Flint rubbed his eyes a few times. They were made out of Sand now and didn’t really water or blur his vision any more, but he still felt the need to try as he stood over Spider-Man’s unmoving body in the alley.
He looked both ways and turned fully around in a circle once before giving it another look: Spider-Man was still unconscious on the ground.
“Spider-Man?” Flint whispered. He knelt down and sent a sliver of sand to the body to poke the tiny Hero. No reaction. Flint used a small wave of sand to push Spider-Man over and gaped at the dark red stain soaking into the blue fabric of his suit. “Spider-Man!”
He reached down and shook the little guy’s shoulder.
“You’re not dead are you?” Flint reached up and put his hand over Spider-Man’s chest, searching for a heartbeat. He found a slow, steady one and stood back up. “Okay. Not dead, but what’ll I do with you?”
Spider-Man looked hurt pretty bad.
Rhino would have been laughing and kicked the brat a few times for good measure. The others in the Sinister-Six, too, would have relished the opportunity to see Spider-Man down and out. The Hero couldn’t stop their plans if he was out of commission!
But Flint couldn’t find the joy in the situation.
Sitting still and unmoving, Spider-Man was a really small guy—small enough to be a kid or a teenager. The kid’s smart mouth and general demeanor made Flint think teenager.
“Just walk away,” Flint told himself. Spider-Man was his enemy—Sandman was Spider-Man’s enemy! Flint had been out for a walk to clear his head. He wasn’t looking for trouble or a fight. “It ain’t your business. Just leave him.”
The most hated Hero in the city alone, bleeding, and vulnerable for anyone to find.
Flint groaned and threw his head back.
He couldn’t leave the guy there.
Spider-Man was a nuisance but Flint didn’t want anything really bad to happen to him. He didn’t want the the guy to die or nothing like that.
Flint reached down and carefully picked the kid up, making sure to support his head and hold him close to his chest. Spider-Man still didn’t move, but his breathing sounded strained and wetter. Flint swallowed and used his sand to give himself a boost as he hurried home and hoped he wasn’t too late.
“What the hell were you thinking?”
A roar woke Peter. He jerked awake and twisted in unfamiliar sheets. His mask was still over his face, but it’d been pulled up over his nose to expose his mouth. His chest also felt tight, and hurt. When he looked down he saw his costume was torn, with bandages wrapping his chest in its place.
“Come on, Rhino! He was gonna die!”
“That’s a good thing, Marko!” The second voice screamed back. Peter sat up on his elbows and his breath hitched. The Rhino and Sandman were about ten feet away fighting with each other. Rhino stomped his foot on the ground, shaking the entire small place. “We want the bug to kick it!”
“We want him to leave us alone, not kill him,” Sandman said, huffing. “We aren’t like that.”
“Speak for yourself!” Rhino shouted. He slammed a fist into his other hand and turned toward Peter. “Ah, look he’s up! Perfect. He’ll be conscious when I break him.”
Peter’s Spider-Sense yelled at him to move and he scooted back on the bed before a rip of pain tore its way through his side. Peter doubled over and held his side—Tombstone’s men had really got him good earlier.
“Don’t touch him,” Sandman shouted. A wall of sand appeared between Rhino and Peter and everyone stared at the angry burglar. “Back off, Rhino. I didn’t bring him here and patch him up for you to hurt him.”
“Are you really defending him?” Rhino asked. “You’re defending the Spider-Man!”
“Yes!” The wall of sand returned to its owner and Sandman grew in size until he was eye to eye with Rhino. His own hand had formed a fist and he held it to the side. “You’re my best buddy, but I’m going to need you to back off.”
There was a threat behind those last words that gave Peter the shivers.
Flint Marko—the Sandman—was an easy going kind of bad guy. It was easy to forget that he was a deadly individual with a near indestructible power when competing with a strength-only guy like the Rhino.
“Fine, you want to play nurse to a brat kid, I’m not going to stop you,” Rhino said. He huffed and punched Sandman’s side as he walked by. “But if Spider-Man is still here in the morning, I’m not going to be held accountable for my actions.”
Rhino stormed out, each step rattling the wall and left Peter alone with Sandman.
“Hey, uh,” Sandman said. He cleared his throat and walked closer to Peter. He shrunk back down to his usual size—which still towered over Peter, unfortunately—but still smaller and meeker than he had been. “You feeling okay?”
Peter could feel his mask on his face, but he reached up to touch it all the same.
“I didn’t look! I promise,” Sandman said. He fiddled with his hands and kept his head low. “It didn’t feel right, even if you are uh, my enemy and stuff.”
“Where am I?” Peter asked. He looked around the small building and tried to keep his breathing even “Your house?”
“Yup,” Sandman said. He pulled over a chair and sat into it with his hands in his lap. “I found you bleeding in an alley. I thought you were dead for a minute.”
“Oh,” Peter said. He reached down and touched his side. Things had gotten fuzzy during the last part of the fight with Tombstone’s men—they had guns. Had Peter been shot? “Thank you for helping me.”
Sandman grunted and looked away. “You hungry? I think I’ve got some canned soup or something.”
“That’s okay,” Peter said. He tugged at the blanket around his waist and scooted to the edge. “I’ll see myself out.”
“Sit back down,” Sandman said. He reached over and nudged Peter back into the bed—Peter didn’t hide the wince when he made contact and it hurt. “You just woke up after three days of being knocked out cold. You aren’t well enough to get up.”
Peter had been in Sandman’s home for three days—he’d been missing as Peter Parker for three days. Aunt May had to be losing her mind wondering where he’d gone. The villains in the city must have been having a field day. Peter would be so behind on his schoolwork.
And Tombstone had won.
“I really need to go,” Peter said. He gritted his teeth and scooted back to the side of the bed. It hurt to move but he forced himself to breath through his mouth and manage. “I’ll be fine. I promise.”
Sandman huffed. “Now I know for sure you’re a teenager.”
Peter took a step on the ground before sand surrounded him. The grip was firm, but not tight enough to aggravate his wounds. The sand shoved him back into the bed, and threw a blanket back over him. Peter squirmed, but a second layer of sand covered him and pressed him into the bed like a heavy weight.
“I’ll get some soup,” Sandman said. He walked over to a small kitchen in the side of the room and opened the cabinets. “You’ll eat it, then you’ll get some more rest and you can leave when you’re not about to collapse standing up.”
“You don’t understand, I’ve—the guy under this mask—has been missing for three days!” Peter wriggled, but the sand held him down. He felt weak and exhausted—like all of his strength and energy was going to healing a wound. “I can heal at home.”
“I understand you’re worried,” Sandman said. A microwave beeped and he pulled out the bowl of soup and picked up a spoon. “But if you’ve already been missing for three days, one or two more won’t hurt.”
He sat back in the chair and held out the spoon full of soup toward Peter’s mouth.
Peter stared at the spoon hovering close to his face. “What are you doing?”
“If I let your hands go, you’re gonna do something stupid and try and escape, probably hurting yourself more in the process,” Sandman said. “So I’m going to help you eat.”
“Are you being serious?”
“Yes,” Sandman said. “I didn’t go through the trouble of bringing you here to let you get hurt again and that’s that. Do you want this soup or not? It’s going to get cold.”
Peter sighed and opened his mouth. Sandman put the spoon in his mouth and Peter tasted the warm, savory taste of canned chicken noodle. He swallowed and licked his lip while Sandman went for the next taste.
“Can we compromise? I’ll eat your soup and then you let me leave?”
Sandman huffed and gave Peter the next spoonful. “You can leave tomorrow morning. Just one more night to make sure you’re not going to kick the bucket.”
“I’m holding you to that,” Peter said. He ate another bite of soup and then another. Sandman fed him quietly with a tender touch that felt out of place on the large, brutish man. “This is so weird.”
Sandman snorted and rubbed under his nose. “Ain’t it?”
Peter relaxed into the bed and the sand slipped away when Sandman figured Peter was going to stay put. One of his many enemies was feeding him soup and taking care of him like Aunt May used to do when he was sick.
“This is kinda nice,” Sandman said, scraping the last bit of soup out of the bowl. “Isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” Peter answered. “It kinda is.”
“Want some more?” Sandman asked. “I can make more.”
“I’m good,” Peter said. “I think I want to go to sleep.”
“Okay,” Sandman said. He took the bowl with him as he stood up. “Then uh, get some rest.”
The older man shifted awkwardly before leaving Peter alone on the bed. Peter felt his chest twist—it wasn’t every day one of his bad guys tried to be so good.
“I wouldn’t mind more for breakfast though,” Peter said. “If that’s okay.”
A little smile grew on Sandman’s face and he nodded. “Yeah! I can do that.”
Peter snuggled under the blankets and closed his eyes. He’d worry about everything else tomorrow.
For now, he was going to sleep and know that Sandman had his back and would be there in the morning.