shoulders dropped, like the weight of the world had fallen from them.
“Thank God,” she exhaled. “Thank God.”
“He’s fine,” Peter said. “I checked. He had an adventure, that’s all.”
Felicia looked up at him again, her eyes huge and almost glowing in the gloom, her mouth just slightly dropped open. The cat with her with her paw in the goldfish bowl look was back. Somehow it didn’t thrill Peter to see it this time.
“I think we should talk,” Peter said.
“Not here,” Felicia said, throwing a glance back at her son.
They stepped out of the room. Felicia shut the door with a click.
“No one followed me,” she said. “I made sure of it.”
“That’s not my concern,” Peter said, clenching his jaw. If someone had followed Felicia, he would take care of it.
“It’s mine,” Felicia hissed. “That’s my son sleeping in that room! I had to make sure I wasn’t bringing anyone back here on my tail.”
“What?” Peter said. “Not going to deny it? Not going to claim you were babysitting and he swallowed a diamond? Not going to try and spin me a story? Come on, Felicia. Make it a good one.”
“Is there a point?” Felicia asked. She sounded tired. “You already know who he is.”
“You lied to me,” Peter said.
Felicia turned her face away from him so he couldn’t see her eyes.
“He looks like me,” was all he had to say.
Felicia glanced back at him, then away again. Peter prepared himself for the run around, for the big story, for Felicia to do everything in her power to purposefully send him down the wrong road.
“I never told you I didn’t have a son,” she said at last.
“No, you just led me to believe that you didn’t,” he said. “And if you didn’t have a kid, then there was no way I was that kid’s father, right? And then you let me think you had gone up in an explosion just long enough to let the entire thing slip my mind. Don’t play games with me right now, Felicia. Not about this. Not again.”
“What’s there to play if you’ve already figured it all out?” Felicia asked, looking up at him. He opened his mouth and then in the blink of an eye there she was, right up in his space. That lithe body was pressed up against his, just like old times.
His hands automatically molded themselves to her hips, just like they always did. This was, he thought a touch hysterically, probably how they’d ended up with the four foot tall situation in his bed, sleeping off baby’s first breaking and entering.
“Felicia,” he said.
She raised a hand and put a finger to his lips.
“No, Peter,” she said, tilting her head. Her silver hair glittered in the moonlight and her eyes seemed to glow, more cat-like than ever. But it was the name that really made him listen – not Spider, but Peter. “I’m talking now. Yes, I kept him from you, and yes I know you have a lot to say about that. More than you probably even know.” She paused and swallowed, running the pad of her finger across his bottom lip. “But you know what else I’ve kept him all this time? Safe. And that’s the most important thing, isn’t it?”
Peter knew Felicia too well not to read between the lines. He squeezed her hips and tilted his head, letting the tip of her finger rest on his lips for just a moment, watching her as she watched him.
Then he stepped back, away from her and her magnetic pull, and settled into his Spider-Man stance; shoulders back, legs apart, all business.
“Tell me what happened,” he said.
Felicia laid it all out for him: the theft gone wrong, the powerful man with too much money and too many connections who managed to find out just exactly who had been tiptoeing around his treasure room. Felicia’s safehouse sold out by one of her own contacts.
All through it, Peter sat and listened and did his level best not to judge. He only rolled his eyes two, three times tops.
There was nothing to roll his eyes about when she got to the part about masked gunmen breaking down the door to her apartment. Her apartment, with their son inside – their son, who a few hours ago Peter hadn’t even known existed. Felicia’s quick thinking had saved him, sending him out the back window before the door had come down, but still.
How close had Peter come to not having a son after all?
“I told Walt to run,” Felicia said quietly. “And he ran.”
“And he just picked my apartment by, what? Fate? Kismet? Gigantic cosmic joke?” Peter asked, the come and gone danger leaving him feeling on edge. “Are you telling me you’re still out doing what it is that you do, and you didn’t have a plan?”
“Of course I had a plan,” Felicia said, sounding frazzled for perhaps the first time in their entire acquaintance. She threw herself down on Peter’s ancient couch. “He was supposed to go to my mother’s apartment in case of any – incidents.” She frowned, looking down. “We practiced. He knew what to do.”
“What happened?” Peter asked. He crouched down next to her, unable to help the desire to reach out, to touch her, to make sure she was really alright. He knew he shouldn’t – the Felicia Hardy rule, in his head, had long been you can look, but don’t touch.
He'd broken that rule every time, but still. It was there for a reason. One of these days he was going to learn that.
He reached over and settled his hand over her foot, curling his fingers around the toe of her boot and squeezing just hard enough to be felt through the leather. Felicia looked up at him, a funny little smile quirked at the corners of her lips.
“Your mother was a stubborn little old lady from Queens, too,” she said, raising her eyebrows. “What do you think happened? She was seeing a show. Wally was supposed to follow Plan B, but…” She raised a hand to massage her temple. “I guess I just never thought he might run here instead.”
“Smart kid,” Peter said, leaning back on his haunches. He let go of her shoe, but only so he could start working on the laces. “So he knows who I am?”
He pulled off one boot and started on the other.
“Yes and no,” Felicia said. “He knows you’re a friend of mine. He knows you’re someone that can keep him safe. Who would keep him safe. And he knows you’re…” She listed to the side, twisting her body so that she could walk her fingers slowly across the back of the sofa. “Special.”
It took Peter a moment to catch on, but when he did he let out an involuntary groan, his head meeting the wall with a dull thud as he slid his hand over his eyes.
“For fuck’s sake, Felicia, you won’t tell the kid I’m his father but you go and tell him I’m Spider-Man?!”
“Shh!” Felicia said, reaching over and putting her finger to his lips. “Kitten sleeps even lighter than I do.”
Peter took a deep breath, counting back from ten. He tugged her bare feet into his lap, pressing his thumb against the arch of one foot just to watch her sigh, her back arched like a cat’s.
“He’s a kid,” he said. “He’s had a rough day. Trust me, he’s out like a light.”
“I do, you know,” Felicia said. “Trust you.”
“You’ve got a funny way of showing it,” he said to her perfectly manicured toes.
“Are you going to kick me out, Spider?” she asked. Her tone was light but her eyes were cautious, every inch of her coiled like a spring about to snap.
“It’s late,” he said after a beat. “You’re tired. You should eat something.”
“Now you really sound like my mother.” Felicia’s smile softened into something small and tired, but genuine.
“Your mother’s a smart woman, probably,” Peter said, climbing to his feet. “C’mon. Shower’s down the hall. I’ll warm something up for you.”
He stood there for a long moment, rooted to the spot, even as she disappeared down the hall. Finally he heard the shower start and snapped himself into action.
The towels in the bathroom were probably a mess. He couldn’t remember when he’d last washed them, or if they were covered in blood. Peter’s fast healing still did a number on his laundry. But Aunt May hadn’t raised a total animal; there were always one or two towels stashed in the tiny hall closet, in case of emergencies.
Emergencies, in his mind, had been more of the aforementioned bleeding, and not a wet and naked Black Cat, but Peter could roll with the punches.
He knocked on the bathroom door and to his surprise it swung it open, unlocked. Humidity hit him like a wall, filling his lungs and curling his hair. How Felicia had managed to get the hot water in his apartment on for longer than five minutes, he’d never know.
“Yes?” she called, her voice carrying over the patter of the water. He could make out the shape of her body from behind the shower curtain, the curves of her breasts and her hips, her long legs, her arms raised above her head, her hands in her hair.
Nothing good, Peter thought dimly, had ever come from Felicia Hardy, naked in his apartment.
Except that wasn’t true. There was a little boy asleep in Peter’s bed, the covers pulled up to his nose, and Peter didn’t know him yet but there was a tug in his chest whenever he looked at him that said he was a good thing, the best thing Peter had maybe ever seen.
He cleared his throat and held out two threadbare but clean towels. “I’m gonna leave these by the sink.”
The curtain twitched to the side as Felicia stuck her head out. Her hair stuck wet and dark silver to her neck, and there came the wafting smell of Peter’s cheap bodywash.
“And here I thought you were going to volunteer to wash my back,” she said, arching her eyebrows.
“Cute,” he snorted. He turned to go when the reflection in the mirror caught his eye: Felicia’s arm, and the large dark bruise there.
He was ripping back the shower curtain before he even registered taking a step. Felicia stared back at him, her eyes wide, washcloth dangling limply from her fingers. She looked like she wasn’t sure what she expected – him to climb into the shower with her fully clothed, maybe. It wouldn’t be the first time.
Peter wasn’t looking at her bare breasts, though, or the curve of her hips. All he could see was the mark on her arm.
Someone had grabbed Felicia. Someone had hurt her. Peter saw red.
Wet fingers touched his cheek, bringing him back to himself.
“I’m okay, Peter,” Felicia said, rubbing her thumb against his cheek. “I’m okay now, baby.”
She pulled him in against her, leaning up on her toes to press the length of her body against his. Whether it was for his comfort or hers, he couldn’t say, but she sighed when he wrapped an arm around her, holding her close as the shower beat down on them both.
Felicia pulled back after a moment, her green eyes meeting his as she reached up to rub a wet thumb across his cheek, just under his eye. How she’d ended up being the one comforting him, he had no idea, not when she was the one who was bruised, the one who had been chased from her home, separated from her – their – son.
“This little kitty is starving, Spider,” she said, patting his cheek. “Go make me something to eat.”
Peter fell forward a little, bracing his shins against the side of the bathtub, none of his weight on her even as he buried his nose in her wet hair.
“I only have ramen,” he confessed. It wasn’t quite true – he also had a half-eaten burger from two weeks ago he hadn’t thrown out of the fridge yet, but Felicia had only just got here and the last thing Peter wanted right now was for his poor housekeeping to drive her right back out.
Felicia reached up to pet his hair, her nails raking gently against his scalp.
“Go make me ramen then,” she said. She cupped his cheek again when he pulled back, her brows knit together as if she was trying to figure out what was wrong with him. A very big question – one he wasn’t sure he had the answer to himself.
Peter pulled himself together just enough to pull away from her. It wasn’t the hardest thing he’d ever done by far, but at that moment it still felt like a monumental task.
She emerged from the bathroom five minutes later, toweling off her hair as he dropped square chunks of noodles into boiling water. She was wearing a pair of his sweatpants, rolled up at the cuffs, and an old ESU t-shirt worn thin with age.
“You weren’t kidding about the ramen,” she said.
“You know I only joke about serious things, like the government and mortal peril,” he said.
“Mm,” Felicia said, folding herself into a chair. She watched him as stirred the noodles and dumped in the seasoning packet, her sharp gaze following him through the steps of grabbing a bowl and pouring the soup before he slid it in front of her. “I missed you, Spider.”
“Did you,” Peter said, sitting down across from her.
“What was that voice for?” Felicia asked. “Of course I did.”
“Could have fooled me,” Peter said. “I haven’t seen you in years, Felicia.”
“You know what they say, Spider,” Felicia said, twirling her noodles in her bowl. “If you love something, let it go.”
Peter was about to ask her what that meant when he heard the bedroom door creak open. There were footsteps in the hall and Peter had a moment to wonder if it was their soft voices or the smell of food that had woken Wally right before he rounded the corner.
“Mom!” he shouted, flinging himself at Felicia.
“Kitten!” Felicia said, opening her arms. She hauled Wally into her lap with an exaggerated ‘oof’, brushing his hair back from his eyes as her sharp gaze fell over him like she was checking for injuries.
He’s fine, Peter wanted to tell her. I took care of him. I can protect him.
But then Felicia knew that, didn’t she? Why else would Wally have any idea where Peter lived, if she didn’t. He wondered how that simple fact could make him so happy and so sad at the same time.
He watched as Felicia handed Wally her fork and spoon, wrapping her arms around his waist and chiding at him to blow before he took a sip. They looked alike, sitting together – Wally had Felicia’s chin, but his nose looked more like Peter’s, poor kid. He had Felicia’s pointed canine teeth and Peter’s hair.
There was a feeling in Peter’s throat that made it hard to swallow. He pushed his chair back to go grab a glass of water, filling another one for Wally automatically.
“So what’s the game plan?” Peter asked, setting the glass down on the table.
Felicia flicked him a warning look, one he took to mean no shop talk in front of our kid. It was a little too late for that, Peter thought, when their kid had gone running into the night, climbing strange fire escapes to find – luckily – the right apartment. But it could have very easily gone all wrong. He knew that Felicia knew that from the way she relented after a second, glancing away, her shoulder slumped.
“I don’t know,” she admitted. “I’m figuring out my next step.”
“Sure,” Peter said. He hesitated, only for a split second, and then he said, “You’ll stay here until you figure that out, right?”
Felicia looked at him, surprised. Her mouth hung open just the tiniest bit. Her eyes searched his, as if searching for some trap, so he held her gaze as steadily as he knew how. No tricks, he wanted to say, no loopholes, no traps. He meant it.
Wally, slurping his noodles, paid neither of them any of notice.
“Okay, Spider,” Felicia finally said, her lips curving into a tiny smile. “That sounds like a plan.”
“We’re staying here?” Wally asked, his little voice plaintive.
“Just for a little while,” Felicia said, petting his hair. Peter couldn’t help but notice how it refused to be tamed by her fingers, continuing to stick up wildly in every direction – just the way his own had done when he’d been young, years and years before a laughing Harry had forced him into the Osborn penthouse’s gargantuan bathroom to introduce him to product.
Wally wrinkled his nose, leaning up, and Felicia obliging tipped her head towards him.
“It smells weird,” Wally told her, lowering his voice to a whisper.
Felicia flicked an amused glance up at Peter, who rolled his eyes. He gestured at the kitchen, then at himself, as if to say, I’ve been going through a lot for the past fifteen years, in case you didn’t notice.
“Don’t worry, kitten,” Felicia said, kissing Wally’s forehead. “Mommy will fix it tomorrow.”
“You’re not fixing my apartment,” Peter told her. “First of all, there’s nothing to fix.”
Felicia flicked a glance at the dent in the wall just beside the microwave, the product of a late night, a sudden deep hatred of electronics that had absolutely nothing to do with a bad fight with Electro, and some very difficult frozen food packaging.
“That came with the place,” Peter lied. “It’s an antique hole in the wall.”
“Of course it did,” Felicia said, perfectly patronizing. “And the cobwebs in the corner?”
“Those are my pets,” Peter said. “Very rare spiders. I’m training them to take down criminals.”
They went back and forth with that for a while, neither of them exactly at their best banter. But Peter was tired, and he knew Felicia had to be, too. And Peter, at least, found himself just happy to be sitting across from her again, talking to her. Something about being with Felicia had always been easy, even when she’d done her best to make it difficult.
Then Wally started yawning, raising his little fists to rub at his eyes, and Peter realized that dawn was just starting to creep up over the horizon. Wally put his head down against Felicia’s shoulder, his arms around her neck.
“C’mon, sleepyhead,” she said to him, hauling him up into her arms.
The kid was asleep before his head touched the pillow.
“Kitten and I will be out of your hair soon, Spider,” Felicia said, smoothing the blankets over Wally. “So you don’t have to worry about it.”
Peter bit the inside of his cheek, hands curling into loose fists at his side. He’s my son, too, he wanted to say. I don’t want you to leave again, he wanted to say.
“It’s not a problem,” he said instead, “if you need a couple days to get back on your feet. I know it’s no Hilton, but there’s hot water. Most of the time.”
There was a long beat, during which he expected Felicia to ask any number of questions, make any number of demands. If he actually wanted them to stay. If he was only doing this because of Wally. If he’d agree to take cold showers in the morning so she could spend hours in the afternoon luxuriating in milk baths or whatever it was she did in her off hours.
“Okay,” she finally said, a small smile on her face. “That’d be nice. Thank you, Spider.”
“Don’t go that far,” Peter said. When Felicia laughed, she sounded tired.
“You can take the bed with him,” Peter said.
“Are you going out?” she asked.
“Yeah, in a bit,” he said, scrubbing a hand through his hair. “I’ve gotta be at work in a few hours. A little swinging, maybe a fist fight – it’s better than a triple espresso.” Even though she hadn’t asked, he added, “I’m teaching now.”
“I know,” Felicia said. “I like that for you.”
Why? he wanted to ask. When did you think about me long enough to find out? To decide whether or not you liked it for me? When you were off somewhere else, raising our kid?
He didn’t say any of that. He only tipped his head to the side and said, “It pays a fifth of the bills.”
Felicia smiled. “Good night, Spider.”
“Have a nice cat nap,” he said, waving her off.
It was time to go to work, and then time to go to his actual place of work.
A not inconsiderable part of Peter had expected Felicia to be gone by the time he got back. That had always been her way; she’d be asleep in Peter’s bed when he left in the morning and gone by the time he got back. No note, no nothing. She’d show back up again when she wanted something, just like a cat.
He was surprised, then, to walk into his apartment and find Felicia still there, wearing yellow rubber gloves up to her elbows, scrubbing down his stovetop.
“Spider!” she said, tossing him a brilliant smile. Her hair was pulled away from her face in a messy bun, stray strands sticking to the back of her neck. “Pick up a broom and help us.”
“Excuse me?” he said, setting his briefcase down.
“You heard me,” Felicia said cheerfully. She tossed the sponge she was holding straight at his face, and he snatched it out of the air. It was sopping wet and sticky, and he felt like he’d completely lost control of the situation. “It’s your kitchen. Come help us clean.”
“You’re doing what?” Peter asked, looking up, down, then all around. It was still his apartment, but it looked different. Brighter, the curtains thrown open, the dust cleared away. Everything smelled faintly like lemon. It was really throwing him off.
“Maybe you’re not familiar with the concept,” Felicia said, giving him the long onceover.
“Haha,” he said flatly, gesturing to the mustard stain on the collar of his shirt. “I got this at lunch today, thank you very much. Why are we cleaning?”
Felicia sent him a look that told him that was a very stupid question and that he should be ashamed.
A small hand tugged on Peter’s shirt.
“I found a dead bug,” Wally said, with infinite judgment. “It was huge.”
“That’s New York City for you, kid,” Peter said. “Tough it out.”
Wally looked scandalized. Peter, unable to help himself, reached out and ruffled his hair. Wally squinted up at him with the same look on his face he’d probably worn when he found the bug, ducking out from underneath Peter’s arm and scampering for the next room.
“Kids these days,” Peter said, filled to the brim with warmth.
He cracked the fridge, expecting to find – well, a whole lot of nothing, but maybe half a stale can of coke. Instead, he found himself staring into what looked like a whole new refrigerator, fresh and clean and fully stocked from top to bottom. There were even fruits and vegetables in the bins.
Peter blinked. The fridge stayed exactly as it was, still looking like it had walked out of a weekly shopping circular.
“What is this and what happened to my extremely local food desert?” he asked.
“I had a few things delivered,” Felicia said. “Children need to eat several times a day, you know. Different food groups, even.”
“Not back in my day,” Peter said, scowling at the inside of his fridge.
Felicia wrapped her arms around him from behind. Peter fought not to find the fact that she was still wearing yellow dishwashing gloves charming.
“Don’t be angry,” she said.
“I’m not angry, I’m just confused,” Peter said, sounding, to his own ears, angry. “I could have picked up groceries. If you’d asked.”
She squeezed him around the middle, leaning up on her bare tiptoes to plant her chin on his shoulder.
“Okay,” she said. “I’ll ask next time.”
Peter twisted to look at her, but she seemed nothing but sincere, gazing guilelessly up at him. For a second, he thought about what it might be like to turn around and kiss her, pin her to the front of the fridge. In his mind’s eye, the fridge had a child’s drawings on it, held in place by carefully arranged magnet poetry and surrounded by family photos.
But that was ridiculous. He was just in shock at the sight of fresh carrots.
“Good,” he said, feeling strangely mollified. “Good, then – next time, I’ll get groceries.”
“Next time you’ll get groceries,” Felicia agreed, looking amused.
“MOM!” Wally shouted at the top of his lungs from the next room over. “I found ANOTHER bug!”
“So, what’s the story?” Felicia asked.
Peter turned his head towards her. The room was dark, the television on, playing a late night B-movie he only vaguely remembered the plot of. There was a monster, and a beautiful girl in peril, and that was all that mattered anyway, so he hadn’t been paying too much attention.
Felicia was beautiful in the television light, but then she was beautiful in every light.
“What story?” Peter asked. He’d come in a few hours ago, planning on just grabbing something out of the fridge and maybe grabbing a shower before heading to bed, but then he’d found Felica and Wally curled up on the couch together, watching old movies with a bowl of popcorn on Felicia’s lap.
It was a small apartment. He’d ended up joining them. Wally had fallen asleep an hour in, curled up on the floor with a bunch of throw pillows that definitely hadn’t been in Peter’s apartment a week ago. Somewhere after that, Felicia’s feet had ended up in Peter’s lap.
It all felt disturbingly domestic, just like the rest of the week before it had. If Peter wasn’t careful, he was going to get used to this, coming home to Felica and Wally and feeling like he belonged, like someone had slid the missing puzzle piece into place.
“C’mon,” she said, looking at him with that half-playful smile. “Even back before, when you and red riding hood were on that break, when I first wound my way into your web… there were pictures of her all over your apartment. I went through your wallet once, you know.”
Peter raised an eyebrow at her, trying his best to look disapproving. He didn’t do a terribly good job, he knew, but then he was feeling relaxed, loose and mellow in the best kind of way, good enough that the mention of Mary Jane had only plunged a little knife into his chest.
“It was a long time ago, and it’s not like you had anything in there,” Felicia sniffed. “Three whole dollars and a picture of her, that was it. So what’s the story?” Her cat eyes gleamed in the gloom. “There’s no pictures of her now.”
“Is there a point you’re getting at, Felicia?” he asked, squeezing her ankle. He liked the way his hand fit around it, how small and delicate she felt under his touch.
“Isn’t a cat allowed to be curious?” she asked.
“There’s a rhyme about how that goes,” Peter warned her.
“I figure I still have some of my lives left,” she said.
This conversation was going places Peter didn’t want it to, bringing him back to that moment Felicia’s apartment had gone up in flames, Felicia seemingly with it. Years ago, and he could still see the blaze painted across his eyelids. They took backseat now to the new, imagined scenes playing out in his head: his son slipping out a window while masked men broke down Felicia’s door.
“What’s there to say?” he said. “Mary Jane and I broke up.”
“Red caught you with another woman?” Felicia teased.
“Red left me for another woman,” Peter said, dry.
Felicia’s mouth opened in a delicate oh.
“Well,” she said after a moment. “That was sexy of her.”
Startled, Peter laughed. Maybe it was the fact that he’d had no one to tell, Aunt May and Harry so long gone, Mary Jane his last real confidant – and now she was gone, too, in a manner of speaking. The laughter burst its way out of him, until he was slumped over, awkwardly slung horizontal on the couch with his head in Felicia’s lap.
“Yeah,” he said, snickering, as her hand found its way into his hair. “It was a little sexy.”
“It’s nice that you can laugh about it,” Felicia said, scratching her nails lightly behind his ear.
Peter’s chest ached, but his lungs felt clear, his whole body a little lighter for it.
“Yeah, well, that’s me,” he said, laying his hand on her thigh. “I can laugh at anything, at the end of the day.”
“Maybe not everything,” Felicia said, sliding down lower on the couch. Peter lifted his head just enough to let her move, letting it rest against her stomach, his ear over her bellybutton. She put her hand back in his hair.
He wondered if this was what it had been like, if he’d known. If Felicia had come back to him and told him. Sitting up together in an apartment in Queens, his hand pressed to her stomach, waiting for their baby to kick.
But she hadn’t come back to him then. She hadn’t told him. She’d never planned to tell him.
“No,” he murmured, pulling himself back up. “Maybe not everything.”
Another week passed, and Felicia didn’t leave. Slowly, Peter stopped expecting her to. Peter found himself settling into a new routine without really meaning to. He woke to quiet bustle in his kitchen and the scent of fresh coffee brewing. He came home from patrol a little earlier, sometimes even early enough that he could spend some time with Wally before bed.
He liked it, and it worried him. It felt comfortable. Cozy, almost.
Except for the couch. With Wally and Felicia taking the apartment’s lone bed, Peter found himself relegated to it, and somehow it was doing more damage to his back than a decade of getting kicked through walls and smashed through concrete.
“Do you want me to do something about that?” Felicia asked, watching as he rubbed at his lower back one morning, her smile sharp over the rim of her cup of coffee.
“No,” he ground out. “I don’t want you to steal me a new couch.”
“I was talking about a massage,” Felicia said, raising her eyebrows innocently. She turned and swayed her way out of the doorway. “But if that’s how you feel about it…”
“Wait, what?” he said, early morning brain catching up to his mouth. Her laughter was like bells. “No, come back!”
The old couch was too narrow to fit the three of them, too, which was a problem. Someone always ended up on the floor during movie nights. He needed something all three of them could fit on comfortably, maybe even something that pulled out.
He’d put most of May’s furniture in storage. It was more than he could afford, but the idea of getting rid of any of it made him feel like something with big claws had torn his chest open, made him want to smash his fists into a wall until it broke and they bled. So he found a way to make it work, just like he always did.
Making it work meant getting on the subway on a Sunday and unlocking the storage locker for the first time in over two years. Felicia stood on one side of him, wearing black leggings and a baseball cap that must have been Peter’s at some point if the chemistry joke embroidered on it was anything to go by. Wally lagged just slightly behind them, playing some game on his phone. Peter’s fingers itched to grab him by the back of his collar and give him a lecture about being aware of one’s surroundings at all time.
“Home, sweet home,” Peter said as they stepped inside. All this time, and it still smelled like May’s perfume. Maybe it was just his imagination.
“This was your mom’s stuff?” Wally asked, looking around.
“His aunt, kitten,” Felicia corrected gently.
“No, it’s okay,” Peter said. He wiped the dust away from a pile of old paperback books, their covers peeling at the corners. “She raised me. She was my mom.”
She would have been Wally’s grandmother.
Felicia was looking at him, her eyes sharp in the gloom, like she expected him to say something about that. He didn’t, of course. He wasn’t going to tell Wally who he was – who he really was, to Wally – until Felicia was on the same page as him.
The problem with that being, of course, that he never had a single clue where Felicia stood.
It took a little while to uncover the couch. Back when he’d filled up the storage locker, he’d mostly been concerned about getting everything in there. The heavy furniture had gone in the back, and then he’d just sort of – piled everything else on top of it. He had tried not to look at anything too closely, to keep his jaw set tight and, when his eyes watered, to insist that it was just the dust.
It hadn’t worked. He’d ended up sitting in the middle of all the clutter, crying his eyes out, Mary Jane sitting silently by his side.
He couldn’t believe how many years ago that had been. It still felt like yesterday.
“Hey, Spider,” Felicia said gently, drawing him out of his thoughts. She slipped her hand in the crook of his elbow, squeezing lightly, and didn’t say anything else, waiting him else. He took a deep breath, and then looked down in surprise when he felt a little hand slide into his. Wally, standing on his other side, stared up at him with big brown eyes.
Slowly, Peter smiled. He squeezed Wally’s hand back.
“Alright,” he said. “Let’s get this stuff sorted.”
It was slow work. He kept uncovering old artifacts, stuff from his childhood, things he couldn’t bear to throw out. The hand-knitted blankets were passed to Felicia, who folded each of them as carefully as she might handle a stolen piece of art. The chess set he was sure no one had ever used was set to the side, ready to be taken home with them. Uncle Ben’s treasured collection of old monster magazines he gave to Wally, whose whole face lit up.
They went that way, uncovering little treasure by little treasure. At one point Felicia disappeared and came back with a stack of cardboard boxes in her arms – from where she’d gotten them, Peter had no clue. She assembled them and then set about picking up everything Peter had sorted into the take home pile, carefully arranging them, all cushioned in old blankets and tea towels. The monster comics, of course, remained clutched to Wally’s chest.
When they were done, Peter felt hollowed out inside, but not in a bad way. When he took a deep breath, his eyes didn’t sting.
“We still have to get the couch home, Spider,” Felicia said, her voice lightly teasing. “Unless you want to give in and stop at this great little antique furniture store I know –”
“No, I got it,” Peter said, bending down.
“Whoa,” Wally said, watching Peter easily lift the sofa.
Peter threw him a wink.
Daintily, Felicia put her hands on the other side of the sofa, making no real effort to actually shoulder any of the weight. Peter snorted and began to walk backwards, taking the couch with them out of the storage locker.
He’d never been more thankful for his spider-strength than he was trying to get the couch up to his fifth floor walkup. Felicia, no help at all, made him pause halfway up the stairwell so she could lift Wally up and set him on the sofa, where he stared wide-eyed with delight down at Peter for the last two flights of stairs.
“Who needs Disneyland, right, kid?” Peter asked, then added, “Felicia,” when she frisked his pockets for the keys.
The sofa looked right in his main room, pushed just underneath the window. Easy access climbing out, and somewhere soft to collapse face first onto on rough nights climbing back in. The old floral pattern was already sun-bleached, but the plastic covers had kept it clean and well preserved these past couple of years. He stepped back, just taking a moment to observe, then laughed when Wally launched himself straight at the cushions.
“Comfy?” Peter asked him, laughing.
“Now all we need is a bigger television,” Wally declared, starfishing out.
“We have a TV and it works fine,” Peter told him.
Felicia hummed noncommittally.
“No,” Peter said, pointing at her.
“You wouldn’t even know where it came from,” Felicia said.
“You’re not helping your point,” Peter said.
So he wasn’t terribly surprised when he came back in through the window late that night to find a brand new television staring at him from across the room, set up underneath a large painting of a black cat that had also mysteriously appeared.
It shouldn’t have made Peter smile, but it did. He peeled his mask off, throwing it onto the antique coffee table that had appeared in Peter’s apartment five days ago. He hadn’t asked Felicia where she’d gotten it, in case finding out would mean smuggling it back into some mob boss’ apartment. Sometimes, very rarely, Peter had learned, ignorance was bliss, and it could come with pretty nice furniture and shiny widescreen appliances.
Though what he was supposed to do with the espresso machine in his kitchen, he had no idea.
A quiet thud snapped him out of his thoughts.
There, on the fire escape just beyond the window, was crouched the figure of a man. Peter was getting distinctly sick of this, especially since there he was, still dressed in most of his costume, his face shadowed by the dark room – but still bare.
Peter’s spider-sense prickled with an all over awareness, but he didn’t sense any danger. The figure on the fire escape didn’t make any moves, almost as if he were surprised to see someone on the other side of the window, too. Rude of him, considering he was the one sneaking around other people’s apartments in the dark. He was lucky that Peter was pretty sure he recognized him, even in the dark, even after a handful of years. Even after meeting only once.
Peter didn’t open the window. He pointed upwards, towards the roof and then, without waiting to see if the old man got the message, left the room to grab some other clothes and headed up to the roof himself.
The old man was waiting, sitting on the low wall, when Peter pushed the rooftop access door open.
“Well, well, ‘Detective Mackey’,” Peter said. “So we meet again.”
The old man tipped his hat, revealing a full head of snowy hair. Now that he knew who exactly he was looking at, it was easy for Peter to spot the resemblance. Not the white hair, not exactly – the old man’s hair was white with age, whereas it would have been hard for Peter to miss the several hundred dollars’ worth of color upkeep supplies that had appeared overnight in his bathroom. But there was something in the face, a calculating sort of cleverness, that Walter Hardy shared with his daughter.
“Spider-Man,” he said.
Well, that settled the question of if he knew, if he’d seen the costume in the gloom and put two and two together. Peter hadn’t really expected less from Felicia’s father.
He was going to ask Felicia to steal him some good drapes.
“An ex-con showing up outside of my personal apartment in the middle of the night,” Peter said, ambling over to him, his steps measured and his voice tight. “That’s the kind of thing that could be taken as a threat, if I wasn’t feeling generous.”
“And are you?” Walter Hardy asked. “Feeling generous, I mean.”
“I’m not sure yet,” Peter said, crouching down in front of him. “Why don’t you tell me what you’re doing here and then I’ll decide.”
“I never intended to follow you,” Walter said. “I was following my daughter.”
“Not sure that’s better,” Peter said.
“I wanted to make sure she was safe,” Walter said. “Surely you can understand that.”
“Guess I should just be glad you didn’t decide to go your previous route and fake being the building manager to find out,” Peter said. “Are you spying on her now?”
“I keep tabs,” Walter said. “She’s my daughter. I worry about her. Especially with the kind of profession she’s decided to pursue.”
“Your profession,” Peter pointed out.
“Who better to know the danger involved?” Walter asked. “Ah, but I’m retired now. It’s nothing but fishing, playing chess on the park, collecting jazz records…”
“Auctioning off stolen goods on the black market,” Peter said. “I can keep tabs, too.”
“A man’s gotta make a living,” Walter said. He fell silent for a moment, and when he spoke again his voice had lost all levity. “I heard through the grapevine that she’d run into some trouble. I wanted to make sure she was okay.”
“She’s fine,” Peter said, his words maybe too quick, his voice maybe too hard. “I’m taking care of her.”
“Hm,” Walter said, which wasn’t exactly the vote of confidence Peter had been looking for, but between the two of them on this roof he wasn’t the one who’d faked his death and broke Felicia’s heart, so what did he care.
“Did you know?” Peter asked, after a moment of uncomfortable silence. “About… the kid.”
“Ah,” Walter said, his voice thick with meaning. “The kid. Yes. I knew she had a son.”
He was one step ahead of Peter, then. He tried not to feel irrationally angry over it.
“Did you know he was mine,” Peter said.
Walter glanced up at him, one eyebrow cocked. “I had my suspicions who the father was. Did you not know?”
One of these days, Peter was going to find a Hardy he could have a conversation with without feeling like he’d gotten his foot stuck in a bear trap.
“Well, between her faking her death on me and then not telling me we had a child together, I think I know where I can lay the blame,” Peter snorted. “She learned it from you.”
“Believe me, I never intended for the apple to fall so close to the tree,” Walter said, shaking his head. “She’s stubborn, my daughter. Always has been. It’s part of why I left – I didn’t want her to follow in my footsteps.” He looked away. “I see now that that was foolish.”
“I didn’t want to be the one to point it out,” Peter allowed.
Walter laughed. “You know, when I used to picture the man my daughter would marry, you’re not quite what I had in mind. I mean, the spandex, sure, that I can work with, but you’re a sarcastic bastard, aren’t you? I always wanted a son-in-law who was afraid of me.”
Your daughter would have to want to marry me first, Peter didn’t say. Walter Hardy hadn’t seen Felicia in a long time. He didn’t know her like Peter knew her, and half the time Peter was sure he didn’t know her at all.
“Are you going to tell her you saw me?” Walter asked.
Peter considered it – considered saying she didn’t tell me about our son, why should I tell her about her father? Considered the selfish thing. But it wasn’t really the same, was it? And at the end of the day, he never did the selfish thing.
“I’ll only tell her if you don’t,” he said. “Don’t you think she deserves to know her father is out there?”
“It’s safer for her if she doesn’t,” Walter said.
The same could be said for Peter and his son. Wally would be safer, he knew, far away from Spider-Man. But Peter didn’t want him far away. Peter wanted him right here, with him.
Maybe sometimes he did do the selfish thing.
“I’m not going to try and convince you,” he said. He leaned back, letting the night air rustle his hair. Down below cars raced by and pedestrians laughed and Peter, with an itch under his skin, half-wanted to get out there and find some trouble. The other half of him just wanted to go back downstairs, to the apartment with Felicia and Wally inside. “You know it’s the right thing to do.”
“And I look like the kinda guy who does the right thing often?” Walter Hardy asked.
“Guess that’s up to you,” Peter said. He swung one leg over the edge of the roof, preparing to let himself drop. “See ya. Preferably not on the other side of my window.”
“Wait, the kid,” Walter said. “Your son.”
“Your grandson,” Peter said.
“She really named him Walter?” he asked.
“Talk to your daughter,” Peter said, swinging himself the rest of the way off the rooftop ledge.
He slipped back in through the bedroom window, an old habit. He’d picked this apartment first because he could afford it, barely, and second because the bedroom window was easy to crawl through unseen. He was quieter entering through it than he’d ever bothered to be before in his life, his feet hitting the floor without a sound.
Moonlight turned Felicia’s hair silver where it was spread out over the pillow, her body turned away from Peter. Wally was curled up into a little bawl underneath the covers, only the top of his head peeking out.
Peter leaned over the bed, smoothing the blanket over his shoulder, and pressed a mask kiss the top of his head. Wally made a soft, sleepy noise and Peter hushed him.
“Go back to sleep,” he said, so quietly he wasn’t sure his voice even carried the words. But Wally settled again. He was so good. Part of Peter had been – worried wasn’t the right word, except for how he always worried about everything – concerned, because it was a small apartment, because he had never lived with a kid before, because he had missed the eight year adjustment period he was supposed to have gotten, the crash course in living with a miniature person. Another classic Parker move; no studying before the test and then there he was, with the entire grade on the line.
But Wally was such a good kid – smart as a whip, wryly funny. More like his mother than he was like Peter, but Peter loved that about him.
Silently, once he was sure he was sound asleep, he bent down and kissed the top of Wally’s head. Then he stepped around to the other side of the bed and kissed Felicia’s head, too. He adjusted the blanket over her shoulder before he slipped out of the room, as silently as he knew how.
The rest of the apartment felt lonely, compared to the bedroom. Peter almost contemplated going out again, but the thought of Walter Hardy still lurking around, probably watching him, soured it. So instead he pulled out the sofa, grabbed the leftover Chinese food from the fridge, and settled down to watch a late night movie, the sound of the television turned down low.
He was just about nodding off as William Powell and Myrna Loy worked out a mystery when he heard the bedroom door open.
The floorboards creaked even as the hairs at the back of Peter’s neck stood up, a tingling anticipation settling over his body. He moved over just as Felicia slid into the bed next to him.
“Surprised?” she asked, right in his ear, throwing her arm over his waist.
“You weren’t trying to be sneaky,” he accused without heat.
“You could at least pretend,” she laughed, her voice a quiet whisper. “It’s more fun that way.”
Peter wasn’t sure he agreed. He shifted, turning over to face her, so close that their noses brushed a little bit. She smiled, impish, but didn’t make any moves to close the space between their lips.
“Comfortable?” he asked.
“There’s a spring digging into my hip,” she said, sounding delighted by it. “How old is this sofa?”
“Only about a hundred years old,” he said, rubbing his nose against hers.
It was the pout on her face that did it, faintly mocking and so pretty, her lower lip teasingly pushed out. It felt like stepping over a threshold, to put his hand on her cheek, to slot his lips against hers. This was more than just her living here with him. More than the little pieces of her life scattered around the apartment. More than idly thinking towards the end of the work day – and the beginning of his other work day – about how nice it was going to be to come home to her and their son.
“Well, Spider,” Felicia purred when they broke away. “You still know how to kiss.”
“Were you worried I’d forgotten?” he asked, running his hand through her hair.
“It’s been a long time since you kissed me,” she said, that mock pout back on her face. “So I would’ve understood if you were rusty.”
“I’ll show you rusty,” he said, rubbing his nose against hers. Her quiet laugh carried far in the quiet room, muffled after a moment by his lips over hers.
They traded kisses for a long few minutes, neither of them apparently in a rush. That was new for Peter, with Felicia. The first time everything had always felt a little bit desperate – him always fumbling to hold onto the moment, to hold onto her, before everything slipped through his fingers. He liked this, how unhurried it was, how he had the time to really enjoy the way she fit against him, her hand creeping up to rest just over his heart.
There was a question in her eyes when she pulled back. Peter reached up to brush a lock of her hair away from her forehead and waited her out.
“Do you think your aunt would have liked me, Spider?” she finally asked.
He hesitated, trying to imagine it.
“I think she would have come around eventually,” he said. Felicia laughed, soft and sleepy.
“That’s what I love about you,” she said, patting his chest. “You don’t sugarcoat things. You always tell it like it is.”
Peter hummed a little. He ran his hand through her hair, again and again, letting is slip through his fingers like silk.
“She would have seen that I liked you,” he said, after a moment. He imagined it, bringing Felicia around to the FEAST center with her designer jeans and sticky fingers. Felicia, with her very different way of looking at the world. “Would have trusted me to see everything good in you. And then she would have seen it, too, sooner or later.”
Felicia looked up at him, an unreadable look on her face, her lips just slightly parted.
“My mom’s going to hate you,” she said after a moment.
“I don’t know if that’s an insult or a compliment,” Peter said, laughing.
Felicia sat up on one elbow, her hair spilling over her shoulder, silver in the moonlight. The strap of her black nightgown slipped off her shoulder as she leveraged herself up, swinging one leg over Peter’s hips to straddle him.
“Oh, baby,” she said. “It’s a compliment. Do you want me to show you?”
She smiled as he ran his hands up her thighs, rucking her satin nightgown up around her hips.
“Show me,” he dared her.
When Peter woke up the next morning, he was alone in bed. Disappointment stirred in the pit of his stomach, along with a feeling like he should have known better. He didn’t know what he’d expected – he’d never woken up to Felicia still in bed beside him. He probably never would.
He turned onto his side and thumped at his pillow, then resolutely shut his eyes again. He still had a good hour before he had to get up and be a person.
Then he heard, from the kitchen, faint sounds of laughter – Wally and Felicia. The smell of vanilla and cinnamon wafted through the air, and there came the sound of something sizzling. Felicia was making breakfast.
Well. That was a pretty decent reason to not still be snuggled up under his arm like an overly affectionate cat, actually. A pretty good reason to drag himself out of bed, too.
He smiled as soon as he saw the scene in the kitchen. Felicia was standing by the stove, wearing a sheer robe with fluffy, feathered cuffs over her nightgown. Somehow she hadn’t gotten batter on the cuffs, even though it was all over the stove. She was trying to flip French toast with two forks because Peter didn’t have a spatula. Wally was watching with rapt attention, his eyes on the smoking pan.
“Morning,” Peter said, pausing to ruffle Wally’s hair.
Wally beamed up at him, face sticky with syrup, and it was so reminiscent out of a scene from Peter’s childhood that it nearly took his breath away. Aunt May would have despaired at the state of the stove, granted, but then she always had when Peter cooked, too.
There was only one thing missing.
“Move,” he said, hip-checking Felicia away from the stove.
“Excuse me?” she said, laughing, as she shoved him back.
“Move,” he repeated, grinning down at her. “I’m going to make wheatcakes.”
“What are wheatcakes?” Wally asked, leaning halfway out of his seat. Peter turned and pointed at him. Wally immediately sat up straighter.
“Only the best breakfast you’ve never had,” he said. To Felicia, he added, “It was my aunt’s recipe. They’re good, I promise.”
The corner of her mouth twitched upwards. She stepped magnanimously back from the stove, folding herself into a mocking little bow.
“By all means,” she said. “It’s your stove.”
“I’m ignoring that sarcasm,” Peter said as he started pulling ingredients down from the cabinets. It was still his stove. Who knew whose stove it would be when he woke up next week – if anyone could smuggle an entire stove replacement into his apartment in the middle of the night unnoticed, it would be Felicia.
It was the excitement, he thought, as she rocked up to kiss him on the cheek. He liked how it kept him on his toes.
He hadn’t made wheatcakes in, well. In a long time. Not since Aunt May had been alive, at least, not properly. He’d tried, a few years back, on her birthday, possessed in the middle of the night to whip up a batch, quite possibly out of his mind with blood loss, the wound in his side seeping steadily through the bandages Mary Jane had wound around it just hours before.
He’d fucked up the batter, no real surprise there, and burnt the first wheatcake beyond all recognition, and somehow ended up on the floor with his hands pressed over his face, the smoke detector going off and the floor dented where he’d slammed his fist into it.
It went better this time. The first came out a little charred around the edges, the second a little gooey in the middle. Peter kept those two for himself. The third came out better. They would probably never be as good as May’s, never as good as the ones in his memory, but he could try, and he could get better. Slowly and surely.
“They look like pancakes,” Wally said when Peter slid a plate in front of him.
“They’re better,” Peter said. “Trust me.”
Wally gave him that one look, the too serious face like he was weighing Peter’s words against the weight of the world. It was the kind of look that made Peter’s heart heavy, wondering if he’d ever made that face at Aunt May and Uncle Ben when he’d been small, wondering how it had made them feel.
But then Wally shrugged and dug in. He still had that serious look on his face as he chewed, and it wasn’t that Peter was in the habit of caring about what eight-year-olds thought of his cooking, but this eight-year-old was his son, and this was his aunt’s prized recipe, and maybe Peter’s fork bent a little in his grip.
Slowly, Wally’s face split into a smile.
“It’s good!” he said, delighted, stuffing half a wheatcake in his mouth in one go.
“I told you so,” Peter said, trying not to let it show on his face how relieved he was, how happy, like there had been a dam inside walling up every good feeling and it had finally just burst. “Eat up. There’s plenty.”
Underneath the table, Felicia brushed her ankle up against Peter’s and then left it there, just touching.
It was a pretty perfect breakfast. Peter wanted every morning to go exactly the same way, him, Felicia, Wally, and wheatcakes.
Then Peter picked up his phone and froze. A strange, numb sensation came over him, not entirely unlike getting thrown through an electronic billboard.
There was one missed call from Mary Jane.
Gwen Stacy was a beautiful blonde, smaller in stature than Mary Jane, with big blue eyes and high cheekbones. She was immaculately dressed in a matching skirt and blouse, a single pearl dangling from a chain around her neck. She was also looking at Peter like he was something she’d scraped off the bottom of her expensive high heels. Peter was a little bit turned on by it.
“Have we had the same taste in women this whole time?” Peter asked Mary Jane when Gwen excused herself from the table to take a call. “I gotta say, it explains a lot.”
Like that maybe Mary Jane hadn’t been helping Betty Brant look for her contact lens in the palatial bathroom of Harry’s penthouse during that one party in college. Probably the fact that Betty didn’t wear contacts should’ve been the tip off there.
“Is that your main takeaway here?” Mary Jane asked. “Seriously?”
He’d agreed to meet Mary Jane at some little French restaurant on the Upper East Side – not his usual style, or something that a few years ago he would have said was hers. Now he wasn’t so sure. She looked older, but in a way that suited her, her red hair hanging in sleek waves and her sturdy old jacket traded in for a green blazer.
She looked good. She looked happy. Peter had expected all of that, and he’d expected it to hurt at least a little bit, but it didn’t. He was just happy for her.
It was a weird feeling. He wasn’t sure if he liked it.
“What am I supposed to say?” he asked. “Hey, Mary Jane, how’s tricks?”
The corner of her mouth twitched as she bit down on a smile. “You could start there, sure.”
“Hey, Mary Jane,” he said, propping one elbow up on the table. An old lady at the next table glared at him. “How’s tricks?”
“Tricks are good,” she said.
“Trix are for kids,” he replied.
“Peter,” she said, but she was really smiling now. Her shoulders shook a little as she fought not to laugh. It was a little bit of a victory, that he could still make her laugh.
“Okay, seriously,” he said. “How are you? How’ve you been doing?”
“I’ve been doing really well,” Mary Jane said, after half a beat. She dropped her gaze to her plate, but her smile became softer. Everything about her became softer. “Just – really, really well, actually. I’m really happy, Peter.”
“Well, that’s good,” he said. “If you weren’t happy, I’d have to do something about it, and Jonah’s podcast would never let me live down Spider-Man menaces famous humanitarian lawyer.”
“Don’t menace her, she’s nice,” Mary Jane said. “Even if she isn’t a big fan of Spider-Man.”
“Who is?” Peter asked, shrugging. The fact of the matter was neither press nor public opinion had been great since the night Harry died. The photos still went around from time to time, him standing on the burning roof of Oscorp Tower, Harry in his arms. What other conclusion was there to come to, when all of New York City had seen him holding the former mayor’s dead son?
Peter knew the truth, but at the end of the day, that only counted for so much. Harry was still dead.
He wondered, looking back at it now, if that had been the end of it for him and Mary Jane in all but name. They’d never really recovered from that loss, never really settled back into what they’d been before, when Harry had been alive and the hope that one day it would be the three of them together again was still alive on the horizon.
“Felicia’s back in town,” he said, all in a rush, then fought not to wince as Mary Jane dropped her fork. He shouldn’t have said that – hadn’t meant to say it. But he’d needed to push away the memory of Harry’s body in his arms, weighing barely anything at all, his blood mixing with the rain water and viscous black oil.
“What?” Mary Jane said. “Since when?”
“A few weeks,” Peter hedged. It had been a lot longer, but telling Mary Jane that would require more explanation than Peter was willing to give.
“How’d you find out? Did you catch her in the act? Was it something expensive?” Mary Jane pressed, always the journalist, always picking up the pieces of her next big story. He loved it, normally. Maybe not so much right now.
It was because he felt protective of Felicia, he realized. Felt the need to defend her. Which was tricky, when defending Felicia would involve saying he knew she hadn’t been stealing anything besides maybe a coffee table and new sofa for Peter’s apartment because he’s been on top of her – only a little literally --- the past couple of weeks she’d been living in his apartment.
“No,” he said. “I didn’t catch her in the act of stealing anything expensive.”
After all, what was his heart worth? Probably not much, in the grand scheme of things. Not compared to Felicia’s previous heists.
“Oh,” Mary Jane said, looking almost disappointed. There was a beat of silence, and then she looked back up at his face, “Oh, Peter. Don’t tell me – you’re not, are you?”
“I’m not what?” he asked, reaching over and spearing a piece of chicken from her salad. She didn’t even attempt to fight him off.
“You’re not –” she made a very unladylike gesture that had an old woman at the next table over eyeballing them harshly “—with her?”
Peter raised an eyebrow.
“Oh, no,” Mary Jane said, judgmentally. “Peter.”
“That’s my name,” he said, wearily, and then, more waspishly than he intended, “I think the ship has kind of sailed on you getting a say in this one, MJ.”
“Just because we’re not together, that means I can’t worry about you anymore?” Mary Jane shot back, equally waspish. She’d always been good at matching Peter that way, staying in step with him, never backing down even when he tried his hardest to make her.
“I didn’t say that,” Peter allowed. “There’s nothing to worry about. I know what I’m doing.”
Mary Jane was quiet for a moment.
“You always know what you’re doing,” she said. “That doesn’t make it easier to watch you get hurt doing it.”
There was nothing he could say to that. He knew he’d never made it easy on her. He bit the inside of his cheek and didn’t think of all the times he could have tried a little bit harder.
“This is different,” he said.
“It always is,” Mary Jane said, putting her hand over his. Her touch was soft and light, and once upon a time Peter might have teased her for being jealous, trying to get one of those bright red blushes out of her, more annoyed than angry. “Just be careful with Felicia, Peter. I know it might not seem like it right now, but the last thing I want is for you to get hurt.”
“It’s different this time, MJ,” he said. “Believe me when I say nobody’s going to get hurt.”
“Aren’t they?” she said. “I know you think you’re – I know you have all these abilities –” he opened his mouth to object to that word being thrown around in public, but Mary Jane was barreling on “—and you do, you can do so much, you’re so smart and you’re probably the steadiest man I’ve ever met. You’re like a rock, Pete. I always appreciated that about you. But I think when it comes to her – you don’t always see straight.”
There was a joke about seeing straight in there, he just knew it, but he didn’t really want to ruin whatever goodwill she’d rekindled for him since the last time they’d seen each other, screaming at midnight in his apartment with dinner still smoldering on the stove.
“The last time you saw her, she made you believe you were the father of her kid,” Mary Jane said.
I am the father of her kid, Peter thought. It wasn’t exactly the kind of thing he wanted to break to Mary Jane in the middle of a French restaurant when her girlfriend could come back at any moment, though. Not on a day like today, not when everything was going so well. There was too much to explain, and Mary Jane hadn’t met Wally. She’d get it, once she met him.
“It’s fine, MJ,” Peter said. “Really. I’m handling it. I’m not getting my foot stuck in the Felicia Hardy mouse trap this time.”
He smiled at her, going for convincing and falling short of the mark if the way she frowned at him was anything to go by.
Someone bumped into his chair from behind, jolting him, and a woman’s voice uttered a quick apology. Peter glanced at her as she left, but it was just some tourist, swallowed up in an I <3 New York hoodie as she made her way to the exit.
“Rude,” MJ muttered.
“I know,” Peter said, grinning at her. “Don’t you kind of miss it?”
“You know, it’s amazing,” Mary Jane said with a smile as Gwen made her way back to the table. “You can actually find rude people everywhere.”
“Lucy, I’m home!” Peter called, shouldering open the door. His arms were full of grocery bags, and his wallet considerably lighter than before, but he hadn’t been able to resist stopping by Citarella, knowing just how Felicia’s eyes would light up when she saw the logo. He’d been marinating some joke about cats and fish on his way home, but couldn’t quite decide on where to go with it yet.
No one greeted him by the door, but he could hear sounds in the kitchen. He ambled that way, finding Felicia by the stove and Wally reading something by the table. He looked up with a big grin when Peter set the bags down in front of them, abandoning his book in favor of getting elbow deep in a bag full of raw fish. He was his mother’s kid through and through.
Peter turned to Felicia, who still hadn’t answered him.
“Hey, good lookin’, what’s cooking?” Peter said, fitting his hands to Felicia’s waist.
“I’m making macaroni and cheese, obviously,” she said. Her voice was light and teasing, but there was a note in it that made Peter frown. She hadn’t turned around to look at him. “What does it look like?”
Peter chanced a glance at the pot before he pushed Felicia hair over her shoulder. He snuck a quick look at Wally, head still buried in his book, before he bent to kiss her neck.
He’d expected her to shiver, or purr, or playfully slap at him, but she didn’t react at all for one long minute. Slowly, she turned the stove off, then slipped out from under Peter’s arm.
“Kitten, go play in the bedroom for a little bit, okay?” Felicia said, reaching up to brush Wally’s hair back from his eyes. “I need to talk to Peter alone.”
Wally glanced between them, the patented Parker frown line appearing between his eyebrows, and Peter wanted to tell him not to scowl so much or he’d end up like him, just barely thirty and already with a permanent line between his eyebrows.
“It’s okay,” Felicia said, tapping his on the nose. “Go play.”
“I know what you’re thinking,” Peter said after he heard the bedroom door click closed. “It’s time we told him. How do you want to do this? Should be buy a cake?”
“Spider,” Felicia said. “Be serious for a moment.”
“Okay, you’re right,” Peter said, holding up his hands. “It’s a serious thing, telling your kid that you’re, well, you’re his dad. I’ll follow your lead here. We can take him to a baseball game, or maybe on the ferry. Has he been on the ferry before? And I still think we should get a cake.”
“Spider, I’ve been thinking,” Felicia said. Her eyes were wary and guarded, and she played with her nails, looking like she wanted to be anywhere but there with him. “This has been fun and all, us staying with you, but I think it’s time that kitten and I found a new hiding place.”
“What?” Peter said. His ears seemed to be ringing. “No. Why would you – Felicia. Be serious.”
“I am being serious,” Felicia said, looking up. “Don’t you think it’s time we moved on?”
There was a strange ringing in Peter’s ears. Move on.
“No,” he said.
“Spider,” Felicia huffed. “Now you be serious.”
The conversation spiraled from there. Peter tried his best to reason with her, but the problem was, he didn’t really have a good argument to stand on. So he wheedled. He joked. He did his best. But Felicia stood strong. She said that she was leaving, and she meant it. She’d already packed up most of her things.
Wally had clearly been listening, not that Peter had expected any different from his son. He remembered when he’d been small and he’d used to listen at the top of the landing while May and Ben talked in the kitchen about all the things he wasn’t supposed to hear, bills that were late and hours that had been cut and occasionally, whispered, his parents’ names.
When Wally came out, he came out holding a backpack, all neatly zipped up and ready to go. Peter’s heart broke.
“I’m gonna go wait in the hall,” he said to Felicia, who fussed over his hair and the hood of his jacket for a moment before she nodded.
Wally turned to Peter like he wanted to say something, but he didn’t – he just threw his arms around Peter’s waist in a quick, fierce hug.
“You can break into my apartment any time,” Peter told him, his voice a little thick. He brushed his hand over Wally’s hair as Wally pulled back, blinking hard, and Peter knew that from the kid’s side it was just because he was a guy who had been nice to him and his mom, but to him it was a whole hell of a lot more than that.
He waited until Wally had pulled away and trudged out the door before he turned to Felicia.
“You don’t have to do this,” he said. “You don’t have to just – leave.”
“I’m thinking of my son, Spider,” Felicia said. She sounded tired, down to her bones. “I think he deserves to have his life go back to normal.”
“This could be normal,” Peter said. “I could – we could get a bigger place. Somewhere he could have his own room. I could – I’ll figure out the money, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
Something shifted in her face as she said, “Oh, Spider. It’s not about the money.”
“Then what is it about?” he said, frustrated. “Don’t just walk away, Felicia. Tell me.”
“Are you going to turn in the suit?” she said. “Really turn it in? Say screw all those people, and run away with me and kitten to live on the Riviera? Is that what you’re really saying, Spider?”
There was a beat, heavy as anything, before he managed to find the words. “If that’s what it takes.”
Felicia swayed closer. She put her hand on her face. The kiss was long and languid, time dragging out like honey between them, her thumb stroking over his cheek, gentle as anything so she wouldn’t press against the healing bruise there. He’d gotten the other night, late enough that it hadn’t quite finished healing yet. It had been nothing, really. Just a superpowered lunatic on a revenge mission and a doctor’s office full of terrified people with nothing between him and them but Spider-Man.
But he could give all that up, if he really tried. Maybe.
“I don’t believe you,” Felicia breathed, pulling away from him.
“Give me a chance,” he said, reaching out to tug on a lock of her hair. “Just let me try, Felicia.”
“It was never going to be me and you, Spider,” Felicia said, reaching up to touch his cheek again, lingering just under the bruise. “I accepted that a long time ago.”
He cupped his hand over hers and said, “But it doesn’t have to be that way. Just talk to me, we can work this out.”
“If you love something,” Felicia said, her lips ghosting past his cheek. “Let it go.”
“Felicia,” he said, reaching for her, but she’d already stepped back. His hands remained empty, the air around him suddenly cold.
“Goodbye, Spider,” Felicia said. There was a small, sad smile on her face, and Peter wanted to ask why she was doing this, if she was going to make that face, but he didn’t. “It’s been fun.”
She shut the door gently behind her, the click of the bolt like a knife cutting whatever invisible string had connected them these past few weeks. Suddenly he couldn’t feel her anymore, that connection severed and gone.
Just like that, Peter was alone again.
He took it better than last time, he thought, all things considered.
“Stop!” shouted the man swinging like a pendulum a good twenty stories over traffic. “I’ll tell you anything! Anything you want! I’ll – I’ll split the profits with you!”
“And ruin the rest of my evening?” Peter asked, his masked chin propped up on one hand. The man swung back towards him, screaming bloody murder, and Peter halted the motion with one foot before nudging him back across the avenue again. “I’m a very busy Spider-Man, you know. Things to do, criminals to web.”
Well, one criminal to web, anyway. Aunt May had always told him it was bad manners to play with his food, but what else was he supposed to do with a robber who’d spent the last week terrorizing little old ladies?
His phone sat on the roof beside him, utterly silent. Not that he’d expected any different. He hadn’t heard from Felicia since she’d packed up and left, but then he hadn’t really expected to. She’d blown into his life with no warning and blown right back out the same way.
He was the idiot who’d thought that maybe this time things would be different.
Days passed that way. He showed up on time to teach his classes, much to the surprise of some other teachers. He hit the street hard at night. He visited the cemetery, but just the one time, bringing flowers that had wilted a little on the swing over. He tried to keep the graves clean; it was the least he could do, after everything.
The days kept going. He kept himself busy. The phone kept silent.
It nearly shocked him out of his skin when it rang, halfway through a pretty routine after school job. He almost didn’t pick up when he heard the ringtone. What’s New Pussycat -- he always thought he was so funny, right up until it came back to bite him.
“You’ve got ten seconds,” he said, answering the call as he kicked a gunman through a pile of crates. “Talk. No, not you.”
The second gunman, who’d opened his mouth when Peter had said ‘talk’, promptly shut it again.
“Peter, I need you,” Felicia said, like something out of a dream. And then, like something out of a nightmare, she continued, “Walter’s gone – somebody’s taken our son.”
Fear swept through Peter, colder and swifter than any he’d ever known before.
“I’ll be there in five minutes,” he said.
Felicia didn’t ask how he’d found her when, four minutes and thirty-seven seconds later, he found her standing on the ledge of the Woolworth Building, her hair whipping around her face in the early evening breeze. She was dressed for a job, back in her Black Cat gear. He had a feeling she’d known about the spider-tracer flicked onto her costume and that she had, for her own reasons, never bothered to remove it.
“Tell me what happened,” he said.
She held up a note.
It wasn’t the most graceful ransom note Peter had ever seen. It was typed and not handwritten and it demanded a sum of money that was large enough to make Peter’s head spin but was probably well within Felicia’s wheelhouse. There were no gruesome pictures attached, no loose body parts included, which wasn’t something Peter liked thinking about, but it wasn’t exactly like he’d never stumbled upon a loose finger or ear in this business.
He didn’t know how to do this yet, how to reconcile the Spider-Man part of his brain with the newly discovered dad part. He didn’t know how to balance the fierce hot wrath against the almost debilitating fear.
The only thing in the note was the line at the very end, demanding that the Black Cat and Spider-Man deliver the ransom, if they wanted to see their son again.
Peter read it three times and each time made less sense than the last.
“Who knows?” he asked Felicia.
“No one,” she said.
“Clearly someone,” he said, handing the note back to her.
“Spider, my mother doesn’t know who Walter’s father is!” Felicia said. “I promise you, nobody knows.”
“We’ll get him back, Felicia,” Peter said, taking her shoulders in his hands. “I’m just trying to figure out how this could have happened. It’s gonna be okay. Breathe with me.” She took in a deep gasp of air and Peter squeezed her arms. “There you go. We’re going to get him back.”
She ducked her head and raised her hand, swiping her fingers just underneath her goggles.
“I swear to you,” she said. “Nobody knows.”
“That’s not entirely true,” Peter said, taking a breath. “Your father knows.”
Felicia looked up sharply. “My father has been dead since long before Walt was born.”
“I’ll tell you everything, I promise you,” Peter said. “After we get our son back.”
Felicia looked like she wanted to argue, but only for a second.
“Everything,” she agreed, nodding sharply. “After.”
This wasn’t how he wanted to be reunited with Felicia, but he couldn’t deny that nobody could match him on the streets or the rooftops like she could, always somehow one step ahead of him. She was a fast thinker that way. It pushed him faster, made him better. Right now, he needed to be at his best.
“I’ve been thinking. Could this be connected to the guys who broke into your apartment?” Peter asked, ignoring someone’s loud “hey!” as he jostled past them and hopped the subway turnstile. The train was pulling out of the station, nearly drowning out his words. “The ones you pissed off?”
“No,” Felicia said, shaking her head. She was two steps ahead of him, already climbing her way up the moving train. “I took care of that already. It can’t be them.”
Peter raised an eyebrow underneath the mask.
“When?” he asked.
Felicia paused, and then she said, “Two months ago.”
“You were still living with me two months ago,” Peter said, after a second.
“Simple math skills are a lot to ask from a man these days,” Felicia said.
She leapt nimbly to the next train car, but Peter wasn’t about to let her go that easily. His own jump overshot hers, and he landed facing her, blocking her path. The breeze whipped past them, stirring up the cool dank air and sending Felicia’s hair flying every which way.
“I thought you were staying with me to stay off their radar,” he said.
“You thought wrong,” Felicia said tersely.
“Apparently,” he said. “Two months, Felicia?”
Before he could even consider the implications of that, of Felicia not needing to stay with him, she jumped from the train.
“This is our stop, Spider!” she called.
“You’re avoiding the subject,” Peter said, even though it was their stop. “What were you doing still living with me if the problem was solved, Felicia?”
She sent Peter a look over her shoulder like he was an idiot. As if the answer was obvious. As if anything Felicia had ever done in her entire life was obvious.
Fine, if she wasn’t going to tell him, then Peter would just figure it out himself. He wasn’t a genius for nothing. Except that none of it made any sense. Felicia staying because it was the safest place for her and her son, he understood. Felicia staying because Spider-Man could protect them, he understood. Felicia staying because nobody would have ever thought to look for the glamorous Black Cat in Peter Parker’s crappy apartment – well, he didn’t like it, but he definitely understood.
But if she hadn’t needed any of that, then there were only two reasons she could have stayed. The first was for Walter, their son. Peter had gone eight years without knowing he had a son, and Wally had gone his entire life thinking – what? Did he know anything about his father? Had Felicia wanted him to? Had it all just been about letting Wally get to know him for just a little while? It didn’t make sense. It didn’t seem right.
The second reason was the simplest, and that was the rule, wasn’t it? The simplest explanation, the one that required the least amount of assumptions, was most likely to be right.
Except the simplest explanation was that Felicia had wanted to stay with him.
That couldn’t be it. There had to be a million better, even simpler reasons why Felicia Hardy had willingly lived in Peter’s crappy apartment.
He couldn’t think of any of them.
The ransom note led them to a skyscraper, which was Peter’s least favorite sort of villain staging ground. Underground lairs, he could deal with. Construction sites, fine. Warehouses out in Jersey – look, Peter didn’t like it, but he understood. Real estate was expensive. Which meant that when someone had a lot of it, Peter’s hackles were already up.
It had absolutely nothing to do with Oscorp Tower, and Harry, and the night that he had died.
The back of Felicia’s hand brushed his, bringing him back to the moment.
“Rooftop?” she said.
“Why go low when you can go high?” he agreed.
They fell, quite literally, into the thick of things. One moment a group of men in nondescript outfits were enjoying some down time on the job and the next they had Spider-Man and the Black Cat right on top of them.
“That’s life in the Big Apple, baby,” Peter said, kicking a gun out of someone’s hand. “Where’d you put the kid?”
“What kid?” one of the men demanded, right before Felicia flipped him into a wall.
Up close and personal, Peter recognized a few of the faces surrounding them, and none from any pleasant encounters. They were mid-level muscle, good at the fighting and not so great at the thinking. Perfect shady business underling material.
“Come on,” Peter said to Felicia even as he gestured to an advancing opponent. “Tell me you didn’t miss this.”
“Missing child aside?” Felicia asked tartly, dodging a fist aimed at her face. Peter caught the offending hand as soon as she ducked down, squeezing until the man shouted and something in his hand cracked.
“Well, obviously,” Peter said, shoving his swearing opponent to the ground.
“Anyway,” Felicia said, and Peter had to step back to avoid getting hit in the face with her ponytail. “It’s not as if we had anything going on, is it?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Peter grunted. It had been a long time since he’d had to keep an eye out for someone else in a fight, but he wasn’t finding it particularly challenging, the split in his attention. His spider-sense slotted Felicia neatly into his awareness, a comforting presence on the edges of his perception. Even with his back turned to her, he could feel her move.
“What I mean is that it’s always the same old story,” Felicia said, leaping above him in a graceful arc. “The Black Cat can come back, but it’s never really over between you and Little Red, is it? All appearances to the contrary. That was a romantic spot you two met up at.”
“You’re not serious,” Peter said, throwing an elbow back and hearing that satisfying crunch and scream combination as he broke a man’s nose. “That’s what this whole thing has been about? You were following me!”
“You left in a hurry without telling me where you going! To go see your ex!” Felicia said, grabbing onto his shoulders in order to vault herself at a grown man. “What was I supposed to think?”
“My ex who left me for another woman!” Peter said, grabbing the back of her suit to yank her back before another man with a crowbar could make a nasty connection. He twisted, putting herself between them and her as he struck out, and his foot connected with the man’s chest. “And what you’re supposed to do is trust me, Cat.”
“That’s not my style,” Felicia said, wrapping one arm around his leg as she crouched low, sweeping another man off his feet.
“Oh, believe me,” Peter snorted. He blocked a blow, then grabbed the man’s wrist, using his own momentum to spin him around with his arm twisted painfully behind my back. “I’ve noticed.”
“Don’t you two think you should do the couple’s therapy bit anywhere else?” the man in Peter’s hold yelped, straining against his grip.
“No!” Peter said at the same time as Felicia bit out, “Shut up!”
It was almost enough to make Peter smile, if he didn’t want to throttle Felicia more. He dumped the man on the ground, dropping down next to him to grab him by the throat. Felicia followed him, her sharp-tipped claws digging into his chest.
Everyone else in the hall was unconscious. Peter couldn’t bring himself to care.
“Today’s your lucky day,” Felicia purred, leaning over the man. Her long silver ponytail spilled like a waterfall over her shoulder. “Tell us where the boy is and we’ll only hurt you a little bit.”
Peter flexed his fingers. The man gulped.
“It wasn’t what you thought it was,” Peter said, one fruitless interrogation later as they made their way up the elevator shaft.
“What wasn’t what I thought it wasn’t?” Felicia asked, her voice like frost. She had gone up ahead of him, so when Peter raised his head to glare at her all he got was a good look at her shapely behind.
It was a nice view, but not one he could get his point across to. Well, not that point, anyway.
“Lunch with Mary Jane,” he said through gritted teeth. “It wasn’t what you thought it was.”
“And what did I think it was?” Felicia asked. “You, crawling back to little red riding hood? Her begging you to take her back over overpriced escargot? I knew that wasn’t it, Spider.”
“Then why did you –” Peter started, then stopped himself, clenching his jaw. Why did you leave? “Then why are you being like this?”
There was a long moment of silence, and then Felicia said, her voice flat, “Because you didn’t want to get caught in my mouse trap this time.”
“What?” Peter said, frowning. “Felicia, I don’t understand –”
“Shut up,” Felicia said, waving a hand down at him. She lowered her voice to a whisper. “We’re almost there.”
She gestured for him to sidle up next to her, then at the doors.
“Will you do the honors?” she asked.
Peter cracked his knuckles, and then wrenched the doors wide open. The metal crumpled underneath his fingers with a satisfying crunch.
“I always liked watching that, you know,” Felicia said, an appreciative curl to her voice.
“I didn’t,” Peter scoffed, extending a hand to offer help she didn’t need climbing through the wrecked elevator doors. “I never know what you like.”
“Oh, don’t be angry, Spider,” Felicia said, suddenly sounding weary. “I really did do it for both of us. It’s not a good path, this one we keep going down.”
“How would you know? We’ve never been down it long enough to be able to tell,” he said idly, inclining his head towards Felicia.
The hallway in front of them was long, empty, and pristine, but Peter’s spider-sense buzzed a little, alerting him of danger up ahead. He rolled his shoulders and cracked his knuckles, readying himself for round two.
“Listen, Spider,” Felicia said, whirling on him, and it brought back a crystal clear memory of ninth grade and Mary Jane sticking a chipped neon green fingernail in the center of his chest, furiously saying, face it, tiger, and God, Peter wondered if there was something wrong for him, that he kept falling for women who insisted on animal motifs.
“Oh, I’m listening,” he said, arms crossed, using every little bit of height he had on her to better loom.
“If you love something –” Felicia began, but Peter had had just about enough of that.
“Let it go!” he finished for her, grabbing her by the arms and yanking her close to him. “I am sick of letting you go, Felicia! Don’t ask me to do it again.”
He could count, on the fingers of one hand, the number of times he had seen Felicia stunned. This was one of them. Her eyes were wide, her face pale, her mouth hanging just slightly open, and Peter so painfully wanted to kiss her, so he yanked the mask up and he did.
It wasn’t the world’s best movie kiss, not with the way Felicia was stiff and unyielding underneath him, but Peter tried to make it count. He poured everything he had into the kiss, trying to say, stay with me.
Felicia didn’t look dazed when he pulled away. She didn’t look enraptured, or dizzy, or anything like she should have after just having been kissed with an inch of her life. She was looking at him with that unreadable face, her eyes tracking from one side of his face to the other, up and down, side to side, as if she thought that if she just stared long and hard enough she could find whatever it was she was looking.
Peter was so in love with her that it hurt.
“I’m not letting you go again,” he said.
“You thought I wanted you to let me go?” Felicia asked, staring up at him.
“What else could I have possibly thought?” Peter asked.
“Spider, you stupid, stupid man,” Felicia said, cupping her hand to his cheek. “I was never asking you to let me go. I was letting you go.”
Stunned, Peter thought back. Not just to when Felicia had packed up and left his apartment – this went deeper than that. He thought about Felicia, one hand on the door of her rigged apartment, looking back at him. He thought about Felicia, letting him catch her as many times as he’d let her slip through his fingers. Felicia and a voice recording, saying she missed him, but not coming back. The unasked question: Do you miss me too?
“Now who’s the stupid one?” Peter asked. “Because I’m pretty sure I never asked you to do that.”
“You don’t have to ask,” Felicia said, a hard glint in her eye. She was so stubborn, maybe even worse than him at the end of the day. Peter wanted to strangle her almost as badly as he wanted to sweep her up in his arms and never let her go. “I was doing what was best for us. For both of us.”
“Have you considered that maybe you don’t actually know what’s best?” Peter asked.
“And you do?” Felicia said.
“I’m good at working things out,” Peter said. “Eventually.”
He closed a hand around her hip, angling their bodies together as he dipped his forehead against hers.
“Is that what we’re doing?” Felicia asked, sliding her hands up his arms. She gave one bicep a squeeze. “Working things out?”
Peter’s hand made its way to her lower back. He kissed her forehead, and then he stepped back.
“Come on, Felicia. Everything else can wait,” he said. “Let’s go save our kid.”
They fought their way through more of the same as they made their way up to the top floor – the place where Peter’s spider-sense had been screaming at him to go since he’d set foot in the building. He hadn’t made a career out of ignoring it, and today didn’t seem like the day to start.
Anxiety prickled at him, though, even as he tried to shove it down. Something was wrong. No one mentioned Wally directly, no matter who they threatened or held out the window by their ankles. No one tried to bring Wally out, which – had its pros and cons. Peter was trying very hard not to think about the cons. If anything, everyone seemed very confused about what the Black Cat and Spider-Man were doing hitting up their lair. Normally Peter liked to have the element of surprise on his side, but there had been a ransom note. They should have been expected.
It was a relief, then, to kick down a door and find Wally tied to a chair in the center of an otherwise empty room, wide-eyed but apparently in one piece.
Peter and Felicia both rushed towards him.
“Kitten!” Felicia cried, her eyes sharp as she checked him over.
Peter could have easily torn through the ropes, or broken the chair, but on a whim he knelt down beside the chair to inspect the knots. They weren’t what he would have expected out of kidnappers of any standard. The ropes were loose. The knot was sloppy. The chair wasn’t even bolted down. A little wiggling and any ordinary kid could have gotten themselves free, let alone the son of the Black Cat.
Peter glanced up.
“You doing okay there, buddy?” he said.
“Fine,” Wally said, staring back down at him. There was something faintly like guilt in his eyes.
Pieces were rapidly falling into place.
“Uh-huh,” Peter said, making a show of undoing the ropes. “Well, there you go. You’re all free now.”
“Thank you,” Wally said, perfectly polite, rubbing at his unbruised wrists with exaggerated care. He hopped off the chair, straight into Felicia’s arms, and Peter watched as she caught his face between her hands and pressed kisses to his cheeks, the relief in him taking a backseat as his mind went over the events of the last few hours.
He sat back on his haunches, considering the note, the location, the type of muscle they’d faced, and how nobody had seemed very sure of what the Black Cat and Spider-Man were doing barging in and beating everyone up.
“Cat,” Peter said. “I don’t suppose you checked where that ransom note came from before you contacted me, did you?”
“Where it came from?” she repeated, glancing back at him. Wally took the moment to wipe his face off on the sleeve of his tiny designer hoodie. “From the kidnappers. Who else?”
“I didn’t say who, I said where,” Peter said. “Like, for instance, if you’d checked your home printer. Seen what the last print job was.”
“What?” Felicia said. Wally fidgeted, gaze sweeping from side to side as if he might find some convenient exit. Peter had seen that face a million times before, on hardened criminals and eleventh graders both -- busted.
“I gotta hand it to him,” Peter said, just in case Felicia hadn’t gotten the message yet. “Your son has very good spelling. That was a pretty sophisticated fake ransom note.”
“Kitten,” Felicia said, frowning at Wally. “Tell me that that’s not true.”
“That’s not true,” Wally said, clearly lying. Felicia gasped.
“Did you stage your own kidnapping?” she asked, holding Walt by the shoulders. When he didn’t answer immediately, she said, “Walter Benjamin Hardy, I am speaking to you.”
“Wait,” Peter said, kneeling down next to them. “Walter Benjamin Hardy?”
“Not now, Spider!” Felicia snapped.
Benjamin, Peter mouthed to himself, caught up in the warm glow of it. All this time, even when Peter hadn’t even known he’d had a son, Felicia had given Wally a piece of him, this little boy walking around in the big wide world named after his uncle.
Peter was going to kiss her, right after she was done yelling at their kid.
“Why would you do that?” Felicia demanded.
“Who’d you set up?” Peter asked.
Felicia sent him a harsh look.
“Hey,” he said, shrugging. “It’s a fair question. The guys we took out on the way up here certainly weren’t kosher.”
Wally had the good graces to look even more guilty at that.
“They are kidnappers,” he said, a little defensively, as if putting himself in the hands of genuine kidnappers was likely to make either Peter or Felicia less mad. “They just – didn’t kidnap me. I snuck in. I found them in Mom’s bad people rolodex.”
“Your what?” Peter said to Felicia, flatly.
“Oh, like you don’t have any shady little contact books,” she shot back.
“But it worked!” Wally interrupted, wringing his hands. “You both came, together! So you can’t be mad.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure about that,” Peter said.
“But kitten, why would you do this? What have I always said Hardys do when things aren’t going our way?” Felicia demanded.
“Fake our deaths,” Wally said in his prim little voice. “And move to Saint-Tropez.”
Peter cocked his head to the side. Felicia made a hissing sound from between her teeth.
“No,” she grit out. “The other thing.”
“Think outside the box,” Wally said. He hesitated, then added, “I kind of think that’s what I did –”
“I need a new family motto,” Felicia said, raising a hand to rub at her temple.
“Hey, we can – and will – talk about the ethical implications of arranging your own kidnapping and freaking out your mom later,” Peter said, hand on the kid’s skinny shoulder. “The real question is – why did you do it?”
Wally looked at his shoes, which were leather, and right after Peter had a talk with him about the whole arranging his own kidnapping thing he was going to start in on Felicia about appropriate footwear for small children.
“I thought if I wrote the note and disappeared, that you and Mom would come get me,” he said.
“Well, yeah, buddy,” Peter said softly. “We’ll always come get you.”
“Together,” Wally said. “I wanted you to come together.”
Felicia looked up sharply, but it took Peter a second before the words really sunk in – together. That’s what this whole harebrained scheme had been about, wanting to bring him and Felicia together again. It was almost sweet, except for the whole faked kidnapping with real criminals bit. It was the sort of thing Peter might have dreamed about, a very long time ago, before he’d really understood things. A sliver of a memory came to him, lying in the gloom with just his nightlight for company after staying up past his bedtime watching old movies with Uncle Ben, thinking – if he got kidnapped by pirates, then his parents would definitely come back.
Peter’s chest ached.
“Oh, kitten,” Peter said, Felicia’s nickname for their son slipping out of his mouth without a second thought. “Next time, just say.”
“I didn’t know how to fix it,” Wally whispered, and the tight feeling in Peter’s chest got even tighter. It was such a big responsibility for such a little kid to put on himself, wanting to fix everyone else’s problems. But then Peter had been just like that at his age, too.
Maybe Felicia had, as well. It was something he’d never thought about before.
“Spider,” Felicia said, a little helplessly, looking at him with wide eyes.
“That wasn’t your responsibility,” Peter told Wally, chucking him under the chin to make him look at him. “We’re the adults. You have to trust us to fix it.”
“But you’re my dad,” Wally said, his voice barely a whisper.
“You knew?” Peter asked.
“Who else would Mom trust me with?” Wally asked, with all the incredulity an eight-year-old was capable of. Peter felt suitably chastised. But then Wally looked down at his sneakers, scuffing his toe against the rooftop. “I just… I wasn’t sure if you knew.”
“Oh, buddy,” Peter said, crouching down next to him. “Yeah. I knew.”
Wally scrubbed at his face. “You never said anything.”
Peter cocked his head to the side for a minute, waiting for Wally to look up. When he finally did, Peter held out his arms.
“C’mere, kid,” he said.
Wally didn’t hesitate; he threw himself bodily into Peter’s arms, little arms twining around his neck and face buried in Peter’s shoulder. Peter shushed him, reaching up to comb his fingers through Wally’s hair.
“I got you, buddy,” he said. “It’s okay. I gotcha.”
“Dad,” Wally sobbed, grabbing fistfuls of Peter’s costume and holding on as tight as he could.
Felicia knelt down next to them and put her own hand on Wally’s back. She looked at Peter with those sharp eyes, but Peter wasn’t fooled anymore. He smiled at her and, after a hesitant second, she smiled back.
They were going to have to talk later. One of those real, honest conversations, made all the harder by a lack of people to punch in the face or kick in the chest while you needed a second to come up with a good comeback. Peter was looking forward for to it.
“For now, though,” he said out loud, pulling back just enough to scrub the tears from Wally’s cheek and run a comforting hand through his hair. “We’re gonna go home. What do you think, buddy?”
Wally burst into tears all over again, burying his red, snotty face in Peter’s chest.
“That means yes,” Felicia said.
“I gathered that, actually,” Peter replied. He cupped one hand to the back of Wally’s head and held out the other hand to Felicia. “And what do you say? Home, sweet home?”
Felicia put her hand in his. He squeezed it tight.
“Home,” she agreed.
They took the subway back, riding inside of it this time after Peter and Felicia swapped out their costumes for something a little less noticeable. Peter was just relieved that Felicia didn’t suggest taking their son joyriding on top of the train.
Wally, flagging now after his big adventure, leaned against Peter the whole way back, one of Peter’s arms around his shoulders. Felicia’s hand covered his own.
They headed back to Peter’s apartment by some silent agreement, even though Peter was sure that whatever spot Felicia had moved onto must have been bigger and better.
There was a man standing in the hall right outside Peter’s door, a hat pulled down low over his eyes. Peter and Felicia both slowed when they saw him, pushing Wally behind them, but Peter’s spider-sense stayed still and silent. Whoever the man was, he wasn’t a threat.
The man looked up and slowly he reached up and removed his hat, uncovering a head full of thick white hair and sharp eyes beneath bushy brows.
Felicia gasped, one hand flying to her mouth.
“Oh, good,” Peter said, tired down to his bones and in no mood to work out another Hardy family member’s web of lies. “Now I don’t have to explain.”
Felicia stepped forward like she hadn’t even heard him.
“Dad?” she said, her voice trembling faintly.
“Hello, princess,” Walter Hardy said, putting his hat over his heart like some charming low life who’d walked straight out of a movie. Peter sorted of wanted to punch him in the face a little bit, for doing this now, for doing this to Felicia at all, for not telling her sooner.
Except earlier, Peter had thought about that old childhood daydream, the one where he did something dangerous and his parents came back. Now he was watching Felicia get to live that moment. He wouldn’t have begrudged her it for anything in the world.
“Say something,” he said, putting his hand on Felicia’s lower back and shoving her subtly forward.
She swallowed thickly.
“Wally, kitten,” Felicia said, her voice thick with emotion and her eyes glimmering in the harsh overhead light. She set a gentle hand on his shoulder, bringing him forward. “This is your grandfather. My dad.”
“Oh,” Walter said, somewhat judgmentally. Not that Peter could blame him. Walter Hardy Sr was by far his least favorite Walter in this hallway, but then the competition was pretty stiff.
“C’mon, bud,” Peter said, reaching down and scooping Wally up with one arm under his knees. “We gotta leave Mom and Grandpa alone for a bit so they can talk.”
Wally wound his little arms winding around Peter’s neck, swinging his heels like there was never a thought in his head that Peter might drop him. Peter’s immense responsibility rearranged itself before resettling across his shoulders, the best and most grounding weight he’d ever known.
“What do you think?” Peter asked, raising an eyebrow. “Is it too late for wheatcakes?”
“Never,” Wally said, looking up so fast that Peter had to put a hand at the back of his head to keep him from smacking it into the doorframe.
“That’s my kid,” Peter said, filled through and through with love.
“How did you get a kid between the last time I saw you and now?” Miles demanded.
“This is something high school really should be covering for you,” Peter said, turning a finished paper over as he started grading the next.
“A whole kid!” Miles said. “An entire child!”
“Wow, I hope so,” Peter said. “He made a sandwich for himself an hour ago and I haven’t checked yet to make sure he still has all his fingers.”
“Peter!” Miles said, throwing his hands up.
“I’ll explain it to you when you’re older,” Peter said, which just made Miles look like he wanted to suffocate him with his own webbing. That was fair. Then again, it wasn’t like Peter had told Miles to come swinging in through the window without a by-your-leave. He had a family now, a son and a super hot partner in rooftop rambling, child raising, and hopefully minimal crime.
They were really going to have to talk about knocking.
“Hey, are you available to babysit this weekend?” Peter asked, scratching the back of his neck.
“No,” Miles said, immediately. His gaze flitted towards the kitchen, where Wally was very quietly and studiously doing his homework. “Wait. Maybe. Why?”
There was a ring sitting in a little velvet box at the bottom of his closet, and a dinner date set with Felicia’s dad for some time next month. It all felt painfully normal, in a way that kept Peter smiling in the halls, a good ache in his chest every time he thought about what was waiting for him at home. He wasn’t ready to get down on one knee quite yet, and even if he was he wasn’t sure Felicia was ready to say yes. But both of them could be ready, one of these days. He liked to be prepared for all possibilities that way.
“Because it pays fantastically,” Felicia said, wandering into the room. She turned around, pulling her hair over her shoulder and revealing the pale expanse of her back. “Spider, zip me up.”
“Avert your eyes,” Peter said to Miles, but when he glanced over his shoulder he found that Miles had already turned to face the wall.
“He can’t afford to pay me,” Miles snorted. It was funny how Peter could hear his blush.
“Who said anything about me?” Peter said, slowly and carefully working the delicate zipper of Felicia’s dress up. “Geez, Cat, any tighter and we’d have to sew you into this.”
“Maybe next time,” Felicia said, letting her hair tumble down her back. “If you’re good.”
“I’m still here,” Miles announced to the wall. “And currently wondering exactly how much this babysitting gig pays. I am a very busy crimefighter too, you know.”
“In the future,” Peter said twenty minutes later, holding the door open for Felicia, “can you not offer to pay the teenager I work with in stolen emeralds?”
“Who said they were stolen?” Felicia said, flipping her hair over her shoulder.
“Oy,” Peter said, rolling his eyes skywards. They fell into step together, heading up the block, as Felicia checked off the address they were heading towards on her phone. Peter had never really liked apartment shopping, but at least with Felicia by his side it promised to be a different sort of adventure than hyperventilating in a bathroom.
So what if they’d argued for five hours the other night over how many bedrooms were appropriate for two adults and one child. That was just called foreplay.
The apartment they were on their way to see was much more than Peter could afford, and much less than Felicia probably could. That, he was pretty sure, was that little thing called compromise.
“We’re a team now,” Peter said, linking his arm with hers. “So we have to work on this whole communication thing.”
“No more you bug me, I follow you?” Felicia said, mock pouting up at him.
“You followed me first,” he countered.
“Hm,” Felicia said, looking up at him with a gleam in her eyes. “Okay. Communication. I threw out that hideous shirt with the mustard stains.”
Peter knew. He’d rescued it from the trash and stashed it at the bottom of an old suitcase. Probably he should own up to that, in the name of all this communication, but there was no rush.
“Now remember, what are the important phrases to avoid with the realtor today?” Felicia asked, bumping her hip into his as they approached the building.
“And how many shekels is that? Do you accept black market organ deals?” Peter guessed. “What about the bit where I turn my pockets inside out to show just how much money I don’t make? Can I still do that?”
“It’s a two bedroom apartment, Spider, not a penthouse,” Felicia scoffed. “Although it’s definitely not too late to change your mind on that.” Peter scoffed and Felicia sighed. “That’s what I thought. Maybe you’d better just let me do the talking.”
He glanced at her, the afternoon sunlight glinting off her hair, designer sunglasses perched on her nose, and she turned her face up towards him as he settled a hand against her back. It was like being struck by her for the first time all over again, only so much better.
“Cat,” he said in his best old movie voice, opening the door for her. “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”