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Through the Looking Glass

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January 5 1934, Bedlam House.

It reeked of Formaldehyde.

Spider-man grimaced under the rough-hewn mask, the stench almost suffocating despite the covering. He'd been to Octavius' old slaughter house twice before, but he never got used to the stench: Overpowering and clingy, like the big galoot that Crime Master ordered around like a trained monkey. "The Sandman...he comes at night to steal your eyes...and he smells like Formaldehyde..." He mumbled, dropping from the window to the wet floor with a muted smack. The damn rhyme was going to be stuck in his head till the day he died.

The things he'd seen in Octavius' lab...he thought he'd seen the worst of humanity with Osborn and his freak shows, but it was a drop in the bucket compared to what went on in that madhouse: Negroes rounded up like animals, knives cutting at their brains still they were little more than drooling morons to be used for menial labor. It made him sick.

He should have killed him then and there. Aunt May had defended Vulture's worthless hide, claimed she didn't want to live in a world where people killed one another, but he knew it was an impossibility. Uncle Ben had fought in The Great War, and even he'd made it clear he was never proud of his actions. 'People killing one another for reasons they don't really understand', that was what he said.

Maybe they were right, but these men... they didn't play by the rules of the civilized. He'd let De Wolfe talk him into sparing Octavius' life and all he got for it was being deported to the country he loved to continue his experiments in peace. The Nazis would use his research to continue their depravities all in exchange for information that he didn't even know was worth it.

At least that's what he'd thought. A tip from Felicia Hardy and whispers from the thugs trying to cash in made it clear that the 'Good Doctor' was back in town and up to the same tricks again. It was strange; he hadn't heard of any more Negroes taken of the streets. And why would Octavius come back here after everything that had happened? Was it pride or a twisted sense of accomplishment?

Either way it didn't matter. Maybe it was pride, maybe he got his jollies hiding under the people who stopped him, but De Wolfe wouldn't be able to save him this time. If it was the last thing he did, Octavius wasn't going to make it out of this madhouse alive.

Still, his choice locale had definitely fallen, "How the mighty have fallen, Doc..." He stepped over the moist floor, gun at the ready. His spider-sense hadn't blared at all in the time since he'd gotten here, but he wasn't one to ever drop his guard. The asylum had been abandoned for a few months now, a result of a lack of funding and money being pumped into 'more important' projects.

Of course that left the question of where the crazies were supposed to go, but in the end it was lost in a sea of mob-related robberies, arsons and other dirty laundry the city was airing out. Jonah had sent him day in and day out trying to find the biggest scoop; and while he respected the man's grit he thought his focus was a bit off at times. The people already knew what was going on, but he wanted to believe he could 'wake them up' and make them actually give a damn.

A nice goal, one he hoped could actually happen despite his doubts.

Spider-sense tingling, he jumped into the nearby pillar and hid himself in the shadows. Two brunos with chicago typewrites, suits stained and obviously seeing better days, 'Cheap goons...' He jumped to another pillar and waited. Searching the entire asylum for Octavius was going to be tedious and he was already behind the grind. He didn't want to explain to Aunt May and Mary Jane why he was out all night again.

"Damn Kraut, hell is going on down there?" The leftmost goon muttered, pulling out a wrapped sandwich from his loose pockets.

"Beats me, but hey work is work." Righty shrugged, scratching his messy stubble, "You wanna be out there in the streets? Everyone's fighting for turf ever since Spider-man took out Crime mMaster." He slung the gun over his shoulder and spat, "Damn geek. Heard he came out of the Freakshow..."

"Yeah? I heard he's some kind of demon to 'judge us for our sins'" He laughed and took a bite of his sandwich, "You don't think he's actually real, do you? He's a fake, a boogeyman. Bosses are using some spider freak to avoid getting pinned, I tell ya. Shit, you think one guy could take Goblin and his crew? Not a chance. Must have been Francis or Maroni, I'd buy that more than I buy some freakshow geek taking em all out."

"Huh...maybe you're right-"

"Guess again, bozos."

Their screams of surprise were mercifully brief. The pair of triggermen fumbled for their guns before he jumped, webbing one to the floor with a flick of his wrist and pinning the other to the ground with a heavy thud, "Weird place to be at, fellas." He quipped, taking a moment to look around briefly. His spider-sense hadn't rung at all, but one could never be too careful around these parts.

The webbed thug struggled, trying to escape his binds, "Y-You're-"

"Spider-man, but you knew that already." He webbed his mouth shut, "Keep quiet. I'm talking to your friend."

"I-I ain't telling you nothing, freak!" The pinned palooka yelled, hands fumbling either for his dropped gun or the fallen sandwich; he didn't know which.

"Oh yeah?" He picked him up and slammed him against the wall, "Well, lets try this again." He leaned in closer, enough that he could smell the thug's putrid breath, "All those things you heard about me? All true. Osborn, Kraven, Crime Master: All dead cause a me. You really think I won't snap your neck and toss your body in the river?" He growled, "And that's if I'm feeling merciful. I can drag it out for days if I get angry."

"Y-You wouldn't!"

His fist smashed against the wall, his hand bursting through the brick with disturbing ease, "Next one goes through your head! Where's Octavius!?"

"I-In the basement! I-I-I swear!" He could see tears spilling from the thug's eyes. It was always the same; hired muscle, used to beating on kids and the elderly like trained mutts. He doubted the dingbat had even gotten into an actual fight before, "H-He puts the people in the cells downstairs and...and..."

"What people!?" He tightened his grip on the man's neck, "You leave anything out there won't be enough pieces for the coppers to piece back together!"

"I-I don't know, alright!? The Kraut hires us to take people off the streets, guys and dames people wouldn't miss! I don't know what the hell he does with em, and I never ask! I just take my money and keep my head down!"

That was all he was going to get from him. Cursing under his breath, Spider-man let him fall to the floor before webbing him up like his compatriot, "Coppers will be here to pick you and your buddy up eventually. You hide anything from em and you're gonna deal with me, understand?"

He left the goomba nodding like a rabid dog and made his way to the basement. The thugs words had done little to assuage his nerves: Octavius was back to his old tricks again, and just a few months after his last foray into science. He dreaded to imagine what he would see down there again: More innocents turned to braindead simpletons? Or would he just find them cut up into pieces for the sake of 'biology'?

Still, there was something that he missed. He said they were taking people that 'wouldn't be missed'? His first thought would have been citizens of the colored community, but he'd already been to the Negro World and they didn't take note of any missing persons cases. He doubted they would miss swathes of the community going missing after the last debacle and Robbie getting his brain drilled.

"Robbie..." His grip on his revolver tightened. Him and Felicia...mistakes he wasn't able to erase. Every time he saw her on her room's balcony or Robbie sitting at home he was reminded of how badly he'd done. Maybe if he went to Octavius' island first, if he didn't visit Felicia and have her harbor him, they would have been okay. She wouldn't be forced to hide behind a mask and he wouldn't be better off dead.

But now wasn't the time for self-pity. 'You make your bed and you lie in it', as Urich had told him once - Words that seemed almost prophetic given what happened to the sullen reporter. There was nothing he could do to change the past, he just needed to do better in the future.

The sight was just as depraved as he expected, albeit for different reasons than he expected.

The basement had been converted to a makeshift laboratory, the stench of blood and rotting meat hanging in the air, 'Just like a slaughterhouse...' He winced, covering his nose and mouth to avoid gagging. He could see the walls crudely broken apart to make way for tables and carts full of tools, brick and stone littering the floor in clumps. Obviously an amateur job; he must have grabbed whatever thugs he could hire to do this.

Either that or his Nazi buddies were losing traction. He preferred the latter.

The table's contents, however, were what drew his attention: Bodies barely covered with bloody swaths of cloth, the exposed flesh clammy and veiny. Spider-man drew closer and placed a hand against the neck of the closest one, "...Dead." He shook his head and closed the man's blank, open eyes. Given the body's condition he could assume that they'd been killed recently, maybe a day or two ago. The Rigor Mortis hadn't passed yet, at the very least.

He pulled away the blanket and nearly recoiled at the sight, "My God...what the hell were you doing, Otto?" He shook his head. Their brains had been left intact this time, but that would have almost been a mercy compared to what he saw now - Limbs mutated and fitted with technology far beyond what he could understand, their features perverted and grotesque. Arms that were far too small, legs that were far too long...like misshapen dolls.

"Looks like a prosthetic..." He lifted the metallic limb and examined it carefully. It wasn't the metal that baffled him, but more the lines of light lining the surface. It was odd: Despite the body long since growing cold the metal was warm to the touch, easily pushing even through the thick gloves he wore.

He'd seen the madman's experiments before, even approved of his methods. Attaching electrodes to the brains of a monkey? He had justified it easily enough when he first saw it, even ignoring Robbie's lambasting on the way back home. The suffering of an animal could be excused so long as the benefits to mankind were substantial enough. Progress demanded compromise, much as might have been unpleasant.

Except Octavius had a different definition of animal.

Apparently he had changed once more if his victims were any indication, "Germans...?" His brows furrowed. Their features were distinct enough to stand out, those that hadn't been mangled beyond recognition at least. All the men were handsome and well-built while the women still managed to retain a certain sense of beauty despite their conditions. He'd heard about the Nazi ideology before, their belief in the true race and their superiority over others. He knew of Otto's belief in it, but now...

Now it looked like Octavius was doing his damnedest to pervert it.

'Did the Nazis order him to experiment on their own people?' He wondered. He wasn't privy to the workings of what went on in the German government, nor did he have any inkling on what went on in the mind in the Chancellor of Germany. He wouldn't discount anything; if Octavius was desperate enough to hire thugs and kidnap people off the streets he wouldn't doubt this.

'Speaking of brunos.' He ducked into a corner of the broken wall, bathing himself in shadow. Four more thugs, each as disheveled and haggard looking as the last pair, "Man, this gig sucks..." The middle one muttered, "We gotta look for Germans and what do we get? Chump change!" He spat, "Knew I should have signed onto Gambinos; bet they don't make ya look for kaisers to turn to frankensteins."

"Yeah, the doc ain't paying much." Another kicked a loose stone with a grunt, "Lets split this join when we get paid. This place reeks."

"You said it, and ain't just cause of the stiffs."

Incapacitating them had proven easy enough. He left them on the roof, making sure to web their mouths to stop the conscious ones from yelling. Once the coppers found them they would spill, likely blame it all on Octavius. If they were lucky they'd get 15 years, and that's if they somehow managed to convince the boys in blue that they had no idea what the 'good doctor' was doing to his victims.

Stepping through the closest door, he was greeted by the sounds of multiple figures yelling all at once.

"Save us!"

"Let us out!"

"You have no right to do this!"

"You can't do this! It's inhumane!"

Cells lined the sides of the hall, the doors thick and the slots barely large enough for the occupants to get a look to the outside. This was where they put the crazies who couldn't be treated...he had to get them out of here.

"Wh-Who are you?" The occupant of the cell, a young teenage girl, asked. Given her accent it was easy to tell she was German as well, though she and the rest were in far better conditions than the rest. At the very least they had no visible injuries, which was a small blessing compared to what came before, "A-Are you here to-"

"I'm here to save you. Just be quiet, I'll get you out of there," He reassured, 'Octavius has a new type.' He sneered and smashed the lock, letting the girl out of her cell. He had no idea what caused the change in focus but at this point he didn't care. Octavius would never operate on anyone again, and this time De Wolfe wouldn't be here to stay his hand.

Freeing the rest had been easy enough. He guided them to the exit, letting their 'thank you' and 'you saved my life' proclamations pass with a polite nod. He saw a few crying at the sight of the grotesque bodies on the tables. Family or friends? It didn't matter in the end. The pain would stick with them, there was nothing he could do to change that, but he would make sure Octavius paid for it.

"Call the police when you can." He instructed, turning and running back to the asylum before hearing their reply.

Retracing his steps, he rushed through the basement and past the almost labyrinthine hallways of the madhouse. There weren't any more thugs, at least not as far as he could see. Octavius must have been desperate getting such a small number of triggermen for hired help.

He found himself faced with a door that stuck out like a sore thumb: The wood appeared to be new, the nameplate - a gold tinted 'Dr. Otto Octavius' - a clearly recent addition, 'Couldn't let it go, huh, doc?' He ripped it away with a small crack. Even when he was experimenting in a decrepit asylum and kidnapping people off the streets he still held onto his pride...he supposed he shouldn't have been surprised.

Opening the door as quietly as he could, he was met with a room far wider than he expected. The chamber was large, easily able to fit dozens of people at once. The dirt walls made it easy enough to assume that this was a recent addition. Despite its large size, however, it was almost barren. There were no basic comforts, nothing save a few scattered books and more of the prosthesis scattered across the floor.

...And the blood-soaked figure looking away from him at the room's end.

Octavius didn't turn at his entrance, continuing to mumble to himself. In front of him stood...he didn't know how to describe it: It was obviously machinery of some kind, but in all his studies he could never recall any kind of machine that created glowing blue portals. Stepping over the discarded artificial limbs, he drew closer to the crippled butcher. He could have shot him then and there, ended his life without him knowing...

No. He needed to see, to know.

"What is it I'm doing wrong!?" The doctor smashed his hands against the wheelchair's arms, the arms around the seat waving erratically in response. He saw him mutter to himself once more, one hand reaching towards the portal before drawing back with a muffled curse, "I'm so close! Just...Just a few more steps, and I can leave this forsaken place." He shook his head, "Perhaps...Perhaps another test would-"

"Not happening, you pasty faced fink."

He had to admit, seeing the half portion turn even paler was gratifying. Turning himself around, he found himself face-to-face with the bastard that ruined the lives of his friend and so many others. He looked the same as ever, save the bags under his eyes and the gaunt look he sported; as if he hadn't slept in days. It might have been pitiable if he wasn't covered in blood and sitting on a chair full of knives.

"Y-You-"

That was all he managed before Spider-man grabbed him by his neck and threw him bodily across the chamber, separating from the only 'weapon' he could use. Looking at the twisted wheelchair in distaste, grabbed the arms and tore them from the hinges. No mistakes this time, he wasn't going to escape.

"Wh-What are you doing here!?" Octavius sputtered, trying to crawl away from the enraged vigilante.

Spider-man tossed him again, throwing him into a pile of discarded prosthesis. Off to the side he could see the portal pulsing, seemingly blinking in and out of existence, but he ignored it. His spider-sense hadn't gone off the entire time he'd been in this room and he could glean from his comments that whatever the hell it was it wasn't working anyway. Whatever he was working on could wait till later.

"Up to your old tricks again, Octavius?" He picked him up and slammed him against the wall. This took him back...months ago he had the gall to smile at him, treat him like a friend after killing Crime Master; as if he'd done him a favor rather than just saving his own skin. He was ready to strangle him then, make him pay for everything he'd done, until De Wolfe convinced him otherwise.

Well, there were no second chances now.

"H-How did you-"

"You're not as quiet as you think!" He snarled, "You couldn't help yourself, could you? Just had to come back after you got caught the first time?" He punched his side, earning a scream of pain from the mad doctor, "And now you're doing it again, to your own countrymen! Any depths you won't sink to, you sick bastard!?"

"They rejected me!" He yelled, glaring down at him defiantly, "They...They called me a cripple! Unfit for the master race because of my congenital defects! My research and achievements could have revolutionized them, changed everything! But they rejected me and now they're fit to be nothing more than my test subjects! Surely those of superior breeding would make for the best animals-"

His rant was cut off as Peter wrapped both arms around his neck to strangle him. The monster's eyes widened, mouth parting to choke out more curses or to plead for mercy; either way he didn't care. The butcher was beyond redemption, beyond any reasonable hope that he could change. Even when he was rejected by those whose ideology he followed he just turned his madness on them instead.

And even then he felt a tinge of hesitation. The Nazis weren't protecting him now, no one would vouch for him if he let De Wolfe and the rest of the coppers arrest him...

No, not again. He trusted De Wolfe once, he wasn't going to take any chances now.

Just when the doctor's struggles began to weaken his stranglehold loosened at the sudden, painful blaring of his spider-sense, "Ahhh!" He let go of Octavius and pressed both hands against his head. It felt like his skull was getting split open with a hammer. Just barely he could see the portal pulsing, its length widening to engulf the entirety of the room in the overwhelming blue light.

"Wh-What's happening!?"

"You...Your presence here...that was the final step in the equation!" Octavius laughed in-between strangled breaths, "All those test subjects, all those experiments...and all I needed to bring it all to fruition was bring you here! The irony is palatable, is it not!"

"Make sense!"

"No...no more words. I'm ready to greet a world that will accept my genius for what it truly deserves!"

The light had nearly reached them now. Forcing himself up on his feet, he charged at Octavius and wrapped his hands around his neck again. Whether that portal killed them or did nothing didn't matter; he was going to take Octavius with him to the grave if it was the last thing he did.

The final thing he saw before the light engulfed them was Octavius' demented grin, and then everything went black.


 

"Urghhh..."

For the second time in his burgeoning career Spider-man found himself on the floor with a splitting headache, "This seems familiar..." He grunted, pushing himself up with a groan, 'Head's pounding, but at least my face isn't smashed in.' He thought. Silver linings, he learned to take them when they came. Resisting the urge to give another groan of pain he leaned against the nearby wall, snow crunching under his boots-

Wait, snow?

Vision clearing, he finally got a good look at his surroundings - A narrow alley, a road covered in thick blanket of snow. Only now did he feel the chill pushing through his longcoat, the icy wind blowing through in a freezing gale. At the end of the alley he could see blurry cars pass through the snowbound roads, music he couldn't recognize filtering in through the opening.

'Alright...think, Parker, think! You went to a madhouse, got those Germans out and went back for Octavius. Fink was in front of some kind science experiment, you were going to kill him then that damn lightshow lit up worse than 4th of July.

And then he was here.

"Damn it..." He pulled up his mask and vomited, the sour taste lingering on his tongue. He wasn't injured, he could feel no wounds on his body, but there was a definite feeling of something being wrong with him. Whatever's Octavius' mad science experiment had done to him it felt as if Sandman had used him as a punching bag again, "Definitely tastes better going in than out."

And Octavius was gone. Again. He pulled down the mask and took deep, gulping breaths. His throat burned and his head was pounding like a drum, but the only thing on his mind was if he snapped his neck before...whatever the hell that was happened.

Hah...if Aunt May and Mary Jane knew what went on in his head...well, better he didn't think about it. Sometimes the system didn't work, much as they - and he - wished it. Sometimes you needed to get your hands dirty if you wanted results.

Well, whether Octavius was with the choir invisible or slunk into a sewer like the rat he was could wait. First he needed to get home before Aunt May started asking questions; judging by the sunlight poring through alley he must have been out for hours. He'd always excused his nighttime excursions with Jonah putting him on another 'hard hitting' case of hungry orphans or husbands who committed suicide to escape debt, but that alibi was growing thinner with every use.

"Come on, you can do this." He groped the wall to steady himself and put one shaky leg in front of the other. The bizarre tunes did little to assuage the pulsing in his head, and neither did the telltale New York signs of bleating horns and cussing from irate drivers.

Despite it all it brought a smile to his face; his living conditions didn't leave much room for nationalism or pride in his country, but it was the only home he knew and - he suspected - the only one he would ever know. Maybe it was stupid of him to think so, but a part of him never stopped hoping that if he put enough mobsters and criminals in jail things would change for the better somehow. All his actions had to have an end, right?

His thoughts stilled as he finally escaped the confines of the alley and saw the sights ahead of him.

Buildings far taller than he was used to towered all around him, strange signs jutting out of the walls. He was used to skyscrapers and neon, but this...there was something different about the way they looked that he couldn't quite place. On the wall next to him he could see a smattering of posters, all promoting things he was damn sure he'd never seen before in his life

'What in the hell is a 'smartphone'?' He thought, staring incredulously at the poster of depicting a young woman with...some lump of metal in her hands and a big, plastic grin on her face. It was almost creepy how lifelike it appeared.

But for all the bizarre structures it was nothing compared to what he could see around him - People sandwiched together like sardines, lined up in front of what he could only assume to be a corner store. Cars sped through the roads, looking far different from any vehicles he could ever recall seeing in New York. The clothing they wore was...unique: Similar to what he was used to for some of them, but almost alien for many others.

The last time he'd seen dames with so much leg showing was in a speakeasy, and he'd never seen them strut around like that in public. The guys weren't any better; old men dressed in wife beaters and shorts without a care in the world and some of them weren't wearing shirts altogether, walking around bare and exposing tattoos. Those that didn't were still dressed like clowns, looking like something out of a comedy he'd see in Broadway. The few he could rationalize he could practically count with one hand.

"...Something tells me I'm not where I'm supposed to be."

People continued to walk past him, some pausing in their stride to look at him as if he was the one dressed like a clown: He could see at least a couple with green and blue hair in the crowd, and he was damn sure he'd never seen a dye company make them in that color. Mercifully his head had finally stopped pounding, but it was replaced with the sinking feeling of uncertainty.

"Dude, the fuck are you wearing?"

He turned to the source of the voice. A twist wearing glasses, some kind of rectangular machine in her hands. She was more covered up than some of the others, she still wasn't any type of dame he'd recognize.

"Uh...earth to masked man, you there?" She snapped her free hand, but her eyes were already drifting back to the machine in her hands. Just barely he could see a collage of pictures - handbags by the looks of it - before she swiped the screen, replacing it with another set showing shoes.

Well...that was new.

"What...?"

"I asked what you were wearing," She said, not looking up from the device, "That some kind of ultra retro hipster look or something? Cause if it is then you definitely got Steve beat hands down. That guy thinks a trenchcoat is all he needs."

Retro hipster? What the hell did that mean? Shaking his head, he took a deep breath and tried to calm himself. Alright, now wasn't the time to panic. His spider-sense hadn't blared ever since he woke up in the alley, so he was safe...then again it hadn't blared when he first saw the lightshow so who the hell knew. Still, oddly dressed with weird cars or not he didn't seem to be in any danger here for the time being.

"...What is this place?" He asked.

"Uh...read the sign, man." She gestured to the sign, a caricature of a hotdog with sausage legs (definitely something to have nightmares about later), "Dolllar dog, dude. The new place to be seen. Figured you knew that considering you're dressed like Darkman and all."

"Right..." Just keep quiet and nod, he knew from experience it was an easy out for odd situations. That no one looked at him as nothing more than a cheap geek only added to his sinking feeling - He tried to minimize his contact with non-criminals during his outings, but the few times he'd been seen most people knew by sight who he was. Perhaps he had gotten lucky and no one made the connection - God knew he wasn't the only one dressed like a freak here - but his gut told him otherwise.

"Oh, here comes Bodega Bandit."

His new acquaintance finally looked up from the rectangle and pointed to what he could only describe as a wannabe-Zorro; dressed in striped green with a mask that barely covered half his face, reddish blonde hair sticking out from under his cap. Definitely young by the looks of him, which wasn't helped by messy stubble and the hamster chewing on a nut that sat on his shoulder. Considering he looked stupider than everyone else here he found it surprising that he strutted around like he owned the place.

Despite his confident stride, however, the people in the crowd rolled their eyes or even laughed at his entrance, though none made to stand in his way as he strode into the corner.

"...What was that about?"

"Oh, him? BB comes in to rob Bodegas once or twice a week, hence the name. He usually hits Dollar Dog or Burger Palace, but he hasn't hit this place ever since the renovation. Guess he finally got his nerves back."

"A thief? And they just...let him pass? What is he, some high-ranking mafioso?" The so-called thief was arguing with the owner and...pointing a hotdog at him in what he could only assume to be a threatening gesture. He would have dismissed it outright but he knew better than anyone not to judge by appearance. Even the most harmless geeks could turn out to be wolf in sheep's clothing.

"Him? Yeah, and I'm She-Hulk," She scoffed, "Nah, he's harmless. He comes in, steals a few corndogs or cheeseburgers and hightails it outta here. No one really takes him seriously, guess that's why the police don't even bother cuffing him most of the time." She shrugged lazily, "Shit, I think a few of the store-owners actually like him. At least it gives em something to do on slow nights."

"...I'm going to stop him."

He was halfway past the road when the thief charged out of the store, carrying a stack of 'corndogs' in his arms, "The Bodega Bandit and Bandito II strikes again!" He called out, earning a few sympathetic laughs from the crowd. A few steps behind him he could see the owner giving chase, ranting about how he didn't have time for this and that the young man was 'the worst'.

Well, that erased any doubts he might have had.

The clown passed by him without a second glance. He waited for him to reach the sidewalk before flicking his wrist, ejecting a short burst of webbing at his legs and caused him to trip, his 'prize' scattering across the snowy pavement.

Too easy.

"Hey, what the!? You're not-"

"Stay down." He sighed and applied another coating of webbing on his back, pinning him to the sidewalk. He really wasn't in the mood to deal with would-be criminal masterminds. He dealt with enough of that at home.

The owner's response, however, was less ideal than he'd hoped.

"Oh great, another one!" The old Mexican man groaned and placed two hands against his face with a loud smack, "God, it's like you freaks are coming out of the woodwork! First that menace and that overgrown lizard destroy my shop, and now this!?" He gestured to the scattered food, "Now I'm going to get even more squatters staying here cause some pervert with a trenchcoat shot web from his wrists!"

"I was just trying to help-"

"Yeah, well, I didn't ask for a hero to come save me!" He spat, gesturing to the crowd around him. Spider-man could see them pointing small and large rectangular machines at him and whispering amongst themselves, "Look! Right now they're going to post this shit on their youwebs and now everyone's gonna think the Dollar Dog is like a fucking beacon for you freaks!"

"I didn't-"

"Mean any harm? Yeah, that's what she said too." He scoffed, "Look, if you wanna reward for this you're barking up the wrong tree. I didn't ask for your help and I would've done better without it."

"Yeah, I'll consider that next time I see a gun pointed at your face." He muttered, though he knew the threat was empty, "Look, if you want me out of your hair so bad at least tell me where the hell I am and how I can get back to New York. I'd gladly leave this madhouse."

The old man looked at him as if he grew a second head, "You an idiot, kid? This is New York, or did you somehow miss the sign when you got off the plane from crazy town?"

"What?" He blinked, trying to process the information as rationally as he could, "...Look, I know you don't like me - and trust me the feeling's mutual - but if you wanna fib then at least make it something believable. This ain't New York."

"And I'm saying it is, you nutcase." He poked him in the chest harshly, "You don't believe me that's fine, but go be delusional somewhere else; preferably as far away from here as you can. I don't want-"

Spider-sense.

Turning away from the old man, he found a sight that easily dwarfed everything he'd seen.

"Alright ya little brats, turn your valuables over and drop em on the ground or the face the wrath of my koala army!"

As was becoming a trend Spider-man found himself at a loss for words. A figure stood in the center of the street, his appearance nondescript save a mask that appeared to be made of glass. All around him were...he was seeing it now, but he still couldn't believe it: Dozens of Koala bears, each growling like trained dogs. He couldn't place the accent; a limey maybe? Then again he hadn't heard of the brits to be particularly attached to koalas. Regardless all around him the gathered people took no notice of his threat, continuing to point their machines at them both in turn. They were expecting a show.

"Yeah...definitely not where I'm supposed to be."

Chapter Text

Sometimes she hated being a superhero.

It felt wrong saying it to herself but it was the truth. Teen Titans made it look so easy: Fight off a hilariously weak alien invasion with a ragtag group of equally weird friends and the city gives you a tower with unlimited wi-fi and cable, more money than you could shake a stick at and the adoration of the entire town. It seemed so simple, almost idyllic in a sense barring the supervillains that came to wreck your day.

But hey, if it meant pizza for breakfast, lunch and dinner she wouldn't exactly have said no.

But no, being a superhero in New York meant living in a crappy apartment, having to work in a Bodega to make ends meet in-between band gigs and about half the town hating her guts and calling her a murderer right to her face while the other half tried to ignore she existed; mostly right after she'd finished saving them from the villain of the week. She liked to think she wasn't conceited, but would a 'thank you!' rather than a 'stay away from me you damned menace!' or 'put your hands behind your head and get down on the ground!' have been too much? Hell she would've taken the police not shooting at her!

In the end she made do. A crazy old guy in a bird suit? Fine. A rival band member trying to assassinate Murderdock? Odd, but nothing she hadn't learned to expect. Frank Castle bringing snakes to her house and trying to blow up a building so he could catch her unmasked? Bring it on. She'd learned to tune out all the zaniness in her life when she needed to and whatever the world threw at her she could take it with a smirk and a quip.

"Ah, Spider-woman! I see my nemesis has finally come to meet her inevitable end!"

But even she had her %^&*ing limits!

It was a normal day to start: No gigs, a 1pm shift at the Dollar Dog and a promise from her dad to meet up for some of that father-daughter bonding time they'd been missing out on. That left her with a few hours to kill, which she'd of course spent swinging around New York stopping whatever crimes she could find. So far she was down to three muggings, four assaults and an armored truck hijacking.

A slow day all things considered, but hey at least the police weren't shooting at her! She took what she could get.

Of course when time came for her shift to start a bank robbery hit just around the corner. She'd justified it to herself easily enough - Mr. Alby wouldn't fire her for being a few minutes late (especially since he couldn't afford to be picky) and it would take her maybe ten minutes tops to web the robbers up and wait for the police to get there. Even sooner if the police were already there and she didn't have to stand there taking the criminal's promises of revenge.

But of course she just had to run into her.

Spider-Woman jumped back and clung to the building, avoiding the explosive tipped carrot that came from the gun-umbrella. The shooter reared her head back and laughed, her henchmen looking at one another nervously, "Did you really think you could stop the menagerie!?" She gestured to her two henchmen, who weren't even pointing the...Easter eggs(?) they had at her. Mostly it looked like they were tempted to cut and run.

White Rabbit, or Lorina Dodson for those who didn't want to indulge in her Alice in Wonderland fantasies. She looked through the files her dad scrounged up about her: 25 years old, born to a rich family and married to an 82 year old millionaire who was halfway to croaking by the time they were at the altar. A match made in money, and nothing you wouldn't see out of a bad episode of Pals.

But of course that wasn't good enough for her. When her husband croaked - which she claimed to be responsible for despite the fact that he died with a smile on his face in bed with no trace of trauma or poison at all - she decided that rather than going around the world or buying her own private island she'd take the career of a supervillain. That and model herself after Alice in Wonderland, which apparently meant dressing up in a playboy bunny outfit and trying to rob banks and stores.

Because really, why go around the world in a private yacht when you can run around dressed in a funny costume getting shot at by cops? She knew which one she'd pick in a heartbeat.

"What's wrong, my nemesis? Shocked into silence by your fear? I can hardly blame you!" She cackled.

And oh yeah, she thought that she was Spider-Woman's 'nemesis'. She didn't know whether to be flattered or weirded out that someone wanted to be her nemesis specifically. Most bad guys just skipped past the pleasantries and made with the death threats...or they were disappointed when they saw her and said they were hoping for Captain America or She-Hulk to show up instead.

She didn't know which was more insulting.

"No, more wondering what made you think that outfit was a good idea. Were you drunk and watching Playboy mansion when you thought of it? Cause I gotta tell you, between that and the garish makeup I think you've got a real shot at making it to the next season!"

"Says the woman dressed in spandex!" She pointed her umbrella gun at her and shot.

"And seriously, you're out of jail already? Didn't we just do this last weekend?" Spider-Woman asked, jumping over the second exploding carrot and yanking the sack of money one of the henchies carried, "And seriously, why are you robbing a bank? You're a millionaire! If you wanna flush your money down the drain can't you spend it on plastic surgery like any normal rich person with more dollars than sense?"

"Quiet! And give me back my hard earned spoils!"

"You want it? Heads up!"

The next thing White Rabbit saw was the sack of money being tossed right at her. She dropped her weapon and fumbled for the burlap, but ultimately she found herself falling on her back at the force of the throw.

"Ow, damn it!" She looked to her loyal minions. They looked apprehensive, but surely their drive (and greed) would push through any sense of hesitation, "You two, get this off me and finish her!"

"Better idea." Spider-Woman landed right on front her, blocking them from view, "You two drop those...eggs and give yourself up to the police. If not..."

Lorina fumbled for her umbrella and aimed, the tip level with the back of her head, "Eat this!"

Without looking back, the masked superhero ejected a squirt of webbing that covered the entirety of the nozzle. The garish 'supervillain' screamed and tossed the gun away, watching it explode with a minuscule pop.

"That happens." She crossed her arms and smirked, "So boys, easy way or hard way. I know what I'd pick."

"Why you little- Do you know how much that cost!?" She struggled to stand, throwing away the sack in her rage, "And do you honestly think you can convince the members of my menagerie to turn themselves in?! They'd rather die than-"

"Sorry, boss, we quit."

White Rabbit's jaw dropped and she watched in stunned silence as Mad Hatter and Dormouse tossed the flamethrower-eggs away carelessly before getting down on their knees. Those...Those traitors! When she got out of prison she was going to make them pay for betraying her!

"I paid you both in advance and this is how you repay me!?"

They looked at one another and shrugged, "Sorry, Boss." Mad Hatter started, "But I didn't think Spider-Woman was going to be here. You heard what she does to people, right? She killed that Parker kid-"

"Hey! I didn't-"

"She didn't kill him, you dolts!" White Rabbit interrupted, much to her surprise, "Didn't you see tweeter? She's friends with Captain America! You think a goody-two-shoes like her would make friends with an actual criminal? Please!" She scoffed, "Besides, do you think I'm dumb enough to become the nemesis of a superhero that kills people? What do you think I am, stupid?"

The two henchmen/actors looked each other before giving another shrug, causing the ineffectual 'supervillain' to mash her teeth together in impotent rage.

Gwen just looked at the scene, resisting the urge to shake her head at the absurdity of it. She'd come here to stop a bank robbery, and now her innocence was being defended by the woman whose crime she was in the middle of stopping and who just a minute ago tried to shoot her in the back of the head. She was tempted to say it was the weirdest thing she'd seen this week, but considering her dad was punched in the face by an Orangutan wearing a suit a few days ago she would've been lying.

The sounds of sirens cut through the playboy bunny reject's yelling. Two squad cars pulled up, four police officers coming out with expressions that perfectly mirrored her own. White Rabbit ignored them all, focusing instead on yelling at her disloyal subordinates and threatening them with various food-related puns; mostly about how she was going to shove a carrot down their throat and make them choke on it.

"Right...well, as interesting as this is I really gotta be going-"

"Hold it, Spider-Woman."

Her spider-sense hadn't tingled, but she still put her hands up as the cops drew closer. Thankfully the two arresting the terrible trio kept their guns pointed squarely at them rather than her but she wasn't taking any chances. After that last cop shot at her in a crowded subway she wouldn't put it past them to try and catch her by surprise and arrest her. If she felt even the slightest buzz at the back of her head she would swing out without a look back.

"Uh...please don't tell me you're going to arrest me. Cause I swear, officer, I was here to stop them!" She defended, raising her arms higher, "I mean, yeah, it was flattering to hear that WB over there thinks I'm not a murderer but-"

"Good job."

The rest of her defense died as the older of the two officers clapped her shoulder (without trying to put her hands behind her back, even). The younger of the two - a rookie by the looks of him - looked nervous, though not in the 'Oh God, is she going to kill me?' way McNutty was when he saw her in the subway.

"...Huh?" She shook her head, "W-Woah, I'll admit I wasn't expecting that. Most of the time you guys just tell me to put my hands up...you're not trying to get me to come with you to the station by being nice, are you?

"Haha, no." As if to emphasize his point he stepped back to give her some space, "It's just...well, I trust Captain Stacy's word and if he says you're innocent then I believe it. Man's never been wrong in all the years I served under him."

"...Huh." Second time she did that, she noted mentally, but she was still stunned. Well...she did say she wanted a thank you and the police not shooting at her; two for the price of one right here. She had to make sure to give her a dad a 'thank you' when they met up later. Even after he'd retired people still looked up to him, "I-I mean, yeah...good." God, someone shoot her now-

No, she wasn't finishing that thought. It was akin to saying nothing could possibly go wrong-

"So...is anyone in the bank hurt?" She piped up, ignoring the stink eye WB was giving her as they cuffed their hands behind her back.

"Hmm, I don't think so." He nudged his head to the aforementioned bank. People trickled out in droves, a distinct lack of injuries and a definite overabundance of people pointing their phones and tablets at her. With her luck it would be across tweeter before she even made it to the Dollar Dog, likely with a '#spiderwoman sell out' hashtag, "Ms. Dodson never really hurts anyone despite her claims of being a criminal mastermind."

"Yeah, I figured." She supposed being considered the nutter's nemesis was a small price to pay for being the sole target of her carrot bombs. Granted she would have preferred she started binging on private islands and plastic surgery like a normal stupid rich person but she took what she could get.

"Rrrgh! This isn't the last you've seen of me, Spider-Woman! I'll escape and when I do-"

"Yeah, yeah. I'll see you when you make bail next week, Lorina."

"It's WHITE RABBIT!"

She ignored the madwoman's protests as she swung away, a smile on her face. Alright, so maybe things were actually looking up. Maybe it wasn't the adoration of the masses like Captain America got, but she couldn't deny how much of an ego boost a simple 'good job' had been. When was the last time anyone had actually thanked her or said she did a good job whenever she went out superheroing? Simple gratitude at its finest.

Swinging through the air, she let her mind wander to recent events. Captain America was off in mexico, fighting some guy called M.O.D.A.A.K, though she did mention wanting to talk to her when she got back. She had no idea what it was about, but she definitely seemed serious...er than normal. Her dad was thinking of getting a new job, claiming to be restless staying at home all day, and she wasn't sure if he took it seriously when she suggested he become a private investigator. Besides that...

She still hadn't heard anything from Harry.

She sighed and ran along the side of a building, causing the people inside to gawk and point, before hitting off into another swing. She wasn't exactly expecting him to email her his new address and an invite to chat whenever she wanted, but it had been over a month and she still heard nothing. She saw his father Norman on press conferences at time, looking almost entirely unaffected by the loss of his only son.

She was tempted to call him a bastard, but for all he knew he was putting up a stoic front and crying on the inside when no one was looking.

And then of course there was Frank Castle. She'd managed to keep him from exposing her identity and hurting anyone else but he was still out there. Her dad told her he was going to buy a guard dog just in case, but she doubted it was enough. Castle was insane and he knew who she was, but he was too obsessed to go to the press or Jameson and out her. He wanted to be the one to expose the 'big, bad Spider'.

Oh and Mary Jane suspected she was Spider-Woman, which she believed regardless of how she and Glory called her crazy for it. She couldn't afford to miss another gig; she was convinced that was the reason why she'd been skipping out on them.

So all in all things were going about as well as she could hope.

"Let go of me!"

A mugging in a dark alley and it wasn't even six o clock. You couldn't beat the classics, right? "And just when I'm already late." She grimaced. The fight with White Rabbit was faster than she expected, so this shouldn't take much longer.

It was over before he could even turn around. She stuck a web at his back and pulled, causing him to scream and wet his pants, before pinning him to the wall with another large burst, "You know, I should probably start leaving notes for the police. Maybe that'll make them like me better." She fastened his struggling hands against the wall, "What do you think? Too much?"

"Fuck you, Spider bitch!"

"Wow, real original. You know you're like the third guy who said that today." She rolled her eyes as he spat out more curses at her before she webbed his mouth shut, threatening to find out who she was and make her regret messing with him. Honestly by the twelfth one she'd learned to tune them out.

Now for her damsel in distress.

Young by the looks of her, probably the same age she was. Her mouth was parted and she pointed a shaky finger at her, "Y-You're Spider-Woman!"

"Uh...yeah, last I checked." She couldn't tell whether the woman was going to thank her or run away screaming. It was always 50-50 (alright, more 80-20) and the odds were never on her side.

"O-Oh my God, Y-You're Spider-Woman!" She fumbled for her phone and held it out nervously, "C-Could we take a picture together? I'm...a-a really big fan!"

"Huh..." Three times and she was out. Did she do something to get all this good luck? Was J Jonah Jameson going to get on the big screen and show irrefutable proof that she was the menace he claimed she was? Was Murderdock going to pop up and try to make her his apprentice again Darth Wader style? People said you shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth but after everything she considered it only sensible.

"Sure, always glad to meet a fan."

'Yeah, all four of them,' She mentally snarked. Maybe if she was really lucky and on her best behavior she could break to the double digits before she was thirty.

She took a weirdly flattering selfie with the young woman and signed her handbag - her name was Maxine - before swinging away, feeling almost lightheaded. First police officers were commending her for a job well done and now she was signing an autograph after taking a selfie with a fan? What next, Captain America publicly announcing she was a hero and exonerating her for Peter's murder?

"Yeah, and maybe next Murderdock will turn himself in." She muttered, spotting the eye-searing sign of the dollar dog close by.

Reality came back quite quickly when she was close enough to see what was happening: Mr. Alby standing in the middle of the road talking to a police officer carrying a notepad who looked like he was about to fall asleep. At the side-walk Bodega Bandit was stuck on the ground by what appeared to be black silk while Koala Kommander was attached to a nearby lightpost with a shattered mask, the same black material keeping him securely fastened. The gathered crowd were taking care of his Koalas, so that was one less thing to worry about.

Shelving her plans to drop in a nearby alley and change, she landed on the roof briefly before jumping into the middle of the road. She had a feeling Gwen just got the day off.

"You! You damned menace, here to make things worse!?" Ah, now there was the spite and insults she was used to. Sighing softly, she looked to the officer and found him looking no less bored despite her appearance. Living in New York did that to you, "First he comes in and now you! I was right, this building is cursed! What next, more of those overgrown lizards!?"

"Don't think you have to worry about that..." Gwen muttered, "Look, I just got here but it looks to me that BB and KK were going to rob you and..." She looked at the black webbing again, "...A giant spider stopped them?"

"Bah, as if you don't know!" He pointed an accusatory finger at her, "That trenchcoat wearing idiot is connected to you, I know it!"

"Woah, woah, woah! Slow down! I have no idea that the %^&* you're talking about, okay?" She always found it frustrating dealing with him. Granted she felt bad for his store being wrecked and it wasn't as if she wasn't used to being blamed for everything bad that happened within 50 feet of her but the idea that she had to work with him somehow made it worse, "So you mind telling me what happened?"

Before the elderly store owner could go off on another tangent the bored looking police officer cut in, "Look, Mr. Alby, I don't know what you expect we can do here. From what I've heard the man came here and he didn't commit any crimes. He helped stopped Bodega Bandit and Koala Kommander, and then he left. Given that we have never seen him before I gotta assume he might be a new vigilante, and since you can't tell us anything substantial about him and he didn't exhibit lethal force I'm not sure if we have enough for the arrest you're demanding."

Huh, a new hero on the block? That was something she definitely didn't think was going to happen any time soon.

"Do you know anything about this?" The police officer turned to her now, "From what we got from the eyewitness reports he exhibited powers similar to your own, including the...ah, webbing currently keeping these two in place." He gestured to the two would-be supervillains.

"L-Let me out of this! I-I have rights! Bandito II needs to be fed!"

"No, stay away from my Koalas! Come, my horde, free me from these bindings!"

"Right..." He pinched the bridge of his nose, "So, anything?"

"I'll be honest I really have no idea what's going on here. I mean last I checked I was the only spider-themed hero around here." She looked to Mr. Alby, "Anything you can remember about him? It might be a good idea to follow up on this." As happy as she was at the thought of a new hero on the block she couldn't discount the possibility it was a scuffle between three criminals...though what kind of supervillain fought with Bodega Bandit and Koala Kommander she had no idea.

"Bah, he was insane! He kept asking me where New York was and then acted confused when I told him he was standing in it!" He threw up his hands in exasperation, "He left twenty minutes ago in that direction, if you must know." He pointed to the right, to the road's end, "Hopefully to take a plane back to crazy town where he and all you freaks belong!"

"Right..." She released an exhausted breath. Well, the good feelings were nice while they lasted, "Listen, I'm gonna go see if I can catch up with him. Need to make sure he's not an upcoming supervillain or something, so..."

To her surprise the police officer nodded his head in agreement, "Sure. If he turns out to be another Stilt-Man you're better off facing him than we would be." He scribbled something into his notepad before handing the paper to her, "Call me if you find anything. Don't worry it's my home line, no need to worry about the police trying to track you or anything."

"Oh...well, sure." She accepted the paper stuffed it inside her suit (curse her lack of pockets). Her spider-sense hadn't tingled at all, which put her at ease, "Thanks, Officer...?"

"Ben Grimm, but officer's fine-"

"What!? But-But she's a criminal, why would-"

"Case was dropped and Captain Stacy says she's innocent. She's gotten enough criminals captured that I can believe it." He shrugged, "Either way if he's a criminal we want him captured and she's better at that than we are if your testimony's correct."

Wow...she really needed to thank her dad, "You can count on me, officer." Nodding once more she took a running start before jumping into a swing. A police officer had more or less given her his blessing to investigate; granted she would have done it anyway but it was good to know she didn't have to do it with someone on the right side of the law trying to shoot her in the back.

And hey, if there really was another hero it wouldn't hurt to make friends in their underpopulated field. God knew she needed as many as she could get right now.

Ben watched her go with a relieved breath. Well, that was one problem dealt with. He didn't know why Jean wanted to work together with her. Did he think she was innocent? Sure, the evidence didn't add up and the Kingpin connection was definitely not friendly. Captain Stacy also vouched for her and he knew that man wouldn't turn no matter what, so he had to believe she was innocent for whatever reason.

But still, working with a vigilante? He wasn't sure that would fly. Next thing he knew they were going to officially deputize her or something.

Stepping into his car, his radio beeped and up picked up with a groan, "Yeah...wait, what do you mean Aleksei broke out!?"


 

This place was driving him mad.

Peter jumped to the adjacent rooftop, doing his best to keep his mind clear. No matter how far he ran, how many times he'd tried to rationalize he couldn't make any sense of it. Most of the buildings were far taller than he remembered, the signs far more vibrant and advanced than even the wildest imaginings of science. On the streets below people drove cars and used technology that was impossible no matter how many times he tried to explain it.

Could this really have been New York? No, impossible. He recognized parts of it, but it was all...wrong. Like it was a copy rather than the real thing.

He needed to find Octavius. While he liked to think he snapped his neck before whatever the hell that was happened he had the sinking feeling in his gut that he was still alive somewhere. Cockroaches like him always found a way to weasel out of what they deserved.

He jumped to another roof before stopping. The next buildings were too tall, "End of the line..." He dropped into the alleyway below, the snow crunching under his feet, and pulled his coat tighter over himself. He was tempted to unmask, lose himself in the crowd, but he kept it at bay. He needed to be alone, to think. He didn't know what the hell this place was but he knew who he was: He was Spider-Man, and as long as he remembered that he could ignore the giant television screen showing moving images far better than it had a right to be.

Speaking of...

"I told you what would happen if you told the police, didn't I!?"

Even in the madhouse there were some things that remained constant. Peter watched as a big, burly figure slammed a smaller one against the walls of the alley. Both of them were Pachuco's by the looks of them, meaning the police would just ignore it. If you weren't White you weren't worth 'wasting' time over.

Too bad for him he didn't think the same way.

"I-I'm s-sorry! B-But I didn't know that-"

"Shut the fuck up!" He brandished a switch blade and pressed it against his neck, "You think this is some kind of joke!? Hammerhead finds out you squealed and the entire gang goes down! You ain't got no one to blame but yourself-"

"Let him go."

The attacker turned to him, his snarl worsening and allowing him a better look at his features. Yep, definitely a Pachuco - His face was covered in tatoos all the way up to his neck, his hair covered by a ratty knitted cap. It was hard to see through the jacket but he was definitely fit; the typical thug you'd see walking down a dark alley. Not a mugging, but it didn't matter what it was. Either way someone innocent was going to get hurt.

"Who the fuck are you supposed to be?" He spat, looking him up and down, "What, you think you're a superhero or something? Get the fuck out of her before you get hurt, pendejo!"

"...Last chance, crumb. Let the kid go or I beat you down and leave you to the coppers, your choice."

He guessed that was enough, and judging by the fink charging at him with a snarl he was correct. Some things never changed: Thugs always hated it when you challenged their reputation. Most didn't take well to people telling them 'no'.

He didn't need his spider-sense to warn him of the attack. Ducking under the clumsy swipe, he kneed him in the stomach before slamming him against the wall, "Ah, you son of a bitch! I'll fucking kill you-"

"I warned you." He released a burst of webbing, trapping him against the wall. Hopefully the kid could tell the coppers what happened...though given that they were Colored he had his doubts. Still, at least he was better than getting stabbed in an alley.

"At least you weren't dressed like a clown..." He muttered. This at least he understood, far more sensible than a Zorro wannabe or a guy who commanded an army of Koala bears. Trudging towards the younger man, he knelt and offered him a hand up, "You okay, kid? He really did a number on you." He looked at him in pity. Kid couldn't have been more than 15 or 16, way too young to get stabbed in an alley.

"I-I'm fine." He rubbed his neck, wiping away the thin strip of blood, "I...thank you for saving me. I..I thought he was going to kill me."

"No kidding, he looked like a rabid dog." He pulled him up, "Any idea who he is or why he's after you? He sounded like he knows you."

"He's my brother..."

Well...shit, that wasn't the answer he wanted to hear. It was hard enough to get the coppers involved whenever the Colored fought amongst themselves, but finding out that the two were brothers? It would be a closed case, blamed on drunken infighting. Who knew maybe the cops in this madhouse were different, but he doubted it. Thugs were thugs and coppers were coppers, that had to make sense.

"Listen, we need to-"

Spider-sense.

"Hey Carlos, did- What the fuck!?"

Another one, entering from the end of the alley. The figures eye's widened before he pulled out a pistol, training it on them both. Spider-Man placed the kid behind him with a grimace. Rushing him was too risky; the kid could end up shot if he made a single mistake. He was tempted to draw his gun and fire, but he would have preferred not to kill him unless he had to.

*thwip*

A thin stream of web came from above, landing squarely on the gun's barrel and yanking it away before he could react. Capitalizing on his surprise, Spider-Man rushed forward and punched him square across the jaw before pinning him against the ground. He sincerely hoped that wasn't another brother because at this rate the coppers would laugh him off the station before he got a single word out.

Now, who was his knight in shining armor?

"Damn you're fast. I was just about to do that, you know."

Peter turned to the source of the voice and himself looking...up? A dame, that voice was definitely not from a man. Her outfit immediately caught his attention: Some kind of black and white bodysuit with a hood and mask, save some violet patches on her arms with what appeared to be teal webbing and, oddly enough, shoes. Was it common practice to dress like clowns in this place or was he just really unlucky?

Oh, and she was also standing on the wall.

He'd seen a lot of things since the incident at the docks nearly a year ago. He saw a Spider-God who tortured him before gifting him with the 'curse of power'; he saw a murderer who wore flesh like a mask to hide his deformities; and even a circus geek who grew to love the taste of human flesh.

But seeing a twist standing on the wall like she was a damn...well, spider, was beginning to top that list; right below the Spider-God but just above Osborn's flesh mask.

"Uh...are we having a staring contest? Cause if we are then I'm not sure how we're going to find a winner."

"How are you...?" He shook his head. He needed to calm down, "How are you doing that? Do you have magnets on your feet or something?" He'd learned by now that some just defied explanation, but the rationalist in him still tried to find a reason for everything, "You should be getting pulled down..."

"Yeah well we're both shooting webs out of thin air, so I think at this point reality went out for a lunch break." She detached herself from the wall and landed right in front him, lowering into a crouch before standing upright, "Anyway, I'm guessing by the black webs keeping dumb and dumber in check that you're the one who stopped Bodega Bandit and Koala Kommander in front of the Dollar Dog."

"I guess so..." He let out a cold breath. Curious as he was he had more pressing things to worry about, "Look, I really need to talk to-"

The kid was gone.

"Fuck." Where the hell did he go? He didn't blame him for being scared and running, but there was definitely more to this than a mugging or random assault. Two guys trying to off a damn kid? His gut told him the kid knew something.

"The little guy ran when you charged the guy with the gun. Is something wrong?"

"Not sure, but I get the feeling that kid's in danger." He sighed. Coppers wouldn't give him the time of day and he had the sinking feeling he would see him dead in another alley somewhere before the day was done, "...No use worrying now, I guess." He looked at her and crossed his arms, "Who the hell are you? Ever since I got here it's been one thing after another but you're above everything else."

"Depends on who you ask, but I go by Spider-Woman whenever I'm not getting cussed out. You?"

"...Spider-Man."

"Wow, real original." Her tone was amused. He raised an eyebrow; she was far too calm all things considered, "Right, listen I wanted to see what all the fuss was about with the new Spider hero running around. Er...you are a superhero, right? This isn't the part where you reveal you're a supervillain and attack me, is it?"

Superhero? Supervillain? What in the hell was she talking about? "...I'm just a concerned citizen."

"Wow...you pick that up from a comic book somewhere?"

"What's a...nevermind." He shook his head, "Look, I don't understand anything that's going on. First things first, how are you so...calm about this? When most people see me their reaction isn't exactly to start a chat."

"So you shoot webs and you're fast. I don't know if you've noticed but we're not exactly that different," She released a burst of webbing and fired it into the air. It was far thinner than the ones he used, "See? Besides, compared to She-Hulk you're not exactly making headlines just by looking at you unless you have green skin under that mask of yours."

"Not that I recall." He replied, "Look...none of this is making any sense to me. If we do have the same powers, how are you so calm? This isn't odd to you?"

"Buddy, I saw an old man in a bird suit a few months ago; trust me, this isn't the weirdest thing I saw this month let alone the whole past year." She shrugged, "As for your powers I can take a guess that it was the same as mine: Bitten by a radioactive spider, am I right?"

"...Close enough." Radiation? He'd heard of its beneficial effects, but Aunt May was always reluctant to buy any of it ever since that guy's jaw fell off. If people back home knew radiation was the key to getting powers...

He didn't want to think about it. Far too nightmarish to even imagine.

"Right, well I guess that solves that problem then." She continued, "I mean I still think you need a different name and costume. I mean, 'Spider-Man'? I'm not exactly possessive but you don't want people thinking you're a copycat or anything. And that costume..." She placed a hand on her chin, "You get it from the attic or something? All that crap looks old. But hey, another hero's another hero. I'm not exactly going to complain if you're going to stop a supervillain for free. God knows this city needs it."

"Copycat? Trust me, I had no idea you existed till just now so if I copied you then it wasn't on purpose." He could feel a headache coming, "As for 'supervillains', I got no idea what you're talking about. All I'm looking for is a way back home-"

Spider sense.

The buzzing was drowned out by the sounds of screaming and what sounded like metal being torn apart. In front of him Spider-Woman seemed to share his sentiments, her gaze already shifting past him to the end of the alleyway.

"...You felt that too, right?" She asked.

"Even if I didn't those screams weren't exactly subtle." What was it now? Some gangsters shooting a place up? Another burning burned down for insurance? Either way he had to try and stop it.

"Might be Stilt-Man or Shocker." She walked past him for a moment before looking back, "You coming?"

"...Yeah, lead the way."

Chapter Text

He was wrong.

He hadn't spent too much time in this madhouse, but in the short while he'd been here he saw marvels that would make the most prestigious scientists blush: Television sets with images beyond anything Hollywood could screen, cars that looked kooky enough that they looked like they belonged on the World of Tomorrow fair and fashions that would make a Broadway starlet raise an eyebrow. He didn't get them, but at the very least they weren't...incomprehensible. They at least had enough similarities that he knew what they were supposed to be rather than blaming it on the aliens.

What he saw in front of him put it all to shame.

He'd seen robots in magazines, seen boxing champions brag that they could take the tin men with nothing but their grit and gloves. If they saw the monstrosity in front of them now they would have browned their trousers - The damn thing was a damn giant and it looked like a bad joke about the rhinoceros. Metal in place of hide, a sharp spike in place of the natural horn. It's 'eyes' glowed a sinister red, the voice reverberating from inside echoing unnaturally.

"Ha ha ha, new suit is amazing, yes!? Everybody enjoy themselves!?" The voice bellowed, the thickly accented Russian mixing with the broken English.

It stood on its hind legs, the dark metal whirring and buzzing loudly with every step it took. A few narrow slits peppered it's body and he saw what appeared to be a humanoid figure inside with blue skin. That thing was being controlled by a human being? No way, they would've been crushed inside.

Next to him he saw Spider-Woman's 'eyes' widen, one foot stepping back involuntarily, "...Shit, he didn't have that last time."

"You fought this yahoo before?" Spider-Man asked. All around him he could hear people screaming, entire crowds pushing past one another to try and escape from the metal behemoth standing the middle of the street. The coppers were nowhere to be seen, but somehow he doubted a few revolvers would be enough to put the big galoot down. He found himself wishing he had a typewriter on hand.

"Yeah, long story-"

"Where is Spider-Woman!?" He yelled, cutting her off, "I want to give condolences before I kill big bacon partner!"

That did it. Whatever he meant by that was enough to set her off, judging by the way her 'eyes' narrowed, "I'm right here, you overgrown smurf!" Not waiting another moment, she jumped and shot a line of webbing to a nearby building.

The mechanical marvel whirred and buzzed, its head turning to meet her. Spider-Woman swung towards him, narrowing the distance almost immediately, before delivering a kick to what passed for it's 'chin'.

The dynamo's head didn't move an inch, "Hahaha, is that all you have little spider girl!?" It's hands attempted to grab for her, but she stuck to the wall of a building away from reach, "Aww, what's wrong? Too scared to give a hug to old friend Aleksei!?" He chuckled. The bruno was enjoying this, that was much clear.

"Didn't we already do this, asshole!?" She stuck a line of webbing and tugged, trying to pull its head off, "How the hell do you keep getting out? Is mama smurf paying bail or something!?"

"I have good friends, better than bacon that shoots at you, yes!?" He grabbed the web and pulled, dragging her towards him. Before she could release her grip on it she found herself falling towards him and being wrapped in a crushing embrace, "This is familiar! Like dance we share in girl band's concert!"

That was his cue to stop standing around like a drunk mick.

"Hey, genius, over here!" He pointed the gun at his back and pulled the trigger, the loud bangs drowned out by the sounds of screaming and rushing cars. Punching that thing wasn't going to do any good, he was damn sure of that.

He watched with rising dread as the bullets bounced off its back with a reverberating clang. Still, it was enough to get his attention; he watched with rising dread as its grip slackened slightly, its head inclining to look towards him. Great, now its eyes were on him...why did he want to do that again? Oh right, to try and distract him so the twist in white could get away.

"Oh, who is this!? Another partner, little spider girl? Haha, bringing peashooter to fight Rhino is not good idea! Bullets are like insects!"

One arm released her(hopefully she took the chance to escape), groping for a nearby car and picking it up with a minuscule grunt, "Here, catch!"

His aim was completely off, but it wasn't cause for celebration. The sleek vehicle flew threw the air...right towards a clustered crowd of civilians.

"Damn it!" Spider-Man jumped towards the group. Too many of them, he counted half a dozen alone at first glance; he wouldn't be able to pull them all away in time. He needed to stop the car before it turned them to mush...

His fingers curled and he released a burst of webbing, attaching it to a nearby streetlight to the right. The car was nearly on them, "Come on...!" He released another burst to the left, spraying the black silk and tugging it towards the other end to create a crude net. He didn't know if he could lift that car, and he wasn't willing to test his luck. His webbing had always proven strong before...

Please, God, let this work.

He held his breath as the car collided with the rudimentary netting, the material pulling back and, for a painful moment, almost looking like it was going to tear altogether before it stopped.

The car crashed onto the ground with a loud thud, the webbing nearly torn, "...Can't believe that worked." He released a held breath and looked back at the crowd. Even now some of them were still doing God knew what, though a few at least looked like they were just frozen from shock rather than staying behind deliberately like idiots. At least he hoped so considering one of them was a dame with a baby in her arms.

"Woah, that was awesome!" A young man exclaimed, pressing the rectangle closer to him, "Do you have the same powers as Spider-Woman? How did-"

He grabbed the small machine and threw it against the wall.

"Hey! That was my-"

"Get out of here before you get killed, you twit!" He shouted, causing the young man to reel back, "That goes for all of of you! He throws another car and I might not be able to stop him again!"

That seemed to finally jolt them out of their collective stupor. Spider-Man watched them go for a moment before turning his attention back to the hulking behemoth. Spider-Woman was free at least, that much was a relief.

"Hold this for me!" She released a glob of webbing, covering the red eyes with balls of white. Kicking at his chest, she managed to jump back before it could swipe at her and landed next to him almost silently.

'This is insane.' He repeated for the nth time. Completely gonzo. Twists in costumes with powers, Russians with armor that would make Tony Stark blush and, probably worst of all, a few idiots staying behind and using their little squares to do God knows what. It wasn't safe to fight here; this place was full of houses and apartments, and idiots or not he didn't want to see them get crushed into paste.

"Thanks for the help." She quipped. It was hard to tell whether she was being ironic or sincere, "Alright, listen, that stuff's not gonna keep him distracted for long. We gotta get him outta here before he starts throwing more cars."

"You read my mind. Got any ideas?"

One eye was free. Before she could reply he picked up another vehicle - a truck this time - and threw it at them. His aim was marginally better this time around(odd considering he could only half-see) and Spider-Man jumped away, avoiding the vehicle entirely.

Spider-Woman jumped towards it instead.

"Hey, what are you-"

"Just trust me!"

She landed on its side and placed her hands against it. Was she...she was trying to stop it. Was she insane? He watched, mouth parted, as both her and the large vehicle impacted against the side of a building.

She should have been crushed, flattened like a damn pancake, but she wasn't. Just barely he could see her sticking to the wall, the truck stopping rather than going through and smashing the wall into little pieces.

"Arghhh, damn it! Stop throwing cars you fucking asshole!"

She threw it back against the renegade Russian, the sound of metal being crushed reverberating throughout the road as it made contact with the Dynamo. Despite everything sane and rational telling him otherwise he already knew it was still kicking.

With a soft pant she detached herself from the wall and gestured frantically for him, "Right, you want a plan? Here's the plan." She pointed to the right, "There's a parking lot not too far from here, should be abandoned since its work hours. We get him to go there."

"And then? I doubt he's going to drop dead just cause we ask nicely." He bit back. Getting him away from the civilians was definitely a priority, but if they couldn't stop it from rampaging then it would be a temporary solution at best.

"Hey, I don't see you coming up with any ideas!" She shook her head. Rhino was scratching out the last half of her webbing, "Look, we can deal with it later. Come on, on the count of three we web-swing out of here and-"

"What? I can't swing like you can!" He exclaimed. He was also pretty sure he couldn't throw trucks around like they were nothing, but that was neither here nor there, "You swing out of here and I ain't gonna be able to follow."

"How the hell can't you swing!? Didn't the person who design your web-shooters think that might be useful!?"

"I have no idea what the hell you're talking about!" He shouted back, "Look, just...just go ahead and swing on out of here! I'll catch up!"

"You think you can outrun that thing? Are you fucking nuts!? We gotta-"

"Kids talk too much, should focus on the fighting!"

Too late. Spider-Man watched with rapidly diminishing shock as the machine shifted, going from standing to crawling on four legs and the metal plates surrounding it shifting to form a thicker hide. Parts of its face parted, showing the wide grin of the blue-skinned bruno inside.

Before he could do anything else he felt Spider-Woman tug him close, one arm wrapping around his waist while another fired a webline to a nearby building, "Hold on! I'm not really good at doing this with passengers!"

There was no rushing sense of vertigo, no initial shock. He'd jumped from building-to-building enough times to get the basic feeling of flying, but he had to admit that despite the almost habitual free-running he had grown accustomed to there was something different to swinging through a concrete jungle like some kind of would-be Tarzan. How she was able to pull it off without somehow dropping him he didn't know, but he wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth.

"I can't see, is he following us?" She called out.

Looking back, he couldn't stop the feeling of dread in the pit of his stomach at the sight of the metallic rhino bulldozing its way through the streets. If they'd stayed in that place how many houses and apartments would that freak have taken down? He shook his head. No need to think about it now.

"Yeah, he definitely ain't letting up!" He called back.

They were getting lower and it was catching up to them. One web-arm definitely wasn't enough, "Almost there!" She fired another web and turned, her feet skidding along the side of another office building, before she jumped, "Shit, sorry about this! Just trust me, okay!?"

"Why? What are you-"

Her hands twisted, one ejecting another rope for her to swing with while the other threw him upwards. His eyes widened for a moment before he saw her fire another line with her now-free hand and eject herself upwards, catching him before he could even begin to fall.

"Ha, knew it would work!"

"A little warning next time, would ya?" He muttered. Powers from a Spider-God or not he was pretty damn sure a fall from this height would still kill him, "...Hope ya got a plan when we get there." He didn't want to die in this madhouse.

He didn't know much time passed; it could have just been 10 seconds or 10 minutes, but eventually he caught sight of their destination. Cars parked side-by-side and not a single person in sight. Spider-Woman slowed slightly as they neared the smorgasbord of automobiles, "Alright, we're here!" She looked back. Rhino was quickly catching up to them, "Look, we need to find a way to get old Hippo outta that suit. As long as he's in that thing we're fucked."

"...Toss me at him."

"What?" She looked at him like he'd gone crazy; actually he wouldn't have disagreed with her, "What are you go to do? Ride him like a horse?"

"Just toss me at his back before he catches up!"

Muttering unintelligibly to herself, she ejected a final web-line and twisted herself around before tossing him at the charging pseudo-animal's back. He could only hope she had good aim.

"Agh!" He bit back a curse as he crashed against the metal 'skin', hands grasping at the slits to try and keep steady, 'Gonna feel that in the morning...' He grimaced and held tighter. Right, now he needed to find a way to stop this thing-

His thoughts were cut off as a surge of electricity passed through him. His grip slackened and just barely he felt a dull pain at the back of his head as he landed on his back. Right, of course that thing would be electrified. It could already pick up cars like they were nothing, so really what else could he expect? Thankfully the mad Russian didn't seem to notice or care about his blunder, shifting back to its previous state and standing on its hind legs once again as it drew closer to Spider-Woman.

Through blurry eyes he watched them fight. How was she...no, stupid to even dwell on it; she could toss a truck back and somehow keep it from turning her into a pancake. Of course she could fight that man-made monstrosity.

Still, given the way the blue-skinned wonder was laughing it didn't seem like her punches and kicks were doing her any good.

Eventually he managed to take hold of her leg. With a muted wince he watched as he smashed her against the ground, laughing all the while, "What is wrong, little spider girl? Nothing else to say to Aleksei?" He picked her up and lifted her, leveling her head to meet his gaze,

"Aleksei...should stop...referring to himself in third person...is stupid." She breathed out weakly, her voice a crude mimicry of his Russian accent. Still joking...he couldn't tell if it was admirable or sad.

"Oh, brave little girl! Shame you not take lawyer's offer, eh?" He dragged her closer, his smile widening, "Now both you and big bacon Stacy going to die. Nothing personal, is business you understand."

The bozo was bragging, trying to drag it out. They always did, 'Come on, get up!' He grit his teeth and stood up shakily. What was he supposed to do? Even when his head wasn't ringing he wasn't exactly throwing prize hits.

But hell, laying down and dying wasn't an option. He trudged closer and aimed a shaking hand at the mechanical monstrosity. He was standing upright now, a few of the slits had become wider. He thought he'd won, he let his guard down. He didn't know if one bullet would be enough to put the freak down.

Well, at least it would make him hurt.

"Ahhhhh!" He let go of Spider-Woman, looking down at his bleeding foot with wide eyes. He couldn't see much blood; was it pain or just shock that got his attention? Either way he saw Vodkalky turn towards him, his teeth bared in a snarl. He didn't miss the way he limped, "You! I not hired to kill you, but you just made personal!" His fists clenched, miniature drills coming from the fingertips and whirring dangerously, "Any last words, little spider boy?"

"Yeah...look behind you."

He didn't, likely thinking it was a trick to stall for time. Still, it just made it more satisfying when Spider-Woman smacked a car against his back.

"Oh shut the fuck up!" She picked up another vehicle and threw it against him, causing him to crash into pile of cars, "'Spider girl' this, 'big bacon' that! You're like a broken fucking record and I'm sick of hearing it!"

Another car smashed against his head, forcing him onto the ground. Spider-Man deliberated briefly whether to shoot at him again before deciding against it. Whatever he could do was nothing compared to what the pissed off 'superhero' was dishing out. Already he could see the mechanical suit breaking apart, more and more of the blue skin being exposed as the Rusky tried to fight back against the onslaught of cars.

Right...he needed to remind himself not to piss off any more dames in costumes he ran into.

Spider-Woman threw away the shattered remains of the car she'd been using as a club and panted, both hands on her knees. In front of her he saw the blue-skinned geek; bruised and looking like he'd seen better days, but definitely alive.

"...Well, that was fun." She snarked. Kneeling down briefly, she picked up the freaky Russian before pinning him against the wall with a squirt of webbing, leaving his mouth exposed"...Haha, sorry you had to see that. It's just...he's really annoying, you know? I mean he's not Stilt-Man or Bodega Bandit but trust me he's up there."

"I know what you mean..." Though he also would used a few more choice words. There was a fine line between annoying and willing killing to kill innocent people just because they happened to be there.

"Right, well I gotta ask Hippo here where who sprung him from prison again," She slapped his face 'lightly', rousing him awake, "I swear, every fucking time..."

"Wait...he got out before? This isn't his first time?" His eyes narrowed from underneath his mask. He'd only seen this guy today and already he knew that any sane judge would give this guy the death penalty without a second thought.

"Including now? Three times and counting." She sighed, clearly frustrated, "I don't know how he keeps getting outta there. You'd think that after the first time they would put him in solitary or something..."

"Nnngh, where am I?" He muttered, eyes blinking rapidly as they adjusted to waking, "What...What happened?"

"You got your ass kicked for the third time in a row." She crossed her arms. Spider-Man could practically see the smirk under her mask, "Right, so here's the score: You get busted out of prison once or twice? I'm not even surprised. If Bodega Bandit can get out I'm not surprised you can." She poked him him in the chest harshly, "But BB doesn't get out with a fucking powersuit, does he? So spill, Cinderella; who was your Fairy Godmother? Who gave you the new toys? Are you Tony Stark's secret cousin or something?"

"Go...to hell...spider girl..." He spat at her, though he was so addled he missed her head entirely.

It was a response he had long since expected. Many criminals had a warped sense of honor: Killing innocents or ruining lives was okay so long as you don't turn stool pigeon, like it erased whatever guilt they might have felt. Sometimes they needed a little encouragement...provided she was willing to go through with it.

"I'm warning you, Alex. You don't-"

"Don't what? Not scared of you, girl." He chuckled, his head throwing back as much as he could within his confines, "If this city is slaughterhouse you the biggest pig of all! Don't even need badge to act like bacon!" His mouth parted, exposing his bloodied teeth, "You don't have balls to hurt me now that I helpless. Especially not in front of all this people."

He looked around him. People were gathering around them, more confident now that the source of danger had passed. He could see Spider-Woman's hands shaking, the eyes of her mask narrowing, but she took no further action. Was she connected to the coppers? Officially speaking the flatfoots couldn't just beat a confession out...granted they still did it, but certainly not when people could see them unless they were just beating on the 'no good Negroes'.

"Listen, I don't know what the hell is going on here but I get the general gist of it." He said, "Sounds to me like someone sprung him from slammer and that this ain't the first time he walked out there. You got no reason to listen to me, but you saw what he almost did..."

"What do you want me to do? Beat him?" She shook her head, "Look, fighting back when he's still a threat is one thing beating him up when he's basically handcuffed is another thing entirely. Maybe...Maybe the police can get something out of him." Even as she said it he could tell the doubt already seeping into her tone. This guy had escaped three times already and they couldn't figure it out then. Were the coppers going to pull a miracle out of their magic hat?

Not likely.

Aleksei grunted as Spider-Man smacked him across the face. The masked vigilante winced, though he did his best to ignore. It was like punching animal hide, "You're gonna talk to me now." He grabbed his face roughly, "Who let you out of prison? Where'd you get the dynamo suit?"

"H-Hey, what the hell are you doing!? We can't-"

"You really think the coppers don't do this when you're not looking?" He punched him in the stomach, earning another grunt of pain, "You saw what he almost did. Those people would have died, others would have died if you didn't lead him away. You're just going to wait for him to get out again? You didn't sound that surprised when you said this was his third time."

She pulled him away before he could get in another blow. The gathering crowd began to whisper to one another and point, a few select words like 'rivalry' and 'superhero fight' reaching his ears.

"And what's your solution? Just beat on the guy till he coughs something up?" She shook her head, "Look, we can't just beat on people, okay? Let the police handle it. Trust me, the know what they're doing-"

"Hahaha, yes, little man. Listen to the spider girl." Aleksei smirked at them both. Spider-Man wanted to wipe the grin off his face, "I see you both when I get out again. Next time you not be so lucky, yes? I throw car harder next time so puny web doesn't stop it-"

Enough was enough.

He aimed the revolver and shot, aiming just above his knee. Aleksei's smirk morphed into a yell of pain which only worsened when his other leg was shot as well. Again he couldn't see much blood; whatever this goomba had for skin it definitely wasn't normal. He made sure to avoid his kneecaps; he wouldn't be crippled, even if he deserved it.

"Still think I'm joking, Vodkalky?" He pressed the gun between his legs, causing what sounded like a whimper from the larger man, "I already got two legs, wanna go for a third? I've still got plenty of bullets-"

A web attached itself to his back and he found himself being pulled back once more. Just barely he avoided the punch aimed for his face, his spider-sense somehow not blaring at all despite the danger.

"Are you literally fucking insane!?" Spider-Woman yelled, her scowl visible even through her mask, "I just said we don't beat people when they're already restrained!"

"Maybe you don't, but not all of us can use trucks like battering rams." He spat, "If I made a single mistake half a dozen people would have been turned into paste! You're honestly gonna risk him getting out and doing it again just cause you're not willing rough him up now that he's 'helpless'?" He scoffed, "Sorry, sister, that just doesn't make any sense to me. Especially not after you threw a car in his face."

"Damn it, look!" She held up her hands and took a deep breath, "Just cause we wear a mask doesn't mean there aren't rules, okay? You can't just...kneecap people 'cause they try to piss you off!"

"So exploding a car in someone's face is okay but trying to actually get information isn't? What the hell kind of-"

"I tell you!" Aleksei interrupted, his voice haggard, "Just call ambulance to get bullets out already!"

The two spider-themed individuals looked at one another in pregnant silence. He could tell she wanted to say more, continue on her rant about morality and the guidelines for society, but Spider-Man spoke first, "Alright, you blue-skinned geek. Spill everything and just hope she knows what the hell you're talking about." Cause God knew he wouldn't. He couldn't make heads or tails of this madhouse. Next thing he knew Toomes and Osborn would come back from the dead...

"Right, look..." He took a deep breath, "This escape...different than last ones." He swallowed, trying to ignore the pain in his legs, "Secret agent looking man dressed in red, he...sneaks to cell and tells me he has an offer..."

"Go on, don't keep us in suspense..." Spider-Man muttered.

"He tells me...his employer will spring me from big house...in exchange I put on experiment suit and fight Spider-Woman."

"Me?" The eyes of her mask widened, "Wait, so all that crap about killing Captain Stacy was-"

"Bullshit. He said..." He laughed weakly, "To make you angry... that you are protective of big bacon Stacy and I supposed to use that. Don't know why..." He managed a shrug, "That...That is all I know, okay? So call ambulance now..."

"Secret agent in red, that mean anything to you?" Spider-Man asked.

"Not unless you add 'white and blue' at the end, but I'm pretty sure Captain America is on my side," She muttered, confusing him even more, "Look...we need to talk about this, but not here. I'm sure the police and ambulances are already on the way here but I'll call em anyway, so let's go somewhere more private. I'd rather not put on another show for the crowd." She gestured to the assorted people, who watched them like hawks.

She jumped and fired a line of webbing, swinging over to the top of a nearby building. She was gesturing for him to follow...did she forget he couldn't swing like Tarzan? He shook his head and jumped up the the pile of cars, leaping over the fence before anyone could think to follow. Hopefully the coppers could hold this guy this time...not that it was going to be his problem, of course. Once he got back home and away from this madhouse things would go back to normal.


He was only a few steps into the alley before she dropped down in front of him, his spider-sense once again eerily absent. It hadn't blared at all around her...it was troubling, "...Was wondering when you were going to catch up."

"Right, forgot whoever gave you your web-shooters didn't put a swing function in." She crossed her arms and leaned against the alley's wall, "Look, about what happened back there-"

"We really going to continue this?" He interrupted, voice tinged with annoyance. He already heard this lecture from Aunt May, already had his bouts of self-loathing. He didn't need it from her, too, "You may not like it, but did you think he was going to give all that up if we played nice? It was hard to tell behind that suit of his but he's just another thug. The only thing that gets their gears turning is when you threaten or actually hurt them."

"Maybe, but that doesn't mean he have to stoop down to their level." She replied, "Look, I'm not gonna be an ass and say that info was useless. Maybe someone saw something in the police station, maybe other prisoners caught a glimpse of this 'man in red', but we can't just start kneecapping people or beating the shit out of them to get information. There's a line, you know? I know you're probably new at this whole 'business', but people like us gotta steer clear of it."

"Like 'us'? You mean 'Superheroes'?" He shook his head. It sounded silly saying it out loud, "What makes you think I'm whatever the hell that is?"

"You helped me fight Rhino, for one. You also helped saved those guys who stayed behind," She said, "Not exactly perfect either way, but I didn't exactly wake up thinking on how to help my fellow man when I first got my powers. You just need to work on it a bit."

"Look, I appreciate the vote of confidence but I ain't some kind of hero. Right now I'm just someone who wants to leave this madhouse and find my way home." He shrugged, "So yeah, good luck to being a super spider or whatever you wanna call it but I'm not staying. Hope you can find the man in red..." Though if she still continued to avoid interrogating thugs because she wanted to be 'better' than them then he had his doubts.

He passed her without another word. He'd gotten distracted enough; he needed to find Octavius. Without his wheelchair he couldn't have gotten far and a small, crippled German covered in blood like a butcher was something he could easily pick out in a crowd.

"Hold up." She called out, "Just one more question."

"...Yeah, what is it?"

The eyes of her mask narrowed before she spoke, her voice just a tinge uncertain, "Your voice sounds...familiar. You sure we haven't met? It might be poor taste and all but maybe we know each other without the masks. Who knows maybe you were in the same group when the spider bit me."

"I doubt it..." Peter muttered back. Peter Parker was just another face in the crowd, a reporter for the Bugle who took Ben Urich's place after his death. He doubted a dame with powers had any idea who he was.

"Unless you were in a warehouse with Fancy Dan and the rest when they spilled that statue." He scoffed. If she was then she'd be nothing more than a pile of bones by now, "And like I said I just got here. Trust me, sister, if I knew a dame who could stick to walls and toss trucks like they were nothing I'm pretty sure I wouldn't forget about it.

"Hmm...if you're sure." She still seemed doubtful. Why? Unless it was Mary Jane or Felicia Hardy under that mask he doubted it was anyone he recognized.

"Right...well, good luck with that little mystery of yours. I need to leave this place as soon as I can..."

He didn't bother turning back when she left, crawling up the wall and away from sight. He had enough problems to worry about without worrying about setting himself up for some arbitrary standards to be considered a 'hero'.


Gwen swung through the New York skyline, her mind clouded. Most of her was sore, though thankfully her costume was more-or-less undamaged, 'Thank you, Miss Van Dyne.' She thought. Aleksei was back in jail, she made sure to watch from a safe distance as the cops dragged him back to jail sans suit. Maybe S.H.I.E.L.D would take care of it? It certainly seemed far more advanced than anything even the Kingpin and Murderdock could get to.

She picked up her stashed backpack before swinging atop a nearby skyscraper and sitting against the edge, letting the cold winter wind run through her. Despite everything that had happened it had barely been an hour and without work she found herself with nothing to do. Patrol again? Maybe. Despite everything her injuries weren't crippling, so it wasn't as if she could call in sick...

She groaned. Fishing through her suit, she pulled out the number and read though it, "Officer Ben Grimm..." She mumbled. Was this legit? She could ask her dad later him if she really wanted to, see if Grimm was on the up and up. Working with the cops would solve a lot of her problems, even if it wasn't exactly 'official'. Would be a hell of a lot easier than having to beg her dad for access to police files by calling in favors from old pals.

Shaking her head, she stuffed it into her pack before pulling out her phone. She could worry about it later, first she needed to check if she missed anything.

Nothing much. A few messages from Betty saying she met 'Darkman' in front of the Dollar Dog, a text from Glory about band practice at the end of the week, her dad asking if they were still on for tonight...

Another message from Mary Jane trying to see if she was Spider-Woman.

Gwen sighed. Maybe she should've stayed down when Castle tried to agitate her; it would have been more natural, at the very least. But years of being Spider-Woman pretty much hardwired the idea of fighting back into her head. It's what pushed her to start defending Peter in the first place...

Her hands clenched. She'd moved on for the most part, but the the world didn't seem to want to stop giving her reminders. First Jameson calling her a murder on television then those new lizards and just recently 'Detective Frank Castle' hounding her for the unjust 'murder' she committed.

"^&*#&* son of a &*!" Just remembering him #$% her off to no end. It was one thing to go after her, but putting her dad and the home they lived in in danger was going too far. He showed his face again she was going to %^&* him up.

"Hey, Gwencent, sitting on top of the Empire State building again?"

She frowned at the text. Why was 'Detective Watson' so insistent on it? Last she checked Spider-Woman was still kinda-sorta wanted by the police for murder and resisting arrest. If she was hoping she could use her for advertisement for the band she was going to be disappointed.

"No, Statue of Liberty. Empire State was last week."

Sarcasm was always the way to go with her. She put the phone back in her bag and set into silent. She still had an afternoon to kill, may as well spend it doing some good.

In the building across from her a large creature snarled, clawed hands gripping and tearing at the metal columns of the unfinished structure. He watched as the costumed heroine swung away, green carapace flaring at the sight of her while his tail swung in a rage, nearly toppling the pillar altogether.

"Her fault...all her fault..." He muttered. All her fault they were taken, her fault they were experimented on, her fault they were turned into freaks. She was the first of them, and he was going to make her pay for it.


Peter wandered through the alleys for a bit longer before stopping, hand raising to remove his mask. He needed a break from being Spider-Man, even if it meant trying to slow down a bit. Maybe if he cooled off and cleared his head he could-

Spider-sense.

Someone was here. Hand lowering, he looked back at the dark alleyway. A few corners jutted from the wall, enough for someone to hide...

"I know you're there. Get out before I get annoyed."

A moment of silence passed before a figure stepped out. Spider-Man raised an eyebrow; the Pachuco from earlier. He wasn't expecting to see him again, " Huh...gotta admit you weren't who I was expecting, kid." He stuffed his hands into the coat's pockets, "Thought you ran away when the dame in white came to bail us out."

"I..yeah, I did." He nodded reluctantly, "I...I was scared, okay? Y-You saved me and all but I kinda panicked. I..I wasn't sure if you were the real deal or just another gangster looking for information..."

"And what changed your mind?"

"I..I saw you helping Spider-Woman out earlier. You're a Superhero, aren't you?"

"I'm not..." He sighed and clicked his tongue. There was no point in arguing against it at this point, he would've just been wasting time, "Right, say I was one of those. What do you want from me? You're in trouble, aren't you?"

"Y-Yeah..." He rubbed his arms nervously.

"Alright, let's slow down. What's your name?" He asked. Always a good place to start during interviews.

"G-Gabriel Reyes, but most people call me Gabe," He answered back softly.

"Alright, now tell me what's wrong, Gabe."

"Look, I...I saw something I shouldn't have, okay?" He looked around, like he was checking for spies, "I-I joined a gang, yeah, but only cause there was no other choice. I thought it would something simple, just selling a few bags of weed or something. You know, something to put food on the table? Make some sales, give the cops their cut and they look the other way...

"Slow down, kid, I'm not judging you." Too much, at least, "I know someone who runs one of the hottest speakeasies in town. Trust me, you ain't the worst I've come across."

"R-Right, okay." He took a deep breath and swallowed, "Alright, look. So this guy Hammerhead, bigshot for the Maggia. He comes in asking us to be guards, thinks a bunch of brown guys carrying guns is enough. Easy money, right?" He shook his head frantically, "I-I thought they were gonna smuggle in something like fake cash, or maybe sports cars or something."

"Guessing it wasn't party favors..."

"Alright, look I could take some shit, but this was..." He shook his head, eyes closed tightly, "Look, they were smuggling in guns...but not like what you think. It wasn't pistols and rifles, I'm talking Tony Stark level shit. Bombs that can blow up entire buildings, suits of armor that make you stronger than She-Hulk, guns that not even S.H.I.E.L.D might have. It's...It's big, just like..."

"Like the thing our renegade Russian was wearing," Gabe nodded, his eyes full of fear, "You back away from this?"

"F-Fuck yeah I did! Hammerhead gets those guns he's not gonna donate them to charity. A...A lot of people are going to be hurt, worst than any Supervillain attack!" He bit his lower lip, "I-I tried to warn the police, but I'm not sure if I trusted the wrong guy or someone overheard but the rest of the gang heard about it and..." He forced a nervous smile, "Well, here we are..."

"Here we are...so, I'm guessing you want my help."

"Well, y-yeah..." He wrung his fingers together, "You and Spider-Woman are superheroes. The cops can't or won't help, so..."

Criminals making off while the coppers did nothing; story of his life. Still, it was a distraction: Even if he doubted Octavius could get too far on his own taking time like this could cost him, leave him stranded here for longer than he needed to be...but could he just ignore it? Go back home to his New York rather than this madhouse and leave it to be blown up by goombas with more balls than sense?

Probably not.

"You're wrong about one thing, kid. Spider-Woman and I ain't partners." He sighed, "But I'm willing to help anyway. Just...tell me everything, this ain't my first gang bust and it ain't gonna be the last."

Chapter Text

The docks. It was always the docks.

Spider-Man sighed, mouth twitching into a frown. A part of him had hoped that the kid was just spouting nonsense, that this conspiracy about weapons that could level buildings was just that; a conspiracy. Maybe he was just paranoid or making something up to try and feel like he was actually doing something. He'd seen people with inflated senses of self-importance before, seen them claim that they 'always knew' something bad was gonna happen after it had already come to pass. Wanted to make themselves feel important, that they could actually do something rather than just watch with open mouths like a bunch of greaseballs.

All doubts went away as he saw the trucks passing into the warehouse. He would've excused it as nothing more than typical deliveries, but the triggermen in the cars at their sides was definitely not something you'd see for someone delivering fish or China. Something was in there, something someone wanted to keep hidden. At least enough to get the brunos a typewriter each and make sure it was happening in the dead of night when most workers got off.

He peeked over the edge of the roof one last time before letting out another sigh, dropping back into a sitting position to hide himself from view. This wasn't how he would have preferred to go about it: Usually he'd receive a tip, reconnoiter the surroundings and other details for a while before going in. Sometimes it would take hours, other times it would have been days. An operation like this was usually reserved for the latter; too big for him to just go in there half-cocked like some kind of drunk Mick. Something like this needed a plan, at least if he wanted to avoid getting turned to Swiss cheese.

"See? I told you they were up to serious shit!"

Peter gave a flat look to the teenager sitting across from him. This was another complication: His rather unwelcome partner. Ever since the Spider-God had 'cursed' him with his abilities he'd worked alone. Sure he had help from Felicia and (indirectly) from Urich and his notes, but every time he needed something done he did it himself. Better that away for everyone; he didn't want to keep looking over his shoulder, paranoid that his 'backup' might have gotten shot and was bleeding out onto the floor cause they didn't have his sense of perception. Partners complicated things...

But of course the kid had insisted. Maybe he felt guilty, maybe he wanted to make sure he wasn't just going to take the weapons for himself or maybe he just had a goddamned death wish. Either way he was coming and wasn't going to take no for answer.

Normally he would have just left the kid behind, but he knew where the place was and he couldn't trust that he wouldn't run in there alone like a fink if he didn't let him come.

Besides, he'd said something about gathering proof: "Even if you stop them tonight they'll just do it again somewhere else unless we have something to show the police". Pictures wouldn't be enough - those could be faked; at least that's what he seemed to believe. Personally he doubted anyone could change a picture save burning it altogether - but apparently they kept records inside. 'Electronic Databases' or some such nonsense.

He half-believed the Pachuco was just pulling words out of his keister, but he was right so far and he didn't really have any reason to lie near as he could tell. His Spider-Sense hadn't blared at all, so that had to mean something...

Releasing a held breath, the masked vigilante leaned his head back against the wall and closed his eyes. He could still hear footsteps, the shuffling of of boxes being unloaded along with the almost obligatory cursing at the weight. Madhouse or not if he just closed his eyes he could almost forget he was trapped in this hole and letting Octavius escape with every second he spent not looking for him. Once this was over he would take the kid and his proof to the police and that would be the end of it.

"So...what's it like?"

Peter cracked one eye open. Gabriel was looking at him, his expression curious, "What's what like, kid?" He didn't have to worry about keeping his voice down. The noise of the city would drown them out, and even if they didn't bums and other types tended to make the docks their home. Everyone knew to look the other way whenever the mob came knocking...present company excluded, of course.

It wasn't the first time they talked. Hours just sitting in the chilly rooftop led to Gabriel talking; kid was a real motor-mouth despite his stutter. He only half paid attention and grabbed a few specific details: He was an orphan and his 'brothers' were adopted. Older brother - Roberto, if he remembered right - died in a street race a couple years back. After that he went to an orphanage till he got sprung. Ultimately nothing useful...

"You know...to have powers?" He continued, his voice growing a tinge higher, "It...It must be really cool, right? I-I saw you make those webs and jump over that pile of cars. S-So what's it like?"

He shrugged, resisting the urge to roll his eyes at the query, "It's useful, not much else I can say."

"C-Come on, be serious!" He leaned forward slightly, hands on his knees, "I-It must be amazing, right? To have superpowers..." His eyes got a far-off look; something he'd seen far too many times, "Going around town, saving the day and getting cheered on by people...must be nice."

"You see anybody cheering when that damn Russian attacked?" He sniped back, "Most sane people run when they see something like that. Anybody stupid enough to stay behind isn't the kind of cheering that I'd want." Shaking his head, he tried to ignore the incoming burst of hunger gnawing at him. He couldn't wait to get home and have some of Aunt May's stew.

"People already posted the video on the youwebs...you have a lot of fans. People are excited, they're hoping you're a new hero." Gabriel replied.

"Good for them, but this gig ain't permanent." They had that Spider-Dame if that's what they wanted. If he had his way he would've forgotten everything that happened today, "...Make sure that proof goes where it needs to. I ain't fixing to do this again."

"Wh-Why not?" He asked back, eyes widening, "Y-You got powers, don't you want to help people?"

"I am helping people; I'm here, aren't I? Thing is this place ain't my home. My home has gangs shaking down stores, mobsters burning down buildings and everyone from the head of Vice to the mayor taking bribes to look the other way so criminals often walk even when I leave em for the coppers to collect."

"Sounds like a shithole..."

"It ain't paradise, but it's the only place I know." He conceded, "Besides, more than anything it makes sense. In my home there aren't Russians with Dynamo suits or twists that can throw trucks. I'd take shitty and sensible over this wacky madhouse."

"Hmm...maybe," He licked his lips nervously, "Still, you didn't answer my question: What's it like to have powers? Is it fun? Exciting?"

Peter almost glared at him (though he knew he wouldn't see through the mask). The kid was persistent, he'd give him that, "You know what, I wanna ask a question of my own. If you got these abilities, these 'superpowers', what would you do?"

"Me?" He blinked at the sudden reversal before coughing, "W-Well, I'd probably be like Captain America or Spider-Woman, you know? Put on a mask, help people. It'd probably be better than selling weed on the street and praying the cops you're bribing isn't one of the good ones..."

"Trust me, kid, this ain't exactly glamorous." He took a deep breath. He shouldn't reveal too much, but he wanted to nip his delusions if he could, "You start pushing back against the gangs and people start dying, no way you can avoid it. Friends get involved, criminals find out they're what makes you tick and then..." He mimicked shooting the side of his head, "Before you know it you start losing everyone and you get damn desperate to keep who you have left from slipping through your fingers. Sometimes you wonder if it's even worth it..."

"You're still here, so you must think it's still doing..." He trailed off.

"Maybe, but like I said it ain't for everyone." He crossed his arms, "Way I see it I got three choices: I ignore what I've been given, in which case there was no point. I use it for my own personal gain, which I'm not gonna do for the same reason I go out every night and punch these goombas in the face. Or I keep going till I can't anymore. Far as I see it the last choice is the only one I can really make."

"Then you're doing more than what others would do. But hey, your powers make you special, right? Isn't that better than just being another face in the crowd...?"

"Is that what you think?" He couldn't help but smile wryly at the idea of it, "Trust me, I'd take having my friends back and erasing all my screw-ups if it meant not being 'special' anymore." He looked up at the murky, black sky. He needed to stop having his bouts of depression, but it was difficult. Usually he dealt with it by focusing on the next pack of goombas to punch in, "But to answer your question, no. I don't really care if these powers make me 'special' or not. Maybe there are people like you out there who want these 'superpowers' but I wasn't exactly asked for my opinion on whether I wanted to be special or not..."

"Just wanted...to be special...like you..."

Peter shook his head at the sudden bout of dizziness he felt. He must have been really tired, "...I don't hear their footsteps anymore. Lets stop wasting time." Spider-Man looked over the edge once more. A few brunos on patrol, their grip on their typewriters loose. It must have been a while since they saw actual threats, "Hmm, eight of em at least. I'll take care of em then come back..."

"...I don't see anyone from my gang." Gabriel mumbled.

"Yeah, well, last I checked gangs with stool pigeons aren't exactly popular." He jumped into a nearby lightpole before Gabriel could reply. He didn't need to get distracted anymore.

He inhaled deeply, smoky air filtering into his nostrils. It was messed-up to think about but situations this had become home for him: The crash of the waves against the docks, the smoke coming from factories and cigarettes carried by the brunos and the ever-present feeling that if he made a single mistake he would've gotten killed. It was insane and he looked like an idiot for it, but nowadays he couldn't imagine spending his nights doing anything else.

Jumping to another pole, he balanced on it briefly before dropping silently at the warehouse's corner. One tap of the wall and a curious goon later and he found himself with one webbed-up hatchetman and a new typewriter.

"Heh, thanks." He smacked the goon in the face, knocking him unconscious. He was running out of bullets for his revolver; this would come in handy. Leaving the unconscious mook to his snoring, he rushed the closest sentry and webbed his mouth before knocking the gun out of his hands and dragging him back to join his friend. When the coppers came they'd have a lot of explaining to do.

He repeated the same process for the next six, leaving them confined and unconscious either on the floor or the walls of the warehouse. It was familiar, almost making him forget this wasn't New York...well, not his New York. Whatever Octavius did he was going to make him reverse it or kill him trying.

With the last goomba down he climbed back onto the roof only to find staring at him, mouth agape, "...What?" He raised an eyebrow. Kid looked like he was trying to catch flies with that mouth of his, "Something wrong, kid-"

"That was awesome!" He whispered excitedly, stars in his eyes. Peter took a step back; this...wasn't what he expected, "Holy shit, you just- That was- Enzio Auditere eat your heart out, holy shit! H-How did you do that without being seen? I-I-I thought you were just going to go down there and beat them up like Spider-Woman, but that was some Assassins' Oath level stuff! What-"

A gloved hand covered his mouth before he could finish his rant, "Kid, I'm gonna say this in the nicest way possible: 'Shut the fuck up'." He waited for a few more seconds before releasing his grip, "I'd rather be doing this alone, so keep your flap shut and just follow my lead, okay? This isn't a game. One mess-up and we're both going to be filled with daylight, you get me?

"Y-Yeah, I get you." He nodded, the smile still not leaving his face. Kid thought it was some kind of damned adventure; he was going to be the death of them both.

He slung him over his shoulder and jumped, Gabriel covering his mouth to keep himself from screaming in surprise as Spider-Man jumped to the pole once more, "Shit..." He balanced precariously in the small space. He wasn't used to doing this with extra passengers one hand and a typewriter in the other, "Hold on..." He jumped once more, landing on another pole.

Going through the front door would have been suicide: Even if there weren't guards waiting for the door to open or passwords in place, trying to pitch a firefight when these goombas had bombs that could blow up buildings wouldn't have been his smartest move. If they were anything like Vodkalky a few hours ago then he wouldn't be able to put up a fight against them.

One last jump and he landed on the outside walkway running along the second floor. Placing Gabriel down, he pressed a finger to his mouth in a 'shh' gesture. He could hear someone rounding the corner, probably hearing the dull thud they'd made, "Get down." He whispered, the teen nodding along and lowering himself into a crouch. He could hear the footsteps drawing painfully near.

Rounding the corner, the thug barely had time to part his mouth in surprise before he webbed his chest and pulled, smacking him in the face hard enough to knock him unconscious. That made nine... and dozens more to go inside.

"Do you remember the way to this...electronic database?" Spider-Man asked, voice soft. He'd told him beforehand it was on the second floor so he could only hope they were on the right spot.

"Y-Yeah, I remember. Hammerhead specifically told us not to touch it..." He took a deep, calming breath, "J-Just make sure to watch my back, yeah? I can't kick ass like you can..."


The 'database' was rather underwhelming when he saw it: A small rectangle that flipped upwards, something Gabriel called a 'laptop'. He didn't get it; definitely didn't look like something you wore on your lap. Regardless he let the kid go at it, entering the password and browsing through the files slowly. An extra precaution, he'd assured him. Just to make sure he didn't trip anything that could tip Hammerhead and the rest that they were here.

Peter walked around the room, his steps soft and quiet. At Gabriel's behest they left the lights to the 'office' off to keep any prying eyes away, leaving the only source of light to come from the 'computer'. Honestly to him it just looked like someone mashed a television and typewriter together, but what did he know? Apparently in this madhouse it was a common sight rather than a bizarre one so he was the one being weird.

The office, if it could even be called that, was sparse. Save the 'laptop' holding the so-called proof there wasn't anything in the small space besides the table holding the machine and a couple of chairs. Maybe he'd gotten spoiled after the digs Osborn and Crime Master had but he thought budding criminal masterminds liked to indulge themselves a bit more. This place looked like it housed a Spartan.

Making his way to the side, he cracked open the curtains covering the window slightly and peeked through. The office allowed a view of the warehouse's main floor and he winced at the dozens of brunos milling around. Could he take them? Possibly, but not with Gabriel here. Kid would get shot faster than you could say 'ring a ding ding'. Better he let the coppers handle this one...

Looking back at Gabriel, he found him engrossed at the 'computer's' screen. Shaking his head, he cracked open the window by the tiniest amount. They wouldn't be able to hear his typing over the noise of the moving crates and he could do some reconnoitering. He narrowed his eyes and concentrated, trying to focus his hearing. Maybe he could pick someone out, try to gauge who was supposed to be the boss of these yahoos-

"What the hell's takin' so long!?"

The rough, accented voice cut through the mindless din. Focusing on the source, he found a man that would put Al Capone, Osborn and Crime Master to shame: A pale, stocky man wearing a pinstripe suit, a scowl on his veined face. Both hands held onto large tommy guns and he looked about a hairs breath from shooting at the next person that looked at him funny. A mobster after Osborn's heart just by the looks of him.

What caught his attention was his head. Through the shaggy black hair and veins the shape was unmistakable; big and jutting, practically square in its shape. He looked like someone you'd see in one of Osborn's freakshows, "Guessing that must be Hammherhead..." Peter muttered. Certainly looked like the boss of these bozos and given the way they were shaking it was safe to say they were afraid of him.

Either that or they were afraid of his bodyguards. To his right he could see a mountain of a dark haired man dressed in all black, an easy smirk on his face. The muscles spoke volumes: Either he worked day in and day out for em or he used those experimental steroids he heard about. Either way he definitely looked like a thug used for intimidation; Hammerhead's 'Sandman'.

The one to his left was another freak, something he was beginning to get used to (much to his chagrin). An upright Gorilla, something you'd see in the zoo if you were rich enough to go, but the face was undoubtedly that of a human. He looked like something you'd see in a bad Frankenstein movie, the monster in the table the audience watched in fear while the mad scientists gleefully screamed 'It's alive!' at the screen.

"W-We're sorry, boss! We'll-"

"Shut up!" Hammerhead barked, cowing the thug into wincing back, "I don't pay ya idiots to gab like a buncha dames! Do your fuckin' job!"

The mob boss smashed open one of the crates and picked up the gun...or at least he assumed it was a gun. It looked like it belonged on Vodkalky's Dynamo suit. "Next idiot that gabs instead of doin' their work gets a taste a' this!" He pointed at one of the empty crates and pulled the trigger. Peter watched, troubled, as the metal turned to ash before he could blink. That...wasn't like any gun he saw before. The kid was right.

"Y-Yes, sir, Hammerhead sir! Doing my work now-"

"What'd I say about gabbing!" He smacked him with the butt of the gun hard enough to draw blood, "Shut the hell up and get back ta work!"

Well...someone certainly had a temper. Spider-Man watched him yell at another unfortunate 'employee' before shaking his head. He wasn't going to get anything just watching the crumb, and picking a fight here wasn't going to do him any good, 'Better check on the kid...' He closed the window and curtain and trudged back to the 'computer'. Hopefully he had something and they didn't just waste their damned time.

He found him staring at the screen blankly in a gape, eyes blinking rapidly, "Holy shit...holy shit...!" He muttered, hands mussing through his hair. Peter raised an eyebrow and stared at the screen: Pictures and words, but they didn't mean anything to him.

"...Care to clue me in, kid?"

"D-Don't you see this!?" He gestured to the screen frantically, "Th-This isn't just proof, it's a fucking manifesto! Look, look, look!" He tapped one of the photos, an aged man with white hair in front of a younger man in a suit, "See this? This is Goddamn Silvermane in front of a Roxxon executive! Do you have any idea how much of a shitstorm this'll cause if it was outed? A criminal Kingpin and one of the executives of one of the most prestigious companies in America meeting? You hear about it all the time but seeing proof is...I mean, mind fucking blown man!"

"You're kinda losing me here, kid..." He got the gist of it, but who the hell was Silvermane and what the hell was Roxxon?

"And look at this!" He scrolled down the page, "Private invoices, agreements, even fucking receipts! Look at the names." He tapped the screen, indicating the list, "Roxxon, Hammer Industries, that terrorist organization S.I.L.K and even StarkTech! Shit, everyone's got their fingers in this shit pie..." He pushed the chair back and swallowed nervously, "No way the cops will be able to do anything about this! This is...this is fucking-"

"Big, I know." He sighed. Figured he would run into some kind of conspiracy even when he wasn't involved, "Look, you can have your breakdown later. Can you get the proof or not?"

"I..I dunno." He replied, voice soft, "I was going to email it to a dummy account or something, but this is way too big. I'm gonna have to..." He bit his lip, "I didn't bring an external hard drive...I'm gonna have to take the whole thing with us."

"Is that...safe?" Peter asked. He didn't know how that thing worked.

"Ah...maybe. Look, I'm not a hacker mastermind or anything. I fiddled with computers before, fixed em up for some spare change, but this thing's alarm system is insane." He covered his face with both hands and groaned, "We...taking this with us could trip the alarm and get us killed, but if we leave it we don't get any proof and I doubt they're going to be here the next day. Either way it's not gonna be a walk in the park."

"Shit..." Peter inhaled through his nose and scowled. This was supposed to be simple, a quick in-and-out, "Look, just get it if you can. We leave empty-handed and we're not going to get another chance at this like you said."

"R-Right..."

He left him to his work, the sounds of muffled cursing and frantic typing the only sounds echoing in the room. Peter made his way to the window once more and peeked through the blinds.

"What the...?" The employees had stopped working. Hammerhead shook his head and yelled something unintelligible, pulling out a gas mask from behind his back. The two freak-shows next to him followed his lead, but most of the brunos looked at each other in confusion. Peter's eyes narrowed. A gas mask, why? He didn't smell anything when they got here-

Hammerhead looked up at the window and smirked.

Spider-sense.

"Hey! I got it-"

"Gabriel!"

Too late. White gas flooded into the room, covering the entirety of the cramped space. Peter immediately felt his eyes watering, his breath catching in his throat as he let out uncontrollable coughs. Tear gas...he'd never been hit before, but he'd heard of the effects from riots. When the Negroes got too uppity, when people started complaining too much about their houses getting burned down for insurance money...he'd always tried to avoid riots for that reason.

Right now, as he was coughing out his lungs and could barely see through teary eyes, he felt all the more the fool for not reconnoitering properly.

"G-Gabriel..." His voice was rough, coming out in choked gasps. He grasped the table and forced himself up, forcing himself to keep his eyes open. He could see Gabriel lying on the floor in a fetal position, teary and swollen eyes closed shut as he clutched the machine to his chest. That was it, the damn thing that was apparently going to blow peoples' minds. He could only hope it was worth it.

"Come on..." He held his breath and picked him up, carrying him in his arms as gently as he could muster. He could hear the kid coughing, but he said nothing. Right, now all they needed to do was-

"Well, well, well. Look what we got here."

Hammerhead and his freakshow goons stood at the door, their smirks obvious even through the gas masks they wore. Peter glared at them, though he knew it was futile; he couldn't fight them like this, not while he was bawling his eyes out and could barely breath. He needed to run, get them both away before they got killed.

"Shit...ya know, for a moment there I thought it was Spider-Woman or Captain America. But nah, it's just some idiot in a gimp suit," He clicked his tongue, "Alright, I dunno what the hell you think you're doing here but fun time's over." He nodded to the gorilla and mountain, "Marko, Magan, deal with this shitheel."

"With pleasure, boss." The man in black cracked his fists and strode towards him menacingly, the human Gorilla following after him. Peter took a step back. Running past them was too risky...he needed another way out.

Spider-Man ducked under the clumsily thrown punch and kicked at Marko's side before picking up the tommy gun and spraying. Maybe he hit Marko and the Human Gorilla or maybe he didn't, but he didn't care. The bullets punched through the glass window and Peter charged towards it, pressing Gabriel closer to himself and making sure he was away from the shards.

He felt the glass cut through his costume and pierce skin, but it was a small price to pay. He saw the floor rushing towards him and he braced himself, legs landing with a painful thud on the concrete, "Ah, son of a..." He hissed. He thanked the Spider-God again for his powers and still-usable legs. Unfortunately brickhead was an even worse employer than he thought judging by the gas pumping into the rest of the warehouse and the rest of the brunos on the floor in coughing fits. This fink was too cheap to even give his 'employees' proper protection.

Not his problem. Right, now he needed to-

Spider-sense.

He should have jumped, should have run, should have done anything but just stand there looking around like a fool. He thought they would come down the stairs, that part of his mind still ascribing to logic dismissing the idea that they would jump down after him.

He felt a blow to the back of his head, hard enough to make him release his hold on Gabriel. Before he could turn he felt a hand grip the back of his neck and lift him up, "Well, ain't ya just full of surprises." Hammerhead sneered, "You got moxie, punk, I'll give ya that, but you chose the wrong guy to fuck with." He nudged his head to Gabriel's coughing form, "Take the kid, I'll ask him myself who the hell else he told about our operation."

"Leave him alone..."

"Got it, boss." The human gorilla picked up the young teen, ignoring his feeble protests and movements. Peter raised his hand, but another tightening around his neck caused it to fall. He could barely see, barely breath...just like the time he underestimated Crime Master and Sandman.

"Marko...deal with this prick."

"My pleasure, boss." The mountain of a man twisted him around and placed both hands on his neck. The pain was nothing to the feeling of blacking out, of his breaths becoming more and more strangled. He could hear the bare traces of a chuckle.

...He wasn't going out like this. Not before he found Octavius and found his way home.

He bent his middle and ring finger, ejecting one last burst of webbing at Marko's feet. It wouldn't do anything to hurt, but his surprise was enough. The goliath looked down at the black silk on his legs, his grip on his neck weakening. Taking the chance Peter grabbed onto both his shoulders smashed his forehead against the mask, hard enough to crack the surface.

"Aghhhh!" Marko backed away, the beginning of tears leaking from his eyes as the gas seeped through the cracks. Peter fumbled for his revolver and aimed, Hammerhead and the gorilla turning back around at their compatriot's scream.

He fired until the chamber was empty, letting instincts take over. The furry freak screamed as three bullets pierced through his back and shoulder, drawing blood. The last bullet went straight for Hammerhead, would have gone right through his skull.

Would have, if it didn't bounce off the second it made contact.

His surprise was short-lived. Marko grabbed him by the shoulder and smashed his head against the floor, hard enough to break his goggles. Twisting him around, he found himself face-to-face with the enraged face of his attacker; the tears and snot dribbling down did little to diminish from his anger.

"YOU!SON!OF!A!BITCH!" Every word was punctuated with a blow to anywhere he could reach. His head, his arm, his chest...he lost track after a while.

Eventually the blows stopped, if only because the coughing had become too much for him, and Marko stood, "Leave him!" Hammerhead's voice...it sounded distant. He forced himself to turn to the source of the voice and found Marko already walking towards a van, "Hurry the hell up! We're blowin' this joint, let him burn with the rest of these useless pricks!"

"Gabe..." The doors to the van closed, shielding them all from view, before it sped away, taking them and his one ally away.

'C'mon, move...' He forced himself to stand, blood dripping from his hands and through his damaged mask, "Ah..." He winced and pressed his right arm closer to himself. Yup, that was definitely broken, 'Faint later...' He grimaced. They said they were going to blow this place...he couldn't stay here. He had to leave before he got fitted for a wooden kimono.

Taking a shaky step, he stumbled towards the open gate, head ringing with every step. He could see a few of the other goombas crawling, trying to make it to the exit. He didn't know if they were going to make it and God help him he didn't care. All he cared for right now was escaping. He rushed to the ajar garage door and heard the sound of something loud reverberating from behind.

Just barely as he passed the threshold he felt a heat at his back and he found himself being launched through the air at the force of the explosion. He pressed himself against the ground, feeling the smoke and ash rushing above him.

He'd made it...just barely, but he was alive.

Coughing out a choked gasp, he relished the 'fresh air' even as his head rang. A concussion...he hoped that healed before the next couple of days passed. A few screams came and went, but they passed quickly. Poor bastards...he wasn't going to shed any tears for them, but it was a horrible way to go. Tilting his head up slightly, he watched the warehouse burn...and with it any proof of what transpired inside.

"Damn it..." He let his head fall back, hands grasping clumsily to remove his mask, "Ah..." He closed his eyes as his face was exposed to outside air. It hurt to move, blood and tears mixing together irritatingly on his skin. Hah...one day here and this was what he had to show for it: A kid taken off to be given a mobster's execution, all the proof they'd fought for burnt to ash along with anyone unlucky enough to be inside, himself nearly beaten to death and all the while he still had no idea where he really was or where Octavius had crawled away to so he could get home.

He raised the bloody mask up; though it was more barely held together rags than a mask at this point. He...really, really hated this madhouse. Nothing made sense here, not even the criminals. Gorillas with human faces, brickheads that had bullets bounce off their skulls...it was as if reality decided she didn't give a rat's ass anymore like that night at the docks.

And yet, lying here in his own body fluids and barely half-conscious, he couldn't deny that it was startlingly similar to home...

o home...

Chapter Text

"Have I told you you're the best dad ever yet?"

Gwen's father smirked from her across the table, a cup of coffee nursed in his hands despite the late hour of their meeting. The interior of the restaurant was warm and inviting, the perfect cure from the biting cold of winter outside. She'd insisted on Chinese, something different from all the pizzerias and cafes where they normally met for their bi-weekly patented Stacy bonding time. Her father had quit the police force to spend more time 'being her dad', which she took advantage of despite the slight guilt she felt. She considered it a decent make-up for all the missed days years prior.

"No, I don't believe so." He placed the coffee back onto the sparse table, a soft chuckle leaving him, "Any particular reason for that?"

Gwen herself found the voices of the various patrons mixing together into an unintelligible din of noise to be oddly comforting; it was a welcome change from the normal cussing out and screams (along with a few genuine thank-you's and praise) from today's patrol. After her short-lived team-up with Darkman and the police arresting old Hippo there hadn't been any more supervillain attacks; which was good considering she really wasn't in the mood for dealing with any more crazies in costumes. Next thing she knew Stilt-Man was going to be an actual threat or something...

...Nah. Way too jump-sharking to even consider.

"Well, today my 'fellow workers' actually pat me on the back for a job well done and I have it on good on authority it's cause of what you said." She raised her hands and made exaggerated air quotes. Her dad always insisted they be careful when discussing her 'second job' (more code words...) out in public. While she understood the sentiment, especially after the incident with Castle not too long ago, she had it on good authority that her spider-sense would warn her if someone ever thought about eavesdropping.

Still, once a cop always a cop, she figured. She just wished she didn't sound like one of the gangsters from The Baritones while doing it.

"Ah, that..." He released a soft breath, "You know Jean gave me hell for that. What did she call it? 'Basically saying that after everything we did all we have to show for it is a big fat whoops, my bad! Sorry for wasting all that time and money.'" He rubbed his temples, "But hell she knew I was right, so I'm glad it did some good at least. I thought I was just talking to thin air sometimes to be honest..."

"Well, again, best dad ever." She quipped, tapping the menu with her right hand, "And given that tonight's going to be my treat."

Her father, as expected, immediately frowned at the offer. Even if 'Captain Stacy' was officially retired he still lived frugally; enough that his pension and current savings offered him anything he needed within reason if he ever decided it. Meaning that of course he insisted on paying for their little outings whenever they went out. He still had his doubts about her moving out given that she was a pretty dodgy triple-shifter: Between band gigs, bodega work and Spider-Womaning she didn't have much in the way of free time. Paying for an apartment, even if she shared it with Betty and Murderface, didn't seem like a good idea to him when she'd pitched it.

"Gwen, you know-"

"I'm not living on the streets, dad." She rolled her eyes and opened her own menu, leaning back on her seat, "We had a gig last week and we're getting another one on the next, so we're not exactly starving for things to do." Her shoulders raised in a light shrug, "Besides, aren't you going to need to save up if you want to make your own office for the whole P.I thing? You're not going to do the Casablanca %^&* from my room, right?"

"You joke, but I'm actually considering it." Her father replied back, picking up the menu with a sigh.

"Yeah, yeah." Gwen rolled her eyes at the idea of it. P.I business or not George Stacy was a man unused to change. Ever since she was born the house they lived in look like it was stuck in time. He wasn't going to touch anything even if he was forced, "Next you're going to tell me that your first case is going to involve Captain America, Hawkeye and Falcon fighting for the fate of Wisconsin. Not buying it."

"Any case like that shows up at my desk and I'm throwing it in the trash. That's Superhero business, not something for an old man like me."

"Well hey, if the whole private dick thing doesn't work you know my offer's still open." She winked, laughing under her breath at his exasperated groan, "What? I could always use a good sidekick! You could be the Prophet to my Owl-Woman, pops. Think about it: You sitting in a dark room, typing in keys at a giant-a$$ computer and somehow managing to hack the Pentagon. That's how it works, right?"

"Never in a million years, Gwennie." He gave a chuckle of his own.

Jokes aside she really was happy that her dad was going back to work. Over twenty years in the police force and the one man determined enough that he actually managed to put the Kingpin behind bars; Captain George Stacy wasn't meant for the life of easy retirements, bitterly complaining about the kids vandalizing his lawn. While she enjoyed spending time with him like this she didn't exactly want him sitting with his thumbs up his a$$ at home with nothing to do.

P.I work sounded good and simple. She was pretty sure the ages of femme fatales and busting down heads for information were over considering most of the work was spent looking at Giggle for information. That and looking for escaped criminals had pretty much changed to looking for cheating spouses or employees ducking work for insurance fraud...and hey, maybe he could save someone's missing cat. It would be classic.

Besides, it wasn't like they wouldn't be able to spend time with one another. He was free five days of the week, he could spend his case time on that. Better than sitting at home watching shows he hated.

"Being serious for a moment, any idea how you're going to start? Am I gonna have to worry about finding your face plastered on billboards and benches so you can get business?"

"Nothing like that." He closed the menu with a quiet snap, "You'd be surprised how many cases the police get: Suspicions of cheating spouses, kids who ran away from home and don't want to come back...dozens of em just fall by the wayside. Jean said she'll recommend people to me; the police'll be glad for it and word will get around eventually. No need to spend a penny if I can get it for free, right?"

"Sure thing, Scrooge." She stuck out her tongue. Somehow she had the image of her dad in a fedora and trenchcoat, a giant cigar on his lips (which was silly considering he abhorred smoking), "You gonna do alright, though? You don't have police access now so it's not gonna be the same, you know?"

"I'm getting in contact with another P.I, trying to get my license and some tips on how this whole thing works. Name's...Alias Investigations, I think? Jessica Jones, old friend of Jean. We helped her out with some trouble a few years back so she agreed to show me the ropes."

"Sounds like fun." Gwen closed her own menu, "And hey, if you need any help you know where to find me."

"Appreciate the offer, Gwennie, but I'm old, not senile. I can find a guy who can't keep it in his pants without a problem." He waved the waiter over and gave his order, Gwen following his lead. She couldn't help but feel annoyed that he picked one of the cheapest things on the menu, "Well, since we've been talking about me all night I think it's a good idea to change the subject: Any idea what you're going to sign up for as a Major?"

Ah, yes, the old 'college talk'. If her dad had his way she wouldn't be on a band at all...not to mention the whole 'Superhero wanted for murder' that he'd admittedly been helping her trying to correct. Hell he'd even insisted on paying all of her tuition fees, though she'd put her foot down on that. If she was going to college then she was going to pay for it whether from her jobs or loans.

That of course left out the part that she still didn't have much of an idea on what to do. It was still quite a few months away before school started on September but the pressure on which subjects to take was always at the back of her mind. She wasn't dumb: It was pretty %^&* unlikely the Mary Janes were going national and even if they did...well, she couldn't exactly be Spider-Woman during a concert tour. Way too suspicious. Her dad was right; she needed a stable alternative.

But what? He'd suggested police work, but the idea of being a police officer by day and vigilante by night (or any time something bad happened) seemed...wrong somehow. She enjoyed music and being in a band, but she was beginning to doubt it considering the insane time commitment and her constant flaking on practice. She shook her head; maybe if she begged Captain America she'd be offered a spot on S.H.I.E.L.D; they made money, right?

"Not a clue." She replied cheerfully, pointedly ignoring her dad's sigh, "Changing the subject again, I gotta ask you something." She rummaged through the backpack at her side and fished out the slightly crumpled note, "One of my 'workmates' offered to work together...well, offered to work together on finding someone who may or may not have been doing something that was wrong."

"Right...and was he?" He asked back, accepting the note reluctantly.

"Er...kinda-sorta?" She shrugged. God she hated this double-speak bull%^&*, "He was kind of new at the job, but I think he decided it wasn't for him. Said he was going home and apart from some unnecessary roughness and a little 'incident'..." Involving bullets having to be fished out of Hippo's leg..."I couldn't exactly report him. Besides, he said he was going home so I doubt I'm gonna see him again."

"Uh-huh, and this is...?" He waved the paper around, a flat look on his face.

"Well, just cause he wasn't completely wrong doesn't mean I shouldn't report back. right? I mean, he offered the number for a reason and I think it's a real olive branch...that is, if this guy can be trusted."

She waited silently as her father examined the name before handing it back to her, "Grimm...I know the guy; he was there with Jean when they tried to arrest Castle for public endangerment." He crossed his arms, mentally scolding himself for not being more subtle, "He's one of the good ones, but..."

"Not sure if this is just him or someone putting him up to it? Someone a little less...honest?" She suggested, which received a nod in turn, "Figures...so, you think I should go for it? I mean it's one small step for me and one giant leap for you know who's, right?"

"I...I don't know, Gwen." He pinched the bridge of his nose, "I don't know your 'work' as much as I should, so this time I think it should be your decision. All I can tell you is that Ben Grimm is one of the good ones. Whether that's enough is up to you."

"Hmm...thanks."

She wanted to stay longer, wanted to waste the night away just talking him about random crap before she had to go back home and get heckled by Mary Jane the next day about revealing her identity. Maybe discuss the plot twist at the last episode of Dad Cops or something...

And she would have, if the %^&* conga line of police cars didn't rush past their window off to God knows where.

"...I wasn't the only one who saw that, right?" She asked, receiving a tired nod in return. He wanted her to stay, she could tell, but they both knew she wouldn't just ignore it. That many police cars at once? Hostage situation or criminals on a long chase over the bridge or...or something. They wouldn't send that many for just a mugger, "Uh...well, something just came up. Work's a %^&* and everything, but-"

"I understand. Give em hell, honey." George gave his daughter an encouraging smile, which she returned for a moment before kissing him in the forehead and running, backpack slung over her shoulder. The waiter came back soon after, looking at the empty seat with a raised eyebrow, before placing the ordered food on the table regardless.

Another night of eating alone...now he knew how she and Helen felt whenever he left dinner for an emergency summons...


Swinging through the New York skyline, Gwen trailed after the numerous cars from a fair distance away. Much as she would have liked to join them, she wasn't going to count on the good will of a few police officers to keep all the others from shooting at her. Better she follow along like a ghost.

Still, she had to wonder what in the %^&* would get such a response. Most villains like Shocker or Beetle didn't get much attention nowadays; costumes or not people eventually caught on that low-tier criminals like them were actually less dangerous than guys in ski masks carrying normal everyday weapons. She didn't know if it was some sort of inverse unwritten rule of the universe or because the police were just a mite bit more likely to start shooting at people in costumes but some of the Black Masks in the city tried to keep damage to a minimum. Less danger meant less police.

Which meant that whoever was doing this either didn't read up on said rules or it was actually a regular crime like criminals holding an entire house hostage or something. Either way she couldn't just sit on her a$$ and not help.

The police cars eventually stopped, police officers piling out with guns at the ready and joining others already on the scene. Spider-Woman landed at another nearby building, eyes narrowing. The tall building they were in front of looked new, as in 'still under construction' new. It looked to be about half-finished, the upper floors nothing more than steel beams and concrete while patchworks walls covered the lower end. Looked like an office building, definitely not somewhere you'd store anything valuable or important.

An abandoned building with no civilians or anything to loot in sight? Somehow this screamed 'wrong' to her...

Her musings were cut off as a streak of green light shot out one of the window, the beam punching through one of the patrol cars with disconcerting ease. Thankfully none of the officers had been hit, though she could practically see them pissing their pants at the display. They weren't going to go in there, not with some kind of laser-spewing %^& holding the empty lot hostage.

Right, that was her cue to get in there then.

'Going in from the front...really not a good idea.' Swinging behind the building, she jumped through one of the open windows and landed as quietly as she could. The interior was dark, almost painfully so, the only light being whatever managed to filter in from the outside.

"Shit, can't see a fucking thing..." She muttered. For all the powers that spider gave to her night vision definitely wasn't one of them. "Would it have killed them to put a few lightbulbs out? You never know when someone starts shooting green lasers..." She rummaged through her backpack and pulled out her phone, toggling the flashlight app with a quick tap. It was risky and practically putting an 'eat me' sign on her forehead, but stumbling around in the dark was even worse. Spider-Sense wouldn't help if she couldn't see five feet in front of her.

The interior was just as half-built and unfinished as the rest of the building, comprised of nothing more than a few pillars and open space, 'Were they building a parking lot or something?' She raised her phone higher, trying to make sense of the building's purpose. She'd assumed it was an office, but looking closer it looked more like it was something to be demolished rather than built. Definitely nothing here worth taking.

The sounds of booming shuffles came from below, followed by what sounded like a guttural growl. She was above it...whatever in the %^&* it was supposed to be. Hoping against everything that her Spider-Sense would prove completely reliable for once, she trudged over to the doors marking an elevator and pried it open. With her luck it was going to be a God damned Xenomorph down there...

Prying open the double doors, she wasn't even surprised to find the shaft empty, 'Right, why put an elevator in the elevator shaft? We don't need that, no sir.' She looked down, taking in the inky blackness below. She really didn't want to go down there, but %^&* it. You only live once, right? Webbing her backpack to the wall for safekeeping, she looked over the edge once more.

She jumped, one hand on her phone and the other on her hand to slow her descent. Here she was about to enter the metaphorical belly of the beast and all she could think about was that her dad was back at the restaurant eating alone because of this...whatever it was. It was too late to think of it now, but a part of her still wanted to hope that this was all a false alarm despite the lightshow outside.

She landed at the bottom with a dull thud. The footsteps grew louder, muffled words reaching through the closed double doors of leading to the floor. Taking a deep breath, Spider-Woman began the slow process of prying apart the doors-

Spider-Sense.

Jumping away from the door, she stuck to the wall and winced as what appeared to be a metallic tail pierced through entryway, cutting through the metal with disturbing ease. Soon after an equally metallic clawed hand pried open whatever remained, groping blindly and erratically. That thing was definitely looking for her and something told her it wasn't to give her a hug and wish her good luck.

"Where are you!?" It snarled, voice almost inhuman from a mix between natural and what sounded like a metallic echo. Just barely she could see the outline of his head, eyes glowing in the darkness.

Well, nothing for it. Time to earn her (non-existent) pay.

"Right here, buddy!"

She propelled herself from the wall, feet smacking against his face and pushing him away from the wall with a powerful hit. Spider-Woman winced; it was like punching reinforced steel. Not exactly painful, definitely not pleasant, "Well, someone's been eating their spinach!" She flipped back and released two bursts of webbing at his head. Making sure he couldn't see seemed like a good first step.

"Shut up! I've been looking for you for so long, I'm not going to let you ruin this!"

"Aww, always nice to meet a fan! But hey, if you wanted an autograph you coulda just asked!" She released another burst of webbing to his arms. Aim for the arms next, always a good second part.

Her spider-sense tingled, but he was faster. A quick pull of the webbing and she found herself flying towards him. A hand swiped at her clumsily, grazing her shoulder before she could roll to the side, "Agh, son of a %^&*!" She hissed. Already the suit was trying to repair itself, but she could feel the blood spilling from the cuts. Whatever his claws were made of they %^&* hurt.

Her phone lay beside his feet, allowing her a better look at him: He was tall, easily reaching 7 feet despite his bent posture. A green exoskeleton that looked like a cross between man and machine covered the entirety of his body, the surface almost burning with a flaming green light. Behind him she could see a long tail, the same green glow emanating from the stinger.

It wasn't a Xenomorph, but he was pretty %^&* close.

The man-scorpion thing pulled out the webbing with a growl, training his narrow eyes at her. The carapace covered every inch, even the entirety of his face. She wasn't even sure if there was supposed to be a human being under there, "I knew you'd come! The police sirens blare and you follow along like a trained dog. Pathetic."

"What can I say? I'm a girl of simple tastes..." She backed away slightly. That stinger didn't look like a joke and she didn't fancy taking another hit.

He charged, mouth parting in a feral growl. She jumped over him and aimed a kick at his head again, ignoring the dull ache that came from the hit, "Stay still!" He snarled, swiping at her once more. This time she ducked under the blow and delivered a few punches to his stomach; though given his lack of reaction she doubted he even felt it. She needed to hit harder...

"This is all your fault!" She jumped away as the tail moved, burrowing into the ground she just stood, "All your fault...all your fault...you did this to me!"

Great, she was talking to a psycho. Just what she needed...not, "Listen, I don't know what your beef is but I think we should just-"

"Shut up! You're not going to trick me!"

The end of the tail glowed for a brief moment, bright enough to illuminate the entirety of the room, before another laser was expelled from it. Her spider-sense pinged, almost overwhelmingly loud, and she jumped to the side to avoid the blast. She heard the wall behind her break and collapse, dust clouding her vision, '%^&*, that was close!' She stood up shakily, coughing. Definitely not something she wanted to get up close and personal with.

"Stop running!" Scorpion charged through, seemingly undeterred by the dust and darkness. On the bright side his whole 'glowing green' bit made it easy for her to see him coming from a mile away.

She waited until he was nearly on her before she rolled away, letting him smash through the wall at full force, 'Please, God, tell me he felt that.'

But even through the dust she could see his glowing carapace on his bent figure, see that he was already making to stand up and attack her again, "Shit..." Not giving him a chance to recover, she jumped on his back and placed her hands on his helmet. If he was a human then it was a good place to start and if he wasn't then taking off his head should immediately shut him down; it was how it worked in the movies, right?

"Arghhhhh!" She grit her teeth and tugged harder as scorpion screamed. God, even after two years she never got used to this. She needed to end this quickly before-

"You're killing me!"

Looking down, her eyes widened as she saw something coating her fingers: Blood...a lot of it, "What the..." The metal of the faceplate was loosened, but all she could see was damaged flesh and blood pooling from where the metal was no longer touching. He was...he'd been grafted onto the suit, it wasn't just a set of clothes like it was for Rhino. To him it was have felt as if she was peeling the flesh of his face off...

She jumped away as her spider-sense rang, his tail digging into his own back because of her sudden absence. She saw him holding his face desperately, trying to press the metal back into the injured flesh without success.

"Oh my God...what happened to you?" She whispered. She was no scientist, but she doubted whatever caused him to turn into that thing was pleasant...or easily reversible.

"You already know!" He snarled, looking at her with a chilling glare, "I saw the files! You were the first of us, the reason she took us all from the streets and turned us into these...these freaks!" He covered his face with both hands, more blood pouring from the wounds, "I was just a security guard, but because of you they turned into this...this thing! You think I enjoy being some kind of damned monster!?"

"Hey, this isn't my fault!" She snapped. Maybe she should have showed a bit more sympathy but she was sick and %^&* tired of being blamed for everything, "Now I don't know what happened to you, but I sure as shit didn't have anything to do with it!"

"Don't lie to me! I saw the files, saw the data they used to experiment on us! You were the first one, the template they used to create the rest of us!" He punched ground, hard enough to crack the surface, "You got your powers from them, I know you did!"

"Buddy, you think I got the spider stuff on purpose!? Trust me, it was an accident-"

"Enough! I'm not listening to this anymore!"

He fired off another laser, destroying more of the infrastructure. Gwen cursed under her breath and clung to the roof. Whatever happened to him, whatever pity she might have felt, she had to put it out of her mind. She wasn't going to just curl up and die and she couldn't be sure he wouldn't hurt anyone else when he was done with her. She needed to put him down, fast.

"One more chance, buddy: Put the, uh, tail down and lets talk about this! I don't want to hurt you!"

His response was to try and skewer her with aforementioned tail. Gwen scowled and detached herself from the roof, landing behind him without another word. Fine, she'd tried to play nice, but she wasn't an idiot. Pulling apart the armor was likely to kill him, which she wanted to avoid if she could help it. Punching him through it wasn't gonna work either; he barely seemed to feel her blows at all.

Still, that tail didn't look like it was attached to anything...

She grabbed the extra appendage and pulled, mentally instructing herself not to hold back. He screamed and thrashed, but she held firm and eventually she heard the telltale sound of metal being torn from the armor.

The Scorpion's scream easily drowned out the sound of the tail being fully separated from the rest of him, "I warned you.." Looking at it in distaste, she tossed the still-wriggling extension to the side and winced as she caught sight of the black fluid seeping from the new hole, 'At least there's no blood...' She thought. God help her if she ripped out his %^&* spine or something by doing that.

Scorpion collapsed in on himself, hands hugging himself tightly as he curled into a fetal position. He was grafted onto the armor; even if the tail wasn't connected to him she had no doubt it felt like a %^&* to have it be torn away like that. Still, her sense of pity was dulled by the beating scratch on her shoulder and the near brushes with death she'd received.

"F...Finish it! Go ahead and kill me!"

"Not my style." She made sure to web him in place before squatting in front him, looking him in his teary eyes, "You ready to listen now? Cause I'm getting tired of repeating myself. Okay, so repeat after me: Spider-Woman. Did. Not. Do. This. To. Me." She uttered slowly, her voice annoyed, "I barely know how my own crap works, if you think I can make man-scorpions then you've got another thing coming."

"L...Liar...!"

"Hey, if I really did do this wouldn't I just kill you and not ask questions!?" She snapped, "There's no one here but us. If I really knew what was going on then I wouldn't bother doing this, would I?" She shook her head, "So just start off from the beginning. Maybe we can help each other and I can find whoever did this to you and make sure they answer for everything."

He looked at her in complete silence for a painful moment before he looked away, eyes closed, "I...I saw you on the files when I escaped..." He answered, his breath soft, "You were the first of us...Specimen Zero, she called it. Everything that came afterwards, all of this...was because she managed to use you as a template. You were playing superhero while she...she turned us into monsters..."

"She? You said that before...you got a name or something? A lead I could follow?"

"No, she...she didn't think we were worth knowing...and the files I managed to grab were limited. No names, no addresses...just piles upon piles of data talking about your performance...I thought you would know their names, that I could take them from you."

"So I got a stalker? It was going to happen sooner or later, but still..." Keep up with the jokes, try to stay calm. Words to live by ever since she put on the suit, "Look, I know you don't have much reason to trust me but I swear to God or whoever else you believe in that I had nothing to do with this. My powers were an accident, anyone could have gotten them if they were standing at my spot in the line. I didn't do this to myself willingly."

"I...maybe you're telling the truth...you haven't killed me yet or taken me back to them." He took another ragged breath, "So...what happens now?"

"Shit, I don't know. Usually I'd leave you to the cops, but I'm not sure if you even did anything...how did you get them here, anyway?"

"...Threatened a cameraman. He was doing a news report on a car crash. He contacted the police and I knew you'd follow." He clenched his hands, his breath stabilizing, "I...I wasn't going to kill him, I just wanted you to come...that's why I went here and shot at that police car to scare them off. No one else would get involved."

"Typical tortured Franksenstein crap then..." She rubbed the back of her head. She was still irritated, but at least she could sympathize to a degree, "...Look, I could leave you for the cops but I don't think that's going to do anything to help with your 'condition'. Listen to me, okay?" She placed a hand on his shoulder, "I'm going to take an insane %^&* risk and let you go. I can't do anything to help you right now but Captain America's going to be back soon. I could put in a good word, maybe S.H.I.E.L.D can help fix you and turn you back to normal again."

"You're going to help me? After what I just pulled?" He looked at her in disbelief, "Even after everything anyone else would just kill me..."

"What can I say? I'm a believer of second chances." Harry's face came to mind almost immediately. God she wished he'd call... "Just...don't make me regret this, okay? I turn on the news and see you robbing a bank or something and all bets are off, you hear?"

He said nothing as Spider-Woman pulled the webbing off him, standing up to his towering height shakily. He looked down at her in pregnant silence before offering his hand, "My name's Mac Gargan...thanks for this."

She shook his hand, an uneasy smile on her face, "No problem, just make sure to keep your nose clean until I contact you again, okay? Don't want the cops thinking I let a wanted criminal loose or something. "

"Wh-Where will we meet? I...don't exactly have a phone on me."

"Hmm...there's another abandoned building a few blocks from here, in front of the billboard about Exotic Butters. You know the one?" He nodded, "Good. Construction got stalled since the workers there went on strike, so it should be unoccupied. Meet me there tomorrow when you can; Cap should be back by then, at least that's what she told me."

"I'll be there...I'll hold up my end of the bargain if you keep yours."

She watched Mac go to another room before disappearing, likely going to hide underground till the next day. This was...new, though not unappreciated. She was getting tired of fighting psychos in costumes, it was good to see someone whose first thought to getting powers wasn't to rob the nearest convenience store for spare change and corndogs. Hopefully Cap could help her with this, she really didn't want to put him in jail or leave him skulking in the sewers.

With that final thought she went up the elevator shaft and left the way she came, unaware of the covert figure hiding in the shadows who had recorded the entire conversation.


George Stacy flicked open the lights and raised an eyebrow at the sight of his daughter collapsed on the couch, a loose sweatshirt haphazardly put on over her costume. Her mask was nowhere to be seen and he saw her eyes flicker open at the sudden onset of light assaulting her senses,"Mmmgh, the light, it burns!" She covered her face with a pillow and groaned, causing her dad to chuckle. He had to admit he wasn't expecting to see her again tonight, but it was a pleasant surprise nonetheless.

"Good to see you in one piece, Gwennie." He placed the take-out on the table and sat at the end of the couch, Gwen moving her legs to give him room, "Followed the news. Police are saying they inspected the building but they found nothing inside...I take it that means whatever you did was a success?"

"It's...complicated." She sat up, hugging the cushion to her chest. He saw faint traces of blood on her fingers, "There was this man-scorpion guy in power armor who could shoot lasers out of his a$$, but he was Frankensteined against his will. He broke out of wherever he was being kept and saw a line of crap about me being responsible." She pinched the bridge of her nose, "I managed to convince him it wasn't me and we agreed to meet tomorrow so I can show him to Cap. Maybe she and S.H.I.E.L.D can fix him."

"Gwen, are you sure it was a good idea letting him go?" He questioned, "I know you have the best of intentions, but-"

"It's risky, I know, but it was the better choice here. Doubt the police can hold him and he was grafted onto the suit, so he'll die if they try. Maybe once he's healed they can decide what to do with him, but till then..."

"Till then." George conceded, offering his daughter a comforting smile. He didn't know if he would have done the same thing in her place, but if there was one thing she could count on it was for her to do her best and try to save the day no matter what. Even if she made mistakes and felt an overbearing sense of guilt for what happened to Peter he couldn't deny the desire to do good that he saw in her.

"Listen, I just want to forget about it for a bit, alright? I know I cut and run earlier, but-"

"I recorded the latest episode of Dad Cop," He interrupted, cutting her off before she could start rambling. He didn't want to hear her apologies or reasons, he just wanted to be her father, "Wanna watch?"

His daughter blinked at the sudden offer before smiling, scooting closer and cuddling up next to him.

"You even have to ask? Dad Cop's the best."

Chapter Text

I don't deserve to die.

Words he'd heard so many times by now he'd begun to lost count. Criminals could do any number of things, go so far below what was considered right and decent that they were lucky if they could still be considered human beings. They would steal, they would bribe, they would threaten, they would rape and they would murder...but at the end of the day, when it came time to face the consequences of their actions and they had to pay the piper, it was always they same.

Pleading, begging, blaming someone else...it never changed. Even if they killed dozens to save themselves, they always claimed they deserved the one thing they never gave anyone else: Mercy. When they were staring down the barrel of a gun, when they had the end of a knife placed at their throat, they would pray to God, the Devil or anyone else who would listen to spare their worthless hides, to allow them to live just one more day and draw breath a few more times before the Reaper came for what was owed.

It was the only thing they understood. He wasn't blind; he could understand the concept of the justified criminal, understand that the world wasn't black and white and while one could do bad things didn't mean they were a bad person. Felica ran a Speakeasy during the time of prohibition, Gabriel had admitted to selling marijuana and bribing the corrupt coppers to turn a blind eye and countless others stole to provide for their families. He could sympathize even if he couldn't fully condone the things they'd done all in the name of survival and a desire to be the modern day Robin Hood.

But what about those who slithered in the dark? Who killed, raped and destroyed lives? Taking and taking and taking, uncaring of the people they trampled underneath them? What about Osborn, a circus freak who burned people alive just to get the insurance money? What about Vulture, a monster who'd eaten his uncle while he still drew breath and threatened to kill a defenseless old woman? What about Octavius, the depraved cripple who lashed out at the world for his condition and turned Negroes into nothing more than animals to fulfill his sick beliefs in Eugenics? What did they deserve?

And what about the people in this abandoned subway, who traded humans away like they were pigs being fed to the slaughterhouse?

Spider-Man dropped the bloody pipe on the dirty floor, the red liquid spilling out on the dull gray surface and joining the loose teeth. One of the goombas who were still alive after that warehouse turned into a fireworks display led him to this place. Apparently their gang made deals all over, working for whoever paid them enough. They'd split off that night; one half going to work for Hammerhead and unload those Dynamo guns while the other made do with another business deal before they converged again later tonight. If he wanted to know anything, get a hint of where Hammerhead was hiding out with Gabriel, then he would go to them.

It was supposed to be simple; just isolate one of the far-off sentries and grill him for info. With his wounds making a damn show wasn't what he needed and he couldn't afford to waste time trying to stop everything that went on.

That was until he saw what exactly was the 'product' they were selling.

He looked to the huddled group of females, their eyes wide with fear as they clung to one another. He saw the telltale signs of abuse, the bruises on their necks and the rough skin of their wrists from where the ropes dug into them. He'd seen it too many times before, seen the drugs pumped into their systems to keep them docile just until the trade-off was met. All they could hope for was a life of being passed from client to client, hopelessly addicted to whatever narcotics they were forced to take so they couldn't leave even if they had the chance to.

And these scumbags were going to do it to them with a smile on their face.

He looked around the abandoned terminal again. Bodies lined the floor, bloodied and beaten but alive. A few months ago he would have just shot them and let God sort them out, but even now something kept him restrained. Releasing a tired breath, he trudged to the lone conscious thug remaining, boots slapping against the pools of blood without a care. He was already beaten to a pulp, he didn't care about keeping himself looking immaculate.

A hand reached out to grab the thug and lift him by his neck. He'd left him with all his teeth for a reason, "You and me are gonna have a chat." He tightened his grip on his neck, "Where is Hammerhead hiding out? I know you were supposed to meet him." He saw the mook look down at him, his face a cross between fear and defiance. He hadn't killed any of them, and for most it was enough to provide a short sense of relief.

Which he was all too willing to cut if it meant they wouldn't talk.

"G-Go to hell, you fucking freak!" He spat. Peter rolled his eyes; always with the false bravado, the tough words while they acted defiant to the end. It never held up, even when you pushed just a bit. He could have just threatened to break his arm or shove a gun in his face.

Unfortunately for him, he wasn't in the mood.

Without missing a beat he dragged him towards the edge of the platform. The trafficker's eyes widened as he found himself dangling over the small drop to the metal tracks. Whether it was his home or this madhouse trains always passed in quick intervals, ready to deliver passengers to their destinations. This one would prove no different. He already heard the telltale sounds of the engine, the light at the end of the tunnel as the massive locomotive approached them.

"One more chance, ya fink! Where's Hammerhead!?" He pushed him farther, his feet just barely touching the platform now, "I'm not gonna ask again!"

"Y-You're bluffing!" He looked at the approaching train frantically, face practically drowning in sweat, "I-I saw you on the news! You're that superhero, the one that was with Spider-Woman! Y-You types d-d-don't kill, I know it!"

Peter's eye twitched. There was that word again, the assumptions. He wasn't a boy scout too afraid to be seen as the bad guy and he wasn't trying to keep up the act of the perfect angel.

"Wrong answer."

Spider-Man let him drop. His scream was short lived before he landed on the tracks back-first, "Y-You're fucking crazy!" Standing up frantically, he tried to scramble up back to the platform before the burst of webbing at his feet kept him pinned. Given enough time he might have been able to pry it off, pull apart the black silk and escape his little predicament.

Would have, if not for the train barreling down on him.

He saw the thug's eyes widen when he first caught sight of it, heard him scream and desperately try to pull the webbing off his feet, "Get me outta this thing!" He was going to die, he was facing death and he knew it. Even if the train conductor saw him there wouldn't be enough time to hit the breaks, wouldn't be able to stop the train before he got turned into a smear on the tracks.

"I don't wanna die like this!"

The goomba looked up at him, tears in his eyes. There it was: Fear. Even the most depraved monsters felt it. Vulture feared him when he saw the barrel of the gun; Osborn feared Kraven when he saw him come down in the sewers covered in those spiders; Crime Master feared and begged for help from him when Octavius cut him apart; and Octavius feared when he realized he wasn't going to let him walk out of Ellis Island after everything he'd done. When death came knocking, grown men turned to whimpering little boys.

Like the unlucky goomba right now.

"L-Listen I don't know where Hammerhead is!" He cried, voice desperate and high, "H-He called us this morning, said we was fired cause something happened at the warehouse! Th-That's all I know, I swear!"

"Not good enough!" Spider-Man snarled. He could feel his face aching, the recently broken arm pulsing with pain. They did that to him, beat him to near death and took Gabriel with them. He might have gotten over that, but seeing those girls being sold like fucking cattle...he wasn't sure if he had any mercy left to give. He wasn't going to leave it like this, "Tell me something I can use, you damn greaseball!"

"I-I-I-I don't know! I swear!"

The train was nearly on him. He raised up his hands futilely and screamed, calling for his God and mother in a last, desperate act of comfort. Peter growled and attached a burst of webbing at his chest and pulled, dragging him back to the platform just before the train collided into him. Even a few seconds later and he would have been an unrecognizable smear; you'd barely be able to tell he was a man at one point.

"Looks like you missed your train..." His mouth curled into a frown as the strong stench of urine wafted up to his nostrils. It was to be expected, and he supposed he should have counted himself lucky he hadn't defecated in his trousers either. Squatting down, he grabbed the bruno by his hair and pulled him up to meet his gaze, "Still think I'm not gonna kill you? That I'm some kind of superhero?"

"N-No..." Tears continued to dribble down his eyes. Would've been pitiable if he hadn't caught him doing what he was doing.

"Good, so lets try this again. Where. Is. Hammerhead?"

"I-I told you...I don't know." He managed to reply, his breath shaky and voice faint, "Our boys didn't come back from the warehouse. Hammerhead gave us a call, said they'd fucked up somehow and that we were outta the job. This...we was doing this so could get some money back, ya know?"

"Oh boo hoo..." He resisted the urge to slam his face down on the ground at the self-pitying garbage. He had already pissed himself, any more and he would be shitting and vomiting out his breakfast, "So tell me something else then. Anything you know about that warehouse? That place was rigged with tear gas and explosives; not exactly something you sell on retail. Know anything about that?"

"I...I was part of the guys doing bodyguard detail during the deal." He admitted, eyes downcast, "Just-Just hold on, okay? I-I dunno where the place is, but I saw the signature! Guy who sold it to him called himself Martin Li, okay? He's a...one of those big business types, ya feel me? But...everything was on the up and up! Anyone looks at the papers and they'd warehouse was doing legit business!"

"Meaning there has to be a record somewhere..." All legitimate business deals always did. If this Martin Li guy was a bigshot then there was a chance his name was on the papers at some point. It was a long shot, but he wasn't exactly firing with a loaded gun now. He didn't have time to keep contemplating; every second he spent doubting himself was another Octavius spent crawling away and Gabriel spent being tortured.

"Thanks."

He brought his fist down at the back of the thug's head and let him collapse, webbing him to the floor with his other hand. He felt dirty, and it had nothing do with the blood and urine. Something like this...he knew it existed, but it never stopped disgusting him all the same.

Picking himself up, he walked to the center of the collapsed pile of goombas and opened up the duffel bag, "Must be enough here to buy a damn mansion..." He muttered. Piles upon piles of money, more than what five girls were worth. Twenty dollars would buy you a drugged out girl easy, but he counted thousands here alone. Seems like whoever they were they weren't very savvy businessmen.

Taking a deep breath, he got one of the wads and stuffed it in his back pocket. It was silly; he'd killed when he had to, broken limbs and scavenged bullets from guns that weren't his but the act of stealing some cash still set a bad taste in his mouth. A good socialist didn't steal for personal gain, they worked for the betterment of the community. He was stealing so he could afford to eat...not the same thing.

Well, maybe he could fix his karma a bit.

He picked up the bag and walked towards the fivesome. They flinched at his approach, tears in their eyes and holding onto one another for dear life. White, Slant or Negro...it was all the same when it came to this kind of business. They had no reason to trust him; they'd seen him dangle a man - however deserving - in front of a moving train. An image like that stuck to your mind.

"Here." He dropped the bag of money at their feet. It wasn't going to make up for all their trauma, but it was a start, "Take this and call the coppers. Let these wiseguys stew in the big house and be careful next time. I'm not always going to be here."

They watched him silently, eyes switching between him and the bag on the ground. Peter sighed and turned his back to walk away, picking up the discarded first aid kit at one of the thug's sides. They'd brought their drugs with them, and while he didn't fancy getting high on heroin it would have had bandages and disinfectant, something to help patch up his wounds.

He was almost to the bathroom before he heard it.

"Th-Thank you..."

Turning back, he found one of the five - a blond who looked about his age - had stood up and taken the bag of money. The bag was hanging loosely on the thin frame of her arms, but her relieved smile was strong, "Y-You saved us...thank you..." She closed her eyes, more tears spilling forth. He wanted to say something to comfort her, do something to try and tell her it would be alright...but he would've been lying. Trauma like this never really went away and the money was cold comfort.

"Don't mention it..." He smiled, though he knew they wouldn't be able to see it beneath his tattered mask.

Another spoke up, this one looking even younger. Maybe fourteen? The sick bastards... "Y-You're one of those superheroes, aren't you?"

"...Sure, kid, whatever you say."

He watched them leave the station before continuing his trek to the restroom. The place was grimy and it smelled even worse, but he was alone. Making his way to the sink, he removed the remains of his mask and winced. The face staring back at him from the dirty mirror wasn't a looker: Bruises, cuts and dried blood marked all of his features. Licking his lips, he opened the faucet and washed his face with the (hopefully clean) water. Next time he needed to avoid another beating...

"Harrrrryyy...traitorrrrr..."

"Ah..." There was that headache again. His injuries would heal soon enough, but it was better to be safe than sorry; especially with how wrecked his mask had gotten, "Not like anyone here would recognize me anyway..." He unrolled the bandage and clumsily wrapped his face, leaving most of it and one swollen shut eye covered. It'd be a bit more difficult seeing out with only one eye, but hell it wasn't as if he was a million bucks even when he had it.

He rolled up his sleeve and injected a syrette of morphine, breathing a relieved sigh as the pain dissipated. Picking up the remaining three, he stuffed them into his pockets before making his way to the stairs. The brunos would be out for a while, and even if they woke up the webbing and crippled limbs would keep them from going anywhere. Hopefully those dames called the flatfoots.

When the noon sun greeted him he winced and covered his eyes. He needed to follow up on that information, try to see if that 'Martin Li' fellow made any sales. Going to the library was a start; they always kept old papers for perusing and if he could-

Spider-sense.

He looked to the left and exhaled an exasperated breath at the sight that greeted him. Another clown in a Dynamo suit, but even weirder this time. He raised an eyebrow at the long, mechanical legs that propelled the fink up like he was a goddamn skyscraper. He was walking towards him, people once again running away or pointing their rectangles at him like idiots. Did these people have a death wish?

Ordinarily he would have just disregarded it like he did everything else in this madhouse, but the sack of money in his left hand and some kind of flying mini-plane thing following him made him pause. Another criminal...what was it they called them? 'Supervillain'?

"Get away from me, you nosy idiots!" He extended a hand and swatted at the flying machine, missing it entirely despite the suit, "Don't you know who I am!? I'm Stilt-Man! If you don't back off I'm going to swat you out of the air like a fly!"

...God damn it. He couldn't just turn his back now, could he? With an annoyed growl, he took out his revolver and ran towards him. He needed to make this quick.


"Saw you on the news yesterday."

After visiting her dad she woke up extra early and had a quick breakfast with him before leaving, making a promise to visit him again soon. Today was going to be a busy day: Glory and MJ were going to come over, maybe practice or (as was more likely) they would all just watch the new season of Fantastic Four together. Either way it promised to be a day with nothing happening, just what she needed before she met up with Cap again and got into the little pow-wow with Mac.

"Dunno what you're talking about, Red."

That was of course before Detective Watson decided to try her hand at playing Sherlock. Gwen loved MJ, she really did. Sure she could be a %^&* $%^# and a $%^&, but she was a good friend she could count on when she really needed it. She couldn't deny that her bandmate could be really egotistical - if naming their band the 'Mary Janes' wasn't a good enough indication then she didn't know what was - but she'd learned to deal with it. She was the lovable kind of attention grabber, not the annoying one...well, on most days. Some days she just wanted to tape her mouth shut.

With that in mind, she really wanted to throw her out the window.

"Spider-Woman fighting Rhino dude with some guy in black, ringing any bells?" She replied, voice almost bored despite the accusation, "Gotta admit thought you were going solo on the whole hero gig. Not afraid of the competition?"

"One, that wasn't me. I was with my dad, you can ask him if you want." She picked up the popcorn from the microwave and plopped it down on the table, spilling a few pieces on the faded wood, "Second, unless Darkman is the head of another rock band I doubt I or any of us have to worry about competition." She kicked off her shoes and sat back on the couch, Betty and Murderface in between them, "And third, you've been spending way too much time with Norah the conspiracy theorist."

"Whatever you say, Gwencent." MJ rolled her eyes and leaned back in her seat, hands strumming the guitar mindlessly. Glory looked up at the two of them from her place on the bed before shaking her head and deciding it wasn't worth it. Glory had heard them arguing about this for over a week now and at this point the shit was getting old. Nowadays she and Betty had just learned to ignore it, neither believing or disbelieving MJ's claims.

"I do say, Merry Mary." She grabbed the remote and started flipping through the channels. She was right about one thing: MJ spent way too much time with Norah Winters and it was beginning to have an effect on her. Before she'd just let things pass without comment, but apparently spending time with a newshound put this whole 'Conspiracy nut' thing in your head. 'Why else would Captain Stacy quit and whistleblow like that? Obviously cause Gwen's Spider-Woman!' or some such.

Granted she was absolutely right, but still!

The noises of the TV and her friends blended together into an unnoticeable din. Thinking on it, would the world explode if she just admitted to them who she was? They knew who she was, they were there at the dance and they saw her fighting Peter- The Lizard, 'That thing wasn't him...' She reminded herself mentally. That was anger and resentment lashing out to the surface.

Still, would they really believe she killed him? She knew how close they were, they saw The Lizard attacking people at prom. She doubted they would start blabbing, even Detective Watson over there; she was such an attention hog she doubted it would ever cross her mind to spill and have Gwen take attention away from her, even if it was the wrong kind that came with a murder charge. Maybe she was just curious? Like the kid who wanted to unwrap all the presents even if she knew she couldn't keep all of it. Curiosity killed the red-headed cat...

So should she tell them? It would explain a lot of things, would at least let them understand why she just suddenly started flaking on them in practice and gigs. Hell, she was lucky she hadn't been kicked out of the band yet given the rate she was going. Maybe if she was just 'economical with the truth' (Dad's words) then she could let them in by a bit-

"Woah, Stilt-Man's on the loose again."

Gwen blinked, "What?"

Before she could say anything else Betty grabbed the remote control from her hands and turned up the volume, munching noisily on a piece of pizza, "Love this guy. Maybe we're lucky and he steps on another manhole." She snorted, holding back a laugh. Ever since he'd first showed up it was practically laugh at first sight. Gwen could understand the appeal: How could someone who had a suit of what was essentially power armor still end up as big a loser as a guy who robbed bodegas with a hamster (that was formerly hers...) or a guy who used Koalas like attack dogs?

"This is Katy Kiernan reporting live here in downtown where the costumed supervillain Stilt-Man has just robbed the- Look out!"

"Get away from me, you nosy idiots!" He swatted at the news copter and (somehow) missed, "Don't you know who I am!? I'm Stilt-Man! If you don't back off I'm going to swat you out of the air like a fly!"

But yeah, there he was. Wilbur Day, better known as the 'fearsome' Stilt-Man. Another guy who managed to create (or was it stole? She didn't read up on his police file too much) a pair of cybernetics and rather than doing the sane thing and just selling it so he could let the money come to him he decided it'd be a better idea to start robbing diners and convenience stores with it.

She was nearly off the couch before she saw Mary Jane giving her a knowing look, lips raised in a smirk. Well...she was already considering telling them, right? Still, she got up right now even Glory would start considering what Detective Watson had to say. Maybe-

"Huh, Darkman's there."

Her attention was drawn back to the television. The camera panned down to the adjacent building and she saw 'Spider-Man' (still thought he should change the name) toss what looked like a brick at the back of his head.

Stilt-Man tripped, more likely out of surprise than actual pain, before he (awkwardly) turned to look at him, "What...who the hell are you! Get out of my way, you little runt! Bad enough I got these flies on me I don't need another wannabe hero!" The would-be criminal mastermind deposited his loot in another nearby roof before he extended his hands towards the vigilante, making to grab him.

He didn't even come close. Spider-Man leaped back from the clumsy strike and let the hands collide against the roof before releasing a burst of webbing, tying the extended appendages to the rooftop's surface. She saw Wilbur curse, but the web held firm. Whoever made his web-shooters definitely knew what they were doing...aside from the fact that they didn't put a web-swing function in.

Not wasting any time, he clambered onto the appendages and ran for his head. She saw Wilbur's eyes widen for a moment before he reached his head, one hand holding onto the large collar to keep himself from falling while another shoved a gun in his mouth-

Wait, what the %^&*?

"Mmph, you dare-"

"Shut up!" Spider-Man hissed, pressing the gun even deeper and making him choke. Gwen's eyebrows furrowed worriedly. It was a threat, she'd used threats before, but something (like a couple of bullets in Hippo's knees...) told her he wasn't just talking tough, "I'm not in the mood to deal with whatever the hell your problem is so I'll make this short: Take off the damn Dynamo suit or I'll fill you with lead. Your choice."

"Mm-ywou wooldn't-"

"Do I look like a 'superhero' to you!?" His finger inched distressingly close to the trigger, "Rethink your answer before your brains are all over the pavement. I'm counting down. 3...2...1..."

"Mmpph, wallright wallright!"

He didn't remove the gun till after Wilbur was safely on the roof, his hands still fastened on by the webbing. The news choppers drew closer, getting more footage, but neither of them paid it any mind at this point. Without another word the masked vigilante grabbed the supervillain's helmet and pulled, wrenching it away messily and tossing it over the building's edge to expose the face of the sputtering old man.

"Wh-What the hell is wrong with you?" Stilt-Man cried, looking up at him in disbelief, "Did you just shove a gun in my mouth!? That's not-"

He was interrupted by a boot colliding with his face, strong enough to make his nose start bleeding. Gwen winced; she could feel that all the way from here, "Like I said, I'm not in the mood for whatever your problem is." He knelt down till they were face-to-face, seemingly undeterred by his bloody coughing, "Listen to me very carefully. I dunno if you're like Vodkalky and you escaped jail before but I'm going to be clear: I see you out of jail and I'm going to make you wish you never got out and ain't no Dynamo suit's going to protect you next time. Do you hear me?"

"Y-Yeah...I hear you..." Wilbur sputtered, blood running down his nose and chin. Even if he was a supervillain she couldn't help but feel a tinge of pity at the sight.

"Good."

Another kick came, this one hard enough to knock him out entirely before he covered his entire body in black webbing.

'Wow...what the %^&* was that?' Gwen thought. She'd heard of unnecessary roughness but damn, making threats on live television? Did he not realize he was being recorded or something? She wouldn't be surprised if his entire threat/warning was out to be a meme before the day was done. Shit, vigilante or no acting like he belonged in a 90's comic book couldn't have been good for him...or for that matter anyone he got his hands on.

She could see the chopper dropping nearby, the reporter dropping from the ladder onto the snow covered roof and making her way towards him, "Katy Kiernan, Fact Channel News." She extended a hand, which he didn't reciprocate, "Uh...right, well I hope you don't mind but I'd like to ask you a few questions. Many people saw you yesterday and they're curious on who the new hero on the block is."

"...Good for them."

He shook his head and turned to leave but the reporter was in front of him again, a practiced smile on her face, "Just a few questions and I'll be out of your hair." She continued, ignoring his silence, "First things first what is your connection with Spider-Woman? While officially blamed for murder there have been doubts placed due to recent events and we're all curious if you have any insight on that. Secondly where did you receive your powers, if you don't mind my asking? They have a startling similarity to hers and we'd all like to know-"

That was as far as she got before he ran past her, jumping into the alley without another word. The chopper flew over the building, but by the time the camera could focus the alley had been empty.

"...I gotta go...corndog run...bring you guys back something..." Gwen stood, grabbing her backpack and trying to ignore the looks Betty and MJ gave her. Maybe she could have handled that better, but %^&* it. She could explain afterwards, either with the truth or just another pile of the steaming hot $%^# she'd been giving them for the past two years. Right now her mind wasn't on that.

She needed to have a talk with her 'fellow hero'.


She found him sitting atop an apartment building, his back to her, 'Huh, that was easier than I thought.' She climbed up the building, her phone already buzzing with messages. She shook her head; later, after she dealt with him. She needed to approach this carefully. While their last meeting wasn't exactly hostile they'd more-or-less separated under the assumption they wouldn't be seeing each other again.

The snow crunched under her feet, almost deafeningly loud in the abandoned rooftop. She saw him turn rigid for a moment before he spun around, the revolver aimed right at her and his finger on the trigger.

"Nice to see you too, buddy..." She held up her hands. Her Spider-Sense wasn't tingling at all, which meant either he wasn't going to shoot her or he was and it somehow missed it. It missed that spray can before, after all... "Saw you on the news, by the by. Real...photogenic."

"Spider-Woman..." He released an exhausted breath and lowed the gun back into his holster.

Gwen got a closer look at him and she had to admit: He looked like absolute shit. Granted she wasn't exactly a supermodel at the best of times, especially not when she got hit and the suit hadn't repaired itself yet, but he looked like hell rode over him - His clothes were torn and dirty and she could see dried blood lining the barely concealed cuts. His mask was barely holding together and she saw what appeared to be bandages through the broken lenses of his goggles. Overall he definitely didn't look like someone who should've been up and about doing what he did.

"...What do you want?' He hopped off the edge and stood; she didn't miss the slight limp in his step, "Whatever it is make it quick, I just needed to catch my breath and I need to keep going."

"Yeah, about that..." She clicked her tongue, "You said you were going home, right? I got no idea where that is but I pretty much thought it meant you weren't gonna stick around, you know?" She raised her hands, "Not that I mind you being here, of course, just curious is all."

"There were...complications." She could practically hear the double-speak in that word. It was one she'd used herself whenever she didn't want to explain, "I still plan to leave this madhouse, but I have some unfinished business to take care of." He scratched his face, exposing some tufts of brown hair to the gaps in the mask, "After that I find Octavius and I get out of here."

"So that little show with Stilt-Man on the Fact Channel special was...?"

"A distraction." He grunted, rolling his one eye, "I wouldn't have minded if you handled it, but you weren't around..."

"Sorry about that, was kinda busy." She rubbed the back of her hooded head, 'Act casual, don't try to sound like you're about to go on a lecture on him.' She took a deep breath and chose her next words carefully, "So...about that threat to fill him with lead-"

"I didn't have to." He interrupted, his tone the same clear 'Drop it cause I'm not saying' whenever she tried to ask Peter about the bruises Carl King gave him or her father about police work. She found that the best thing to do in those situations was to push till they cracked and she doubted he was any different in that regard.

"That's not an answer." She snapped back, voice rising despite her best efforts, "Look, I can see what you did was effective but don't you think you were kinda overboard? You didn't have to break his nose once his arms were tangled. Threatening him, okay I can see that but there is a point where you decide enough is enough and to just let the police take it from there. You get that, right?"

"If you say so." Again with the non-answers. With Peter she could usually rely on tickling it out of him, but she got the distinct feeling she was going to be drawing back nubs if she tried that with Darkman here, "...If you have nothing else to say then-"

"Wait, one last thing." She fished through her backpack and pulled out a scrap of paper and a pen. She was taking an insane risk doing this, but %^&* it what else could she do? He didn't kill anyone (at least as far as she knew...) and dumping him in front of the police station would've been somewhat hypocritical of her considering she had no proof he did anything wrong...and she was running around doing a lot of the same things herself. Making threats to supervillains wasn't really enough especially given what she saw Falcon get up to.

"Here's my number." She pressed the paper towards him, which he accepted with obvious reluctance, "Just call if you need anything, okay? People like us got to stick together." And she could keep an eye on him that way without arousing suspicion. As long as he was staying here she didn't want to see him shooting people up if she could help it...and hopefully he wasn't some ultra science nerd who could track her phone, "Superhero team-ups or whatever, I'm game."

"I'll keep that in mind...anything else you-"

Her phone buzzed, more insistent this time. Furrowing her brows, she held up a finger to shush him, "Sorry, guess this can't wait." She turned around and pulled out her phone, her irritation replaced by curiosity as the unknown number showed up on screen. Her dad told her never to talk to strangers, but... "Uh...hello?" Please let it not be Matt Murdock at the end of it...

"Spider-Woman?" Captain America's voice came through the receiver. Gwen heaved a sigh of relief, her grip on the phone relaxing, "Are you there?"

"Ah...yeah, Cap, I'm here. What's up?" And how did she get her number?

"I told you we needed to meet. Give me your coordinates and I'll be there soon."

She was asking her? Shit, she expected to get some kind of coded message or something, "Uh, there should be an old Roxxon office a few minutes from here. Wanna meet there? I need to go somewhere else afterwards but I need to tell you the details first." Better she not meet in the same building as Mac. Captain America or not she needed to convince her to meet the Man-Scorpion rather than just springing it on the spot. Speaking of which... "Uh..Cap, you mind if I bring someone else along?"

"Long as they're not a risk. Who is it?"

"Well it's..." She turned around and found nothing but thin air. When did he...she didn't even hear him...'Or you could just do the Vapor Snake thing, right...' She sighed. She really shouldn't have expected anything less from a guy dressed up in leather, "...Actually, change of plans, I'm going alone."

"Got it. Meet you there."

She let her mind wander the whole way there, thoughts shifting between the next band gig and praying that Vulture didn't bust out just as they were going to the first act to buying some corndogs and debating on whether to unmask herself to her currently closest friends, 'One problem at a time, Spider-Gwen...' She chided herself. First she would meet with Cap about that urgent matter she was going on about then she'd take her to meet Mac and she could go from there.

Captain America was noticeably grim..well, grimmer, when she last saw her. Releasing her final web, she landed in front of her with an exagerrated flourish and saw the stoic woman crack a small smile before turning back to her previous expression.

"Wow, tough crowd. Do I gotta jump in a ring of fire for that classic little 'heh'?" She joked, because damn it there was going to be a day she made Captain America give a full on laugh and it would be glorious...and totally going on Youweb the second she figured out how to install cameras in her mask. The ad revenue alone on the videos would set her up for life once she got past that whole 'wanted for murder' thing.

"Sorry, Spider-Woman. It's been a long day." She leaned against the wall, her arms crossed.

"I heard. Kicking M.O.D.A.A.K.'s butt over in Mexico, right? How was that, by the way?"

"Satisfying, but that wasn't what I'm here to talk about." There was that small smile again, but it looked torn now, "I followed up on what you said about the Parker kid, about his connection to the Midtown High Lizard."

Instantly Gwen found her mood souring. She hadn't meant to admit that in front of her; she'd panicked and didn't want to believe those six new victims were Peter' fault. Her father found the connection and burned it down for her sake knowing her feelings in the matter, "Um...you don't say?" God, she didn't know what to say.

"Afraid so." She nodded grimly, "I had a look at the files again, and it turns out they were falsified." She scowled, muttering a dated curse to herself, "A mole from S.I.L.K managed to tamper with the records, change the readouts. I found the real data after some digging and..." A deep breath, "It was...enlightening. The serum was originally coded to his DNA, his fingerprints are all over the damn thing. Irrefutable proof that the Midtown High Lizard was Peter parker."

"...Why are you telling me this?"

"Because you deserve to know."

Captain America threw a small flash drive at her, which she caught without breaking eye contact, "Is this...?"

"All the data we've managed to uncover, along with the proof I just told you about...the proof that you didn't murder Peter Parker. The first serum was eating him up from the inside, Spider-Woman. It was experimental for a reason; soon as he took it...he was a dead man walking." She clenched her hands. Gwen supposed she'd know more than anyone about super serum, "You didn't kill him."

"That...doesn't make me feel better."

It really didn't. Whether it was truly her fault or not didn't change facts: She and Harry lost their best friend while Ben and May lost the closest thing they had to a son. If she'd done better, paid more attention, maybe he wouldn't have even considered turning himself into that thing out of a desire to be 'special'.

Haha...here she was dealing in what-if's even though she knew it wouldn't change anything. What if she'd done better? What if she managed to stop him from taking that serum? What if he was bitten by the spider instead of her? Would he have gotten his wish, be satisfied with getting her powers and fight crime or would he just use it to goof off and have fun like she did before the guilt changed her mind?

She'd never know, but she never stopped thinking about it either.

"And you're giving this to me because...?"

"Because if you say the word I can convince Peggy to get it to the right people. Your innocence will be proven to the world-"

"And Peter Parker's going to be remembered as nothing more than a monster." She finished. The thought made her sick. Peter wasn't perfect, but he shouldn't be remembered as some kind of giant monster.

"While right now you're seen as some kind of murderer for something you didn't do." Cap countered, her voice firm, "I know why you're reluctant, but you shouldn't have to shoulder blame that doesn't belong to you. No one should." She pressed herself off the wall and clapped her shoulder in that 'You know what that the right thing is' way, "You have my guarantee we'll protect Ben and May Parker from any repercussions from short-sighted fools, but right now I'm allowing you to choose. You can prove yourself innocent and spread the truth, Spider-Woman, just say the word."

"I..." She closed her eyes, her grip on the flash drive shaky. This was what she wanted, wasn't it? An official pardon that wasn't dependent on whether the people believed tweeter feeds and her dad's words, "Can...I think about it? This is..."

"Take your time, Spider-Woman. We can go to that other place when we're ready, just...consider your choices here. Peter Parker made his choice, you shouldn't have to suffer for the sake of his mistakes."

Chapter Text

The library, a font of knowledge and research and whatever the hell else people needed at the time.

Peter dropped into the nearby alley, boots crunching loudly on top of the snow. It'd been a while since he went to the public libraries; ever since graduating high school he didn't have much use for the literature inside, and ever since what happened to Uncle Ben his Aunt May had been protective for a few months and he couldn't find the opportunity. She tried to play it off, say that it wasn't Osborn and his enforcers that killed him, but the way she insisted on that fence and the worried looks she gave him before Urich found him that job spoke otherwise. Maybe she thought she was shielding him from the harsh realities, but he'd long since accepted them.

Still, this was his best shot. After months of being Spider-Man he'd gotten far too used to beating goomba's faces in to get information and a part of him doubted he'd even be able to find anything on this 'Martin Li' guy. Martin wasn't exactly an exceedingly rare name and the only thing notable about 'Li' was that it sounded like it belonged to a Slant; and even that wasn't going to get him much of anything. Chinese or Korean or Japanese businessmen were rare, but not exactly impossible if you had the right money. Jameson wouldn't touch any of those deals in the paper, but the Negro World might for a little extra boost and a 'pat on the head' as Robbie would have called it.

"Now, how to get in...?" He mumbled.

Getting in looking like he was wasn't going to be easy. While he doubted anyone here knew who 'The Spider-Man' was, a masked freak going through the front door was bound to garner some attention, 'Need a change of clothes.' He grimaced. He wasn't exactly comfortable just leaving his clothes under a dumpster, but as Plato always said necessity was the mother of invention. He'd make do, he always did somehow.

His 'salvation' came in the form of a bum sitting against the end of the alley, gloved hands raised and mumbling something about being a veteran in the war, 'A day ago I'd have thought Great War, but I'm not even sure anymore...' Regardless, the old timer definitely looked like he'd been through a lot and guys like these always had two things: Pride, and the promise that they'd throw it all away for a little extra dough.

After all, what good was your dignity when you were eating out of the trash?

He took a few halting steps and stopped when he stood across from him, arms crossed, "War veteran, huh? What's your story, old timer?" The weathered man looked up at him, one eyebrow raised, but definitely less freaked out than he would have thought, "Just a question, old man. I'm curious if some things still make sense here...and I'm even more curious what it'll take for you to part with that jacket of yours."

"Tch...Vietnam war, though nowadays no one fucking remembers that, do they?" He rolled his eyes, "We all fought for our country, but now the only thing anyone remembers about that is that the gooks kicked our asses outta there."

'Vietnam war...right, definitely not something I know.' Still, he doubted the old bastard was lying: He had just the right amount of bitterness and regret to make him believe him. He'd seen it on the slums enough times; drunk old geezers who ranted about the Krauts, about how the Germans had cost them everything and how even after all the blood they spilled they had nothing to show for it except sleepless nights under the cold winter.

"Right...now, about that jacket?"

"Great, another one..." He closed his eyes and stood up straighter, hands balling into weak fists, "What now, kid? You dress up in leather, put on a mask and you think you're hot shit? That you're gonna be the new Supervillain of New York?" He laughed bitterly before it quickly devolved into strangled coughs, "This is gonna be the start of your career, is it? Robbing a bum and taking the clothes off his back? What next, tough guy? Plan to steal a puppy from a little girl and hold it ransom?"

"You know I'm getting really tired of this Superhero - Supervillain nonsense." He grunted, frowning under his mask, "Look, old timer. You look beat and I'm not gonna bleed you for your clothes. I need to get to the library, but I can't go in there looking like I just got finished running through a burning building. What'll it take for you to give me that jacket?" Because despite everything it looked like something someone who wasn't a bum would wear.

His lips pressed into a thin line and he raised his middle finger at him, "Suck my nuts, ya gimp. This thing's one of the few I managed to keep on me when they kicked me out. Ain't nothing gonna make me part with this."

There was the pride...

"You sure about that?"

And now came the throwing.

Sighing, Peter rummaged through his back pocket and took out the pile of bills he'd stolen not too long ago. He saw the old man's eyes widen at the stack, hands shaking and looking for all the world like he was going to pounce, 'Money...never fails'. He grabbed a few pieces of the green paper - he didn't bother counting, it was enough - and offered it to him, "Change your tune, mister? You could probably buy a house with this...or at least a night in a good speakeasy with some drinks and good company, and all I want is your jacket and hat. Interested?"

Knowing his type he'd spend it all on heroin or some night with a perfumed dame, but that wasn't any of his concern. You make your bed and you lie in it, he wouldn't stop people from destroying themselves if they didn't want his help.

"F-Fine..." He took the stack of long green from his hand and stuffed it at the back of his trousers greedily. Peter watched silently as the old man took off the jacket and beanie, handing it to him with no small reluctance. Despite his haggard appearance the two things seemed relatively cared for, at least as much as he could expect considering the guy must have been living out on the streets for a while. It would get him inside easy.

He waved the geezer away and hid behind the dumpster before changing into his new outfit, wincing slightly at the faint smell. Hopefully the librarian wouldn't hold it against him; he wasn't exactly Wallace Beery up here, 'Please let this still be here when I get back.' He took of his mask, gloves and coat, placing them under the dumpster with as much care as he could muster. Bandages would get some raised eyebrows, but no one asked questions when it came to that.

The inside of the library was refreshingly warm, the smell of old books instantly calming him. At least some things never change,' He mused. The inside of the place looked almost abandoned, which wasn't a shock; most people would've been spending time with their families or been at work just a few days after New Years. Staying cooped up with a buncha books seemed more like something Gwen Stacy or Robbie would do...would have done.

The librarian, a bored young woman looking for all the world that she'd rather be anywhere else, looked up at him as he approached, "Yeah...?" Her expression was one of utter boredom, eyes just barely glancing up from her small rectangular gizmo.

"I was looking for some information on a business deal made a few weeks ago...the name Martin Li mean anything to you?"

"You could try the computers, but the net's down for maintenance." She looked back down at her gizmo, almost ignoring him, "Try the internet cafe down the street, maybe you can search there."

"That's...alright, I don't need to use the 'net'." God, what kind of language were they using here? Next thing he knew books wouldn't actually be pages with words on them, "You have any old newspapers here? Maybe I could find something there." Yeah, find a business deal on one of dozens of pages underneath blockbuster hits like a new broadway star caught canoodling with the same sex like a fairy. Gabriel's chances were slimming by the minute.

"Yeah, in the back..." She pawed under her table and tossed him a key, "Bugle just dumps old copes here for record-keeping, go nuts." She pointed to the back room with her thumb before leaning back in her seat, her attention completely away from him.

"Thanks..."

Opening the door, he coughed at the sudden onset of dust that assaulted him, "Damn, how old is this place?" He waved his hand through the air and coughed. Better than tear gas by a landslide, but that wasn't saying much, "Come on, focus..." He grunted at the sudden irritation on his wounds and shook his head. The bruises and cuts were already healing, and at least the morphine was doing its job. He had to find the right paper; usually places like these stacked within the last two or three years, just in case someone missed the headlines. Now he just had to...

What the hell?

"January 2014..." He stepped back and blinked, hoping against logic that he was mistaken. But no, no matter how many times he rubbed his eyes and re-read the pasted on labels it was still there. "January 2014...February 2014...March 2014..." He read them all, just hoping - praying - that this was some kind of mistake or...or that maybe it didn't stand for the date. Maybe he was just...

Maybe he had really gone insane in this madhouse.

The librarian looked up at Peter in shock as he rushed out of the room, his breaths unsteady. Briefly she debated on whether or not to ask him what was wrong with him before he stood and bounded towards the desk, his hands shaky.

"What's the date?"

"...What?" She blinked. That was random, "What's with the question, dude-"

"Answer the question!" He slammed his hand against the desk, hard enough to make the employee jump, "What year is it!? It's...It's 1934, right? Just after new years? This place is a damn madhouse, but even the years should be..."

"Woah, woah, woah! Slow down!" She held up her hands, brows furrowing in concern; whether for him or her own safety he didn't know, "Look, I dunno if you're going senile or something but calm the fuck down, okay? I know no one else is here but rules say you gotta keep quiet."

"Just..." He inhaled deeply and closed his eyes, willing his heart to stop beating so fast. She was right, it wasn't her fault and acting like one of the crazies wasn't going to get him anything, "Just...please tell me what the date is...all of it if you can."

"Right..." She still appeared wary, but she nodded all the same, "Alright, today's January 7 2016." She waved her gizmo in front of his face, a miniature calendar highlighting the current date, "Thursday, if that makes any difference."

2016...he wanted to say she was lying, that she was pulling his leg because of some sick prank, but what reason would she have to fib? Just to see him panic? No, his Spider-sense hadn't blared at all. She wasn't lying.

Which meant...

Pushing himself away from the desk, he shakily trudged to one of the empty chairs and all but collapsed on top of it. He felt sick...like he wanted to vomit or cry or...he wanted to kill Octavius more than he already did. He had no idea what the lightshow was, but a part of him thought - or deluded himself - that it was something that could be easily fixed. Maybe he was just dumped into a town full of insane people, maybe this New York just happened to share the same name; the justifications got more and more shallow, but what else was he supposed to think? That he'd taken them into the future like some attraction from the World of Tomorrow?

Apparently so, if the dates were any indication.

"Damn it...calm down..." He used both hands to cover his face and tried to steady his breathing. He was an empiricist, he'd seen with his own eyes that logic and reality sometimes decided it wasn't worth her time keeping the rules intact. Hell being taken to the future explained a lot of things; the Dynamo suits, the weapons that looked like they belonged in a science fiction exhibit... "Haha..." Time travel, being dumped in a madhouse...either way once he found Octavius he would make him reverse it, and if he couldn't...

Octavius was going to reverse this if he had to break every bone in his depraved little body.

"2016 or 1934, Gabriel's still going to get killed and Hammerhead's the one doing it..." Come to think of it, the guy looked like he didn't belong here either. Maybe...Maybe he wasn't 'from' here either? It made sense in a stupid sort of way. Time travel was something the quacks talked about as a joke, but if Octavius really pulled it off then maybe the two of them weren't the only ones who got pulled into this madhouse...or the future, if he was being accurate.

Right, now that his mental breakdown was over and done with he needed to focus. Opening the room to dusty room again, he grabbed as many stacks of papers as he could and dropped them on the desk. The business section should hold something, or at the very least if this Martin Li guy was a big businessman - were Chinese businessmen still rare in this time period or did the costumed clowns take the sting out? - then he would show up on the papers at some point, right? A charity event, some public donation, something to show that he did something.

No Martin Li, but he found a hell of a lot of Spider-Woman.

"Spider-Woman performing live..." He read aloud, eyeing the (full-colored) picture plastered on the front page. Some kind of band, with the resident Superhero playing the drums as if she was some kind of skin tickler, "Huh, guess she was famous..." He turned to the next page and found another article about her, this time speculation on her secret identity and her rise to fame, "...Really famous. Not even the biggest broadway actors get this much attention." He turned the page and was completely unsurprised by yet another article. He was going to get nowhere with this.

Dropping the paper, he picked up the next one from the stack and frowned at another Spider-Woman headline, "Spider-Woman invited to participate in wrestlemania..." What the hell? How famous was this twist? Granted anyone who could stick to walls and throw trucks like they were nothing was definitely eye-catching but there were other newsworthy things, right? Not even the president got this much shilling.

The next few turns on the stack proved no different: More headlines about her antics, more speculation on her identity and more promised public appearances. The business sections were no help either; no Martin Li's in sight. He found a Roderick Kingsley and a Donald Roxxon, but that didn't help much, "I'm getting nowhere..." He tossed the paper away in frustration and picked up another. This would be his last one. If he didn't find anything then it was back to dangling goombas in front of trains-

What the hell?

"Spider-Woman: Murderer." The article was eye-catching enough on its own, but the other details were what drew his attention, "Report by Ben Urich..." His hands shook, threatening to rip the paper into pieces. It...was just a coincidence, that's what he wanted to say. Ben and Urich weren't rare names, and even the sight of a ranting John Jonah Jameson could have been excused with a...a relative or just a lookalike. There were any numbers of explanations, excuses and justifications he could have used, anything to keep him from losing his mind any more than he already did.

If it wasn't for the identity of her supposed victim.

"Peter Benjamin Parker, age 17. Born to Richard and Mary Parker, he tragically lost his parents early in his life and was adopted by Ben and May Parker née Reilly. Spider-Woman was found holding his dead body and is currently wanted by the police for his murder. Mayor John Jonah Jameson had this to say..."

From there it turned into a series of rants and eulogies, claims by Jonah that Spider-Woman should have been brought to justice and Peter's 'death not be in vain'. His guardians blamed Spider-Woman, crying that it was a tragedy and that he was a good boy who didn't deserve the misfortune that befell him. A lot of tears, a lot of promises to comeuppance and an exposition on the tragedy of a young life that was unfairly extinguished in its prime. It was something he'd seen too many times before, almost classic...

If not for the fact that he was pretty damn sure he was still alive.

He wanted to chalk it up to coincidence, say that it was nothing more than a bunch of flukes and similarities. That he wasn't the only Peter Benjamin Parker; that he wasn't the only Parker whose parents were named Richard and Mary who died in an accident when he was young; that he wasn't the only orphan adopted by a loving Aunt and Uncle who had no children of their own; that he was the only one with an Aunt May who had the maiden name Reilly; and of course that he wasn't the only one where all these facts just happened to come together exactly in that order.

He would have done that the second he could convince himself this was all just a dream and Octavius hadn't dumped him 82 years into the future into this place.

The next papers followed the trends of the last: Accusations of murder, entire groups disavowing any connection to Spider-Woman when before they cheered her arrival. Pictures followed of her stopping crimes; catching crooks, defusing hostage situations and even saving someone from being run over by a train (the irony wasn't lost on him). Eventually he saw the titles change to questions, wondering aloud whether she was the murderer everyone claimed she was while Jonah continued to adamantly rail that it must have been a trick or ploy of some kind.

All of them about her, about her supposed murder of an innocent young man.

"...I'm losing my mind." He released the papers and shut his eyes tightly. Being taken to a madhouse? Fine, he'd dealt with it. Finding out he was ostensibly in the future? He'd lost himself for a minute there, but he managed to rationalize it.

...Finding out that he was supposed to be dead? Another thing entirely.

And what about Spider-Woman? He'd been on the other end of a smear campaign before when Chameleon took Jameson's place, the front pages of the newspaper depicting him as some kind of monster who assaulted anyone unfortunate enough to cross his path. Just because they were convinced she was a criminal did it mean she really was? She definitely didn't seem like someone who'd kill an innocent person - 'him' - but maybe he was misjudging and she was just trying to keep up a friendly front...or maybe she had a change of heart of something.

The newspaper mentioned a place in the graveyard to anyone that wanted to pay their respects. He...He should have been focusing on Gabriel, on trying to find Hammerhead, but he couldn't. He had to see this with his own eyes, try to make sense of what was happening. Maybe if he went there and saw the tombstone he could find some kind of clue, find something that proved it was all just some sort of twisted coincidence.

He was barely out the door before he felt someone grab his wrist, "...You better have a good reason." Resisting the urge to wrench his arm away on instinct, he turned and found himself face-to-face with tall redheaded man in a gray suit, his eyes covered by a pair of tinted red glasses and a calm smile on his face. Already he could feel a buzzing at the back of his head despite the seeming lack of physical danger.

"Pardon me, but I couldn't help but overhear your conversation. You were looking for Martin Li?"

"Yeah, what's it to you, pal?" He pulled his hand away and shoved it into the jacket's pocket. Something about him gave him the heebie jeebies, "He a friend of yours?"

"No, and I suspect you aren't any more fond of him than I am." His smile widened almost imperceptibly, "Incidentally I have been watching your progress since the previous night: The warehouse by the docks and of course the little...incident inside the subway not too long ago. Its fair to say you've been busy even though I don't have any idea where you came from."

"There a point to this, carrot top?"

"Please, call me Matt. I think we could help one another." He offered a Peter a hand, which wasn't reciprocated, "Very well then, straight to business: I don't know what your motivations are for going after Mr. Joseph - Hammerhead, as he sells himself - but when I see an opportunity I'm not one to pass up on such a chance." He swung the white cane he held in his free hand lazily, placing it across the back of his neck, "Still, I must make sure. What are your intentions for him?"

"He tried to kill me...take a guess."

"Haha, indeed?" He raised an eyebrow and laughed, the sound soft despite the emptiness the library, "Well then I believe we can help one another. You see, Martin Li is a very slippery man indeed and he takes great pains to rarely ever appear on public records despite his business-like demeanor. If you were hoping to catch sight of him here then I'm afraid you're going to be disappointed, but..." His smile turned into a smirk, "I know what it is you're looking for, and I offer you this information."

"...And why in the hell would you to tell me this? What's in it for you?"

"Me? Why, I'm just a concerned citizen, hoping you put an end to Mr. Joseph's mad scheme."

He didn't need the spider-sense blaring at the back of his head to tell he was being lied to; he could practically tell a shark from a mile off ever since he started working for the Bugle, "...Cut the act. If you don't want to tell me why then don't, just give me your information and stay out of my way." It was a risk, but he had to chance it. It was Gabriel's only chance and he didn't want those weapons on the streets.

"If you insist." He shrugged and offered him an address written on paper. This time his spider-sense was silent...he was telling the truth, "I already gave this address to a previous...'ally', you understand? He has his own vendetta to settle with Mr. Joseph, so it would do you well to pool your resources together. Perhaps if you're lucky you could save the young boy's life before its too late."

Peter's eyes narrowed, but he stuff it into his pocket regardless. The shark knew more than he let on, but he could worry about that when he had more time. Maybe he was being led into a trap, but it wasn't as if he could afford to be picky. Besides, even if it was a trap at least there would be more palookas to interrogate and he could get somewhere.

But right now, there was a grave he had to see.

Matt watched him go with a smile on his face, fingers tapping against the surface of his cane. Spider-Woman had rejected Mr. Fisk's offer, but the young man was angry, impulsive...desperate, he could hear in his voice even though he tried his hardest to hide it. With the proper nudge he could prove useful and Mr. Fisk would gain an asset to his organization gifted with inhuman abilities.

All in all a win-win in his eyes.


Standing in front of his own grave...sounded like something he'd read on a bad horror novel or a penny dreadful, but here he was. Hands stuffed into his coat, Peter stared at the gray stone, his expression unreadable. He thought coming here would make things clear somehow, that there would be something that would help him try to understand what was happening to him. Just...something.

But no, seeing his name across the slab didn't impart any kind of revelation, "Peter Benjamin Parker...Gone too soon...He will be missed." He read aloud for what felt like the hundredth time that day. It was just like the newspaper said; the same exact address given on the papers. The grave was well-maintained, the grass trimmed and the letters showing only the barest signs of fading. The loved ones must have been dedicated.

"This is a mistake..." He let out a shaky breath. He wanted to lie to himself, tell him that it wasn't him - or someone like him - buried six feet under, but he couldn't. Ever since he'd gotten his abilities he learned to listen to his instincts, learned to let go of logic and embrace the impossibility the Spider-God had presented. And right now his instincts were telling him one thing.

You're supposed to be dead.

"Yeah? Well I'm not planning to keel over any time soon..." He muttered aloud, scowl barely hidden by his bandages. Kneeling down, he reached out a hand and traced his fingers across the smooth stone.

"Harryyyy...traitorrrr...!"

"I'll show them...showww themmmmm alllllll!"

Peter found his face pressing against the grass, tears streaming down his cheeks. He could feel an overpowering headache spread, his Spider-Sense thrumming in a constant tempo, "Agh...like someone's pounding my head with a hammer..." He resisted the urge to vomit and stood, one hand on his knee and the other trying futilely to stem the tide of tears pouring down. He felt...he didn't know how to describe it: Anger so white-hot he would have torn apart the next person he saw, resentment deep enough that he wanted to tear down his friends and break them just like he'd been broken. Emotions came and went, before settling on something that made want to smash his head against the slab.

Regret...of untold words, of unfinished business he could never accomplish.

" Just wanted...to be special...like you..."

"I love Gwen, Harry! You knew that! How could you do this to me!?"

"Whoa there, son! You okay?"

Turning around, he stumbled back and would have fallen if not for the large figure reaching out both hands to balance him. His spider-sense blared again, screaming words into his head: 'Wrong, wrong, wrong!' Gritting his teeth, Peter pushed away the stranger and stumbled back, tripping over the gravestone and falling flat on his back. He barely felt it over the thrumming din of his head's rapid beating.

The old dead man in front of him looked down at him in worry, "Woah there! Sorry, didn't mean to startle you." He reached a far too strong hand out, a friendly smile on his supposed to be dead face, "You okay there, son? Didn't mean to bump into you, but I didn't expect anyone to be visiting old Petey after so long."

"This...This isn't right...: Peter mumbled, shaking his head.

"What isn't?" His look of confusion was brief, replaced by that doesn't belong smile on his face again as he pulled him up by his shaking hand, "Ah, look at us! Getting into questions and I still haven't introduced myself. I'm-"

"Ben Parker...Peter Parker's guardian."

It was him. It was...wrong, but it was him. Uncle Ben had died two years ago, beaten by Osborn's enforcers for daring to care about his fellow man and then left as nothing more than a broken wreck for Vulture to feed on while he was still breathing. They wouldn't...they wouldn't even give him the right - the mercy - to die with dignity. They made sure he was still alive before Vulture cut him open, made sure he was still screaming when he was turned into a God damned meal for that filthy vermin. That great man had died because he cared, was tortured into a slow and painful death...

...And now he was standing in front of him, a smile on his face like nothing was wrong.

He looked young...strong. He couldn't deny his Uncle's strength of character, but the years of living on the streets and giving almost everything to his fellow citizens had taken their toll on him. Aunt May had called him 'skin and bones' in a half-joking manner before, but the man in front of him was a mountain of health and muscle. He could see no frailty, no weakness in him.

"You know who I am?" Peter could only nod mutely, which caused the older male to chuckle, "Heh, I told May that commercial would circulate at some point." He clapped him across the back just like he did and grinned, "Right, so you know who I am but I'm a bit of a disadvantage here. Were you a friend of Peter's?" He eyed the bandages covering his face worriedly, "And are you okay? You look like you lost a fight with a lawn mower, no offense."

"Y-Yeah...name's Phil Urich, moved away a few years ago...didn't even realize he was dead." He looked back at the grave. Phil Urich, Ben Urich's dead nephew. Seemed almost appropriate to use the name, "As for the wounds...I got burned in an accident a few days ago, you know how it is."

"That I do. Boiler can be a real stubborn son of a gun." He crossed his arms and laughed, "Still, it's good to see that old Petey still has friends that come visit. Apart from me, May and Gwennie the Pooh no one ever comes anymore. Guess it's normal, but hey..."

"Yeah...I know the feeling." He and Aunt May still visited Uncle Ben's grave sometimes. Maybe he wouldn't have approved of his vigilante actions but he was the main reason he put on that mask every night, the reason why he placed his life at risk fighting against the scum of the earth and the human refuse, "Is Au...your wife with you?"

"Nah, she went yesterday. We were gonna have dinner with the Stacey's tonight and she's preparing, it's been a while." He placed a hand on his chin, "Say, wanna come join us? I'm sure Gwennie'd love to see another old friend."

He was tempted, God he was. Maybe it was all a trick, but seeing Ben parker in front of him happy and alive...a part of him stopped caring altogether if it was just an illusion or he had gone insane. A part of him always wondered that if he'd checked the warehouse sooner, if he'd done something that day, maybe he could have saved him. It was a pipe dream, of course, but a part of him always wondered.

But right now he had other things to take care of, things he couldn't put off...

"I...appreciate the offer, Unc- Ben," He quickly corrected, internally wincing, "But I have...something to take care of. Responsibilities...you understand, right?"

"That I do. He repeated. With another clap of the shoulder he offered a prayer in front of his son's grave and left, walking back to his car and driving away. Peter wanted to embrace him, to throw himself at his feet and say he was sorry he couldn't save him even if he would have likely just looked at him as if he was crazy. Peter always thought he wasn't a very emotional person, but he guessed he looked all the more the fool for it now.

Inhaling deeply, he pulled out his mask and stared at the broken goggles and tattered cloth. Peter Parker wouldn't be able to do anything, he wouldn't be able to save Gabriel and stop that blockhead, but Spider-Man could.

"If those in power can't be trusted, it's the responsibility of the people to remove them..."


The warehouse was the same as the rest, situated on the docks with no one proper standing guard. He'd waited until nightfall before hitting it, but apparently he had arrived a bit late, "What the hell?" He raised his head and sniffed the air. Blood, he could smell it even from outside. Either he'd walked into a cult of cannibals - wouldn't have been the first time - or someone had been here before him.

Jumping through the second floor window, he looked down and narrowed his eyes. A few of the palookas were standing guard, complaining loudly about the stench. Dropping into the walkway silently, he leaned over the edge and surveyed the area: A few pools of blood and there were definitely less brunos than he expected, 'Someone attacked it before...' Must have been the other person Carrot Top told him about.

Letting himself fall, he slammed both mooks into the ground before webbing them to the floor. He had to save his bullets, never knew what he would run into next. Kneeling in front of the prone mobster, he grabbed his hair and pulled his head till they were seeing eye-to-eye, "What happened here? What's with all the blood?" He nudged in the direction of the crimson pools.

"O-Oh God, don't kill me!" Huh, no 'fuck you, freak!' like the others? The previous attacker must have scared them, "Th-There was this guy, attacked us this afternoon! Bosses caught him and they're working him over upstairs! That's...That's all I know, okay!? Don't kill me!"

"Oh shut up..." He rolled his eyes and webbed his head to the floor. Whoever this visitor was he must have did a real number on em if the stench was any indication. Picking himself up, he climbed the length of the pipes and jumped back into the walkway, 'Goomba said upstairs...'

Following his instructions, he made his way up and took down any brunos dumb enough to be in his way. All of them were the same: Complaining about the stench, complaining about how much of a prick Hammerhead was, and then whispering together in hushed tones that they should just kill the prisoner they were working over upstairs before he got loose and caused more havoc for them.

He was starting to like this guy already...

"Must be the place..." He could hear muffle sounds coming from the door. Looking back at the abandoned hallway just in case, he opened the the metal door by a crack and peeked inside.

"Who told you about this place!?" A loud, thickly accented Russian voice yelled. Peeking through the edge, he found three large triggermen facing away from him and blocking his view of their prisoner. No guns...were they worried the prisoner could use them to escape somehow? Pushing it open just a bit more, he slipped into the room and blocked out the stream of Russian curse words. He had to make this fast.

Firing two bursts of webbing, he hit two of the goombas in the back and pulled. Their expressions of surprise were brief before he punched them across the face, laying em out in one hit. The remaining Russian turned and sneered at him, his blood splattered face only adding to his horrid visage.

"Who are you!? Are you friend of-"

That was as far as he got before a pair of meaty hands grabbed his jaw and twisted, snapping his neck with a sickening crack. Spider-Man raised an eyebrow as the bloody prisoner stood up shakily, his gaze strong despite his injures. He could see what appeared to be the remains of rope in his hands...did he free himself and were the goombas too stupid to notice?

"...Murdock send you?" He asked gruffly, the frown on his face indicative of what he thought of the enigmatic man. He couldn't get too much of a good view of his features: Black hair cut short, a rough beard and what appeared to be a shirt with a skull emblazoned in the middle. Definitely not a civilian by the looks of him, and given the ease at which he snapped the interrogator's neck he would have assumed he was trained in combat.

"Yeah...but I'm not working for him if that's what you're thinking." He raised his hands in a surrendering gesture, "I'm after Hammerhead...gotta admit I was half-expecting to walk into a trap when I got here." He eyed him up and down. A few cuts and bruises, some of em looked pretty deep. He'd need medical attention if he wanted to keep walking upright, "Or maybe I just missed it..."

"Got careless." He grunted.

"I can see that. Anyway...you just killed who I assume is supposed to be the boss, but I don't see Hammerhead here. Hope this isn't another dead end..."

"Hammerhead's not as dumb as he looks. He has safehouses, extra buildings..." He released a pained breath and cracked his knuckles, "Before I got caught I found two addresses, both places where he could be tomorrow night."

"Fine, give me the addresses and I'll check em over-"

"No."

Spider-Man's eye twitched in irritation at the older male's blunt refusal, "Listen, pal, I ain't in the mood for games. Dunno what it is Carrot Top told you, but that brickhead has someone I'm looking for and he's smuggling in weapons that can blow up half this damn city. Now's not the time to go Lone Ranger."

"I'm looking for others too..." He coughed, sucking in a pained gasp through his teeth. Hopefully he didn't pass out on him "I give you the addresses and you could put them at risk. I'm not gonna let that happen."

"You really wanna fight me over it, big guy?" He tapped the holster that held his revolver, "I'll shoot you if I have to, but I'd rather not waste the bullets." He sighed, "Look, in that state I have my doubts you can raid one of those places let alone two, but lets make a deal: You give me the addresses and I'll take one place while you raid the other. Lets meet back at the docks when we finish and pool our results. Sound fair?"

"...Fine."

"Alright..." Spider-Man gave the bloodied figure a wry smile, "If you hit the right place, keep an eye out for a kid called Gabriel. He got in over his head and I'd rather he make it out of this alive." He crossed his arms, "Anyone you want me to look out for? You know, just in case you don't get the right place?"

"If I get the wrong place I'll go for the other one..."

'Great, I got a cowboy with me.' This was worse than working with Daredevil a few months - decades? - back. Still, he couldn't fault him too much; wasn't like he was all for working with partners either, "...Right, so I guess this makes us partners for the time being." He gave a sardonic laugh, "You can call me Spider-Man. I'd give you my real name but I'd prefer to keep it under wraps."

"Spider-Man...?" It was faint, but he saw it. His lips curling into a frown, beaten hands forming into fists and what sounded like a growl emanating from his throat. Anger and hate at its finest, "...If this is a joke I'm not laughing."

"If you don't wanna call me that then think of something else." He shrugged. Someone was touchy for some reason, "So do I call you Skull-man or are you gonna give me something to call you by?"

"...Frank Castle. My name's Frank Castle."

Right, so it was him and what looked to be an old guy beaten half to death against an entire mob whose head could apparently bounce bullets. He'd faced worst odds before, but it was never something he liked, 'Hmm, maybe I could call Spider-Woman...?' If she and Castle worked together with him then there was a chance they could end this without any other innocent sleeping with the fishes.

Well, time to make a call. He doubted Castle would mind another helping hand.

Chapter Text

Her innocence in exchange for Peter's name.

Gwen released a frustrated breath as she swung to the designated meeting spot, Captain America promising to catch up in lieu of riding shotgun. The sun was setting and she figured she'd done enough patrolling and that her new buddy would be where they said to meet. She was supposed to meet up with Mac and see if they could do something about his 'condition', but right now all she could think of was the USB stick burning a hole in her backpack, 'I mean...%^&* what the hell am I supposed to do!? Sure picked a nice time to drop the nuclear %^&*$# bomb, Cap!"

She'd always dreamed of this, didn't she? Part of the reason she put on the mask every day was to try and redeem herself for what she did, try to absolve herself and take responsibility for Peter's death. She still remembered the swell of pride she felt whenever someone thanked her, the sense of gratification whenever she saw supervillains or even regular criminals get carted off to prison because of what she did. Was it selfish to feel good about that? Maybe, but every kid wanted to be a superhero when they grew up. She wasn't going to say sorry for being happy with her work.

And now she had all that at her fingertips; all she had to do was grasp Peter's name and beat it till it was black and blue.

"God %^&*$# damn it!" She landed atop a rooftop and panted, fists shaking. What the hell was she supposed to do!? Her dad caught on to the connection between Peter and the Midtown High Lizard and he'd burned it for her sake. Was that what she should do? Light a trashcan on fire and watch this thing melt? 'Hell, I could toss it off the this building now. No one would ever know...' She fiddled with the straps of her pack. She had to admit it was sorely tempting; just throw it away and let God sort it out.

"...%^&* it."

But in the end she couldn't. Maybe she didn't want to disappoint Cap, maybe she was selfish and was honestly considering screwing over Peter and Aunt May and Uncle Ben just to make her life a little easier, but it was going to continue burning holes in her backpack for just a bit longer. Maybe she could go on patrol for just a bit longer, try to clear her head. Mac wouldn't mind, right?

She stopped another drug deal before watching the sun set, 'Guess it's time to face the music.' She blocked out the string of curses coming from the dealer webbed to the wall and swung away, sending a quick text to Officer Grimm after making sure to hide her number. Hey, she wanted to trust the guy but she wasn't going to be a complete idiot about it. She was pretty sure the police could track a phone if need be, but she really doubted Darkman could.

Landing on top of the building under construction, she looked around for a moment before frowning, 'Guess Cap's not here yet...' She clicked her tongue and webbed her backpack to one of the pillars. She wanted to give Mac the benefit of the doubt but if she got into a fight she needed to be prepared for it, 'Shouldn't be too hard without that tail of his, right?' She really didn't want to fight another Xenomorph wannabe.

"Hey, Mac? You here?" She called out.

No answer.

Gwen's brows furrowed in worry and she called out again, "Hey, Scorpi! Where you at, bro?" She yelled, louder this time. Was he hiding inside? No, the building was abandoned. Even if he stood on the rooftop doing a hula dance no one would see him. Was he not here? "Come on, dude, please don't tell me you're really a supervillain and you're robbing a bank somewhere! I trusted you, man! Honor system!"

Still nothing. Making a sound at the back of her throat, she trudged to the nearest open doorway and peeked inside, 'It's dark, smells like bad paint and I'm not sure if the floor won't collapse if I step on it...what else is new?' She was missing Fantastic Four with her friends for this? "You owe more for this one, dude..." Taking a deep breath, she wrenched the doorway open and began the slow trek downwards.

Thankfully the windows were wide enough to allow some light inside so she didn't need to have a repeat of last nights Alien experience, but it did little to stop the frown she was sporting, "Hope Cap knows to come down..." She coughed, waving away a hand to wipe away the dust clogging the air. At least it was distracting her from the data storage of doom singing its little siren call inside her backpack.

"Mac, seriously, where are you?" She called, voice becoming more and more annoyed, "Cap's about to get here! I told her we were gonna meet a friend and believe me it took a lot of puppy dog eyes to get her to agree! You know how hard it is to do puppy dog eyes through a mask? Really %^&*$# hard, that's how!" She came upon the end of the hallway and sighed, opening the door to her left, "Come on, we gotta find Cap so we can cure you-"

"Odd place to meet."

Someone was standing inside, but it definitely wasn't Mac.

A mysterious figure standing in a dark room; would have been classic if she wasn't so annoyed, "You shouldn't judge, buddy." Eyes narrowing, she crossed her arms and tried to make out his features. It was difficult to see due to the fading light but she could definitely say he was no construction worker: A red form-fitting top, dark combat pants, a belt filled with God knows what, boots and a mask with wide lenses. He looked like something you'd see out of an Award of Valor game.

It was what he held in his hands that drew her attention. A thick piece of green metal, its surface practically smoking.

'Looks like a piece of Mac's suit...' She thought. Keep calm, avoid a fight if she could help it. She still needed to find out where he was, "You know this is kind of awkward. See I was supposed to meet a date here but he seems to be running late." She eyed the metal warily, "Maybe you've seen him? Tall guy, wears a lot of green and metal. Trust me, you can't miss him. Real charmer that guy."

"You're talking about Mr. Gargan?" His voice was smooth, almost playful. She saw him toy with the metal in his hands, seemingly uncaring of the heat it was radiating, "Yeah, I saw him earlier. I actually worked with him before, you know?" Her eyes narrowed. She could practically hear the air quotes around that word. 'Worked'. "He left my boss' employ because of a misunderstanding. I helped fix that."

"Funny, I heard a different story during our meet-and-greet." God, how did those spies on TV handle all this dancing around %^&*? "So listen, I dunno what our old pal told you but he made it very clear that he didn't wanna go back under your 'employ'." Yes, she made actual air-quotes. No, she wasn't guilty, "So I'd really appreciate it if you told me where he was. I'm not used to getting stood up, you feel me?"

"Believe me, lady, I know the feeling. But I gotta say sorry cause it just ain't happening." He let the metal drop, the sound of it clanging almost eerily loud in the spacious room, "See, my boss is very particular with instructions and she doesn't like handing out pink slips or employees trying to quit on their own. So me? She gives an order and I follow, and she told me to keep his little episode hush-hush. You understand, I'm sure."

"Really? Those 'instructions' include busting overgrown smurfs out of prison and giving them powersuits?"

It was just a hunch, shooting in the dark as it were, but his reaction spoke volumes - Hands clenching, posture straightening like someone just said something nasty. There was definitely something there.

"Huh...thought I made sure to tell Aleksei to keep that under wraps." He definitely sounded less smug. Not exactly pissed, but she knew she was getting there, "Surprised you got that out of him. My boss was very clear what would happen if he decided to tell you anything." He clicked his tongue, "Gangsters...shoulda known you could never trust em to keep their word. Way too unreliable."

"I have my ways..." Which would definitely not include kneecapping someone with a gun. She would have found another way, "Anyway, he said an awful lot of stuff about you. Very...interesting."

"Bullshit." He actually had the gall to laugh, "I never told him anything of value. He was a hired gun, some freak with blue skin the cops and other vigilantes in costumes could focus on while the actual important things were happening." He leaned against the wall with his back, "What'd he tell you? That we busted him out of prison just so he could pick a fight with you? Don't make me laugh. He held a grudge ever since you've been busting him and we fed him that line when he was leery of putting on the suit. You'd be surprised how much pride these guys have."

"So why did you bust him out?"

"That falls under need to know, and guess which side you fall on?" He waved his hands and shook his head casually, "Sorry, sweetie, not telling. And really, I'm only here to deliver a message: Stay out of our way and we'll stay outta yours. My boss promises she's not gonna have a repeat of what happened with Aleksei again. It was just business, you understand, nothing personal. She's actually really fond of you in a weird way." He chuckled, "So, what do you say? Truce?"

Right, no more Mrs. Nice Spider, "No, how about this." She crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes in the closest approximation of a glare she could muster, "You tell me what your boss told you and where Mac is and I'll let you keep all your teeth." She offered, her voice sickeningly sweet, "Hippo in that little mech suit of his couldn't stop me so I'm not liking your chances here. Your choice: Easy way or hard way, either way I get what I want."

Spider-sense.

Gwen ducked, avoiding the bolt of electricity that came surging where her shoulder just was, "Why does no one ever pick the easy way!?" Her senses buzzing once again, she side-stepped another blast and charged for him. Better she take him out before Cap gets here.

He put a damper on her plans by ducking her punch, delivering a powerful blow to her stomach hard enough to make her step back, "You kidding me, kid?" Following up, he brought his leg up to knee her in the stomach; though this time she managed to block it, "Huh...strong, but definitely crude. You ever actually been in a fight without your powers? Might wanna take up some lessons."

"Don't need it to stop you." She jumped back and webbed his hands, pulling him towards her. Third time had to be the charm, right?

Apparently not. His hands were covered in some sort of green energy and her webs quickly melted, "Where the hell did you learn to fight, old kung fu movies? You're practically announcing where you're going to hit!" He blocked her punch with one hand while another gripped her neck, "Maybe try not raising your hands so soon next time? You definitely have potential but all this fancy %^&* is holding you back."

"Thanks for the tip, teach!"

She clenched her free hand and socked him right between the legs, only to be met with the dull thud of something metallic colliding against her fist, "Uh...please don't tell me-"

"Extra protection. Everyone always goes down there." The hand wrapped around her neck was covered in the green energy again. Gwen could feel the heat through the fabric, her costume already trying to repair the burning cloth, "I'm not an idiot: If this fight drags on I'm not gonna be able to win, so lets stop it here." His grip on her neck loosened, "My employer doesn't want to kill you, so just-"

He released her and jumped back just before a multi-colored shield spun through where his head was, "...Cap, nice of you to drop in." Gasping in relief at the sudden resurgence of air, Gwen gave the older woman an appreciative look as the shield circled back to her waiting hands, "You met my new friend? He's-"

"Agent 77, operative of S.I.L.K." She cut off, giving the man in red a chilling glare, "Yeah, we met before. Put your hands behind your head and get down on the ground. You're under arrest for terrorism, treason and a whole list of other atrocities."

"Placing me under arrest, Captain? Big talk from someone hanging out with a convicted murderer..." He replied.

"Spider-Woman is innocent, whereas we have undeniable proof of your guilt." She stepped forward, shield raised threateningly, "One more chance, Agent. Surrender and I can guarantee you won't be harmed."

"How you go %^&* yourself?"

He pulled the pin on one of the devices on his belt and the entire room was covered in a blinding light. Gwen raised her hands to cover her eyes, just barely hearing the sounds of shattering glass and Captain America cursing in that really weird, old way of hers. By the time the light had finally faded she spotted Cap gripping the edges of the broken window, hands shaking and mouth parted in a fierce scowl.

"...So I'm guessing you aren't on Christmas card terms with him." She joked, noting with slight relief that her suit had fully stitched itself together already, "So..who was that guy? 'Agent 77'? What is this, 'Contract Killer'? Is he bald clone with a bardcode at the back of his head too?"

"He's not a clone." She shook her head and released a frustrated breath, "I don't know who he really is. He's been very careful to keep his identity away from S.H.I.E.L.D''s databases. The fact that he's here now..."

"I'm guessing its bad news."

"Very." She turned back to look at her, "Spider-Woman, I'm sorry to say this but I'm going to have to cut this short. Agent 77's presence here implies a lot of things, none of them pleasant. I'm going to have to follow up on a lead about a supposed base right here in New York. I had my doubts on its validity, but now..." Her grip on her shield tightened, "Now I'm not so sure. Either way I have to go."

"Woah, woah, woah! Hold on a minute here!" She cried, "Could you slow down and explain it for us lowly street heroes? I'm no S.H.I.E.L.D agent, so you're gonna have to run that by me. Who the %^&* is S.I.L.K. and why did that guy take Mac? He said they were responsible for giving Aleksei his little suit of armor but what are they? Are they connected to StarkTech or something?"

"We checked that connection; no conclusive pipelines between the two as far as we could see. As for S.I.L.K itself..." She sighed, "It's complicated. Let's just say they're big and they're by all rights a terrorist group. Oil spills to drum up profits or lower investor stocks; a bombing scare to more easily sell weapons; blackmailing political officials to get 'benefits'; and yes outfitting certain people with tech far too advanced for them when paid enough or offered a favor in exchange. They've got their hands practically everywhere and we've spent years trying to track them down despite their recent origins."

"Yeesh. What is this, cyberpunk?" She crossed her arms. She was in over her head, that was for sure, "Alright, so these guys do a lot of bad shit, I get it. What's Agent 47's deal back there?"

"77, and he's one of S.I.L.K.'s top agents. We've had run-ins with him before, but he's pretty good at keeping himself hidden so far. We've had intel placing him as far as China, Afghanistan and Vietnam. He gets around."

"He had powers. Some...glowing green thing on his hands."

"Bio-electricity. Origin's unknown, but I've seen him kill people with one hit of those." She gave her a pointed look, "You're lucky that you only got some burns. He went any higher and I'm not sure if even your enhanced durability would have stopped your throat from jumping out of your body."

"That's an image..." Gwen muttered, "Right, so you said you were going for one of their bases, right? Where is it? I'll come with, maybe I can-"

"Absolutely not. You might be doing good work out there, Spider-Woman, but this is a S.H.I.E.L.D operation and like you said before 'you're not one of my soldiers'." Cap offered her a wry smile, "Go home, spend some time with your friends or your family and let me handle this."

"Woah, no way! Not happening!" Exclaimed the superheroine, "Dunno how much of that conversation you heard, but he was responsible for giving tall, blue and ugly a mech suit and he kidnapped Mac to do mad science %^&* to him again! Like it or not I'm involved in this now."

The older hero stood firm, "Fair point, but my argument still stands. This is a S.H.I.E.L.D operation and much as I like you, kid, I can't have you interfering with this. We already had Hawkeye griping that someone ruined the operation down by the docks and caused the whole warehouse explode, so Peggy's really on edge of anyone outside of authorized personnel getting involved with this. Sorry, no budging this time."

"But...I promised Mac I'd help him..."

"Just trust me." She clapped her shoulder again (how many times was that now?), "We'll rescue any victims we find down there and heal them if we can, so don't fret. You just worry about that information I gave you. You have your whole future ahead of you. Don't waste it..."

Right..." She nodded and watched cap run off, no doubt to get picked up by her invisible spaceship of awesomesauce while she had to decide between ruining her best friend's name or officially carrying that murder charge for the rest of her life.

Well, they all had to face the music some time...


...Then again, she didn't have to face it right now.

'I am such an #$%^&*#!' She grimaced, landing atop a rooftop a fair distance away from where Cap entered, 'Well, she said I couldn't join her...if I just happened to find the building cause I spent the last ten minutes stalking her...' Arguments and justifications ran inside her head, each more pathetic than the last. One benefit of having a policeman father: You learn to loophole like a %^&*$ if you want to avoid being given the 'so disappointed in you' eyes. Like her justification that her mask was her badge; a bit dramatic, but hey it worked, didn't it?

Now, where was she...?

Lowering into a crouch, she leaned over the edge and looked at the building in question, 'Looks like an abandoned apartment...' Definitely nothing special by the looks of it - A few stories high, made of old, snow-covered bricks with most of its windows shattered. It looked like it was set to be demolished, 'Then again, what better place to put your secret lair? No one looks twice at a condemned building. It's like Max Agony all over again.'

She saw Cap go in maybe two minutes ago, and if her comic books were in any way accurate then it'd take her maybe eight to clear the whole place in time for a quippy one-liner about truth, justice and the American way. She had to plan, 'Alright, how to play this? Maybe say I was on my way home and I saw a mugging and coincidentally saw the building? ...Shit, she's not gonna buy that! Hell, I wouldn't buy that! Maybe I should try Operation: Hammer Time-'

"Don't move."

She felt cold metal brushing against the back of her head followed by the click of what definitely sounded like a gun, 'Thanks a lot, Spider-sense.' She sighed. She knew she wasn't really in danger, but it stung all the same when she was snuck up on, "...Are we really going to do this CSI shit, Falc? I thought we were pals!"

Another tense moment passed before she heard a sigh and the gun was withdrawn. Breathing a sigh of relief, she picked herself up and came face-to-face with the masked teen's unamused glare, "You're not supposed to be here, Spider-Woman." He put the pistol back in its holster, frown deepening, "Godmother was very clear that unauthorized people were to be kept out of the premises."

"Yeah, I heard about the warehouse and saw the blockades on the way in..." She muttered, "Still, I'm involved with this so I gotta get in there. Can't exactly go to sleep knowing there's a mad science lab under the neighborhood, you know? That little voice in the back of my head's gonna be nagging me till I deal with it."

"Then put on headphones. I was told very specifically-"

Whatever he was about to declare was drowned out by the sudden clap of bright light. Turning her head from the gun-toting clone, she watched with mouth agape as crackles of electricity came from the broken windows before the entire area was shrouded in darkness. "Uh...who turned out the lights?" Everything was gone; the streetlamps, the building lights, even Falcon's dorky little masklight, "Uh...did we get hit with an EMP while I wasn't looking?"

"No...worse."

A figure stumbled out of the building, but it definitely wasn't Cap. It was hard to make out because of the darkness, but it looked like a girl covered in what appeared to be a loose hospital gown. Gwen's eyes narrowed as she spied the torrents of electricity seemingly following in her wake, her every feet crackling with every step as the blue torrents pulsed all around her.

Falcon's reaction was immediate, "Damn it! Need to take the shot!" He picked up his rifle and prepared to take aim, one hand tapping the communicator in his ear despite the blaring static, "Godmother, one of the subjects escaped. I need to take the shot, can you confirm I'm a go?" He tapped it again, but no response came, "Godmother? Damn it! If you can hear me I'm going to contain-"

"No, wait!" She grabbed the rifle's barrel and pulled, breaking what must have been a dozen rules on gun safety in the process, "We don't know if she's dangerous or not! She might be innocent like Mac!"

"I don't know who that is, but it's a risk we can't afford! You saw what she did: If she escapes she could harm more people. We have to-"

"I'll talk to her!" She pulled the weapon away from his hands and webbed it against the wall. She was going to get a lecture from Cap for that later, but %^&* it, "Just...stay here and don't shoot her with that pistol of yours. I wanna avoid a fight if we can."

She didn't wait for him to nod before she jumped, swinging over the hunched over woman and landing a small distance away, 'Right, calm down. Just do it like Mac and for once try not to be a smartass. Girl looks like she's been through hell.' She took a hesitant step forward, hands raised in surrender. She wasn't going to have another repeat of last night before they got to the talking.

The woman's head snapped up at her entrance, allowing her to finally get a good look at her features: Eyes glowing with an unnatural blue light, her pale skin marked with electric veins that continually pulsed. She saw tears running down her face, electricity dancing between her hands and feet like she was a wire. But even through it all she could hear the girl's sobbing, the choked cries of pain.

'Oh my God...those bastards!'

"S...Spider-Woman...?" Her voice sounded off...distorted like she was speaking with an echo "Is...Is that you?"

"Yeah, it's me." She took another hesitant step forward and winced as a bolt whizzed past her head, her spider-sense tingling just a bit too late, "Do you...can you hear me? Understand what I'm saying?"

"Y-Yes..." Her breathing quickened and she wrapped her arms tighter around herself, "I...it hurts, Spider-Woman. It hurts..."

"Alright, alright. Just-Just look at me and I promise it'll be okay." The hairs on her skin stood on end. It was like going up to a powerline with no protection. She took a deep breath and took another step, "Lets take this slow...what's your name?" God, he had to calm her down somehow. He couldn't help her if getting this close already caused her skin to crawl, "If...If it's too personal you don't have to tell me, it's okay-"

"I...my name is Maxine...we met a few days ago...I-I took a picture with you-"

"The one I saved from a mugging." She said, voice soft. God, she almost unrecognizable, "Y-Yeah, I remember. What...What happened to you? Who did this to you?" She would make them pay for it.

"I...I don't know exact names..." She shut her eyes desperately, "I was...they took me not long after you left...said I had potential."

"Potential...what...what do they mean by that?" She lowered her hands, allowing her breathing to calm. Everything was going to be okay, she reassured herself. They were going to get this girl help and then punch the living daylights out of whoever hurt her.

"It's...I don't know, it's hard to remember. All scrambled...just a few names I don't understand..." She looked down at her veiny hands, "I...there was a woman, she broke in there and there was a lot of running, screaming...I ran and..."

"Now we're here." She finished. It still didn't explain the big blackout, but it was clear for anyone to see she couldn't control her powers, "Alright...I think I'm getting the picture." She took a deep gulp and took another tentative step. They were close enough that she could reach out and touch her, "Look...the woman who busted in there was Captain America, she's one of the good guys." Her web-shooters were vibrating...was that normal? "If we explain the situation I'm sure she'll be able to help you, okay? I'm sure they can fix you, put you back to normal."

"Normal...yes, please." She nodded and offered a faint smile, "Wh-Who does she work for?"

Gwen exhaled, giving a smile of her own, "It's this big bunch of good guys called S.H.I.E.L.D. I'm sure they'll-"

Something was wrong, her spider-sense was screaming at her to run and swing away as fast as she could, "S.H.I.E.L.D...?" Gwen backed away as the crackling of electricity worsened, the lights around her flickering on and off in a frenzy, "Th-They're the one that did this to me! They're the ones who-"

"No, that wasn't them!" She rebuked quickly. She could see the pulsing worsen, the veins expanding and covering whatever remained of her normal flesh. She had to calm her down, "It was this organization called S.I.L.K! Cap and the rest of S.H.I.E.L.D are trying to stop them, I promise-"

"Liar!"

She flipped back as a bolt of energy came at her, expelling from the enraged woman's hands. Spider-Woman grimaced and jumped to avoid another blast, sticking a building's wall to keep herself out reach, '%^&*! %^&*! %^&*! Crap has officially hit the fan!' She slid down the wall, just barely avoiding the next wave and the falling debris that came soon after, '%^&*, that was close!'

"Maxine-"

"No, you're not taking me back! I'd rather die!"

Gunshots rang out and she saw Falcon charging towards them, pistol aimed and firing at her midsection. She saw the bullets shoot towards her then stop, bolts of electricity making them pause midair before they shot off in different directions.

"Falcon, I told you not to-"

"I knew it, you were here to take me back!" The lights were going haywire, many of them exploding from the extreme electrical surge, "I'll...I'll kill anyone who tries to hurt me again! You're all going to pay!"

She saw a hand raise towards Falcon and she acted on instinct, "No!" Shooting a line of webbing from both her wrists, she grabbed the electric woman's wrists and pulled, forcing the blast upwards before it could hurt the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, "Maxine, please! We don't want to fight you and you've been tricked just like Mac was! Just please calm down and let us help you before you do something you're going to regret!"

"Let go of me!"

She saw the current of electricity run through the webbing and she released, but it was too late. Through the burst of static she could feel her webshooters breaking, the sound of exploding machinery brief before it was drowned out by her enraged screams, "You...You all stay away from me! If any of you get near me...I'll-I'll kill you!"

"Maxine!"

It was too late. Gwen watched helplessly as the woman jumped away, soaring over the rooftops and leaving the street in darkness, "God damn it!" She raised her hands to form a web and scowled at the uncooperative click, "No, no, no, no! Come on, you piece shit! Work!" She tried once more, but again she was met with the sound of pathetic whirring, "Come on, please don't do this to me now! I need to-"

"You're not gonna catch her now." Falcon interrupted, a scowl on his face, "Should've let me take the shot when I had the chance!"

"Look what happened! I told you not to shoot-"

"And I told you not to interfere with S.H.I.E.L.D business, Spider-Woman!"

Both the superhero and the clone turned and grimaced as Captain America strode towards them, her expression unamused. Her entire body was covered in a thin layer of soot and Gwen could make out the cuts and burns through the damage of her costume, "Falcon, let me and Spider-Woman talk alone and go to Peggy for a debrief. This mission's a failure."

"But-"

"Now." She said, her tone leaving no room for argument. She waited for her protege to leave before turning to the other costumed woman, "I believe I made myself perfectly clear back there. This was an official S.H.I.E.L.D operation, not a back robbery by the White Rabbit. There's a reason the police don't get called in when we're fighting H.Y.D.R.A and why I told you not to come when I did this."

"She was-"

"She escaped, that's all that Peggy's going to care about." She pinched the bridge of her nose and released a frustrated a breath, "I understand you wanted to help, but this isn't as simple as just beating up the bad guy and letting the police take it from there. This was delicate...and now we have some scared little girl running around out there with enough power to fry the entire New York power grid."

"I can-"

"I think you've done enough." Cap shook her head, voice resigned, "Just...give me your webshooters and head back home, kid. I'm sure your dad misses you."

"M-My webshooters? Why do you want them?" Gwen held her wrists closer to her protectively. It might have been weird to be so attached but she'd had these things for nearly five years now. That was a quarter of her life right there, "Look, I know I %^&*$# up here but that doesn't mean-"

"Because whatever she did completely broke them and I doubt you have Ms. Van Dyne on speed-dial." She crossed her arms, "It shouldn't take more than a few hours to get it fixed up again and I'll have it dropped at your apartment as soon as it does." She clicked her tongue, "Just promise to keep your nose clean from now on and I'll make sure Peggy doesn't hold you accountable for what happened here.

"You know where I live-"

"Yes, along with the fact that you're supposed to be having dinner with the Parkers right now alongside your father, Ms. Stacy." The older woman held out her hand and she could only numbly follow the command, placing the sputtering bracelets atop her palm, "Good. I'll have this back good as new ASAP, but until then just try to keep it easy and for God's sake please stay out of our way."

Gwen could do nothing but nod and trudge away, idly wondering just how much else Cap knew about her, "Great...this was a total shit show..." She waited until she was atop the closest building before she removed her mask, a frown etched on her face, "Dad's probably wondering where I am, Maxine's gone nuts and Cap pretty much grounded me and told me to go %^&* myself."

The old Stacy luck was hitting again. Just when she thought things were finally looking up.

Chapter Text

"What's happening to me...?"

Maxine stumbled down the dark alleyway from her impromptu taste of flight, hands pressed against her ringing head. Everything hurt, she could...feel electricity running through her like blood, her veins alight with the blue glow, "Make it stop..." Tears ran down her glowing eyes, smalls wisps of smoke following the trail. She should be dead, should have been nothing more than a charred corpse after everything she'd been through. Everyone else who'd been...been turned did.

And yet here she was, alive...

"Please..." Her skin burned, crackles of electricity bouncing against the dirty walls. Even through everything she still felt the sting of the needles against her neck, the syringes full of God knows what being pumped into her, "S.H.I.E.L.D...she said she was with them..." Her teeth pressed together tightly. Everything was blurry, her memories a garbled mess of the hours upon hours of torture, but she definitely remembered that. She kept mentioning that name, thanking them for all the data she had and that without them none of this would have been possible at all.

"Wh-Where am I!? What is this!?"

She struggled against the shackles on her arms and legs, eyes narrowing at the bright light overhead. She could feel the exposed parts of her body shivering from the cold metal of the table she was strapped to, "I-Is anyone there!?" She looked left and right frantically, unable to raise her head due to the tight collar keeping her pinned. God, it was so hard to breath. She felt like she was being choked.

Where was she? The room was bright, almost painfully so, allowing her a clear view of the thick metal shutters on both sides of her and the singular doorway from where her head faced, "This...why am I here? Oh God, oh God..." She didn't do anything wrong! She would never do anything wrong! She went to school, she did her responsibilities, she spent time with her family! Why would anyone take her!?

The shutters suddenly rose and she heard it: Screams, voices just as panicked as her own. She couldn't see them because of her bindings but she heard enough that she didn't need to, "Wh-Who else is there!?" She called out, though no one answered; all too busy with their own questions, screaming out pleas for help or cursing at whoever had all brought them here.

It didn't take a genius to know they were fucked.

This was insane. She'd seen metahumans before, seen celebrities like Spider-Woman or She-Hulk on the news, but she never thought she'd turn into this...this thing, "Why did this happen to me...?" Her body was beginning to feel numb. Despite the thick snow covering the ground she felt nothing on her bare feet, no chill despite the freezing winds buffeting her body through the thin hospital gown.

"Pay...they're all gonna pay..." She stopped and leaned against the wall, eyes shut tightly. She knew it was wrong: Her emotions were going haywire, jumping from one extreme to the next. Rage, sadness, fear, helplessness, despair before settling once again on burning anger. She wanted to stop it, wanted to stop it so she could go back to normal. She'd always dreamed of having powers, the idle fantasies of a bored teenager.

But not like this. Never like this.

She needed help. She wasn't a scientist, wasn't some kind of supergenius like Janet Van Dyne! She couldn't do anything by herself!

"L-Let me out of here, please!"

The figure next to her ignored her, looking down at the holographic board in her hands, "Maxine Dillon...hmm, according to your file there's nothing special about you. Average grades, office worker parents, deadbeat brother, few friends, no boyfriend, college course in accounting...boring, boring, boring! I've seen all this before." She sighed and turned her eyes away from the screen, "This is really the best they could do? I gotta get better agents..."

"P-Please...let me go..."

""Right, right, I heard you the first time." She snapped back exasperatedly, "You know, why can't everyone be like Agent Drew? Now that guy's life is exciting. Born on a space station with parents who are opposing spies? That's grade-A movie material right there." She sighed again, "Now look at what I'm working with here! You and your deadbeat brother have a tiny little spark, and you don't do anything with it? Where's the excitement? Where's the drama and attempting superheroics?"

"I-I don't know what you're talking about! Just-Just let me go!"

She fell into a fetal position, hugging her knees to her chest rocking herself slowly. She could feel the electricity around her...settling, the vibration of her skin settling into a more rythmic hum, "It's going to be okay, Maxine...you can do this..." She swallowed nervously, trying to ignore the sparks at the edges of her vision. She didn't want to hurt anyone, right? She didn't mean any harm. She just had to calm down, find her way back to her parents without attracting attention to herself. The ones who did this to her would pay, but besides that...

Maybe...Maybe Spider-Woman really was trying to help her? She was a hero, wasn't she? She saw her save people, witnessed firsthand how she helped a stranger being mugged even when she had no idea who she was. Maybe-

It was all a lie! Maybe JJJ was right and she really was just a murderer! Why the hell else would she be working for the people who turned her into a fucking freak!? She had to have known, she had to! The alternative was too foolish, but-

Perhaps she didn't know? She was a hero. Even when the police were shooting at her she still did her best to help them, even when people threw insults and threats her way she did her best to help them. She-

Let her get shot! If it wasn't for these powers she would have been dead, would have been killed by that...that thug dressed like a damn flag! She had to have known what happened to her; how else could she appear so fast!? She knew and she was trying to take her back and, failing that, sic that thug on her to make sure she didn't escape. Well she wasn't going to let them take her again! She was going to-

"God damn it!" She smashed her hand against the ground, ignoring the burst of energy expelling from her fingertips. Everything was a fucking mess; one minute she was angry, the next she wanted to curl into a ball and cry herself to sleep, "Just...look normal...just for a bit." She cried, watching with muted relief as her flesh turned into a facsimile of her expected skin tone.

She didn't know what else would change, but she was certain of one thing - It wasn't going to stop any time soon.

"Right, lets get started."

She snapped her fingers and Maxine felt the table shift, moving till she was 'standing' almost upright, "Wh-What are you g-going t-t-to do!?" Her eyes widened as she caught sight of the tray containing scalpels, syringes and God only knew what else save the fact that she didn't want them anywhere near her, "D-Don't come near me! I'll...I'll-"

"What, stutter at me?" She rolled her eyes and picked up the syringe filled with yellow liquid, "Oh please. Those shackles are made of vibranium, idiot. Not even She-Hulk could bust out of those." She held it up to the light, lips pressing into a thin line, "Right, should probably give you fair warning: This is going to hurt like a bitch for...well, just about the entire time really. We found that painkillers interfere with the compounds, so you're just going to have to deal with it." She shrugged lazily, "But hey, bright side is you can get superpowers! Isn't that what everyone wants?"

"N-No...just...please-"

"Yak, yak, yak. You know, you're lucky I stopped binding the subject's mouths shut after the whole sonic scream incident. I mean you would be surprised just how fucking many of you guys have powers coming out of the mouths! I mean, what is with that? I thought it was just a coincidence but after the fourth guy's head exploded I had to face facts." Her shoulders sagged, "So if you can keep the screaming to a minimum, 'kay? Really don't wanna mess this up."

Ignoring her screams, she pressed the needle against her neck and watched as the beginning sparks flew across her body.

"Woah, what do we have here?"

Eyes snapping to the source of the voice, Maxine flinched back at the sight of the sneering smile coming from the lanky figure in front of her, 'Gangsters...' She shuddered. She'd seen their types on the news: Ratty clothes, large chains on their necks and wrists and enough tattoos to make an artist blush. It was nighttime, the perfect time for them to start 'hunting'; she counted at least six of them, each of them looking at her with that same disgusting fucking smile.

"'St-Stay away from me..." She curled harder into herself. She could feel anger rising, the urge to electrocute them until they were nothing but ash, 'No, no, no. I don't want to hurt anyone if I can...' Once she started she didn't know if she'd be able to stop. It was a miracle she'd gotten this far, "I...you..." Ignoring every instinct telling her otherwise, she stood up shakily and made to turn around "I...I have to go, please don't-"

Too late.

"Hey, what's the rush?" The one in front - probably the leader - reached out faster than she could run and grabbed her wrist, yanking her back painfully. Maxine could feel the pulsing in her body rise, stuttering into a more chaotic din, "You look like you're in trouble and we's just wanted to see if we could help."

She saw the way his eyes wandered, the way the others were licking their lips. A mugging would've been the least of her problems: A girl out alone at night wearing barely anything to cover herself? It was like a Goddamned invitation for these sick bastards, "I...you don't want to do this...I don't want to hurt you." She warned. God, it would've been so easy to just...just turn them all to fucking ash.

Raucous laughter followed her warning, followed by the leader pulling her even closer, "Oh, trust me, girlie, I ain't worried about that." His mouth widened into a smile, flashing stained teeth, "Now, let's just-"

"Let go of me!"

Her eyes flashed and a burst of energy expelled from her body, forcing him to step back with the rest of them quickly following. They were going to die; she'd warned them, given them enough chances to avoid this. It wasn't her fault.

"Sh-She's one of those fucking freaks! Sh-Shoot her, now!"

He never got the chance. Before Maxine could cover herself in electricity and turn the bastards to charcoal a dark blur dropped in front of her, knocking away the weapon with a quick twist of the arm, "Ain't nice to point guns at dames, fellers." He threw the would-be gunman into another nearby pair before confining the rest to the alley's walls with a burst...of...webbing.

'No...no, no, no, no!' He was...he must have been with Spider-Woman! Maybe...Maybe he could help-

She wasn't going to let him take her back! She would rather die!

"H-Hey, who the fuck are-"

"Shut up" Spider-Man hissed, smashing a fist against his face and knocking him unconscious, "You wait here till the coppers come fetch ya. Sure they'll just love to hear why six guys are ganging up on a single dame." God this place was giving him a headache. Back home hitting a twist wasn't exactly all that rare, but at the very least the goombas didn't need an entire posse to do it, "86 years and the brunos just get more pathetic...maybe that's why the clowns started doing their thing."

"Sh-She's a fucking freak!" Another yelled, struggling against the black webbing futilely, "W-We were just defending ourselves!"

"Freaks all over this city, doubt that's much of a reason to start pulling guns." He scoffed. If Spider-Woman could be one of those 'Superheroes' then he doubted having powers in this world was all too rare. Besides, given everything he'd seen he doubted she was-

Spider-sense.

Peter ducked and winced as a bolt of what looked like lightning soared where his head once was, "What the...?" Scrambling back into a stand, his remaining eye widened at the sight of the dame he'd been trying to rescue looking like something out of a Frankenstein movie, "...Damn it, why can't anything ever be simple?" He sneered, the constant buzzing at the back of his head not helping his mood, "Alright, look. Whatever happened here-"

His spider-sense blared, but it was too late. A burst of electricity smashed against his chest and he flew, landing outside the alley and into the unforgiving pavement with a painful thud. He could see people crossing the streets stopping to stare, "G-Get out of here!" He screamed, struggling to stand. He didn't want any other people at risk, "Now, before she-"

"You're not taking me back!"

She burst from the alley with a deafening boom. Spider-Man felt his heart jump out of his chest as the electronics around her exploded, the energy covering her body expanding till there was no bare flesh left, "First I'll kill you, then I'll kill everyone else who did this to me!" She threw a blast of lightning at a parked car near him, causing the automobile to explode in a fiery blaze and knocking him on his back, "You're going to pay for what you did to me...!"

"...Oh applesauce."


She made it in time for dinner.

Gwen did her best to smile as she dug into the roast beef, ignoring the events an hour prior. She wished she was out there right now trying to find Mac and Maxine, but Cap had made her feelings on that particularly clear, 'Secret identity ultimatum, much?' She chewed sullenly, at least trying to savor the taste of the meat. If there was one thing she couldn't deny it was that Aunt May was the best cook she'd ever known. Given that neither she or her dad were exactly culinary masters more often than not she found herself eating over here whenever she could.

"And then wouldn't you know it, George here starts singing like its the 4th of July!"

She only had to half-force herself to laugh at the story. It was probably the hundredth time she'd heard the tale of her dad drunkenly singing the American anthem at the roof pantsless. Uncle Ben loved telling this story, and both her and May would laugh and dad would act embarrassed like it was the first time the story had been shared. It was practically tradition that they all laughed at the stupid jokes.

And then Peter would tell Ben how many times he'd told the story before...

"You already told us that story, Uncle Ben." She recited. Same words every time, same clap on the shoulder and easy smile, "When are you gonna tell us about the time you guys went to Mardi Gras for the weekend?"

"Ah, it's a story worth repeating, Gwennie the Pooh." He clapped her shoulder, the smile on his face almost infectious. Always with that nickname..."As for that story...well, I think George has dibs on telling that. Ain't that right, bud?"

"Never gonna happen, Ben." Her dad grunted, mouth quirking in a slight smile. He always seemed looser around the Parkers, something she was personally glad for, "There's a reason we made that oath and I don't care if we were drunk at the time. Whatever happened there stays between us."

"Oh dear..." May cut in, her tone faux-scandalized, "I hope it wasn't too dangerous whatever it was."

It was...rehearsed, almost like they were reading their lines from a %^&*$#& teleprompter. She loved spending time with the Parkers; they were practically a second family for her ever since she and Peter met almost 12 years ago, especially when her mom died. But right now...she was really starting to hate all this %^&*$#, pretending like nothing was wrong and that Peter's glaring absence wasn't hanging over them.

She glanced discreetly at the empty seat at her side. It'd been years since Peter died, but his surrogate parents seemed determined to leave everything as is: His chair was still there, his room had been untouched and all the pictures were still collecting dust on the wall. If she didn't know any better she would have thought he was still kicking around the house, still making projects on his computer and excitedly rambling about how he was going to be the next Tony Stark.

"Gwen, is something wrong?" Aunt May asked, jarring her out of her thoughts, "You look unwell, dear. Feeling sick?"

"I...no, just a long day. Studying for the entrance exams, you know." She mumbled, looking back down at her food. Aunt May said she no longer blamed Spider-Woman for her son's death, but she still found it difficult to look the old woman in the eyes at times. How would she react, knowing she was sharing a table with someone who the world considered to be the murderer of her son?

"Ah, the old college months of hell." Uncle Ben chimed in, thankfully saving her from trying to mumble another response, "You sure it doesn't get lonely in that old house, George? Must have been a sad day to see old Gwennie here leaving the nest."

"Oh please, dad was practically waiting to get that place all to his own," Gwen teased, her smile lopsided, "Besides, now that I'm gone he's going to fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming a Private Investigator; dealing with conspiracies and falling in love with the sexy but dangerous femme fatales. I even saw him buying a trenchcoat and fedora earlier, so don't be surprised if you start to hear him monologuing."

"I was doing no such thing, young lady, and I'll thank you not to share rumors about my new line of work."

After that it was back to the usual: Uncle Ben telling stories, her father playing the unamused partner in crime while the two girls listened on and laughed at all the appropriate times. She wanted to enjoy herself - practiced or not - but her mind kept drawing back to the USB stick burning a damn hole in her pocket. What exactly was she thinking bringing it here? It was bad enough she was blamed for his death, but keeping proof that their son had turned himself into a giant Lizard monster was just...

She was quiet for the rest of the meal and when it came time to clean up she offered to help the dishes, ignoring Aunt May's insistence that she was a guest. She needed to clear her head, maybe some manual labor would help with that.

"I'm sorry about Ben. He can be...rambunctious." Aunt May said, giving her a 'what can you do?' smile, "He's just been so excited to have you two over. Ever since Peter's passing you and George were practically strangers..."

"I...I know, I'm sorry about that." She picked up a plate, hoping that she wouldn't accidentally break it like last time, "It's just...I was there in prom, you know, with Harry and the others. Me and him both, we...well, I guess we were just dumb teenagers. We blamed ourselves for what happened, Aunt May. If we'd done something then maybe Peter wouldn't have..." Turned himself into a monster, "Gotten killed."

"Harry...oh, I remember him. Such a nice boy." She shook her head, her smile turning melancholic, "Peter was so glad when they first became friends. They shared the same interests, did whatever it was boys did when they're with each other."

"Haha, yeah...I still remember them kicking me out that one time cause, and I quote, 'No girls allowed, this is a Man-tivity'." She rolled her eyes. The two were always dorks like that. She definitely remembered cussing them out when they closed the door in her face, "I mean, I played Dungeons and Dragons with those two but then suddenly I'm not allowed into their little man cave cause they're doing each others nails? Kiss my...backside." She finished lamely. She always tried to control her cursing around them.

"They were talking about girls they liked, dearie. I'm sure they were embarrassed having someone besides each other there."

"Pfft, what? I wouldn't have teased them about it..."

"Oh, I'm not so sure." Her voice was almost playful, "Who knows, maybe they were talking about you. I saw the way Peter looked at you sometimes. You know, when he was younger he asked 'Aunt May, Aunt May, is that an angel?' when he saw you for the first time. I'll never forget it."

"Haha...no way." She looked away to hide her frown. Talking like this with May felt nice, but drudging up old memories never stopped feeling like a pain in the %^&*$#& a$$. Maybe it was just her, but she always ended up getting caught in too many 'What-ifs' for her own good. Hell, there were times she wondered if her dad would be such a sourpuss if her mom was still alive.

Or how it would be like if she never got bit by that radioactive spider...

"...Dear, what's wrong?" May asked her suddenly.

"H-Huh, nothing's-"

"Now, young lady, I may be old but I'm not senile," She scolded lightly, "I could tell something was bothering you ever since we started dinner. If you don't want to tell me that's fine, but you know that it helps to talk about it."

Gwen sighed. Damn it, why did she always sound like that? That 'you don't have to do what I say but you'll feel like you kicked a puppy if you say no to me' voice of hers was practically a superpower in its own right. Maybe she could have convinced Maxine to let herself get help...

"It's just..." She dropped the dish she was scrubbing back into the sink, "You and Uncle Ben loved Peter so much, and...dad told you about his findings, didn't he? That Spider-Woman wasn't responsible for his death?" May nodded, eyebrows furrowing in worry, "Well...what if you found out the truth...but it wasn't what you thought? What if the truth was worse and it...it..."

"Dear, what are you-"

"What if you found out something that completely twists everything around? Spider-Woman murdering Peter Parker is simple. It's cruel, but it's understandable." She was rambling now, but she couldn't find it in herself to just shut up, "But...But what if it wasn't that simple or black and white? What if-"

"I don't understand what's-"

"What if Peter wasn't murdered? What if his death was his own fault? What if all this...all this hunting for his murderer, all the rants Jonah had on tv was just pointless hot air? If the truth was-"

"If that's the truth then I would want to hear it." May placed a gloved hand atop her own and squeezed gently, "I...I told you before that I blamed Spider-Woman because I needed someone to push my grief onto and I regret doing it. Peter was...I love him like he's my own son, and because of that I'd want to know the truth. Even if it's painful I'd rather face that than continue to wonder what really happened to him."

"...It's not that easy, May. If he died in an accident it would be, but-"

Before she could finish Uncle Ben poked his head in, causing her words to die in her throat, "You two alright in here? George and I were firing up the old DVD player. I thought it was time to show you what happened in Mardi Gras."

"H-Huh?" She blinked in surprise before recomposing herself, "Um...well, I was thinking of heading back..." Maybe she'd get lucky and she'd hear about Maxine on the news or something. Cap told her to stay back, but...

"Nonsense, Gwennie! It took me a lot of haggling to let him show you the tape. You're not gonna miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, are ya? Ah, of course you won't! I'll fire up the player." He left before she could say another word, leaving her alone with May again.

"I-"

"Gwen, please stay." May nodded at her, "I know it's...difficult after everything, but Peter would want us to enjoy ourselves," She placed the last dish at the side and removed her gloves, "As for your question...we can discuss it whenever you're ready to continue, okay? I'll always be here to talk if you need me."

"You...um, thanks, Aunt May." She didn't know what else to say. Was it cowardly to leave the decisions in their hands? If she found out her mom killed herself rather than dying in an accident, wouldn't she want to know too? Absolutely. She never really believed in the idea of lying to yourself, but something like this...it wasn't black and white no matter how much Cap tried to convince her otherwise. The Parker's last memory of their son would be tainted.

She was right, they should talk about it later, "Save me a seat." But right now she was going to watch her dad make an utter a$$ of himself on television.

It was like Aunt May said: Wherever Peter was now, he would want him to enjoy themselves and move on.


Where the hell was Spider-Woman!?

Peter rolled to the side to avoid another blast of lightning, the smell of ozone in the air almost overpowering. All around him he could hear screaming, the sounds of stomping footsteps as the civilians tried to escape the Frankenstein's monster attacking him for God only knew what reason. He could see a few staying behind, however, either out of fear or stupidity. He needed to make sure they weren't hurt.

'This madhouse never makes sense. If this is the future then we're all hosed!'

"You're not taking me back!" She screamed. Wherever in the hell she thought he was planning to take her he didn't know, but it was obvious the woman was gonzo. There wouldn't be any reasoning with the crazies, he'd learned that from dealing with Xavier's little squad of sociopaths, "You and Spider-Woman...you're not heroes! You're just thugs working for that monster!"

He drew his gun and fired, barely even surprised to find the bullets whizzing away in a frenzy as they got near her, 'Bullets never seem to work on any of the freakshows here...' He quickly reloaded before holstering the weapon reluctantly and winced. He didn't like this, but he was going to have to risk it.

Dodging another blast, he jumped onto a truck before making a flying leap towards her, hands spraying a net of webbing at her legs. He couldn't fight her in the air, he had to drag her to his level, 'This is gonna hurt...' Thankfully(?) the netting made contact, allowing him to use the momentum to swing himself upright and grab hold of her covered feet, "Open wide, here comes the birdie!"

He thought he was being clever; punch her in the gut and watch her go down. But as his fist made contact with the blue flesh a jolt of electricity ran through him, forcing him to release the webbing and fall onto the ground in a painful crash, 'Damn it, this is worse than fighting Brock!' He scrambled away, hissing in pain as a bolt of lightning grazed his leg and burned the tissue. At least that freakshow could be shot!

So he couldn't punch her and he couldn't shoot her. What the hell was he supposed to do!? There was no way for him to hurt her, and he couldn't hit her without hurting himself, 'The longer the fight goes on the more people get hurt...' He took a quick glance around. She wasn't picky about where she shot; he saw a few (hopefully unconscious) civilians on the ground while buildings had entire chunks ripped out of them. 'Of course she had to choose and go gonzo in a damn plaza of all places.'

'This can't go on...' He fired back another couple of rounds, though he knew it was useless at this point, 'Could really use Spider-Woman's help right now. This is her job, she's the damn 'Superhero'!'

He jumped over a car, and realized only too late that was a mistake. A quick bolt of energy aimed at the metal deathtrap and he found himself barely jumping in time to avoid the explosion. Still, it was enough to make him crash against the wall and crack the brick, "Ah..." He shut his eyes in pain and coughed. He could taste the blood on his tongue, the injuries from that previous goon worsening.

"Damn...gonna feel that in the morning..."

She landed in front of him, hands raised in preparation to blast him once more, "Now you know how it feels! Now you know what it's like to be helpless!" She ranted, "How does it feel!? You and your boss strapped me to a table, and now you and Spider-Woman want to take me back to that hellhole!"

"Lady...I got no idea what the hell you're talking about!" He snarled. It was pointless to argue; crazies like that were always in their own little world and they refused to see reality for what it was, "You think...I'm some damn torturer...come to take you back to whatever hole you crawled out of...I have no idea what happened to you, but right now I don't give a rat's ass." Wherever she came from she'd hurt people, probably killed them. He had no sympathy to give.

"Don't lie to me!" She aimed a blast at his shoulder and he screamed at the feeling of burning electricity, "This isn't my fault! I never wanted to hurt people! You...all of you turned me into this thing! And now I-"

A blast of water came from the side, hard enough to knock her onto the ground. Peter turned and laughed in relief at the sight of a crew of firemen hosing her down, their looks of disbelief mirroring his own, 'A woman made of electricity...of course water would make her hurt.' He sucked in a pained breath and groped the wall, trying to find a handhold. Maybe now he could actually get his damn bearings.

Unfortunately his reprieve was short lived. He'd barely managed to stand before she lit up again, the energy exploding outward and forcing him on his back. Through his hazy vision he saw the firetruck explode, the screams of the firemen following soon afterwards. They were burning, suffering...dying. She was shooting at them, picking off any stragglers like a kid burning ants with a magnifying glass.

She was ranting again, screaming about how they shouldn't have gotten involved trying to save a 'fucking monster'. Peter felt his lungs burn, his vision growing more hazy as he pressed his hands against the cold ground. He could hear them...screaming for help, begging for mercy or biting back last curses as she tore them apart, 'She's killing them all...can't just sit here...gotta do something!'

"No..." God, it hurt to even move. He had to...he had to save at least one of them, damn it! "Get up...they're dying..." He ignored the taste of iron filling his mouth and and stood up shakily.

All in time to see the last fireman turn to ash right in front of him. He wished he could say it was a trick of the eye, a hallucination because of his addled mind, but it wasn't a sight he would soon forget: A grown man being forced on the ground by an unending torrent of electricity and, just for a moment, he screamed before his entire body dissipated into dust and was scattered into the wind.

"No!"

The next moments were hazy. He remembered charging at her, remembered bringing his fists down on her face and whatever part he could reach. He didn't know if it was even hurting her, didn't know how messed up he would be if he survived this, but he knew he didn't care. He wanted her to hurt, wanted her to give back even an ounce of what she'd done to those men whose only crime was trying to stop a madwoman from killing innocent people.

He could feel his fists turn raw after the first few strikes, but it was all worth it to see her flinch back, "You're not going to kill anyone else!" He aimed a burst of webbing at her head before following up with a kick. Every second, every delay he could keep her from fighting back he would take. He was going to stop her from letting out more of that those damn energy blasts if it was the last thing he did.

"Get off me!" He jumped back to avoid the backhand. Maybe it was just his imagination but he could have sworn she was getting weaker, 'Water...that did the trick before...' He couldn't use the firetruck, it was a burning heap of metal now. Anything else...maybe another hose or a-

A water tower. It wasn't too far away and it should have enough inside it to put her down at least for a bit, 'One last chance...' He sprayed a net, covering as much of her body he could, before turning and running. The building was a short distance away, and the time it took for her to burn off the webbing would give him the chance to climb it. His grip was shaky, his hands shaking from both pain and the constant jolts of electricity he'd been force-fed, but he managed to make it to the top.

And not too soon. He was barely atop the small rooftop before she was behind him again, her face twisted into an ugly sneer as he turned towards her, "You can't run from me!" She raised both hands and shot a large wave of electricity at him.

The pain was intense, the smell of cooking flesh already wafting up his nostrils. Struggling to keep focus, he aimed two bursts of webbing behind him at the tower's legs and pulled. Either he pulled down the tower on top of her or she turned him into ash like he did that fireman; either way it wasn't going to be a bed of roses for him, 'Come on, come on!' He could feel his clothes melting into his skin, but his grip on the webs never ceased.

With a painfully slow groan the tower fell, spilling its contents atop them both. She looked up in shock for a moment before the water covered them both, knocking both the Frankenstein's monster and the vigilante out of the roof and onto the street below.

When Maxine hit the ground it was...she wouldn't know how to describe it. All her anger dissipated, replaced only by a feeling of utter shock, "Wh-What...?" She looked around her frantically. Raw carnage, enough to make her sick to her stomach. She could see dead littering the streets, buildings on the brink of collapse, "Wh-What happened...?" She pressed both hands to cover her mouth, eyes looking on in horror at the scene around her.

In front of her was a dark figure kneeling on the ground, smoke emanating from his heaving body. She...She recognized him. She had...

Oh God...

This was all her fault. She'd done this, let her anger take over and...and she'd killed so many, nearly killed him because she jumped to conclusions, "Please..." Tears spilled from her eyes, bursts of electricity running through her wet and miserable form. She couldn't control it. It was no excuse, she knew that, but still. What could she say, how could she make amends for all this? There had to be a way, "I...I'm sorry-"

That was all she managed before two loud bangs pierced through the night air and she fell back, two wide holes running through her forehead.

Peter continued to fire until the chamber was empty, "Damn it..." He sheathed the revolver and moaned in pain. She was dead...good riddance. He could see pools of blood seeping from the wounds dotting her head and chest, staining the snowy ground crimson. Freakshow or not a shot through the head was a shot through the head. She wasn't going to get back up from that, "Just stay dead..."

Everything hurt. His skin burned and the cold winter air did nothing to sooth his nerves. He could see people beginning to draw to the battleground, regaining their confidence now that the Frankenstein's monster was dead. He heard them mumbling, looking in shock at the scores of dead body and then at the dead girl in front of him. How much had they seen?

They drew closer and he felt his spider-sense buzz just barely at the back of his head. He wanted to think they would help him, but after everything he'd seen here he got the distinct feeling they were more likely to try and unmask him now that he was weak.

He waited till they were close before he jumped over their heads, landing past the small crowd and running to the alley. He needed to get as far away from here as possible, find some place he could be alone and recover from his wounds. He still had to raid the warehouse tomorrow night...then after that he could find Octavius and find his way home, away from his madhouse.

Home...a part of him was beginning to wonder if he would ever make it back there...


Gwen jumped to the roof of her apartment building, a yawn escaping her covered lips, "Should have probably stayed at home..." She groaned. Traversing the city without webshooters was a major pain in the a$$, though thankfully she managed to hitch a ride on a bus roof and the driver didn't seem to care about the extra passenger. Still, wall-crawling definitely wasn't enough. She could only hope Cap had her shooters fixed before this became a thing.

Looking around the dark roof for a moment, she waited for her spider-sense to ping to see if anyone was watching her, '...Nope, totally alone.' Taking a deep breath, she removed her mask and rushed through changing as much as possible. She would have preferred changing in her room, but unless Betty bought that she was into massive cosplay she doubted that was gonna happen anytime soon.

Rushing into the jacket and pants, she breathed a sigh of relief and slung her backpack over her shoulder. It was way too late for her to be up and about, but at least the video definitely didn't disappoint - Never would she let Captain Stacy, pride of the NYPD, live down the fact that he got drunk and danced on stage shirtless with half a dozen other guys (Uncle Ben included) on stage during Mardi Gras. This was prime 'never live it down' material, it was almost enough to take her her mind off-

Someting bumped against her feet and she stumbled, nearly dropping her backpack in the fall, "Ow, what the %^&*!?" She picked herself up and looked down at what tripped her.

Only to find herself facing the prone figure of Spider-Man lying motionless on her roof.

"Wh-What the hell!?" She didn't even see him there. Kneeling down, she turned him around and winced at the obvious injuries all over his body, "%^&*, he looks like he got into a fight with Baron Blood or something..." She bit her lip and looked around. He was obviously unconscious and she couldn't just leave him here, could she? Not with those injuries, "...Shit, damn it!"

She picked him up and carried him as gently as she could, a pained moan escaping from him despite her best efforts, "Hold on, Darkman. Cavalry's here..." She pushed open the door and went down the stairs carefully. Now all she had to do was explain to her no doubt already sleeping roommate that she just happened to find this guy unconscious on their rooftop and that she was going to try and patch up his injuries.

Things were going really %^&*$# great... at this point she was starting to miss the Koala Kommanders and Stilt-Mans; at least things were simple back then.

Chapter Text

Gwen crashed through the door of her shared apartment, hands fumbling for the light switch while simultaneously trying to keep the squirming figure in her arms from falling, "Hold still..." She muttered, shifting her hold until his head was pressing against her shoulders. He wasn't heavy - she'd gotten far too used to carrying loads of people off of burning buildings and train tracks - but usually the people she was rescuing didn't look like they were trying to knock down death's door going 'Here I am, Mr Reaper! Let me stick out my neck so you can lop it off easier!'

Eventually her fingers managed to swipe the switch, bathing the the small room in light, "Whatza...?" Betty mumbled from the bed, face scrunching at the sudden assault of brightness covering the room, "Ugh...Gwen, izzat you?" She muttered a curse under her breath and curled deeper into the mattress, covering her head with the thick blanket, "Turn off the lights, would ya? Trying to get some sleep here..."

The superheroine ignored her roommate and made her way to the couch, nudging off the pile of books and clothes littering the surface onto the floor without a care, "Up and at em, Betts! We have a situation!" She placed him atop as gently as she could atop the (really lumpy) sofa before clapping her hands to jostle her roommate fully awake, "Yo, Betts, double time! This really can't wait!"

Betty sat up after the fourth clap, an annoyed scowl on her face as she threw her blankets off, "Gwen, what part of trying to sleep don't you get?" She rubbed her eyes and swung her legs over the edge, "Just cause you go out at night doesn't mean- Woah, what the %^&*?"

Her roommate's mouth parted open in stunned silence as she finally caught sight of the injured vigilante lying on their couch, "Could use some help here, you know." Gwen shook her head and trudged to the bathroom, grabbing alcohol, bandages and whatever else she thought would help. They didn't have a proper first aid kit: She'd always been reliant on her healing factor and the few times she couldn't she made sure to avoid going anywhere near where her friends would be. She didn't exactly want to explain to them why she looked like she'd been flattened by a steamroller.

When she came back she found her roommate kneeling next to the couch, looking down at their impromptu guest in a mix of confusion and sympathy. If nothing else she was glad it was her: Ever since she started going out with Falcon she'd been numb - well, even more than usual for the average New Yorker - to the weirdness going on around her. If anyone could buy that she just happened to find Darkman on her roof without going off on a conspiracy tangent like a certain would-be detective it'd be her.

"How did you-"

"Found him on the roof." She dumped the assorted medical supplies on the table and grimaced, doubling back and making sure to grab a bowl and fill it with water. She wasn't a medic. Contrary to popular belief having a police officer for a dad didn't mean she stayed up at night with needle and thread anxiously awaiting her bullet-ridden father to stumble through the doorway after an intense shootout. Being a good cop meant you weren't supposed to get shot and the few times he did he went to the hospital rather than asking his teenage daughter to patch him up with all the grace of an asthmatic walrus. She had no idea how to be doctor.

So why in the %^&* did she think it was a good idea to bring him here?

"We should take him to the hospital. Maybe they can-"

"No. No way, Betts." The words were out of her mouth before she could stop herself, "They'd unmask him and you just know that %^&*$# Jameson's going to have an entire press team over there before the night's done."

Of course, she had to ask herself, why would she care about that? Her previous meetings with him weren't exactly the best and he wasn't what she'd call BFF material. Maybe she was just paranoid since there weren't many others like her, maybe she sympathized despite his really shitty methods, but she wouldn't have felt good just leaving him in a hospital room where any nurse with a camera phone could upload his face all over Headbook and Tweeter.

"...What were you doing on the roof?"

"Now's really not the time for twenty questions!" She knelt next her and pulled his tattered coat back, grimacing at the smell of burnt flesh wafting up her nostrils; it was almost like something she'd smell on a cookout, but...not. If she had to describe it she'd have to say it smelled like meaty, sickly sweet charcoal; except it was a hundred times worse and it made her want to gag, "God...the smell..."

'What the %^&* did you do to yourself?'

"You sure he's still alive?" Betty asked, hand raised awkwardly in a half-touching gesture.

"He's breathing, isn't he? Superheroes are really tough, I should know...you hear it all the time on those conspiracy sites." She finished lamely. God, could she be any more obvious? "Just...do you know what to do here? I doubt putting alcohol on top of it's gonna help..."

"Uh...Falcon told me about something like this. A mission he had with Captain America a few weeks ago. " She crossed her arms, lips pursing in thought, "We need some creams...don't think we have any here." She clicked her tongue, "Some water might be good, but he looks way past the point it'd %^&*$# help him." Her eyes trailed to the meager supplies on the table, "Uh...don't think those are going to help much either, just saying. This stuff looks third degree."

"Shit!" Gwen massaged the sides of her head and let out an exhausted breath, "Could you buy some anti-burning cream or whatever from the drug store? It's not far from here."

"Gwen, we should just call an ambulance-"

"Just do it, Betty!" She snapped, instantly feeling guilty as her roommate recoiled, "I...sorry, but could just buy it please? One of us needs to stay here and keep him from joining the choir invisible." She rummaged through her backpack and tossed her her wallet, "I should have enough there, and I'll pay you back later if it isn't. Just...hurry, I don't think he's going to last much longer."

"Yeah...Yeah, sure."

Gwen watched her go before turning her attention back to him, 'Maybe you should keep your big fat mouth shut next time...' She mentally chided. She didn't know if he was awake, but if he was she got the feeling he would've been clamoring for her to take him to someone who know what in the actual %^&* they were doing, 'Come on, you played Shock Center before, this should be a piece of cake.'

She grabbed hold of the scissors and drew it near his chest, her grip steady despite the nervousness she felt. She could see parts of the turtleneck fused to the skin, and she was pretty damn sure wounds couldn't heal with crap stuck in em like that, "You can do this, you can do this..." She swallowed nervously and made the first cut at the edge, slowly easing her way to where the wound lay. Taking off the clothes all at once would've been suicidal, she had to do it slow.

She peeled apart the first layer and winced when she got a better look at the black-red skin, 'Definitely third degree, alright. Was he fighting someone with flamethrower?' She grit her teeth and pulled, separating the cloth with a disgusting squelch and dropping it into the wet bowl, 'Can't believe he's not trashing around...' She cut apart another segment and repeated from the beginning.

The next few minutes were spent in the same agonizing repetition: Cut the cloth, peel apart the skin from the fabric, dump into the bowl and repeat. Thankfully his coat had survived, albeit barely. She didn't fancy trying to cut leather with these tiny scissors of hers, 'Fuck, that doesn't look like something a cream can fix.' She let her gaze wander across his upper body. Even without the cloth melted onto his flesh it still looked nasty, so much so that she would have been curious how he was still alive if she didn't know better.

"Right, now her comes the hard part..."

She looked at his mask and frowned. It was barely there at this point, but it was still stubbornly hanging on by whatever threads it had left. Through the gaps in the seams she could see what looked like burnt bandages, though thankfully not close to looking like they were fused to his skin. The eye she could still see was stubbornly closed, though she could see his lips moving and mumbling something unintelligible.

Still...she had to change them. Leaving it like that was risking infection and all sorts of nasty shit.

Her hand was nearly touching the rough fabric before he suddenly lashed out and grabbed her wrist, her spider-sense again annoyingly absent. His grip was surprisingly strong despite his haggard state. "Don't..." His voice was soft, but she could hear the desperation clear as day. His remaining eye looked at her own, his eyelids parted and exposing his hazel iris, "Leave it...please."

"We need to remove your bandages...I had to cut your clothes out because they melted into the skin. It looks like the bandages are safe, but I need to make sure..." She bit her lip. If she was in his position she would've been making the same argument, begging the 'helpless civilian' to let her keep her secret, "We need to make sure, okay? At best we're looking at an infection, and I don't even want to think about what's the worst case scenario..."

"Then let it...I can heal." He whispered.

"This is ridiculous." She shook her head and put just a bit of her enhanced strength to use to wrench her arm from his hold. Before he could make another plea she grabbed the moist hand towel and placed it at his side, "Look, I'll take off your mask and bandages but I'll close the lights, okay? When I finish I'll dump the towel on your head to so I don't see your face. Sound fair?"

"...Is that an actual question?"

"Not really."

She turned off the lights and got to work immediately, pulling off the tattered remains of his mask and the bandages before her eyes could adjust to the darkness completely. At least she kept to her word; the features on his face were obscured and she could have been treating Norman Osborn for all she knew, 'Yeah, and next Harry's actually going to call back and say he's turned over a new leaf.' Shaking her head at the thought, she threw the towel atop his head and breathed a sigh of relief.

"All done." She turned on the lights and wasn't even surprised to find his free hand pressing the moist towel to his head with an almost pitying desperation, "...Towel's not going to fall off just cause you're not holding onto it." She pulled up a stool and sat, hands pressing into her face as she suppressed yawn, "If I wanted to see your face don't you think I would have done it earlier? Relax..."

A moment of silence passed before he exhaled and let his arms fall, fingers almost grazing the ground. Gwen let herself smile slightly and she felt her eyes droop. It was already late, it was at least 2 am by the time she'd left the train station, and she was frankly really damn exhausted. Still, it wasn't like she could get some sleep now: Betty was still out there buying her damn ointment and it would've been really shitty if she came back to her sleeping on the job.

"...Why did you help me?"

Gwen raised an eyebrow at the sudden inquiry, "...You were on my roof, what else was I supposed to do?" She shrugged, realizing just a second too late he wouldn't be able to see it. The towel covered the entirety of his face and she couldn't see anything save a few tufts of brown hair peeking through the edges, "I had to do something. I mean it wasn't like I could just leave you there, right?"

"Sure you could. Anyone else would have..."

"Yeah, well, I'm not 'anyone else' so that's not exactly a problem." She leaned back in her seat and crossed her arms, deliberating her next words, "...My name's Gwen, by the way. Gwen Stacy..." That wasn't too much, right? It wasn't like she was world-famous without the costume in her backpack. She was sure there were at least three other 'Gwen Stacys' in New York alone.

"...Gwen Stacy?" There was something in his voice. If she wasn't being delusional she could've sworn it was familiarity; but that was crazy, right? "...What are the odds. First Octavius' little gizmo and now this..."

"Uh...something wrong?"

"No...just thinking aloud..." He sucked in a deep breath and mumbled what distinctly sounded like 'horsefeathers' under his breath, "Well...you can call me Spider-Man, but from what I hear some other dame's a bit more famous than I am and she might take issue." A soft laugh escaped before he broke into a strained cough, "...Just call me whatever you want. Ain't like I'm in any position to argue..."

"So...if you don't mind my asking, how'd you get all those cool scars?" Keep it casual. Spider-Woman could be more upfront, but a 'clueless civilian' couldn't be. God knows she didn't explain herself much when Stilt-Man got a lucky hit in and those kids found her, "I found you on my roof looking like you just went through a furnace. What the %^&* happened? You fail your mission to save the sun?"

"One of those freakshows...showed up not too far from here. I dealt with her, but she gave me more than a few shiners..." He clicked his tongue, fingers twitching into a weak fist before separating again, "Tried to get away, passed out on the roof...and now here I am."

"That's it? You fought a supervillain and got injured?" She didn't know what else she was expecting, really. Villain related injuries weren't exactly something she was a stranger to, so why should this have been any different? "...I dunno why, but something's telling me that it's not as simple as your little grudge match with Stilt-Man earlier today." She had to push harder, but not be too obvious, "Come on, spill the beans. Anything else happen?"

"It's just like I told you. Not everything has to be complicated, Gwenjamin."

"See, that wasn't so hard! It's not as complicated as you think, Gwenjamin."

Gwen felt her breath catch in her throat. That nickname...only one person called her that, 'It's just a coincidence, Gwen! God, get a grip!' She shook her head forcefully. Ever since she got that damn USB drive she's been seeing him everywhere. Peter's spirit didn't come back to silently judge her for considering ruining his name. Darkman using a corny nickname didn't mean anything; he probably just thought it sounded funny.

"...Something wrong? You got quiet all of a sudden..." He asked.

"It's...It's nothing." She took a deep, calming breath. No need to make him think she was mental patient, "It's just...I'm becoming paranoid, you know? Shit happens and now you think the world's out to get you..." Granted up until recently most of New York really was out to get her, but hey, "It's one of those crossroad things: The ugly facts or the prettier fantasy, which one do you pick? I mean they say the truth will set you free and all but right now I'm not so sure."

"I know the feeling, believe me." He raised a hand weakly in what she could only assume to be a waving gesture, "I dunno what's going on and I know you probably don't want my advice, but...in my experience the harsh truth is always better than a blissful lie; though maybe that's just my old friend talking."

"Says the guy with a secret identity." She teased, trying to ignore the 'pot meet kettle' jokes threatening to surface.

"Maybe..." She heard him laugh, sounding noticeably less bitter than before, "I didn't say I was perfect, but nobody is. Whatever this truth is I'm sure facing it head-on is better in the long run. Better to rip the band-aid quick, if you know what I'm saying."

"It's more complicated than that." She pressed both hands together and pressed them against her forehead, "It's about a friend, my best friend really. He did something and...now I'm not sure if I should blow the whistle or just let the world and his family keep thinking nothing's wrong." God, she was pathetic. Why in the hell was she admitting all this to an injured vigilante crashing on her couch? Was she that desperate for advice? "I mean...is it my right to do this? To decide what happens to him?"

"We make our bed and we lie in it...a bit literal in this case, but still." He squirmed slightly on the loveseat, allowing himself to sit up by a slight amount, "If your friend did something wrong then that's on him. Unless you forced him into it then it's not your responsibility."

"You really believe that?" She asked back, "What if...What if the truth turns everything around? What if it just ruins everything you thought about him? Do you still want to know, even if it means ruining his name forever?"

He was silent for a moment before she saw a barely perceptible nod, "...I had a friend once. Bailed me and my mom out of a jam, saved our keisters really. Took me out to drinks, tried to teach me the way of the world, gave me a job when no one else would...brought me under his wing so to speak." He took in a quick breath, the sound shaky, "I was a bitter kid back then. Stupid, really...saw bad things happening and I just wanted to go in there screaming with my fists out. He always tried to keep me in control, though, Always tried to make sure I had my head on straight..."

"But...?" She ventured. Stories like these never had happy endings.

"Found out he was a junkie. Heroin..." He gave a weak shrug, "I didn't mind at first, really. So what if he was taking floor polish? We all had our vices. I drink, he puts a needle in his arm, it happens." Another shaky breath, weaker this time, "But then I find out he was taking money from the wrong guy to fund his habit. He could have done the right thing, could have made a difference for years, and he just sits on it cause he wanted just a bit more blackmail in case his job wasn't paying enough for his next fix. I...I thought he was a bastard, that he was a liar and a coward...but I preferred knowing that to not knowing. The truth ain't always pleasant, but it's there for a reason."

"It's not as simple as that. I...my friend wasn't some guy who took the wrong drugs or allowed himself to look the other way. He...you wouldn't understand." She closed her eyes and shook her head. How could she explain? 'He turned himself into a monster because he wanted to be special'? He'd never believe her. He wasn't like him, wasn't bullied and beaten to the point that risking turning into a monster. She didn't know who he was, but she was pretty sure it wasn't a bullied teen hiding under that mask.

"Maybe not, but like I said I know what it's like to know a nice lie to a painful truth. Just giving my two cents..."

"You...look, I appreciate that, but I-"

"Gwen, you have to see this!"

The young woman's head snapped to the entrance. Betty stormed into the room, a bag full of medicine in one hand with her ipad on the other. Before she could ask what the problem was her roommate grabbed her by the arm and pulled, dragging her to the kitchen and leaving their 'guest' in the couch to stare after them in confusion.

"Betty, what the-"

"Look at this." She thrust her ipad to her face, clicking the video and letting it buffer, "I was wondering what happened so I did a quick search online and...well, just look!"

She did, and what she saw made her heart sink to the pit of her stomach.


She had a killer sleeping on her couch.

She'd pored over every link and news story, more and more coming in every hour as every news station, media and witness tried to put in their two cents. It was the same every time: An 'electrical metahuman' (some sites called her a lightning %^&*$-freak, but she preferred the former) attacked not too far from here and 'The Dark Spider' had stopped her...apparently by shooting her in the face.

Gwen tapped the next link on the page and groaned at seeing the headlines, "'Spider-Man: Murderer or Executioner?' God damn it, Jameson..." She groaned and pinched the bridge of her nose with her free hand. She hadn't slept ever since she found out, hadn't left the kitchen even when Betty told her to turn in for the early morning. She pored over every news story, every article she could find to try and find anything that allowed it to make sense to her.

But there was nothing. Some of them were vague, some of them were borderline unreadable, but it was all the same: He'd killed Maxine. Even through the holes in her head he could recognize her from the photos. Some of them came from reports after the fact, but most of them were taken by a few civilians brave (or stupid...) enough not to run at the first sign of trouble.

As she expected reactions were...torn. She clicked the closest video link and watched.

"This is Katy Kiernan, Fact Channel News. We are here at the sight where the dangerous metahuman, tentatively dubbed 'Electro', has been killed. Civilians at the site of the attack claimed to have seen everything that happened." The camera shifted to a young man in a suit standing tall. It didn't take long for her to note that his clothes were almost pristine. Bad press to let someone too 'dirty' in front of the camera? "You were there, sir. What are your opinions on the matter?"

"Well, Katy, I have to admit that I don't approve. I won't deny that she was dangerous, of course, but a vigilante taking the law into his own hands and...and executing someone after they're no longer a threat? Surely he could have contained her or avoided taking her life? If she was too dangerous then it's the purview of the police to decide to use lethal force, not some upstart vigilante who has no badge and wears a mask so they cannot be held accountable for their actions. Surely-"

"You don't know what you're talking about!"

The camera shifted to an older woman, her eyes bloodshot and gray hair disheveled, "That...That monster killed my son! That 'upstart vigilante' you're condemning is the only reason she didn't kill all of us! I saw her burn my son to death, she deserved whatever she got!"

"Madam, you're being irrational. There are rules to these kinds of matters, one can't simply-"

"You weren't even here!" She hissed, voice dropping into a venomous whisper, "Don't you dare tell me what I can and can't be! You weren't the one who lost family, the one who lost their lives because some freak decided she wanted to go on a killing spree! I lost my son, others lost someone just as close to them! Why should she live when she decided their lives weren't worth anything to her!?"

The arguments continued back and forth. The rule of law, justice being served, due process and all types of shit, 'Maxine's dead...' She placed the tablet down on the tablet, idly noting the almost empty battery bar. How long had she been reading, trying to make sense of it all? She blinked and looked back at the closed door to the living room. Betty and he were asleep; small comforts at least. She didn't want to see either of them now.

What in the hell was she supposed to do now? Half the city called him a murderer and was clamoring for his arrest while the other called him a hero and savior. Was this how her dad felt after he found out her identity? No, stupid question: She was his daughter, Darkman was a stranger to her. Not even close.

She picked up the gadget one last time and clicked on the first video Betty showed her again. It was taken by someone on the rooftop with their phone so the quality wasn't the best, but it was the one just about every news station used: Maxine looking wet and miserable, her vigilante guest in a pained crouch not too far from her. She saw her looking around in frantic confusion before she saw what looked like tears.

"I...I'm sorry-"

*Bang* Bang*

Repeat.

"I...I'm sorry-"

*Bang* Bang*

Repeat.

"I...I'm sorry-"

*Bang* Bang*

Repeat-

"You gonna keep watching that?" She jumped up in her seat and turned to find Spider-Man leaning against the doorframe, his arms crossed. His face had been covered in another layer of bandages and he was wearing the tattered remains of the mask on his face. His longcoat was missing, likely still draped on the couch, replaced instead by a dark, long sleeved shirt - It was Falcon's, according to Betty - that covered the burns and bandages, "Your roommate told me you were here..."

"Yeah...another sleepless night." She forced a smile and not-so-discreetly shut the tablet off, 'Geez, spider-sense is on the fritz. Never warns me when he's there...'

An awkward silence settled over the room. Gwen looked down at the table, seemingly determined to avoid making eye contact with the stranger she'd helped. Spider-Man continued to lean against the doorframe, his gaze similarly focusing on anything else but her. She clenched her hands atop the table, biting her lower lip in frustration. She wanted to say something, anything to remove the stifling silence, but her words remained caught in her throat.

What was she supposed to ask? 'Are you a killer'? Yeah, that'd go over real well. Maybe afterwards she could ask him about his secret identity.

"...I should go-"

"You need to rest-"

Another bout of quiet descended before she sighed. She needed to say something now, "You need to rest." She repeated, turning to meet his gaze, "Your injuries are...I'm surprised you can even walk after what you've been through. It wasn't just the burns either; those bruises..."

"Yeah, well, things ain't exactly been easy ever since I got dropped into this madhouse." He gave a wry laugh, "I've only been at this whole thing for a bit, but the closest thing I got to fighting a...what do ya call em? 'Supervillain'? The closest one of those I fought was a freak named Brock, and he didn't last nearly as long..." He had a sound at the back of his throat, "...Either way I can't stay. I looked at the clock, it's a couple hours past noon."

"It's been that long already?" She blinked. Time flied when you're trying to make sense of the nonsensical.

"Yeah...well, I gotta go. I'd pay you for your help, but little miss lightning bolt last night burnt all of my cash to ashes so..."

"I didn't do this for money." She snapped, her tone taking on a harsher tone despite her intentions, 'Her name is Maxine. Not Electro, not little miss lightning bolt...' She pursed her lips. Of course she couldn't say that. Gwen Stacy wasn't involved in all that, had no personal stake in what happened to that young woman. She'd already risked a lot trying to patch him up, "...Why do you have to leave anyway? Got an appointment?"

"Pretty much." He said, "It doesn't really involve me, but if I turned my back on it a dumb kid's going to be sleeping with the fishes." He shook his head looked up at the ceiling, "Don't exactly have much choice here. My window's not exactly the widest, so I gotta go even if I really wanna curl up in a bed and sleep for a week straight."

"Someone's in danger?" She asked worriedly, brows furrowing together, "Wh-Who is it? Maybe-"

"Look...Gwen, I appreciate your help but this really doesn't involve you." He interrupted, voice apologetic, "Don't call the police, don't tell anyone that you even saw me. Gabriel tried that and that's why I have to bail his keister outta this mess."

"You're going to do this alone? Are you insane!?" She stood, hands slamming against the table, "You look like you can barely stand! If you-"

"I don't have much choice, do I?" He growled back, glaring at her for a moment before releasing an exhausted breath, "...Look, I'm not exactly thrilled doing this alone but what choice do I have? I don't do this and Gabriel's dead and the 'partner' I got ain't exactly the most reliable if you catch my drift. It's already been a couple of days, it'd be a miracle if he wasn't dead already. I...I have to do this, I owe the kid that much at least."

"Then get help." She pressed, momentarily forgetting that she wasn't wearing her mask, "Call Spider-Woman, call anyone! You go out there alone right now and you're going to get your %^&*$# a$$ kicked!"

"I don't exactly have her telephone number on me." He grunted, "She gave me a number before, but when I tried to use the payphone I didn't get anywhere." He sighed, "Not like I can call her now if I could. Number got burnt along with most of my other things."

Gwen bit her lower lip. This was an insane risk, but... "I have her number." She blurted out, ignoring his (presumed) look of surprise, "I got in trouble a few weeks back and she gave it to me. I could call her, say that I found you and that you needed help."

"You've already done a lot to help me, but..." He shook his head, posture relaxing, "You know what yeah, thanks. I could use all the help I could get here. Just...tell her to meet me at 367 Washington avenue. The bozos running the place should be there by tonight, so we need to meet as soon as she's free. And..." He paused for a moment before continuing, "Thanks for saving by kiester back there. You might not think it's a big deal but ever since I got here it's been one circus to another, so I appreciate it. Any way I can pay you back just tell me."

"Like I said, I didn't do it to get paid." She shrugged, "But hey, if you wanna talk about anything then just come back whenever. I'm sure a superhero doesn't need it, but offer's on the table."

"I...maybe I'll take you up on that, but I have to go now."

He gave a light wave and left without another word, already gone by the time she'd made her way to the living room/bedroom, 'How does he keep doing that?' She picked up her backpack and stared at the multi-colored costume inside. He was right: Gwen Stacy couldn't help him deal what whatever shit he was neck-deep in, but Spider-Woman could. He wouldn't explain himself to 'her', but he would to 'her' if she asked him.

'Well, Gwen, time to find some answers.'

 

Chapter Text

Three days...

Peter sat atop the wall covering the edges of the roof, hands brushing against the surface of the shirt blanketing his wounds, "Ah..." He winced and let the fingers lie, feeling the bandages through the fabric. He was no stranger to pain, especially not since the Spider-God had granted him his abilities, but he had to admit being burned by a dame covered in lightning was definitely something new. If- When he got home it was going to be a relief to face the typewriters and revolvers again; back to the dangers he could understand and deal with. At least those made sense, they didn't...

Didn't turn people to ash...

Gritting his teeth, he shook his head and tried to remove the image from his mind. He'd seen horrible things, seen his Uncle's mutilated body fresh after Toomes' meal and what Osborn looked like under that flesh mask of his. He'd seen horrible things, dealt with them and then moved on. Dwelling on it didn't do him any favors so he learned to just keep it under wraps, lock it away in a dark place and never look back.

...So why in the hell couldn't he stop thinking about it?

Maybe cause he considered it his own damn fault? 'Not everything's about you, Parker. No need to get a messiah complex...' He scoffed. There was nothing he coulda done; wasn't his damn fault that little miss lightning bolt decided to give a middle finger to physics more than he and Spider-Woman died, 'Energy can neither be created nor destroyed...least that's what I used to think. Guess you just needed to be a twisted enough dame to decide it don't apply to you...'

Three God damned days...

Three days in this madhouse - the future, he reminded himself bitterly - and he'd seen enough things that would make anyone back home lose their minds...or brown their trousers; most likely both. What the hell did it say when sex trafficking was the most normal thing on that list? A Blue-skinned Russian in a dynamo suit, a human Gorilla, a blockhead who could shrug off bullets, another fink with extendo legs and finally that crazy broad who could have given Xavier and his little group of sociopaths a run for their money on the crazy department. Compared to those freakshows those human refuse selling girls like animals were almost comforting.

Almost.

'Speaking of freakshows...' The barely audible crunch of footsteps came from behind and he turned, catching sight of Spider-Woman walking towards him, 'Here comes one of the biggest ones here...' He sighed. He had nothing against her - not really at least - but he didn't exactly like seeing her either. Bad enough that this was supposed to be the future. If the only line of defense these people had was one dame with powers then he had to wonder how New York was still standing. Say what he would about home, but the criminals there ate bullets just like everyone else.

Oh, and she might have murdered 'him' if Jameson was any indication.

'Yeah, right, broad could barely kneecap a guy who tried to kill her and I'm supposed to buy that she killed some me- some innocent kid?' He rolled his eyes discreetly. He doubted she even knew the Peter Parker from this madhouse. Probably a smear job, he'd been on the end of more than a few. Someone with a mask was easy to frame; not like they could go to the local constables and explain their situation. Even after Jameson 'came back from the dead' and redacted Chameleon's rumor mongering there were still people who looked at him like he was a goddamned psychopath.

"You made it." He swung his legs around and stood up shakily, pointedly ignoring the searing rush of pain that came at the movement, 'Suck it up you big baby.' He frowned. The wounds would heal soon enough; better with rest but he didn't exactly have the luxury of time here, "Gwen tell you what was happening? I didn't give much details..." He muttered. Maybe it was paranoid, but his gut had never...almost never done him wrong before.

Besides, if she was anything like Gwen Stacy back home it was better she didn't know the grisly details.

Her response wasn't exactly what he expected, "Saw you on the news." She crossed her arms, expression unreadable underneath the pale mask, "They're...saying a lot of things about you, not all of them good."

"That supposed to mean something to me?" He raised an eyebrow. The news always had mixed things to say: Negro World praised him for his actions in Ellis Island, the Bugle ignored him while others alternated between calling him a force of good to an escaped freakshow with delusions of grandeur. He'd learned to stop caring, and neither did the people who bought the damn things; they didn't care about a story where a man hanged himself to escape his family's debts, why would they care about a masked lunatic beating up on criminals?

"I dunno, you tell me." She asked back.

"Cut the circus act." He snapped back, "I'm not in the mood for twenty questions so either you say what you mean or you stop cause I'm not playing this game." Being near her...it just seemed to flare his temper despite his attempts otherwise, 'She didn't kill you...' He reminded himself forcefully. She didn't kill that kid either. He was being damned paranoid for nothing...well, even more than usual.

"Fine, just have one question: Did you kill Maxine?"

"...That name supposed to mean something to me?" His eyes narrowed. He didn't know her very well, but he could tell voices easily enough. And what she sounded like spoke volumes: Barely restrained irritation, a tone of judgement and that accusatory push that tried to make someone feel guilty, 'Just like Gwen back home...' God, her damn lectures were still at the back of his head. Bad enough Aunt May dressed him down once, dealing with the socialite's judgement wasn't something he needed.

Rather than verbally respond she pulled a small rectangle - a cellphone, he found that out earlier - and practically shoved it in his face. The 'video' playing on the surface was enough to morph his expression into a scowl, "Get that out of my face..." He snapped, though she made no move to respond.

"I'm...I'm sorry-"

*Bang* *Bang*

His hand lashed out and grabbed her wrist, though she refused to budge, 'Right, forgot she could lift a damn truck for a second there...' Even through the mask and bandages she must have been able to hear his shallow breaths. He prided himself on keeping his emotions in check, but the images flashing on the screen did little to assuage his nerves, "...If you're trying to make me mad it's working."

"Her name was Maxine." Mercifully she finally stuffed the phone back in her pack, her gaze never leaving him, "...You killed her. All the news outlets are talking about it. Half are calling you a hero, the other half's saying you were out of line and that you're a murderer."

"If you knew that then what the hell was the point of asking?" He bit back, "What, you wanted me to say that I didn't do it? That I didn't kill that sick twist?" Fingers twitching, he resisted the urge to make a vulgar gesture as another rush of pain covered his chest, "What's it matter to you anyway? I only got involved cause you weren't there. Aren't these 'supervillains' your job? Where the hell were you?"

"She wasn't..." She paused to take a deep breath before continuing, "She wasn't a supervillain, she was..." He saw the her hands clench into fists, feet tapping in a chaotic rhythm, "Maxine was innocent. Some bastards tortured her, turned her into that...that you know what. I met her earlier, both when she was still human and just after she got turned. She didn't deserve-"

"Deserve to die?" He cut in, cutting off what was no doubt supposed to be a heartwarming plea for innocence and redemption, "Tell me something: Did those innocent people deserve to die? Did those firemen deserve to be tortured just because they tried to stop her and help me?" He snarled, his voice coming out in a hoarse whisper, "Did any of them deserve all the horrific things she did? Answer me that."

"It wasn't her fault! She was-"

"She burned someone to ash right in front of me! Is that innocent!? Does that sound like someone who deserves to be handled with the damn kids gloves!?" He clicked his tongue and turned away from her, looking down at the warehouse. Anything to not have to look at her damned face, "You weren't there...innocent people died and they died horribly. Did the news talk about that? Did those firemen who saved me make front page news or was it just that freak and everyone arguing about whether the 'innocent little girl' deserved to die or not?"

An uncomfortable silence settled over the roof, broken only by the sound of the occasional car horn honking in the distance. Why was he even here? He'd only waited for her because his unlikely rescuer insisted but the second she got here she was already getting on his case. First with Vodkalky then with the guy with extendo legs. If she had a problem with how he did things then fine, that was on her.

He didn't ask to be dropped in this madhouse, didn't ask to get involved in the crazy nonsense that stunk up the city that was supposed to be his home decades from now, and he sure as hell didn't have to stand here listening like a damn kid being scolded by their parents. He had more important things to do; like making sure Gabriel wasn't sleeping with the fishes.

He was about to jump down before he heard a cough from behind.

"...It wasn't her fault." She repeated, though her voice was softer than before, "Look...you're right, I wasn't there and I have no idea what really happened, but..." He heard her take a step forward, felt the hand touching his shoulder in what he could only assume was meant to be an apologetic gesture, "You have to know she wasn't responsible for it, not truly at least. It was the fault of those people who...who made her like that."

"Is that supposed to make me feel better?" He shrugged off her hand, "I killed her because I had to, because if she got back up after everything I threw at her I was going to die and so were the other innocent people around me. Am I supposed to feel guilty? Have some grand revelation because she 'wasn't responsible' for her actions?" His hands gripped the top of the wall, his grip shaky, "If you could've done better then that's on you. I'm not here to play the saint."

"She could have been cured."

"And she could have killed more people." He replied, tone even, "She 'could' have been a lot of things. Innocent, guilty...she was dangerous. Maybe you could have stopped her, finished it before she hurt anyone else, but I'm not like you. I ain't built to fight these freakshows like you are. If you could have 'saved' her then I wouldn't complain, but you weren't there and I had to deal with it."

"Maybe..."

Peter shook his head and let out a tired sigh. Working with Daredevil was easier than this: Sure the 'Devil of Hell's Kitchen' wasn't someone he would invite for dinner with the family but at least he wasn't sitting on some damned high horse. Killing was something they both did, but it wasn't something they did lightly...at least not anymore. Sometimes people had to die for others to live. That was how the world worked whether they liked it or not.

"One last thing." She prodded, causing him to let out another sigh. She was pushing on his last nerve, "If...If you knew Maxine was innocent, would you have still done what you did?"

"Depends. If helping her meant letting more people get hurt would you have done it?"

The ensuing silence was all the answer he needed, "We're wasting time here." He said, jumping atop the wall and searching for the nearest pole to jump to. The goombas outside were alert, patrolling in pairs with their guns at the ready. They were definitely expecting someone, "The idiots down there are expecting company. Must have something to hide..."

"How do you wanna do this?" She asked, looking over the edge herself, "I take the ones on the left and you take the ones on the right? There's like ten of em, so that's five each." She eyed him warily, lingering on the bandages peeking through the collar of the shirt, "You're injured, right? You can wait here if you want, this shouldn't be much of a problem."

"How about we don't run in there screaming?" He pulled his coat tighter to himself, blocking the bandages from view. Last thing he needed was a pity party, "I'll go on ahead, pick them off one by one. If we can do this without em alerting everyone inside all the better." He looked her up and down, "...Better you stay here. I know you can fight, but that costume ain't exactly subtle." He was surprised he could hear her over how loud the damn thing was...

"Says the guy in a trenchcoat..." She grumbled, arms crossed.

Ignoring the barb, he jumped to the nearest lightpole and balanced precariously, 'Damn it...' He grit his teeth as his chest burned, his breath catching in his throat, 'Should've gotten some painkillers first...' Well, nothing he could do about it now, he supposed. He could rest easy once he was sure Gabriel was safe and those weapons were 50 feet under. Until then he would deal with little miss lightning bolt's souvenirs.

He landed on the roof first, webbing the two overlooking sentries to the surface with a quick slam and a flick of the wrist, 'Hope no one heard that...' He debated briefly on whether to grab their typewriters before deciding against it. He didn't want to risk alerting anyone else by firing...and to be honest the damn thing didn't look like any gun he ever saw. At least Hammerhead's brunos carried Tommy Guns.

The next two fell easily enough. Spider-Man made sure to web their mouths shut before knocking them out, tapping on the wall to attract the attention of another foursome, 'Pushing it a bit, but this ain't exactly happy hour.' He pressed himself closer against the wall, ignoring every instinct telling him that he was rushing in like a headless chicken. He just needed to take them all out, then the last two would be a cakewalk.

They were barely around the corner before he pounced, webbing three of them to the floor and smashing the last one against the concrete with a little more force than necessary. He couldn't deny that it was cathartic, especially after all the applesauce he'd had to deal with the past day. At least these goombas could be hurt without dropping an entire water tower on top of them.

'Two left...' He looked around briefly before jumping atop a stack of crates, climbing up to the roof again. The last two should have been patrolling on the other side, all he had to do was take them out and everything would be clear.

Leaning over the edge, he caught sight of the two rounding the corner, their postures just barely relaxed, 'Huh...guess they didn't hear me.' He moved to the side and clenched his hands. Go up behind and tie them together, simple enough-

"No...no...no...leave me...alone...!"

The pain in his chest flared and he found it difficult to breath, 'Damn it, not now!' He tried to force himself back, but his legs refused to cooperate. Gasping out a choking breath, he found himself falling over the border of the roof and landing painfully on his side with a dull thud, "Agh..." He hissed. Pained tears escaped despite his best efforts and he couldn't find the strength to push himself up even though the two brunos turned back to look at the sudden crash, guns raised at the sight of him crumpled on the ground like a damn infant.

"Oh no you don't! You tried to hurt my friends!"

They never got the chance to do anything. Before they could take another step Spider-Woman landed from above, both feet smashing against their backs and forcing them onto the ground, "Two on one, guys? Whatever happened to playing fair?" She curled her ring and middle finger, but the expected burst of webbing never came, "Shit, I forgot..." She sighed and aimed a kick at the back of both their heads, knocking them unconscious.

"Well, that was anti-climactic." She stepped off them and walked towards him, offering a hand up once he got close enough, "You okay there, pal? Looked like a nasty fall..." She forced a wry laugh. Trying to lighten the mood maybe? "Come on, it ain't over yet."

"This isn't over until I say it is!"

"I'm fine..." He ignored the offered hand and pushed himself up, coughing and trying to regain his breath. Everything was screaming at him to get away from her, but he ignored it. Beggars couldn't be choosers and he needed help, "Let's get inside..."

He took another step and would have tripped if not for her rushing to balance him, "Woah there, I don't think you're doing much of anything at this rate." He felt a shiver go down his spine at her touch; Like when he was being choked by Brock... "Listen, if you wanna go in there then you can't pull that lone wolf crap anymore. I'll take the lead, you follow behind. Sound fair?"

"...Yeah, sounds good."


He wished he could say that he didn't feel like a useless fink when they got in there, but he would've been lying to himself. His injuries were getting worse; he could feel the skin tearing when jumped and punched, the urge to vomit getting worse every time he smashed another goon against the wall. There was a reason he went back to Felicia's after Sandman nearly caved his face in, much as he regretted doing so once he saw the atrocities on Ellis Island.

But Spider-Woman...she made it look easy. She'd warned him that her 'web-shooters' - whatever in the hell they were - were busted and with a friend so she might not have been as effective as she could.

Well, considering she didn't seem to have a problem going over their heads like she was playing hopscotch he had his doubts on that.

It was almost like child's play for her: Knock a goomba out, dodge whatever weapons and bullets they threw at her, then make a quip without missing a beat. How long had she been doing this, he wondered. She was no amateur, he gave her that, and she could easily match Daredevil, Cage and even Castelione with how simple she made it all appear. All the flips, pirouettes and jokes...

Maybe if he had her help he wouldn't have screwed up so bad...

He smacked the butt of the gun against the last palooka's face before panting, leaning against the wall and closing his eyes to shake off the dizziness he felt. Whoever they were - they sounded Russian, or at least that's what he could gather from all the 'suka and otva 'li they were throwing around - they came in numbers. They were expecting them, that much was clear. Most deals like this tended to be low-key, not packed to the gills with Russians in suits.

"Fuck, you see this?" She gestured to the assorted pile of drugs littering the table at the center. He could see nose candy and floor polish along with whatever the hell else people discovered in the 8 decades he'd been out covering every inch of the space, "This is big, way bigger than slinging some bags on the corner." She reached a hand out to before thinking better of it, "Police will want to see this. These guys are going away for a long fucking time."

"See any morphine in that pile?" He asked. God, the burns were getting worse. The creams must have finally worn off...

"Uh..." She scanned the table and shook her head, "No, sorry, just hard drugs here." She crossed her arms and muttered something under her breath, "How'd you find out about this place anyway? Doubt random dealers knew this was going down."

"Wasn't intentional, believe me. I'm here looking for someone else." He frowned. Even at first glance this place was obviously for manufacturing, not somewhere someone would be held, 'Wasn't this supposed to be a safehouse?' He wondered. Either Castle was lied to or that blockhead was so damn greedy that he used whatever he could grab hold of to get money. Pragmatic, but there was that metaphor about slipping sand that came to mind...

"Well, either way we did good here." She pulled out her 'cellphone' and tapped something into the buttons, "We can call the police here and get these guys in jail before the night's over."

A burst of movement on the overview above caught his attention, "Not just yet..." Ignoring her questioning gaze he made his way up the stairs and trudged to the darkened room, once again hearing the scraping of what sounded like scuffling footsteps, "Looks like someone sat the party out..." He grasped the doorknob and wasn't even surprised to find it locked.

Time to do this the hard way.

Kicking the door down, he was rewarded by the scream of the suit wearing weasel bumping against the low table and falling flat on his keister, "St-Stay away from me!" He pointed a pistol at him, but he was faster. Ignoring the searing burns for a moment he charged into the room and stomped on his hand, shoving away the gun before he could make another feeble grab for it.

Grabbing him by the neck, he hoisted him up and slammed him against the table, "Where's Gabriel!?" He snarled, his grip hard enough to make the guy choke, "You have to know where he is, so talk!"

"I...I dunno what you're talking about!" He yelled back, the accented English doing little to calm his irritation, "I...I only manager, no idea what is going on!" He explained desperately, hands slapping against his arms in a feeble gesture of surrender, "L-Look, I have lots of money, lots of drugs! You let me go and you never see me again, okay? No looking back, no hard feelings. Sound good?"

He was lying, he could feel it blaring at the back of his head. He knew where Gabriel was, "Not good." He forced him up and slammed him against the window till it cracked, "Tell me where he is!" He slammed him again, causing blood to splatter on the clear surface.

"N-No, please-"

"What are you doing!?" He turned and glowered at Spider-Woman. The 'superhero' was frozen at the door, looking for all the world like a deer in the headlights. He could see her hands shaking, balling into fists like she was getting ready for a fight. Were they going to have a repeat with what happened with Vodkalky? If so he really wasn't in the mood for it, "Are we really doing this again!? You're-"

"Getting answers." He grunted and slid the cracked window open, forcing his upper body over the edge, "This greaseball knows where Gabriel is and I'm going to break every damn bone in his body till he tells me where!"

"God damn it, we're not doing this again!" She grabbed his arm and pulled with one hand, pulling the pathetic half portion back onto stable ground with the other, "There has to be another way, I told you already!"

"What other way?" He pushed her off and scowled, "Gabriel's been with them for two days at this point! You know how long stoolies usually last when the mob gets a hold of em?" He shook his head and sucked in a pained breath through his teeth, "Are you going to tell me this piece of garbage's life is worth more than someone who tried to do the right thing? That Gabriel should die because you're too scared to rough this bastard up?"

"No one has to get tortured or die! There's always another way-"

"Are you talking about this or that Maxine girl?" He spat, causing her to recoil as if she'd been punched, "You can't save everyone, Spider-Woman...if you try to get everything you're just going to end up with nothing."

"Oh my God, Peter...I...I didn't know it was..."

"That isn't..."

"I don't know any Gabriel..." The greaseball spoke up, cutting them off both before they could devolve into another argument, "Hammerhead told me to expect trouble...but not superheroes." He sucked in a pained breath, "He said...said to expect old man with guns, not Spider-People..."

'Must be talking about Castle...' Ignoring Spider-Woman, he knelt in front of him and forced his head to meet his gaze, "Why? What was he looking for?" He told him that he had his own stakes on this, and he'd seen that unbridled rage enough times to know it must have been personal. This wasn't some drug bust or because he wanted to arrest a criminal, he must have had more of an involvement than that.

"His...Hammerhead took his family...that's why..."

He wanted to say he was surprised, but the answer was all too typical for him to think otherwise. Exhaling a fatigued breath, he grabbed the older man's jaw and squeezed, "Right, this is how it's going to go down. My partner here doesn't like to hurt people needlessly, but I don't share her restraint so here's what we're going to do: You're going to tell me where Hammerhead and that family is because if you don't I'm going to throw you out that window again and again until all your limbs are useless till the day you die. Do you understand me?"

"Y-Yes..."

"Good, now start talking."


He confessed after that; he was practically singing a choir all by himself - An address, all the operations he knew about, bribes, promises to turn over a new leaf: Anything to make him sound like he didn't deserve a bullet in the brain. Peter let him talk, let him ramble whatever he could and saving it for later. Hammerhead was the main objective, but who knew...maybe the rest of his confession could prove useful later. He didn't get this far without knowing how valuable a few words could be, after all.

The boys in blue were nearly there by the time they left, leaving that sucker tied and gagged next to the table full of drugs. Coppers would take him and his whole gang and place him under arrest; and if anyone got any bright ideas of paying them off for an 'early pardon' he was going to be there and they were going to wish they stayed in the slammer-

'What the hell am I thinking?' He scoffed. He wasn't going to be here because he was going to be home, back where things made sense and no one but the socialites on their gated buildings and parties judged him for being 'no better' than the criminals he fought against.

They left the building and made their way to the docks in total silence, the sound of sirens echoing from behind. Spider-Woman hadn't said a single word since they got the information and, while he found the quiet relieving, it was also disconcerting. He didn't know her very long but from what he managed to gather she was one of those motor mouths, someone who didn't shut up even when you tried to tell em to.

So her not saying a damned word wasn't quite the reprieve he was looking for.

He walked across the rooftop of their rendezvous, eyeing the eerily quiet 'superhero', 'Guess this is where we go our separate ways...' He doubted she was going to strick around much longer; hell he was surprised she'd even followed him here.

He looked to the city's bright lights. He and Castle had agreed to meet at the docks to share their findings, but he still wasn't here. He already knew where Hammerhead was going to be - 852 Theodore Roosevelt Road - so he didn't really need him per se, although...his injuries meant he wasn't exactly in tip top shape and without Spider-Woman to carry him he could use all the help he could...

...And hell, Peter guessed he deserved to get his family back with his own two hands. God knew he'd want the same thing in his shoes.

"...You didn't have to go that far." She spoke up, "Maybe try asking first before you start beating people?"

"I've been at this for a year now, fear or money are the only things they get. And do I look like I'm swimming in long green to you?" He asked rhetorically, internally laughing at the idea of it. Would any rich man go out on the streets night after night and 'dirty' his hands with the mud and blood? Nah...they'd just pay someone to do it while bragging to their high society friends about how much of a 'humanitarian' they were. They didn't want to see poverty; to them it was just something to throw money at to make themselves look better than they were.

The only exception was Captain Stacy, and after what happened with Brock...

"Just keep in mind that there actually are other options in the future besides breaking arms, Darkman." She chided, her voice regaining its usual volume. Was there nothing that brought this girl down, he wondered, "What happened to Maxine was...it was fucking shitshow, and I'd rather it doesn't happen again. You need to...just calm down next time, alright? Acting like Jake Bower is cool on TV, but not when it's in real life, you get me?"

"All I'm hearing is another lecture..." He muttered.

"Hey, I don't like playing the role of preachy schoolteacher any more than you do but you really need to start cooling your jets. I'm worried about you..."

"Worried about me?" He couldn't stop his face from morphing into a scowl, "Lady, you don't even know me. You take off this mask and all you'll see is a stranger. Why in the hell would you even give a rat's ass about me?"

"Because I do think you're trying to do the right thing. " She answered, her voice leaving no room for argument, "Your motivations are good, anyone can see that, you're just...rough around the edges." She shrugged, "I'm not exactly a professional myself, but I know what it's like to be out here day after day doing what we do. Let me help you, at least let me show you that there's more to this than just fucking people up and leaving them coughing up their teeth by the time the police get there."

"...I don't think-"

"What the hell is this?" His head snapped to the other side of the roof and he found Castle walking slowly towards them...both hands aiming a pistol at Spider-Woman. His face, bloody and injured as it was, was set in an ugly scowl as his finger lingered on the trigger, "Is this supposed to be some kind of joke?"

"Castle, what are you-"

"What the- What the fuck are you doing here!?" Spider-Woman yelled, hands clenching into fists. Whatever calm she had was replaced by barely hidden anger, "You here for round two, asshole!? Cause I'll kick your fucking ass right here if you want it!"

"Spider-Woman, what the hell-"

"You deserve to be in prison, you freak." Castle spat, his tone venomous, "Just because your father abandoned his job didn't mean I was going to." His mouth parted, exposing bloodied teeth, "You're a murderer, you should be behind bars."

"Oh yeah, big words coming from the guy who put poisonous snakes in my house!" She hissed, 'eyes' narrowed dangerously, "You wanna look at a murderer, you bastard!? Look in the fucking mirror! I read up on your file: MVP in Tony Stark's PMC, right? Wonder how many villages you had to burn down to get that extra paycheck. No wonder your family left your deranged ass. They probably knew they weren't safe around a fucking psychopath!"

"Enough!" Peter screamed, getting in-between them before...whatever the hell this was could escalate even more, "I don't know what the hell your problem is either of you, but this is not helping anyone! You get into a fight here and no one's going to stop Hammerhead!" God, why the hell did this always happen? Bad enough he couldn't trust either of them but now they were at each other's throats too?

"Why the fuck is he here!?" She turned to him now, "You said you were going to meet someone; I didn't realize it was going to be this asshole!"

"For once I agree. Why the hell did you bring her? She's a damn criminal..."

"None of us are wearing badges, so as far as I can see we're all criminals here." He looked at them both in turn, "We need to work together. I'm not asking you to like each other, but we can't shoot each other till that blockhead's in prison."

"Why the hell should I-"

"Because I'm the one who knows where your family is!"

That did the trick. He saw Castle's eyes widen for a split second before his expression morphed into a sneer - Still, he saw his hands wavering and the gun lower by a few inches, so it was god enough for him. It almost never failed: Make someone forget about something they hated by dangling something they loved right in front of them. Even Fisk cracked when he and Daredevil had done it.

"...Where are they?"

"Not until we all agree to not stab each other in the back." He gave a pointed look at Spider-Woman, "I don't know what he did, but whatever it was you can deal with it later. There's too much on the line for a little grudge match."

"It's more than a 'little grudge match'..." She glared at Castle, "You need to pick your friends better. You can't trust-"

Spider-sense.

He barely saw the blur of something circular spinning in the air before it collided with the back of Castle's head, knocking his impromptu 'ally' unconscious before he could shout a warning, "Someone followed us!" He ran to Castle's side and inspected the wound, noting with slight relief that nothing seemed to have been severely damaged. Good, the last thing he needed was him cracking his skull open, "Spider-Woman, you-"

"She's not going anywhere."

A figure jumped from the adjacent rooftop and Peter wasn't even surprised to find it was another dame dressed like a clown: A Negro twist dressed in a uniform that wouldn't look out of place on a propaganda poster; the colors of red, white and blue splattered across her body like she was a walking flag. In her right arm she held a shield, the same thing that took Castle to dreamland.

Spider-Woman...just stood there, looking between him and her like it was a damn broadway show.

"Spider-Woman, are you alright?" The flag-wearing dame asked, receiving a confused nod from the masked heroine, "Good. I've been tracking Castle's movements all day; I should've known he'd come back to attack you."

"I don't think he was-"

"What the hell is going on?" Spider-Man interrupted, his grip on Castle tightening. His spider-sense was blaring at the back of his head, screaming at him to run, "Who in the hell are you and why did you attack us?"

"What's going on is that you're holding onto someone wanted by the police and has already attacked Spider-Woman in the past." She answered. The way she answered it was easy enough to peg what she was supposed to be; some kind of agent or soldier. He'd never heard of a dame being anything more than a nurse in the army, but eight decades passed. For all he knew the president was a woman now.

He could still feel the low thrumming at the back of his head as she drew closer.

"...Something tells me he's not the only one you want."

"You'd be correct on that." She nodded, lips pursing slightly, "I heard about you from Hawkeye. You're the reason that warehouse got blown up and I saw you on the news killing one of S.I.L.K.'s test subjects. I dunno what your reasons are for getting involved, but I'm gonna have to ask you to come in for questioning."

'Questioning...right.' What she meant by that was dumping him in a cell and interrogating him till she got bored. Call him paranoid but he'd grown a dislike for government types ever since Urich 'opened his eyes' that night at the Black Cat. Even on the off-chance she was fully on the up and up he didn't need any more delays. He'd nearly missed his appointment cause of little miss lightning bolt's forced detour.

So either he cooperated like a good little boy or he told her exactly where she could shove that warrant of hers. Picking between the lesser evils again...

He waited till she was close before he released a burst of webbing, covering her arms and legs before she could defend herself. He heard her scream something towards Spider-Woman, but he didn't care. He grabbed Castle and jumped, ignoring the growing pain in his chest and legs due to the added weight. He was going to cripple himself at the rate he was going...

'You better be worth it...' He grimaced. He couldn't trust either of them, but Castle had a personal stake in all this that Spider-Woman didn't have. He would have preferred not making an enemy with someone who had a badge, but he did a lot of thing he didn't want ever since he'd been bitten. Uncle Ben had always told him that the right thing was never the easy thing, though he probably didn't mean it like this...

He crashed through the open window of the closest abandoned building and set Castle down against the wall, slapping him awake as quickly as he could. He didn't know how much time he had before Spider-Woman and stars-and-stripes caught up to them so it was best he didn't waste time.

Eventually the older man's eyes fluttered open, a pained groan escaping parted lips, "Wh-What-"

"Shut up and listen." He looked back at the window briefly before turning back to him, "852 Theodore Roosevelt Road, there's where Hammerhead is and that's where your family's supposed to be. Stoolie who talked said he likes to work em over himself..." He tried to get the images of that out of his head, "When you get there you find a kid called Gabriel and you save him, you hear me? Your family's not the only one in danger."

"What are you..."

"Just shut your mouth and promise." Peter hissed, only relenting when he finally nodded, "Good...you better make damn sure he makes it out of there." He sighed, moving to stand, "Go, try to see if you can find a way out of here. Spider-Woman and some dame wearing a flag is after you...after us now, I guess. We gotta split up: I'll go on the roof, you go on the streets. That way at least one of us can make it outta here."

"...Got it."

He didn't bother saying anything else. Taking a deep breath, he jumped to the adjacent roof and ran to where Hammerhead's last safehouse was supposed to be. Either he or Castle made it out; either way someone had to be left to finish this.

It didn't take long for his spider-sense to blare again. Following his instincts, he ducked under the spinning shield coming from his side and ejected a burst of webbing, covering the piece of metal with a thick coating of black silk before smashing it against the ground. The surface of the roof crack at the impact, but it was easy to see that the damn thing looked almost untouched.

"Not bad, kid."

Peter panted and glared as the woman landed in front of him, fists raised in a combat stance, "...You really wanna get into a fight?" He didn't like punching soldiers, even if they were dressed like clowns, but he'd do it if she kept pushing.

The smirk she had on her face did nothing to help his nerves, "...No, I think I'll let her handle it."

An impact at the back of his head forced him against the ground and he found his consciousness fading. Just barely he saw Spider-Woman land before kneeling in front of him, mumbling something he couldn't make out, '...Should've followed my gut...knew I couldn't trust her...'

"Oh, God...Peter...I'm so sorry."


Gwen couldn't help but feel bad as she watched Cap remove his tattered trenchcoat, running her hand through the sleeves and insides and searching for any hidden weaponry, 'It's not your fault he ran away like a crazy person...' She reassured herself. She knew Cap could come off as...rough - hell, their first meeting wasn't exactly a bed of roses either - but resisting a warrant from S.H.I.E.L.D was crazy.

It was also the same thing she did just a few months ago...

"Something wrong, Cap?" She asked, fiddling with her newly returned webshooters. She had to admit it was almost scary how lacking she felt without them on her, "You've been pawing at that thing for a while now.

"Can't find his webshooters." The older woman muttered, dropping the trenchcoat with a sigh, "Maybe they're woven into the fabric, wouldn't be the first time I've seen nanite technology." She knelt down in front of his sitting, unconscious form and checked over the bindings again, "Nothing on his wrists...but the Vibranium should be enough to keep him from getting any bright ideas either way."

"Right..." She remembered getting slapped with those cuffs. Running home to her dad and begging him to pick the lock because she was under arrest by Captain America was definitely one of the low points of her superheroing career; just barely above Bodega Bandit getting a lucky hit in because she wasn't paying attention or Stilt-Man managing to get away with his loot.

She watched her remove his gloves next, placing his fingers on top of some kind of wide-screen device, "What's that?"

"Fingerprint scanner, I'm going to see if I can find a match anywhere. I'm not sure if he has a criminal record, so looking everywhere is the best bet. Who knows, maybe he's a resident New Yorker."

"H-Hey, maybe that's going a bit too far. His secret identity's-"

"Not in any danger from us, Gwen." She replied gently, once again using her real name, "I can see why he panicked, but the facts speak for themselves. Given what we just found out about S.I.L.K it's not impossible that he received his abilities from them. He did show up the same time as they did." She nodded and stood as the fingerprints were fully processed, "Maybe if we do this we can find a lead, track them down and make sure there's no more unnecessary...what the hell?"

Gwen leaned over the other hero's shoulder and found herself stiffening, feeling like her blood froze over as she caught sight of the results displayed on the screen.

"Peter Benjamin Parker, full match..."

'That's...impossible.' She took a step back, her breath shaky as she read the results aloud once more, "Peter Benjamin Parker...that...that has to be a glitch, right...?" She looked at the older woman, her voice frantic, but Cap just continued to look at the screen without saying a word, "Cap, if you're trying to pull a joke then this really isn't funny! It...It's a mistake, isn't it!?"

"I...this has never been wrong before." She mumbled back, "Maybe...Maybe he changed his fingerprints with surgery, but then why would it show up as Parker's? It should have been unreadable..."

'No %^&*$# way it's true!' She pulled the tattered mask off his face, fingers peeling the bandages soon after in a rush. Peter was dead; they'd buried him in that cemetary, they'd cried at his funeral, she'd kept his transformation into the Lizard for two years. There was no way he was alive, no way that he'd just...faked his death and hid from them, his family, for so long. There had to be another explanation, there had to-

Her breath caught in her throat as she pulled off the last of the bandages, exposing the face underneath.

His features were marred with a shallow bruises and cuts, but the face was unmistakable, "P...Peter...?" She took a step back, head shaking and eyes shut tight. He looked different...older...but it was him, "That's...there's no way...he's supposed to be..." A lizard? Dead? What? She didn't know anymore. She knew he was dead, she saw his body in that coffin when they lowered it, there had to be a reason for all of this.

She was so busy trying to think of explanations that she didn't see his eyes open, didn't see him pull his middle and ring finger back before it was too late.

The webbing covered the entirety of her body up til her neck with Cap faring no better. She saw him turn and run, making his way to the edge of the roof, 'No, damn it!' Running on instinct she punched a hand through the netting and released a line of webbing aimed at his back, "I need answers, you're not just going to run away, you hear me! You're not just going to-"

The web snagged against his shoulder and he tripped, nearly falling on his back. He turned back to look at her, his expression desperate, and she found her grip weakening. 'Peter...' Her hold on the webbing loosened and she let go, watching helplessly as he jumped into the adjacent roof before disappearing from sight.


Damn it, damn it, damn it!

Peter ran into the alley, ignoring the biting chill of the winter winds as they buffeted against him. Just when he thought things couldn't get any worse now stars and strips and Spider-Woman had seen his face, "Son of a bitch..." Maybe it didn't matter, maybe they wouldn't know who he was, but it did nothing to stop the feeling of frustration welling up inside him.

Eventually he stopped, leaning against the wall of the alley, his breath ragged. He'd gotten away from them, but for how long? Castle had likely escaped, but they would give chase soon enough...and without his mask he might as well have painted a target at his back.

Not to mention these damned things...

"What the hell...?" He struggled against the metal cuffs, but they refused to budge. He'd been handcuffed before, but it didn't take much strength to break the thin chains. This thing...it wouldn't bend no matter how much he struggled, "Come on, damn it..."

A peal of laughter echoed across the alley before a raspy voice spoke out, "No use, kid. That stuff's vibranium, you ain't gonna get out of that just by pushing and pulling."

Looking up at the fire escape, he raised an eyebrow at the figure sitting at on top of it: A man, looked maybe a decade or two older than him, wearing a leather jacket with some baggy pants to match. His mouth was curled in an amused smile, fingers playing with a deck of cards better than any dealer he'd seen. Despite the grin his movements were measured, controlled...whether that was a good or bad sign he didn't know.

What really caught his attention, though, was the tattoo of a target covering the entirety of his forehead.

"Who are you...?"

"A friend...well, close enough." He dropped and landed right on front of him, "Saw your fight with Captain Snooty up there, thought I'd lend a hand considering your little...predicament." He gestured to the cuffs binding his wrists together, "Believe me, I've been on the wrong-end of that thing before. S.H.I.E.L.D doesn't take resignations, especially not when you don't agree with their agendas if you catch my drift."

"What the hell are you talking about? Who are you?" His eyes narrowed. He wasn't in the mood for games.

"Woah there, junior, just cause you suck at keeping a secret identity doesn't mean I have to give mine away too!" The stranger laughed, clapping his shoulder like he was an old friend, "But hell, I see your point. You know what, I'll give you a freebie. You can use my codename."

"And that would be...?"

"You can call me Bullseye, kid. And right now I'm the only friend you got."

Chapter Text

Peter was alive...

Gwen looked down at her hands blankly, her thoughts running a mile a minute, 'It can't have been real...I must have been seeing things.' She thought numbly. They'd seen Peter's body in that coffin, watched and cried when the lid closed and the wooden container was lowered into the earth. She'd been there with Harry and the Parkers and other people who just wanted to pay their respects to the family. She didn't imagine that, didn't imagine the two years she'd spent trying to make up for his murder, didn't imagine Harry trying to killer her in because of some twisted sense of redemption. She didn't...

Didn't imagine him looking back at her with naked desperation before he jumped off the roof to get away from her.

"Fuck..." She took a slow, deep breath and closed her eyes, ignoring Captain America pacing at her side. She wished she could say it was the product of a sleepless night, but the results spoke for themselves: His fingerprints read a one hundred percent match, his voice was rougher but it definitely sounded like him; it wasn't just one thing that she could chalk up to coincidences. And his face...

It was almost identical...if not for the wounds and fatigue she would have sworn she was looking at a picture. Same hazel eyes, same messy hair...same glare he gave those who tormented him when their backs were turned.

A clap on her left shoulder jolted her out of her thoughts, "Spider-Woman, are you alright?" Cap asked worriedly. Despite everything that had happened the older woman kept her calm exterior, showing little signs of being phased by recent events. Gwen supposed she shouldn't have been surprised: She'd spent 75 years running through different dimensions until finding her way back home. What was her best friend possibly coming back from the dead to a woman who'd fought Baron Blood with a little girl who had a pet T-Rex? This must have been Tuesday for her.

"...m'fine,' She mumbled, shrugging off her hand and taking a few steps away. She wanted to keep her distance, to be alone...she...she needed to think, needed to make sense of it all somehow. Her dad always told her to look at everything rationally and go over the facts so she could come to a logical conclusion. ...Granted she was someone who was bitten by a radioactive spider and somehow got superpowers instead of cancer, so who the shit knew.

But there had to be a rational explanation for this somehow. Some...logical reason that explained why he'd...he'd come back from the fucking dead, "Maybe he didn't come back from the dead...maybe he's just a copy..." She shook her head. No, that made no sense; why pick Peter Parker of all people? Until he was 'murdered' by Spider-Woman he wasn't anyone noteworthy so why now after two years and his body long since grown cold?

And was it a coincidence that Pete- that he had spider powers as well? It was like someone was taunting her. Peter was 'killed' by someone with spider powers and now he - or someone who looks and has the same fingerprints as him - comes back two years later acting like some kind of 90's comic book vigilante with powers almost identical to her own. It was like someone looked at her life and thought 'How could we fuck her up even more?'

'None of this makes any fucking sense, not one Goddamn fucking thing...' She leaned over the edge of the roof, staring blankly at where he'd fallen to. He was gone now and catching up to him even with her webshooters wasn't going to be easy considering she had no idea where he was, 'Peter...' She pressed her forehead against her knuckles. She felt sick...like she was going to faint and crash into the alley below, 'God, get a grip...' She chided weakly.

She had to take this step by step. So far she could boil it down to two facts: Either he was Peter Parker or he wasn't. If he wasn't then it would still be confusing, but she could deal with it. Maybe he was just a sick asshole playing a prank...but he'd done his best to keep 'Gwen' from seeing his face, so what would be the point? Why bother changing your fingerprints or your face if you never planned to let anyone see you? He couldn't have been faking; the desperation he had to keep her from unmasking him despite his injuries was genuine, that much was clear.

Maybe it was all a coincidence? Maybe someone looked down a list of dead people and they landed on his name by sheer chance...yeah, what were the fucking chances of that coupled with everything else?

If it was the first option, then...then what? 'If Peter's back from the dead...isn't that a good thing?' She frowned. His death had haunted him, haunted Harry and haunted the Parkers for the past two years. The reason she kept putting on the mask after being hunted like a criminal by the police, the reason Harry had gone to such desperate lows to make himself stronger, was because of him. It was two years since he'd been dead and buried and they were still reeling like the wounds were fresh.

If it really was him then why didn't he remember them? He admired Spider-Woman while Gwen Stacy was his best friend, and yet the way he was acting...they might as well have been strangers to him. He'd called her by that nickname once, but did that mean anything or was it all just a coincidence? Did he know and was hiding it? Why? What reason could he have to hide from the people who loved him-

"Spider-Woman, are you listening to me?"

Gwen titled her head back and looked at Cap in a daze. She was talking to her? Great, now she was going to look like an ass for ignoring her, "Huh...? Sorry, could you repeat that?" She mumbled, trying to force herself to pay attention.

"I said we have to catch up to them," She said, her voice even, "Castle's dangerous, you know that. For the past few days he's been running around shooting up warehouses and leaving people hanging from meathooks..." Her arms crossed and she frowned, "Whatever's got him riled up it's making him act like a rabid dog, causing enough damage that S.H.I.E.L.D's got their sights on him in addition to the police."

"He...said something about his family, Hammerhead took them..." She'd only heard about an hour ago but it felt like days had passed. She needed to focus, "The guy that was interrogated. He said that a family was taken, it must have been his. He's trying to rescue them..." She laughed wryly. She hated the rabid bastard, but if she was right then...then he was still a fucking prick, just one with loved ones.

Cap's eyes narrowed by an imperceptible amount before she continued, "Be that as it may he can't just run around like this. What Hammerhead's up to is severe and it concerns more than one man's family, as callous as that might seem." She sighed, "We'll rescue his family, but only if he gives us the information he has and agrees to come in. This smuggling operation is too sensitive to be turned into one man's vendetta."

"And Pe- Spider-Man?"

"...We need him for questioning." Gwen didn't miss the way Cap's free hand clenched, much as she tried to hide it, "He started showing up a day before S.I.L.K's victims started coming out of the woodwork. We don't know if they're connected, but the coincidence is just a bit too close to pass up." She looked her in the eyes, the stillness of her gaze almost unnerving to the younger hero, "You saw what that girl and this 'scorpion' were capable of. Innocent or not they need to be detained so they can be treated properly before they..."

"Start killing people." She finished. Mac was stable enough, but Maxine...she thought she could help her, but she saw the news. He killed her because she was dangerous, that's what he said at least, and some of the news story seemed to back up his facts. It was difficult to find through all the bullshit arguments and rumor mongering by sleazy tabloids but the death toll was in the dozens easily...

Was he right? Was saving Maxine just a pipe dream did she have to die? And Peter...

Peter was a killer. He'd come back and he was killing people.

She felt bile rise to her throat, her breath stalling in a pained choke, "Oh God..." She pulled her mask off and leaned over the edge of the building, throwing up her breakfast and probably hitting some poor bum sleeping in the alley; it'd be the perfect end to this shitfest, "Peter's a killer..." She wiped her mouth roughly and shut her eyes, her breaths shaky. He had turned into that Lizard, but she'd managed to stop him from killing anyone, stopped him from dying with a guilty conscience. He had a moment of weakness, she understood that and she forgave him for it. As far as the world knew he was innocent.

Now he was a killer...or some someone who had his face was, but at this point she was finding it hard to see the difference.

She felt a hand tapping her back softly, "Spider-Woman-"

"Was it a mistake?" She asked, interrupting the older woman's attempt to comfort her, "Did...could someone have copied Peter's fingerprints? Fool that scanner thing of yours?" She asked desperately, "Just...please tell me something that'll make sense of this! I mean, what the fuck is going on!? Peter's dead, he passed away in my fucking arms and I've been regretting ever since and now all of a sudden he's back!? This makes no fucking sense!"

"Spider-Woman, calm down-"

"Just answer the question!" She screamed, cutting her off and making her step back in surprise, "Cap...I'm just trying not to go fucking insane here and it's really hard without any Goddamn answers!" The veteran hero winced as a finger stabbed her chest, "Was there any chance at all that this is just some impostor? That someone had surgery and..and stole Peter's face?"

"That..." Cap pinched the bridge of her nose and sighed, "Someone faking fingerprints has been done before and S.H.I.E.L.D's built countermeasures to take note of signs. Surgery isn't magic, there's always a flaw. Maybe one ridge is just a smidge different or there are almost microscopic scars when the patterns were replaced. Either way the device takes note of this and draws up a percentage."

"It showed a one hundred percent match..." Gwen muttered, the sinking feeling in her stomach returning, "Then...does that mean-"

"Either someone managed to perfectly replicate Peter Parker's fingerprints down to the smallest detail...or he's back from the dead."

That was it then. Either someone picked Peter out of a list of thousands of dead teenagers and copied him down exactly or he was...resurrected like some kind of fucking zombie. Both sounded like absolute bullshit, but what the hell else could she think?

"...Maybe it's a clone?" She asked, though at this point she didn't even know why she was bothering.

"Impossible. Contrary to popular belief, clones don't share fingerprints. He would have been completely different if we scanned him, and..." She tapped her wrist, "His powers are definitely something that the old Peter Parker didn't have. I don't know where you got your abilities from, but I doubt it was easy to replicate. That he - that Peter Parker - has the same abilities as Gwen Stacy is unlikely to be a coincidence. Right now I don't know whether he gave them to himself or whether it was similar to that Maxine girl, but either way it's something that can't just be ignored."

Cap continued to talk, but at this point she'd tuned her out. Peter was back, at least that was one of the possibilities. Whatever the case she had to account for the possibility that her best friend was back from the dead...

She had to make sure.

"Spider-Woman, I understand that you might be hesitant but this doesn't change facts. You can leave if you want, I wouldn't fault you for it, but I could use your help with this-"

"I have to make sure."

Before the S.H.I.E.L.D agent could stop her, Gwen put on her mask and swung away. She had to make sure, had to end all the doubts, 'Peter's back...' She swung higher, letting the rush of adrenaline course through her. Whenever things became too much for her she always put on the mask, became Spider-Woman so she could escape her problems for even a bit. Maybe it was fucked up and she was running away, but whatever. Her life wasn't exactly a bed of roses and she wasn't ashamed to admit she needed moments to just clear her head and help people while she was doing it.

Of course the one night she really needed something to take her attention there was nothing. No innocent bystanders being mugged for their cash, no exchange of money and briefcases to signify a drug deal, nothing that would even remotely require the attention of a hero with far too much things on her mind; hell, she couldn't even see a fucking jaywalker she could lecture (because she was totally the authority on proper road safety...).

Nothing.

'Right, the one time I need something to distract me and suddenly there's world peace. Betcha the second I go to sleep Shocker's going to lead a prison riot...' She landed atop one of the taller skyscrapers, feet balancing at the tip in a way that would scare most people before she settled in an awkward sitting position.

Her place from the top afforded her a bird's eye view of the city, allowing a momentary sense of calm to fall on her. The first time she realized she had powers she'd been scared; how else was supposed to react to jumping and sticking to the roof other than screaming her head off? She'd lied her ass off to her dad when he came to check in on her, blaming it on finding a spider in her bed (har har...) and that nothing was wrong. Now she was sitting on the tops of skyscrapers and fighting villains who would kill her if she made even a single mistake.

All because she and Peter switched places on the line cause he wanted a better view of the experiment.

She'd never given much thought to being special. After she'd calmed down she thought about making her claim to fame with She-Hulk, but that was busted when Uncle Ben decided to play hero and nearly got shot by that burglar. Sure she'd made the occasional appearance on TV; playing drums while upside down was a rush and with her identity hidden behind a mask it wasn't as if she had to worry about stage fright. If she fucked up it wasn't like she couldn't just throw away her costume and pretend it never happened. She wasn't Gwen Stacy, she was Spider-Woman...

People loved her. A young woman with superpowers? How could they resist? There were a few heroes in the past: Ms. Van Dyne was the first one that came to mind along with Cap or She-Hulk, but eventually things had died down. Ms. Van Dyne retired, She-Hulk became a wrestler (or 'sold out', if you believed some of the posters in her forums) And Cap did secret work for S.H.I.E.L.D. She was practically dominating the market when she first made a public appearance.

And now what? Here she was four years after she'd been bitten, two years after Peter's death, and as soon as she might have finally started making sense of everything this fucking shit happened. First Captain America gave her that damn usb, then S.I.L.K or whoever the fuck they were started turning people into unwilling supervillains and now...now Peter had apparently come back from the dead with a copy of her powers with no idea who she was.

Releasing an exhausted breath, she propelled herself off the pole and let herself fall, the cold winds buffeting her insulated costume. She felt trapped, like no matter where she went she was going around in circles. She couldn't help Cap like this, not while everything was fucking spinning around her. She needed to make sense of this, try to put some logic to...to whatever the hell this was supposed to be.

And she knew exactly what she had to do.

The roofs of the first few buildings passed her by before she released a burst of webbing and swung, a few pedestrians pulling out their phones and frantically bringing up their cameras to try and get a snapshot of her. She'd have thought that after four years of putting on the mask and two years of superheroing people would have gotten used to her, but even now there were still people who stared in awe (or cussed her out...) like she was someone new.

Her thoughts were idle as she swung to her destination, trying to put what she was about do out of her mind. It was only when she went over the gates of the cemetery and landed on the snowy grass with a dull crunch that she felt her nerves shoot up, the urge to vomit once again rushing to the surface. She wasn't afraid of fighting supervillains, didn't think twice about saving someone from being run over by a train or jumping into a burning building to save anyone trapped inside. No, that was easy and fucking trivial to the fucked up thing she was planning to do now.

"Hey, Peter...been a while."

Digging up her best friend's grave.

Despite the years that passed the gravestone appeared almost pristine and well-cared for, the words never once showing any signs of fading or anything more than a thin sheen of dirt. Kneeling down, she brushed away the snow piled on top of the head and and smiled sadly. She made sure to visit whenever she could two years ago, but after everything that happened she never really found the time.

"Looks like Ben and May came to visit..." She mumbled, eyeing the bouquet of flowers in front of the tombstone. The petals looked fresh and the caretaker hadn't touched them, so it must have happened a day or two ago. Again she felt guilt bubbling in her stomach. They'd made sure their son's final resting place was cared for and here she was planning to fuck it all up because she wanted some peace of mind.

Some hero she was supposed to be.

"So...yeah, a lot of shit's happening." She mumbled, pushing the last of the snow away in a futile attempt to prolong the inevitable, "Did you ever think any of this would happen? When we started highschool...we thought it was the highlight of our lives. Joining the big kids and taking the school by storm like all those shitty movies. You remember those? You always told me how 'impractical and unrealistic' it all was..."

And now here they were. Four years later and she was Spider-Woman, Harry had turned himself into the Green Goblin to try and make up for his past weakness and Peter...or someone...whoever the fuck he was acting like some kind of bloodthirsty vigilante she'd see out of a 90's comic book. Anyone watching would have laughed at the absurdity of it, but there was no part of her that found it funny.

Her hands clenched and she grabbed the first handful of dirt, grass and snow of the ground covering the coffin. Peter's casket was six feet under, and if she wanted to make sure if he'd come back or not she had to see with her own eyes if he was still down there. She threw the clumps over shoulder before she stilled, looking down at the dirtied gloves of her costume. It was just the first handful, she had a shitload more to go...

"Are you sure you wanna do this?"

Her head snapped to meet Captain America's gaze. Despite her compromising position the woman's face was remarkably passive, neither condoning or condemning what she was planning to do, "I knew you'd be here. I understand how you feel, Spider-Woman, but is this really what you want?" She knelt down by her side and held her hands gently, "You're innocent of Peter Parker's death...but is digging up his grave really the right call?"

"What else am I supposed to fucking do!?" She she stood up and walked away, her her steps shaky, "I wasn't imagining that, right!? You said yourself that he might have come back! Am I supposed to just pretend it doesn't fucking bother me that my best friend might be alive and I can't be sure!? I don't want to dig up his resting place because if I'm wrong then I'll have just fucked something else up, but I don't have a choice!"

"Nothing says you have to exhume a corpse," Cap replied, "I can try to find out something more on my end, something that doesn't disturb this place." She gestured to the assorted graves, "I've had my share of experience with that nonensense...never ends well." She grunted, but her lips quirked into a smile nonetheless, "You don't have to do this if you'll let me help."

"How...?"

"Well, first things first we could hear it from the horse's mouth directly." She crossed her arms and shrugged, "Peter Parker - or whoever he is - is out there now and once we find him you can ask whatever questions you want. I promise I'll hold off putting him in for questioning once he's proven without a doubt he isn't one S.I.L.K's experiments or that he's at risk of going rabid. You have my word on that."

"...You think it's true? You think Peter's really back from the dead?" She asked, her voice uncertain, "I mean, you've been at this shit longer than I have. 75 years crossing dimensions you must have found something similar..."

"Despite what Steve's comic books might tell you, it wasn't a heroic adventure. I stumbled from one portal to the next, helping people when I could, but the only thing that kept me sane was the thought of finally getting home." She rubbed the back of her head and released an exhausted breath, "I won't deny I saw things. Utopias, Dystopias, magic and science mixing together that I could never tell where one ended and the other began. It was...almost tempting to stay, you know? You find a dimension that has no hunger, no war, no struggles and where everyone was happy and you begin to ask yourself why you wanna leave. It was like my dad's talk of Heaven..."

"But...?"

"Never actually stayed, of course, considering I'm standing here." Her shoulders sagged, "But to answer your question...yes, I've seen people come back from the dead." She held up her head before Gwen could interrupt her, "Let me finish. Alright, so coming back from the dead...it's not exactly easy. It's not one of those 'videogames' where you can just snap your finger and everything goes back to the way it was. Some of the people who came back were...changed. Sometimes they were almost the same, but there was that one tic. Sometimes people came back with no memories and they weren't the same people anymore."

"So you're saying..." She gulped, unable to finish the thought.

"Even if Peter Parker came back from the dead...he might not be 'Peter Parker' anymore," She continued for her, her gaze dipping slightly, "I've seen it all before. When he saw you, did he recognize you? Did he give you any indication that he remembered what happened to him? Memories can be wiped or altered, he might remember people or events differently or he could be a blank slate...so it's possible that even if it's Peter Parker's body it's just another person inside."

"...No, he didn't recognize me...or if he did he didn't say anything about it." Was it a coincidence that he'd appeared in front of 'Gwen Stacy' when he needed help? It didn't seem like he planned it, but at this point she couldn't discount the possibility of it, "He could have been faking, but I got a gut feeling he wasn't lying..."

"Then I suppose the only way you're going to know is if we hear it from the man himself." She pinched the bridge of her nose, "And we're back to square one. We need to find them, but I don't have any idea where they could be or if they're even together. I could call in Falcon to help track them, but he's under another assignment right now. Maybe-"

"I...I think I know...or I have a good guess." Gwen mumbled, "I...before we met up with Castle, Pe- Spider-Man was interrogating some guy about a location of someone named Gabriel. Maybe he's a friend, but whatever he was he was desperate to find him. If he went to address he was given...then maybe we can find him and Castle both."

"It's a start." Cap nodded, "Come on, I left your backpack at the entrance. If you're right then maybe we can take two birds with one stone."


She was right.

Landing on top of the roof, she released her hold on Cap and adjusted the backpack's place on her shoulders. Even through the relative darkness from this part of town she could see them both standing with their backs turned to them on the other side of the roof. They were scoping out the warehouse, or at least that's what she assumed they were doing.

She was barely able to take her first step before Spider-Man turned back...and she felt like she'd been punched in the gut. He had gotten a hooded jacket and a scarf to cover his head, but it wasn't doing a very good job of it. Even through the thick cloth she could make out his features, see the glare he gave her - Peter's glare, she reminded herself glumly - as his hands clenched into fists. He looked like he was expecting a fight...and considering their last meeting ended with her kicking him at the back of the head to be cuffed with vibranium she couldn't exactly blame him.

"Neither of you give up, do you?" Without the mask to muffle him it was disturbing how she almost missed the resemblance his voice had, "If you're itching to pick a fight then I'm not gonna hold back. I ain't going to the slammer for doing what I had to."

His stance lowered into a more cautious crouch, but Cap spoke first, "We're not here for you, bug-boy." She cast her gaze on the rabid ex-cop, who surprisingly enough hadn't turned at their entrance, "Spider-Woman briefed me on the way over here. This little...rescue mission you two are involved in is going to get you both killed. Hammerhead's connected to the Maggia and this is his main safehouse. You're going to be outnumbered, outgunned and outclassed."

"I've seen worse when I worked with War Machine." Castle grunted, finally turning to look at them both. Gwen had to admit she almost felt sorry - emphasis on almost - when she saw the bruises and other deep wounds marring his face, "If you call the police they're going to get massacred and S.H.I.E.L.D will just get all their hostages killed. Me and the kid have a better chance than the force running in there blind."

"You-"

"How do you know the 'kid'?" Cap interrupted, her eyes narrowing, "I read up on your file, Castle. I don't have to mention your connection to Tony Stark's little death squads, so I'll skip all that. One thing I do know is that you were up until recently obsessed with bringing Spider-Woman to your twisted idea of justice for the 'murder' of Peter Parker. Is it a coincidence that you're partnered with someone who shares his fingerprints and face?"

For the second time since she'd known him (which, granted, wasn't very long) he saw his face twist in confusion. His head snapped to his 'partner' for a brief moment before he turned back to Captain America, "What the hell are you talking about? He's-"

"Now really isn't the time for an identity crisis." Spider-Man interrupted, pulling down his hood and scarf to expose his face. Again Gwen felt that sinking feeling in her stomach, "Obviously you all know Peter Parker, but any plays you wanna put on about that can wait till later. The longer Hammerhead has those weapons the more of a chance he's going to start a killing spree. I think your problems with me can be put off for a bit..."

"Hmph...agreed." Cap conceded, "Until we deal with this mess I'm suspending any warrants out on you both. Just make sure you don't act like damned idiots in there and make me regret it..."

"...I don't know what the hell is going on, but this doesn't change anything." Castle gave him a nod, "Whoever the hell you are, just make sure you don't die before you find that kid."

Gwen blinked. Was it just her or did these two seem to have an understanding? 'What the fuck did I miss?' She wondered. Peter was always a closed-off guy, certainly not the type to make friends with lunatics like Frank Castle...then again she also distinctly remembered him not liking guns and having no interests in raiding warehouses full of armed thugs and yet...'Remember what Cap said; he could be a different person...'

"There was an alarm system in the last place I raided. Doused the entire place in tear gas..." Spider-Man muttered, "Hammerhead also rigged the place to blow. Unless we disable that we're just going to be walking to a damn deathtrap."

"It's unlikely those two systems are going to be in close proximity, and considering how big that place looks..." She went past them to give a preliminary look to the warehouse and open docks, "...We're going to have to split up."

"Uh...you sure that's a good idea, Cap?" Gwen asked, speaking up properly for the first time since she got here, "I know this place is big, but wouldn't sticking together be the better option here?"

"Clustering together's just going to paint a bigger target at our backs, and we need both of them disabled." She pursed her lips for a brief moment before nudging her head in Spider-Man's direction, "You and Spider-Man take the right side, Castle and I will take the left. Give us a ten minute headstart...if we trip an alarm or they realize what's going on they're going to be trying an escape. You have to stop them if that happens. Follow up if nothing happens by the time it ends."

"I work better alone..." Frank grunted.

"And I work better when I don't have unstable ex-mercenaries at my back, but we all have to make do." She replied curtly, not even bothering to spare him a glance, "Spider-Woman...you know what you have to do."

She could only nod dumbly as Cap and Castle left, trying to ignore the glare the latter was giving her, 'Well, fuck you too, asshole...' She frowned. Even if he was trying to get his family back he was still a Goddamn douche. If he'd attacked only her maybe she could have forgiven him, but her put her dad and her friends at risk. As far as he was concerned he could go fuck himself and rot in a prison cell...once his family was safe, of course.

An uncomfortable silence settled over the roof once the footsteps finally faded. Spider-Man turned his back on her, sitting down at the edge of the roof and looking at the warehouse without another word. Gwen winced and pulled out her phone, tapping the timer app to try and distract herself. She knew the 'ten minute headstart' thing was bullshit; Cap was trying to give her a chance to ask her questions, but what was she supposed to say? 'Hey, I know this is awkward but do you remember coming back from the dead by any chance? I'm kinda super invested in finding out cause reasons.'

God, maybe she should just blurt it out? What was the worse that could happen?

"So how'd you get out of those cuffs?"

...Not the question she would have gone for, but it was already out there. She saw him face her, his expression unreadable, before he finally replied "...You honestly expect me to answer that or are you just trying to fill in the quiet?" He rolled his eyes.

"...Both, I guess." She shrugged, trying to make her voice as light as possible, "Vibranium's not exactly easy to break and picking a lock while the cuffs are on you must be a real bitch. I had to have a...friend do it for me when I was on the wrong end."

"Yeah, well, you're gonna be disappointed cause I ain't telling." He scoffed, "I don't exactly have many friends in this madhouse, and snitching ain't exactly how you endear yourself to people. If you're trying to help miss Stars-and-stripes back there catch me you need to be a bit more subtle."

"That's not..." She sucked in a frustrated breath. She understood why she was annoyed with him, but seeing someone who might have been her best friend resurrected acting like an absolute ass wasn't exactly pleasant, "...Look, if you don't want to tell me how you escaped or whatever, fine; I don't really give a shit. Just..." She slapped her face lightly to steel herself, "I...I just need you to answer a few questions. I promise I'm not to catch you or arrest you or anything!...And I know that sounds weird after everything that happened, but just trust me, okay?"

"...Fine, ask. Won't guarantee I'll answer your questions, but go nuts."

"Right..." Her hands clenched and unclenched nervously. She had to start this slow, "Right...alright, I know this is going to sound fucking stupid but...do you remember me?"

"Hard to forget, head's still ringing from when you kicked me..." He muttered, tapping the back of his head with a small scowl, "Thanks for that, by the way."

"Not what I meant." She huffed, "I mean...before we met a few days in that alley and got involved fighting Hippo, do you ever remember meeting before?" Peter adored Spider-Woman; he even made a jacket (guy didn't look it but he had...has Godly sewing skills) to wear if the pictures could be trusted, "You remember anything before?" She had to push, even if she felt damn narcissistic asking if he was a fan...

"Like I said after we interrogated Vodkaly, no. I'm pretty sure I never met you before."

No hesitation...he wasn't lying, at least as far as she could sigh. Sighing, she nodded before going to her next question, 'This is really crossing the line, but...' If she couldn't appeal to make him remember Spider-Woman, maybe people a little bit closer would work, "...Do the names Mary Jane, Gloria Grant, Betty Brant and Gwen Stacy mean anything to you?"

That did it. She saw his eyes widen for a fraction of a second before he frowned, turning to look away from her with a grunt. Gwen felt butterflies in her stomach; was she nervous or relieved? "...You do know them, don't you?" She pressed, causing his frown to deepen, "You can say it, it's fine. Your secret's safe with me-"

"Drop it." His voice was a low growl, and she felt a shiver go down her spine at the glare she was given. It felt wrong seeing it from the same guy who gushed about Play of Thrones a couple of years back, "Next question or just stop because I'm not going to do this anymore..."

"Right..." She shook her head, 'Damn it, shouldn't have pushed too far.' A part of her was tempted to unmask then and there, but she had to stay cool, "...This is my last question, and I want you to answer me...please: Are you Peter Parker?"

He was silent after that, and she saw at least a couple of minutes tick by on the timer before he finally answered, "Yeah...Peter Benjamin Parker, son of Richard and Mary Parker and raised by Ben and May Parker...not that you don't know that already considering you took my mask." He brought a hand across his lightly injured face and scowled, "Newspapers said you killed the Parker kid...figured that was just a smear job, but the way you're acting...you were there, weren't you?"

She looked into his eyes when he died...so yeah, she was there, 'The way he's talking about it...its like it doesn't involve him.' She licked her lips, "There's a reason they thought I was responsible." She replied, hands holding herself as she suppressed a shiver. If he was Peter - and he seemed to believe he was - then he certainly didn't seem to remember Spider-Woman being there after he'd transformed back to normal...small blessings, she supposed, "I...was talking to you...or him...after everything was said and done. He...or you said that-"

"Just wanted to be special...like you."

Gwen felt her breathing halt, her eyes widening as she processed the words. No one...there was no one who else who heard Peter's words. Harry saw everything, but did he hear it? No, he shouldn't have; she could barely hear it herself because his voice was so weak and there were no recordings of his transformation.

That meant...

"...Peter-"

"Not what you think, sister." He shook his head and sighed, "None of this is making sense to me either, but I can guarantee you I ain't your little 'murder victim'." He waved a free hand and stood up properly, "Look...I dunno who the hell you are, but it's clear for anyone to see that Parker kid was special to you. Maybe he was a friend, maybe he was your main squeeze. Doesn't matter; either way I ain't him."

"H-How could you be sure?" She didn't know how to feel. Did she want him to be her resurrected friend? A stranger that made a lucky guess? Or was she just looking for anything that gave her peace of mind? 'Cap said memories could be erased or manipulated. He definitely reacted when I told him our names...'

"Because I have a life and I don't belong here," He replied, tongue clicking in what she assumed to be annoyance, "I shouldn't even be here. Only reason I'm in this madhouse is because of that bastard Octavius and because Gabriel was a stupid kid who get himself caught playing hero. Once I deal with this baloney I'm blowing this joint and never looking back."

"Y-You're leaving? You can't, not yet! I still need answers-"

"So do I, but I get the feeling if I tell you my side of the story you're not gonna believe me." He gave her a wry smile, the gesture doing nothing to calm her already frayed nerves, "...Come on, we have to go."

"N-Not yet, I still have questions-"

"Ten minutes have passed," He said, gesturing to the timer on her phone reading a few seconds past 13, "Castle and Stars-and-stripes should have finished whatever it was they were doing, but we still need to be cautious. Dunno what it is exactly we'll be looking for in there exactly, but with my luck I'll find it soon enough." He gestured to the large warehouse, "Let's go...and try to keep it quiet, would ya?"

"W-Wait." She opened her pack and pulled out his longcoat, gloves and tattered mask, tossing it to him gingerly. The clothes were tattered and barely fit into her backpack, but she was certain he would want them back regardless...and judging by the brief look of surprise and barely perceptible smile that came and went she was definitely right, "Figured you wouldn't wanna go in there without your costume..."

"...Thanks, I guess..." He removed the jacket and slipped the frayed coat on, the gloves and mask following soon after. How the covering was even holding together or why he didn't seem to find any discomfort wearing it she had no idea, "Right, that's that then. We're definitely talking more when this is done, so-"

His next words caused her heart to sink into her stomach.

"Where's my gun?"

Gwen froze, one hand raised awkwardly to web her backpack to a nearby pole for safekeeping while the other held onto the bag in question. Cap had crammed all his stuff in her backpack for safekeeping, gun included, She wanted to toss it into the river, but the older hero had actually warned her against it. Keep it 'just in case', she said. Just in case what? Just in case she wanted to give her possibly resurrected friend the ability to shoot someone?

"...Don't have it-"

"You're not gonna be selling much bridges with a poker face like that." He rolled his eyes stuck out his right hand, "Alright, enough fun and games. Give it to back."

He wanted the gun back...and she had a good feeling of what he was going to use it for. An image of Justine's dead body flashed through her mind followed by the Lizard's rampage all over midtown high. She...She had to make sure he didn't slip, make sure there weren't any risks him of going down that path again where he would risk killing himself to get payback on others.

"No."

She might have made a mistake. Through the cracked lenses of the goggles she saw his eyes narrow into a glare and what sounded like an annoyed growl passing through the flaps of torn cloth, "...Are we really gonna do this again? Now? I'm doped up on more painkillers than a junkie that it'll be a miracle if I don't collapse. You think crippling me even more is the right choice here? Use your head."

"I am, and you don't need it." She answered back, her voice taking on a harsher edge despite her best efforts. Before he could take another step she tossed the backpack to the pole and webbed it there without taking her eyes off him, "I'll watch your back, make sure that you're not in any trouble."

"This is a mistake. I'm not like you, I can't stick to walls or throw trucks. You see the police wading into criminals shooting at them with handcuffs and bare fists?" She saw his gaze soften, his voice almost pleading, "Don't be stubborn about this, just give it back...please."

"You're not getting that gun back and that's final. I'm through arguing about this." She took a deep breath, trying to will herself to calm. Why was he so insistent on it? He was definitely skilled enough with his powers and she would watch his back; no one else had to die. Still, she had to act harder than she was if she wanted to cut this short. "Unless you wanna fight for it?"I'd recommend against it, though..." Both for his sake and hers...

He muttered something under his breath before shaking his head, "I'm not an idiot. Even if I wasn't burnt half to a crisp you'd break my damn spine in a dozen pieces if I tried to fight you." He scoffed and turned away from her, looking down over the edge of the roof, "...Just stay out of my way when we get inside. I don't need any more of your help."

"Peter-"

"Stop calling me that."

He jumped from the edge before she could say anything else, landing on a dumpster before making his way to the warehouse without a hint of waiting for her, "Great, now I made him mad..." Sighing, Gwen prepared herself and jumped down after him. Her dad always told her the right way would make it hard for her to get friends, but somehow she doubted it included staying in the good graces of possibly resurrected ones.

'When did my life get so crazy...?'

Chapter Text

"So...who's going up there first?"

"Better if I do, I'm more used to crawling through tight spaces and ducts." Spider-Man looked up the small, square hole leading into the vent and sighed at the sight of cobwebs lining the edge. He already felt like he'd been through the gutter, now he was going to go through another one, "Just make sure to keep an eye out and not make too much noise. I'd rather not fall through and land in the middle of an entire group of these suckers."

"Right, I'll follow behind then...oh, and don't worry; I won't stare at your ass." Spider-Woman replied, her voice filled with (forced) mirth. One thing he knew about her without any doubts already; she never stopped joking, even when it really wasn't appropriate.

He hated dealing with partners.

Don't get him wrong; he wasn't averse to help, quite the opposite actually. He couldn't have dealt with Goblin's thugs without Urich's notes and he probably wouldn't have survived without Felicia's help and letting him stay over after Sandman caved his face in. He was man enough to admit that if he didn't have their help he might as well have been running around like a headless chicken, beating up every mugger or thug and trying in vain to gather information so he could slowly rise up the totem pole. He would have been useless or worse...he might have even died in some alley or gutter somewhere.

But partners came with problems. He was Peter Parker, but when he put on the mask he left his baggage at the door. He wasn't egotistical enough to think he was flawless, but anything he had issues with he clamped down when the mask was on. The things he'd seen in Fat Larry's club had disgusted him, made him sick to his stomach and want to vomit, but he held it in till he did what he had to do.

The negro prostitutes sleeping with fat, perverted old men so they could cheat on their wives; the sight of well-to-do businessmen high as the sky after a syringe full of floor polish; and the bloody chains and blades in the damn torture room. He'd actually believed Larry when he said it was just for some of the more twisted clients. He just wanted out of that place, wanted to get its stink out from under his skin and the shivers he felt at what went on inside. He was so damn desperate to find an escape that he made a threat and ran off, ignoring everything Spider-Man told him because Peter Parker wanted to crawl into ball and forget everything he'd seen.

Not anymore. If he wanted to be a good, law-abiding citizen then he shouldn't have put on the mask in the first place. Letting personal feelings and other problems bog you down in this 'line of work' was fatal, as his previous 'partners' had proven: Daredevil let his feelings for the Bullseye killer keep them from catching her the first time; Castelione let his rage for his father's death allow him to nearly kill an innocent police officer...and so on and so forth. They were all motivated by the injustice they'd taken, and he couldn't deny that his decision to shoot Vulture was out of rage. Still, he liked to think he'd gotten past it however slightly.

Which made his present predicament all the more grating.

Spider-Man looked back at his unwanted partner, hands flat in front of him and legs bent in an awkward crouch. The vents they were going through were narrow and even with the painkillers running through his system the angle he was in right now weren't doing the burns any favors. His healing really took a hit the more he exerted himself and he couldn't deny that a part of him just wanted to turn around and recuperate so he could recover properly. Hell, Bullseye had offered him just that.

Of course, seeing what he was seeing now put most of those thoughts to rest, "Looks like the blockhead's been busy..." He muttered, eyes raking in what he could from the gaps underneath them. If he thought that the first warehouse was a mess then this place was damned determined to change his mind. Even from the narrow slits he could see dozens upon dozens of metal crates stacked on top of one another, all of them no doubt filled with whatever dynamo weapons that square fink could muster.

"Shit, this place looks like a military base..." Spider-Woman muttered behind him, "No wonder S.H.I.E.L.D wanted these guys taken down. Maybe we should've called the others. Falcon and Hawkeye would be really good to have watching our backs. Hell, an entire platoon's looking pretty good right now."

"Yeah? Well I hope the cavalry doesn't gas the place before we get outta here." He rolled his eyes and crawled ahead, his 'partner' following close after. He was used to crawling in dark and uncomfortable spaces but having someone on his keister was definitely new. Another reason he hated partners: Never knew when to keep quiet. He'd have thought a blind guy who used sound and smell to see would know the value of keeping a low profile, but he supposed the bright red devil costume should have been a good indication. Guy wouldn't know the meaning of 'low profile' if it bit him in the backside.

Still, he had to admit that he shared her apprehension. He thought this place would be just one small warehouse like the one he'd seen Castle in, but it was like a damn fortress. The inside looked like it could fit hundreds of people and he wouldn't have been surprised if the entirety of the docks was similarly loaded. He'd seen something like this before - Crime Master's predecessor ran the entirety of the east-end docks like his own personal kingdom. Apparently he forgot that hiding in plain sight was better than lording over everyone like some wannabe king in a tiny castle.

That was long night...

"How the hell can they get away with this shit? I doubt even the Kingpin has enough money to bankroll all of this..." The 'superhero' muttered, stopping to eye what looked like the dynamo suit Vodkaly wore a couple of days ago, "And am I the only one who finds it weird that this Hammerhead guy's smuggling weapons that'd make Tony Stark blush but he arms his men like it's 1925? It's like watching the Single Ranger with a laser gun. You ever see that movie?"

He didn't bother answering, choosing to focus on the darkness of the vent in front of him. He didn't like talking much when he put on the mask and he wasn't in it much to make friends. As tiring as his short-lived partnerships with Castelione and Daredevil were at least they didn't try to make conversation over like they were in a damn tea party, or if he did then he drowned them out.

Spider-Woman was practically an enigma, a layer of contradictions stacked on top of one another. She ran around stopping crimes and these 'supervillains', but she treated it like some kind of game with her jokes and quips; she was obviously powerful, but from what he could see she seemed to hold herself back until things were knee deep in excrement; and of course she was called a murderer by the papers but she was so adamantly suicidal about saving every life that she went into this with bare fists and kept anyone else around her from being able to defend themselves.

He slowed down slightly and coughed, a quick burst of pain coming and going. Spider-Woman tapped his leg gently, "Hey, you okay there?" She asked, voice tinged with (unwanted) worry, "Look, if you need to slow down we can-"

"I'm fine, just focus on finding that breaker." He jolted his leg to nudge her hand off and scowled. She was trying to act like they were friends, like everything was hunky-dory and she didn't take his gun from him and keep him from defending himself if push came to shove. If he was anyone else then maybe he would have considered it, but considering he was doped up higher than a heroin addict he really wasn't in the mood to deal with her issues.

'It's that Parker kid...' He thought, turning the to the left of the intersection. She didn't like his methods before, but ever since she unmasked him she was damn obnoxious about it. He could see it in her body language: Even with the full body sock she was wearing she was way too obvious. That Parker kid was special to her, though he didn't know how - Maybe he was her friend, maybe he was her significant other or hell maybe he was her kid and it was this madhouse's Mary Parker under that mask. At this point he wasn't going to discount anything after what he'd seen.

Though if it was that kid's mother under there, she was doing a really bad job at parenting...

The rest of the trip in the vents saw more of the same sights, though the more they saw the more he began to wonder the same things Spider-Woman did: Where the hell did that glorified thug get all these damn marvels? Gabriel's shocked rambling made it seem like this was supposed to be big, maybe bigger than even the coppers could handle; so was this similar to Octavius, Crime Master and the atrocities that went on in Ellis Island? This was going above organized crime and into government espionage...and just a bit above his punching line if that was the case.

"Wait, hold up. We should stop here." She tapped his foot and gestured down through the grating. Spider-Man could see a couple of brunos with typewriters standing idly, chatting about some kind of concert they were attending. Whatever it was it was enough to make Spider-Woman give a disgusted noise, "Ugh, these guys are Mary Janes fans? I heard of a wide demographic but I didn't think mafia goons were on that list. Then again I guess every good band needs a few nutjobs..."

"Quiet..." He lowered himself into a prone position and grabbed the edges of the grating, pulling it away with a muted groan before pausing "...How do you know this is the right place to stop?"

"Cause there's a map on the wall and if we keep going like this we're going to be going around in a circle. Even if it isn't close it's better than running around blind up here." She grabbed the grating from his hand and pulled it closer to her, placing it at her side before looking over the edge, "I don't see anyone else. I'll take em out, you follow behind me."

"Do it quietly, would you? I know it's hard but try not to announce we're here. Your outfit's loud enough as it is."

"Haha...very funny, Pete. Real fucking hilarious coming from Mr. Trenchcoat..."

Before he could disparage her for calling him that she slipped through the edge and fell, both feet smacking the goon's backsides and webbing them to the ground before they could put up a struggle. He had to admit, as much of a pain in the behind she was she definitely didn't lack for skill, 'Radiation can do all this? Hope the Nazis didn't find that out...' Then again he saw no mentions of the Nazis in his time here. Maybe he would get lucky and they collapsed all on their own. From what he heard the Chancellor of Germany was a real pill so it wouldn't have surprised him.

He landed next to the unconscious goombas silently. Spider-Woman was checking the map, muttering to herself as her fingers traced the maze of hallways. Searching for the power room seemed as good a start as any; he expected this place to have generators, of course, but having them run on emergency power was a benefit nontheless. With any luck it would turn off those gas dispensers while Castle and stars-and-stripes dealt with the explosives.

But first...

"Any luck...?" He asked.

"Mmm, I think so. If I'm right we just have to go down this hall then take a left turn. Power room should be there, but I need to make sure. Better safe than sorry, right?"

"Right." He took another glance at Spider-Woman. She was still looking at the map, so with any luck she wouldn't notice, 'Here's hoping...' Kneeling down, he grimaced at the sight of the tommy gun covered in a gob of white webbing, 'Couldn't have left it alone, could you?' He sighed and picked the soiled weapon up gingerly, carefully picking apart the webbing and hoping against hope that the damn thing could still fire. His revolver was gone but maybe-

He was barely into cleaning the weapon before a line of webbing attached itself onto the gun's barrel and he found it being yanked out of his hands. Standing up with a scowl, he turned and found Spider-Woman webbing it to the wall before she regarded him with narrowed 'eyes', her arms crossed, "...Yeah, nice try. Sorry, but no dice." She ejected another line of webbing, doing the same with the remaining typewriter on the floor, "Look, like I said before-"

"Let's just go." He shook his head and shoved past her, trying to ignore the flaring anger he felt. He'd heard enough lectures before, he didn't need it from another judgmental stranger, 'Don't let her get under your skin.' He chided, though at this point it was drowned out by the growing pit of resentment he felt. She had good intentions - or at least he was sure she was convinced she did - but he'd gone past the point of caring. He just wanted to get this over with so he could find Octavius, leave this madhouse and stay as far away from 'superheroes' and 'supervillains' as he could.

They ran into a few more thugs along the way, though they were easy enough to dispatch. Thankfully Spider-Woman seemed to finally catch on that he wasn't willing to chat and the rest of the walk was spent in blissful silence. It gave him time to think, or at least to not focus on the fact that the painkillers were already wearing off and he was starting to feel the burns searing across his chest again.

'He told me they were low quality, but this is pathetic.' His pace slowed slightly and he found his hands palming the wall to help keep balanced. Painkillers usually lasted longer than this, though things had become weird ever since he'd been bitten. He supposed he shouldn't have been surprised not everything worked the same anymore, 'Good thing he offered spares. I'd be up a creek without a paddle without his help...'

"Hey...you okay?" Spider-Woman slowed and grabbed his shoulder, helping to keep him upright, "Damn it, I knew your wounds were too severe. You should've stayed behind."

"I'm not a kid, you don't have to baby me." He shrugged off her hand and fumbled through his pockets, picking up the small container full of pills before clumsily shoving the contents into his mouth. Bullseye had warned him to be careful of them, but the guy was clearly overestimating how useful they would be to a freak of nature, 'Five should do it...' He swallowed the pills and grimaced at the taste. It was unpleasant, but it was preferable to dealing with little miss lightning bolt's little souvenirs.

He'd been warned about overdosing too, but he figured this was a better risk than taking a bullet to the gut because he wasn't paying attention.

"That's a lot of pills. You...might wanna take it easy after this. You look like you've been through hell."

"Trust me, whatever I'm feeling right now Hammerhead's going to get much worse if Gabriel's not alright." He pushed himself off the wall and took a deep breath to balance himself. It'd been almost three days, so the thought of Gabriel already sleeping with the fishes with some new cement shoes had definitely crossed his mind. Still, maybe he held out...or at least that's what he kept telling himself so this all didn't seem like a giant waste of his goddamn time.

It wasn't long before they found the the room they were looking for, "Locked, of course." Clicking her tongue in exasperation, she grabbed the knob and pulled, breaking the lock and nearly taking the door of its hinges with an annoyed grunt, "Yeah...hope that didn't cause any silent alarms or anything. I never really learned how to pick locks and I get the feeling neither did you."

"You'd be surprised..." He pushed open the ajar door and stepped inside, taking a quick look around the dusty interior. The place definitely looked like it'd seen better days, but right now his only concern was the large machine standing in the corner. It looked different - smaller and more sleek - than he was used to. But hell, he was pretty sure it would work the same if you smashed all the bits and pieces. Things couldn't have changed that much in 82 years, could it?

He pulled open the small cover before smashing his fist on the inside, wincing slightly at the slight stinging sensation that came from the jutting wires, 'Don't need another shock...' He shook his hand. Thankfully the gloves took most of it.

Still, it got the job done. Almost instantly the lights in the room and halls flickered away before being replaced by red emergency lights. From behind him he could hear Spider-Woman muttering something about wishing she had 'nightvision goggles', though he paid her no mind. He never really had a problem dealing with the darkness. Maybe it was because of that bite but he found it almost comforting in a way...

Spider-sense.

Spider-Woman seemed to share his feeling given the way she looked at the entrance, "Someone's coming..." He gestured to the other side of the door, taking up the spot opposite hers. He could hear at least half a dozen pairs. Either the blockhead was afraid of the dark or he was paranoid something was up; and considering it'd barely been a couple minutes when they smashed the power he was leaning towards the latter. It didn't take a genius to guess that he would catch on once he realized his little goon squad was taking a bit too long.

The first three were barely past the doorway before they attacked, Spider-Woman webbing the goombas legs to the ground while he sprayed a net to cover those following at their backs, "Leave one of them conscious, I have questions." He slammed the first one he could grab on the ground, punching the second unconscious while the third received another spray aimed at his face. His nose was free so he wouldn't suffocate, at least.

Spider-Woman at least followed his instruction. The first two were lying on the ground in crumpled heaps, but the last one just looked like he was about to urinate on himself. This would be easy then.

"I'll make this really easy for you." He grabbed the fink's suit collar and pulled, removing him from the web binding him to the floor, "Where's Hammerhead keeping his hostages? I'm not asking twice."

The greaseball took a moment to let out a whimpering cry before answering, "I-I dunno! Mr. Hammerhead likes to work em over himself, ya know? We don't ask questions. I-I'm a new hire, never even met the guy before a couple nights ago, you get me?"

"I've been hearing that a lot lately." He shoved him against the wall, Spider-Woman's 'eyes' narrowing in response. He had to get this rat-bastard talking before she got off onto another one of her tangents, "So tell me something I can actually use before I snap your fingers."

"W-W-Wait, I'll tell you where he is!" He clasped his hands together, looking for all the world that he was going to get down on his knees too if he wasn't too afraid it would get aforementioned fingers busted, "He's in the overlooking office! Fancy place, can't miss it! S-Someone's doing some real damage up there! We's came to check on things down here just in case, you know?"

"Must be Cap and Castle..." Spider-Woman muttered.

"Y-Yeah, whatever! Alright, so Mr. Hammerhead tells us to check on things down here while he leaves-"

"He's leaving?" The mook nodded fervently, backing away as the masked vigilante snarled. The coward was trying to run, trying to get away like he did a couple of nights ago, "He's not going anywhere..." He ejected a burst of webbing to pin the fink to the wall before turning away. He had to find Hammerhead before he got away.

"Wait, hold up!" Spider-Woman grabbed his wrist, quickly stopping him in his tracks, "You can't just go up there like Ramdo! You saw the things they were unpacking! You're going to get yourself killed just rushing in there right now! We need to-"

"He's not getting away again!"

Before the argument could escalate further he heard an explosion coming from above before the hall was completely doused in darkness, 'Must have blown up the generators...betting on Castle.'

Whether it was him or not it didn't matter; it gave him an opportunity. He felt Spider-Woman's grip weaken and he slipped his wrist away, rushing down the hall silently before she could catch up to him. This place was like a maze, but he had the distinct feeling he wasn't going to be the one running blind. Just barely he heard her calling for him to come back, but he ignored her. He was going to make Hammerhead pay for what he'd done.

He hoped Gabriel was still alive for Hammerhead's sake. The blockhead's life depended on it.


This was a shit show!

Hammerhead growled in frustration, both hands itching to pull the trigger on the next person who looked at him funny. First that damn gimp, then his two warehouses being raided and now this! Whoever did this they were gonna fucking pay, he bet his life on it! "Marko, Magan, get your asses back there and deal with whoever's fucking with us! I gotta get back to the boss!" He barked.

"On it, boss."

"You got it, chief."

He waved them off with a scowl and picked up his guns, looking around the darkened room with squinted eyes. He knew this place like the back of his hand; so what if there weren't any Goddamn lights? He could deal with it, "Boss is gonna be pissed..." He grit his teeth and kicked down the door leading to the exit. He had a few men stationed there, so he wasn't going to be alone. The two stooges could deal with whoever was back there.

From behind him he could hear the sounds of gunfire and screaming, but he paid it no mind. That was the point of hiring these low-rent hacks; why waste a perfectly good Family soldier when you got punk kids who'd throw their faces into cheese graters if you paid em a few nickels? The boss would let this go. Wasn't like they lost anyone important. Even suckers like Marko and Magan could be replaced.

"Whoever these bastards are, they messed with the wrong guy..." He flexed his arms, feeling the near-skintight and padded suit adjust to the movements. He wasn't usually in it for the fancy shmancy toys the other big boys were using - what was wrong with a good typewriter and a comfortable suit? It worked back then and it still worked now. Why change something when it ain't broken, he always believed.

But he knew when to buckle down and deal with it. If he could live with having that block of metal in his forehead he could deal with this damn thing chafing like a bastard.

The group of morons jumped when he kicked the door open, their hands shaking like buncha sissies, "What the hell you starin at!?" He barked, causing the twelve pricks to look away and whistle like it was New Years, "Right, you idiots stay behind me and watch out for any more of those greaseballs tryin to get here. You see anything moving you shoot it, you get me!?"

"Y-Yes, sir!"

Damn idiots...kids looked like they could barely tie their damn shoelaces nevermind shooting someone. Breathing through his nose, he trudged down the dark hallway and tried to ignore the skittering footsteps behind him. Boss was going to be pissed most of the weapons were gone, but at least he still had a few tucked away for emergencies. That should be enough to give him some leeway so he could make up-

"Uwaahhh!"

The Maggia lieutenant turned back only to find a pair of the goombas being snared by some kind of net before being dragged down the hall, shooting their typewriters in a panic to try and get whoever was dragging em while the rest of the morons gaped like damn fish, "What the hell are you waiting for, you idiots!? Shoot!"

"B-But boss, we might hit the others-"

"Just do it!"

It took them only another one of the morons being dragged up to the ceiling for them to start shooting, probably hitting the dumb schmuck that got taken. The bullets made enough bursts of light for him to make out what they were shooting at: The gimp from two days ago running through the pipes over their heads like a damn spider, the bullets just barely missing him and putting holes in the pipelines.

'And here I thought he was just another sucker in a costume...' Whatever he was, he was damn hard to hit. He thought he died in that warehouse...if the boss found out he was the one fucking them over he was never going to hear the end of it, "Fucking hit this guy! There's nine o you's and one a him! Do your fucking jobs!"

"He's too fast!" He could hear the rest of the idiots screaming, either cursing up a storm or calling for their mommies to come save em. A stray shot got lucky and he saw it graze his shoulder, but it wasn't enough. Just before the light dimmed again he saw the freak drop into the center of the group before he heard more screams. The idiots wouldn't shoot cause they'd hit each other, but the damn gimp didn't have that problem. He could hear the sounds of snapping bones, hear some of them begging not to get hurt before they were smashed against the floor or the walls.

'Useless idiots!'

He fired a burst of machinegun fire at the clustered group before retreating, charging down the hall to the doorway at the end. With any luck the morons piloting the damn helicopter heard the explosions and already had the thing running. If not...well, it was their fucking funeral.

He was barely through the door before a black net snagged on his back and pulled, dragging him back inside, "Ah, you fucking punk!" He turned and swung his fists at him in a rage, but his hands met nothing but air. A fist came at his stomach and he heard what sounded like a muffled curse coming from the gimp, 'Heh, looks like this thing's useful after all.'

"Nice try, kid!"

Another swing and another miss. The tick dodged the wide blow and jumped over him before latching onto his back, arms wrapping around his neck to choke him. Whatever else he could say the damn punk was strong, "Where's Gabriel!?" He snarled, his grip tightening even more. Any harder and his head would have snapped, "Choose your next words carefully, ya fink. Might be your last..."

"You're talking about the kid...? That's what this is all about?" Hammerhead almost laughed. Two days of bad news after bad news, two days of hearing phone calls and questions from the boss asking him what the hell was going on...and all because this fucking gimp wanted to get his little stoolie back? It was pathetic, like a bad joke no one else got. He'd been at the game for almost 40 years and he never saw someone this bad.

"You want him, freak? I'll send ya to meet him six feet under!"

Clenching his fist, he sent an electric shock over the exterior of the suit hard enough to barbecue anyone stupid enough to be hanging on. The gimp's grip on his neck loosened and Hammerhead backed up, smashing him against the wall, "Heh, nice try, kid. Almost had me there." Hammerhead picked him up and smashed his forehead against his face, being rewarded with sound of something breaking; probably his nose or his jaw, "But did you really think you could fight with the big boys? Please, you ain't no Spider-Woman or Captain America. You're in over your head, shitheel."

"Does no one here ever stop talking...?"

A foot lashed out and hit him right between the legs. Even with the suit taking most of the impact Hammerhead couldn't help but back away in response, giving the tick enough time to scramble back into the dark hallway. The Maggia lieutenant scowled and picked up his guns again, firing them in the direction of where he fled, "That's right! Run you yellow-belly! Fucking coward!"

He released one last burst before shaking his head and pushing the door open. He wanted nothing more than to wring that little shit's neck till he was black and blue, but he didn't get this far in the Family without knowing when to cut and run. He could kill that punk without much problem, but he doubted he was the only one attacking the place. Smart play would be for him to blow the joint and let Magan and Marko deal with it.

For once things seemed to be finally going his way. By the time he got to the wide space that served as an impromptu helipad the chopper was already running, the pilots looking nervously at the warehouse but still staying in their seats. Whoever they were the bastards were good; the gas dispensers and explosives were disabled, but that didn't mean the rest of the goons inside would make it easy for them.

Hammerhead jumped aboard, barking orders as he went, "What the hell are you two waiting for!? Get us the fuck outta here!" He yelled, causing the two to nod and focus on the controls.

"Finally..." He sat and leaned back against the wall, a sigh escaping as he tried to calm himself. He needed to think of an explanation for the boss on how to explain this fuck up. This was supposed to be their big break; with those weapons Fisk and Murdock and whoever the fuck else that was vying for control of the city would fall on their knees. He knew Murdock had those damn ninjas of his, but these weapons would kill em dead faster than they could do those fancy techniques o' theirs. He didn't know how but it musta been them somehow, he was sure of it.

And now most of it was gone because that tick and God only knew who else was picking a damn fight.

They were barely in the air before he saw it. If he was anyone else he could have sworn he was seeing shit cause there was no way anyone was that suicidal, but he knew what he saw: The freak running on one of the shipping containers and jumping towards the bird he was riding, hands grabbing hold of the skids even as the chopper continued to rise higher. He didn't know whether he should have been angry or impressed at the punk's moxie.

He decided on killing him.

"You don't fucking give up, do you!?" Hammerhead leaned over the edge and fired, but the slippery eel jumped to the other skid before they hit, "Rrrgh, you two! Shake him off!"

Before they could respond the helicopter shook and he fell on his back, nearly tumbling through the open gates, "He's tangling up the blades with some kind of net!" One of the pilots screamed. From his place on the ground he could see the spinning rotor steadily slowing as more and more of the black gunk he was spewing from his wrist coated it, "We're-We're losing altitude! We have to make an emergency landing!"

"Don't you fucking dare!" Hammerhead stood up shakily, a scowl etched on his face, "Going down's exactly what he fucking wants!"

"We're going to die if we keep going, sir!"

"You fucking heard me-"

That was as far as he got. The gimp climbed through one of the open doors and charged towards him, the tackle strong enough to knock them both off the other end and plummeting to the unforgiving concrete below.


That was a bad idea.

Spider-Man groaned as he rolled off the blockhead, feeling his...everything aching, 'Probably one of the dumbest things I ever did...' He sucked in a slow, pained breath as he fumbled in his pockets for more of the painkillers. His nose was still bleeding and he felt the large urge to vomit, but he was alive, 'Can't believe that worked...' He swallowed more of the narcotics and struggled to stand. He was definitely going to pay for that later, but he couldn't think about that now.

As painful as that was, he wasn't done yet.

He eyed the mini-plane (or whatever the hell it was) shakily landing a fair distance away, 'Good, at least I don't have to worry about that...' It was already risky enough trying to force a crash. If the damn thing actually smashed into the ground he wasn't sure any of them would have survived it...

It was a risk, but he knew he had to take it. The blockhead was wearing one of those Dynamo suits, the only thing he could hope for was that he could use him as a cushion to break the fall. Granted he might have been able to survive a fall from that height (if he was really lucky...), but he didn't want to take his chances. Either way it seemed to work: He could see crackles of electricity jutting from the suit's metal bits and given the way the blockhead's eyes were closed he could assume he was safe for now.

'It's still intact, can't say the same about the person wearing it. Guess that suit's not so good at taking falls...' He picked up one of the fallen typewriters and fired it into the air experimentally, 'Yup, still works...'

Now came the annoying part.

Spider-Man grabbed as much of the suit as he could and ripped them away, tossing the pieces of metal and leather as far away as he could. He was pretty sure it was broken - well, he was hoping it was - but he didn't want to take any chances. After seeing what this and Vodkalky's suit could do he wasn't going to put it past the damn thing to start repairing itself. Thankfully the blockhead was wearing clothes underneath, so he didn't have to feel odd about what came next.

As soon as the last traces of the suit were gone he lined him against the wall before webbing him still.

Time to get some answers.

"Wake up." He kicked him in the jaw, making sure to avoid his deformed forehead. The blockhead groaned and shook his head but made no move to actually open his eyes, 'Are you kidding me?' He sighed, "...I said get up."

A kick between his legs was definitely enough to jolt him awake, "Agh, son of a bitch!" The fink looked around like a headless chicken before his eyes finally settled on him. Immediately his mouth parted in a scowl, struggling futilely to escape the web without the help of his little gizmo, "You again!? What the fuck is your problem!? You work for Murdock, is that it!? Couldn't leave well enough alone!"

"Shut up and listen." Spider-Man pointed the barrel of the gun at the gangster's gut, finger resting on the trigger, "I don't care what you're rambling about or if you believe higher causes. Your weapons are gone and unless you wanna end up on that bonfire you're going to tell me what I want to know." He lowered himself into a squat so they could see eye to eye, "I'll make this slow: Gabriel, the kid that was with me a couple of days ago. Where. is. he?"

His scowl only worsened, "Even if I did know why would I tell you? You don't got anything to bargain with, kid."

"Besides your worthless life, you mean?" Peter pressed the gun deeper through the webbing till the barrel was hitting his stomach, "I've seen your type before. Big dreams, but not enough brains to actually get anywhere. And I know another thing: You guys never make the sacrifice play." He saw the blockhead's eyes looking at the gun pointed at his gut, a hint of hesitation finally appearing "I can shoot you in the stomach and you're going to die in three days with infection. It'll be slow, painful and humiliating...and I'll be there for every second so you don't get any help. How's that sound, big guy?"

"Hah, you ain't got the balls-"

The sound of the gun discharging was drowned out by the blockhead's screams. Torture...despite his words he'd never done it much before. Most thugs took threats at face-value and they'd sell their own mother up the creek if it meant another day for them to live. Dealing with Xavier's sociopaths proved otherwise: There was no one one they loved, not even their own teammates lives mattered to them. The only thing that made them talk was when their lives were in danger, when they realized they were going to die in a gutter and no one would ever mourn them.

Others might have balked at his methods, but at least their victims were still alive to judge him for all the wrong he did trying to rescue them.

"Feel like talking yet?" Peter stood, drowning out the curses he was spewing at him. He had to do this before Spider-Woman or stars-and-stripes caught up with him, "You don't tell me what I want to hear and I'm going to start shooting again. Still feel like keeping secrets?"

"Argh...alright, alright! I'll tell you what you wanna know!" He bit out, sweat coming down like a waterfall, "That kid...stubborn little shit. Puts up a brave face, doesn't say anything...convinced any day now you're going to save his useless ass." He coughed, his breaths shaky, "Two days nothing happens, so I let him stew. Left him with the rest of the stoolies who thought a superhero was comin' to save em-"

"Where!?" He interrupted, resisting the urge to kick the soon-to-be festering wound.

"Cargo container...green with red markings...shouldn't be too far from here." He forced a smile; probably trying to regain some of his pride, "Kid's screwed, you gimp. He's been stewing in there for nearly a whole day now...even if he's still alive he ain't going to be walking outta here right in the head."

"You let me worry about that..." He muttered. He wanted to search for him now, but he had something else he needed to know, "...Where's Castle's family?" The blockhead's eyes widened for a moment before he returned to his previous scowl, "You wanna do this again? You'd be surprised how many shots someone can take without dying." He kicked him in the shoulder, "I know you took them. Where are they?"

"The psycho Castle's with you? Shoulda known." He shook his head, "You think the mommy and the kids are here? Ha, like it'd be that easy." He gave a struggling laugh, "You're wrong about one thing, kid: I didn't kidnap em. They came ta me."

He waited for the buzzing at the back of his head, the warning that he was being lied to, but it never came, "...What the hell are you talking about?" Peter's eyes narrowed. He wasn't lying, at least not about this, "Why would they go to you? Castle's trying to get them back-"

"You can't be that blind, punk! Castle's a nutjob, anyone whose read the paper knows that!" He interrupted, "They came to us for protection, cause they wanted Castle as far away from them as possible and they were willing to deal with anyone who could give it to them! Who the hell else were they gonna call, the cops? Castle was one o' them and look how that turned out!"

Again, no buzzing. He wasn't lying, but something about this was wrong. He'd listened to Castle, heard him when he said he wanted to find his family. His spider-sense hadn't blared there either, hadn't warned him of any ulterior motives. The guy was dangerous without a doubt, but to his family?

"...Where are they?"

"Hell should I know!?" He bit back, "I ain't the one who handles that. They met me in a restaurant, so I gave em to one of the Family's associates and they handled it from there!" He eyed the gun warily, "Even if you shoot me again I ain't gonna magically know where they're hiding out in!"

Third time, still no blaring. Peter scowled and took a step back. Castle's family was gone, and according to this greaseball they done it of their own free will, 'That Russian said he took Castle's family...I guess I just assumed it was a kidnapping.' His grip on the gun tightened. Something smelled about this, but he didn't have time to deal with it now. Gabriel was his priority, he could question Castle after he was safe.

He would have left it at that if Hammerhead's stubborn pride didn't cause him to open his big, fat mouth again.

"Watch your back, punk! When I get outta the slammer you're gonna wish you were never born!" He spat, "Ya hear me!? I've got your number, you gimp! You don't fuck with the Maggia and get away with it!"

"Considering what they found back there you're going to be staying in the big house for a while." Peter rolled his eyes, "I ain't exactly worried."

"Whatever helps you sleep at night! The boss' lawyers will have me out within the week, so you better grow eyes in the back o' your head! You just signed a death warrant, both you and for that little spic! I'm gonna kill that kid first when I get out and then I'm coming for you!"

Peter's grip on the gun shook. It was so tempting to end this bastard's life. He was a leech, a parasite who just hurt and killed anyone standing in his way because he wanted more and more and more. Just like Osborn, just like Crime Master, just like anyone else who looked at lives like they were currency for them to buy and sell.

Hammerhead thought he had power, and it was his responsibility to take it from him.

He pointed a gun at his neck, but the bastard was still ranting in uncaring rage; promising that both he and Gabriel were going to pay once he walked outta the slammer. His finger hovered over the trigger. One pull and he would die; an unbreakable skull wouldn't protect him from that. He half-expected Spider-Woman to interrupt again, pull him back and then give him another lecture about the proper morality of his actions.

But she didn't. It was just him and the blockhead.

Two gunshots cut off his rant. Hammerhead screamed as two bullets went through his knees, the striped cloth of the torn suit being stained with blood, "Good lucking walking out of there..." He tossed the gun away and left, ignoring his curses and further promises of revenge. He felt a slight sense of guilt creeping up but he squashed it down. He'd survive once Spider-Woman and her partner called the coppers, and if he didn't...then he wasn't exactly going to be shedding any tears.

Finding the container was surprisingly simple; it was separated from all the others, though the closer he drew to it the more he began to realize why, 'I know that smell...the stench of the slaughterhouse.' He placed a hand atop the lock keeping the container sealed and grimaced. Even when it was closed he could smell the odor of blood and rot seeping through the cracks. Bracing himself, be broke the lock and pulled the double doors open.

What he saw inside made him wish he'd put a bullet in Hammerhead's neck. Bodies piled on top of one another, each of them showing different rates of decay, "That's what he meant by sweating them out..." He stepped inside and covered his nose and mouth, ignoring the buzzing of the flies hovering over the corpses. 'He must've dumped all the stoolies here and when the next guy came along he dumps em here too.' Seeing what happened to the guys who came before you would be a good enough incentive to talk.

He found Gabriel sitting in the corner, his expression blank and his gaze empty. Even through the darkness he could make out the wounds on his face and hands, "Gabriel...? Gabriel!" He rushed inside and picked him up with as much care as he could muster. He saw the teenager twitch at suddenly being moved, but beyond that he made no other reaction, "That bastard...if he ever gets of out of the big house he's going to lose more than just his kneecaps."

He didn't stop walking till the container was nearly out of sight and they were near the closest body of water, "Come on, kid, talk to me." He placed him against the wooden walkway and cupped some water in his hands, trying to wash away the blood and dirt lining his tanned face, 'You're still alive, come on." He placed some more water on his face, "Gabriel, it's alright now. You're safe."

It was only after the fourth stream of water that he finally blinked; just once at first before the next ones came in a faster tempo. Peter let out a relieved breath and smiled, though it was noticeably strained. Gabriel was alive, "Kid, you alright?"

His mouth parted, voice coming in a soft rasp, "Hurts...thirsty too..." Gabriel coughed and pressed his head closer to Peter's chest, his breaths becoming faster as the minutes passed, "Knew...you'd save...me...just knew it."

"It's alright, Gabriel. It's alright..." He patted the younger man's back as best he could. He was never a very comforting person. He took out the criminals, made them pay for what they did, but when it came to the innocents he let their own friends and family deal with the comforting part. Who looked at a guy who looked like he did and did what he did night after night for sympathy?

"Didn't tell...em anything...swear..." He continued, voice growing even weaker, "We can still..."

The telltale sound of Spider-Woman's webs cut off Gabriel's spiel. Looking back, he saw the 'superheroine' land at the end of the walkway with a flip. Her narrowed 'eyes' bore into him briefly before she caught sight of Gabriel and paused, the lenses of her mark reverting back to their usual state, "Peter, is this-"

"No time. If you're planning to lecture me then save it for later." He stood up, carrying Gabriel in his arms again, "Look, I know we ain't friends and I didn't exactly endear myself by leaving earlier, but whatever problem you got with me it doesn't involve him." He took a deep breath, "Just...help him, please. I'll answer all your questions, just make sure he's alright, okay?"

"I...yeah, of course." She took him from his hands and looked back, "...Look, I gotta talk with Cap, alright? Just...meet me where we were earlier and I'll catch up. I promise he'll be alright, so just make yourself scarce. Go."


This was a mess.

Peter sat at the edge of the roof, fingers rubbing his temples as he tried to assuage his headache. He'd left Gabriel with Spider-Woman; much as he wanted to help he couldn't do anything, "What the hell am I even doing here..." He took off his mask. The biting cold was actually comforting, at least in comparison to the numerous wounds he'd been given...again. Already he could feel his shoulder stinging from where the bullet grazed it and though his nose had stopped bleeding the dried blood around his mouth wasn't doing him any favors.

Three days, almost four at this point, and he had little to show for it. Gabriel was alive and he was glad about that, but in the end did it really matter? He didn't belong here, he wasn't some kind of 'superhero' and he sure as hell wasn't a tragic little murder victim. They could deal with this now, but he had to find a way back home...as impossible as that was seeming to be at this point.

And what was the deal with Castle? He couldn't even find him before he left and if what Hammerhead said was true then...then maybe he needed to have a talk with him...assuming he found him before he found Octavius.

But first...

"Huh, half expected you to ditch." Spider-Woman climbed up the walls, sitting down a short distance away from him with a dramatic spin. At least he knew the newspapers talking about her being in showbiz weren't complete hogwash, "...Hope you don't take this the wrong way, but should we go somewhere to get you patched up? You look like you've been through hell..."

"I heal fast, like I'm sure you do as well.." He brought a hand through his jaw, wincing at the subtle crack. Not broken, but definitely not undamaged, "...Is Gabriel alright?"

"Yeah. I put in a good word with Cap. He's going to be healing in a S.H.I.E.L.D facility as a formal witness. Trust me, it's the best he can get all things considered." She looked down at her hands, "...You know, it was a real dick move to leave me behind back there. I had to fight a guy who looked like he guzzled steroids and a guy in a gorilla costume...at least I'm hoping it was a gorilla costume. I already have enough on my plate without getting charged with animal cruelty."

"I couldn't let Hammerhead get away..."

"Thanks, apology accepted." She muttered back sarcastically, "Point is, we went in there as partners. Partners watch each other's backs, they don't leave when-"

"Look, can we just skip the diatribe? I'm not in the mood for it." He interrupted, "You have questions I have answers. Lets get this over with so I can blow this joint. I've seen enough of this madhouse to last me a lifetime."

"Why do you keep calling it that? This is your home-"

"No, it ain't." He rolled his eyes. He was pretty sure he was gonna sound like a nutjob to her, but the truth could be stranger than any fictional story, "Look...I know you think I'm that Parker kid come back to life or something but that's not who I am. I...well, I don't know how to describe it. You know time travel?" Something only quacks or weird science books talked about, but who knows maybe they learned it here.

"Yeah, I saw Reverse to the Future before. Why?" And apparently he was right...

"I came from 1934." He held up a hand when she looked about ready to interrupt, "I know you don't believe me, and I don't expect you to, but that's the truth. I lived in a time when just a month ago we weren't allowed to drink alcohol cause it was against the law. Prohibition ended a month ago, the chancellor of Germany's riling up his party full of eugenic quacks, and people could barely afford to buy automobiles let alone these little miracle gizmos everyone here seems to be throwing around like confetti."

"Uh...are-are you sure?" Her tone was skeptical, as expected, "This is...sounding even more far-fetched than...well, you know."

"Positive. It's why none of this is making any sense to me." He pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed, "It's all Octavius' fault I'm in this mess."

"Pete...that doesn't add up." She shook her head, "You're expecting me to believe that you came, what, nearly a hundred years from the past?" He nodded, though at this point he saw little point in it, "Then explain this: How the hell do you have the same...everything? Same face, same voice, same fingerprints? Hell I bet you even know who May and Ben Parker are. They're the ones who-"

"Raised me after my parents died..." And his uncle was supposed to be dead. Not visiting his tombstone, "Look, if I had all the answers I'd tell you, but I don't. The only one who who'd know anything about what's going on is Octavius, and until I find him I'm as blind as you are."

"Alright, one last thing then: If you aren't 'our' Peter Parker then how did you know his last words? I...no one else could have heard it, no one else was there. The only way you'd know was if-"

"I don't know, alright?" He interrupted, voice lowering into a hiss despite his best efforts, "I...I keep getting flashes, but they don't mean anything to me. It's like...watching a picture in the theater after it's halfway finished. I see these things, but I don't understand them." He placed both hands against his forehead and sighed again, "I can't even control when they come or go. They just...do."

"I...think I may have a theory." She spoke up hesitantly, "This...look, just bear with me, okay? I'm not sure what time you came from before, but here...faking memories is completely possible." His eyes narrowed. He could tell from a mile off what she was implying, "This...time travel thing doesn't add up, but what if...what if you came back and they just...fucked everything you knew? What if-"

"No." He twisted his legs around and stood, walking a few steps away from her, "I remember everything clearly. I remember growing up on the streets, I remember meeting Mary Jane for the first time, I remember being with my Aunt when the Goblin's enforcers came to shake us down, and I remember being bit by that spider on the docks and being given...all this." He shook his head, "Can't have been faked."

"We can't be sure of that-"

"Why? Cause you think traveling in time's more absurd than bringing someone back from the dead?" He asked incredulously, "Newsflash, sister; you can lift trucks and stick to walls. Like you said reality ain't exactly paying us much attention." He let out a tired breath, "Look, I answered your questions. Whether you believe me is up to you and in all honesty I don't really care. Gabriel's safe, that means I can look for Octavius."

He'd barely taken two steps before she reacted, "Not so fast." A line of webbing snagged on his back, though she at least didn't pull him on his kiester, "I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but...this isn't exactly over yet. Not for you, at least."

"What are you talking about? It's over. That blockhead's in prison and Gabriel's safe. Far as I'm concerned my part in this is done."

"Not so much." She released her hold on the webbing and made...some kind of gesture with her hands, "Look, Castle escaped in the confusion earlier. I doubt you had anything to do with it considering you were with that kid, but you did help him escape last time..." She crossed her arms, "That and...well, there's no way to sugarcoat this: S.H.I.E.L.D wants you to come in. That fingerprint test got them worried and now they wanna do a full DNA scan-"

"If you think I'm going to let myself be turned into some kind of guinea pig-"

"If you'd let me finish." She cut him off, "I know they didn't make the best first impression on you, but they're the good guys. Still, I'm not going to drag you there, alright?" She shrugged her shoulders, "I talked to Cap. She'll hold off sending a team after you or something equally as dramatic as long as I keep an eye on you. We saw what happened with Hammerhead and after the whole fiasco with Maxine...she thinks it's best if someone acted as a chaperone of sorts."

"You mean as long as I do what you say I'm a 'free man'..." He rolled his eyes. He wanted to muster up more anger, but at this point he was too damn exhausted by it all and he could make up nothing more than annoyance, "Look...I can tell you think you're doing the right thing, but now my 'freedom' is tied to whatever you say it is so forgive me for not jumping for joy."

"You're not my slave, Peter." She replied back softly, "Alright...I'll ask Cap for another favor, have her search for this Octavius guy and see what she comes up with. If he's the reason you're here then he's bound to pop up somewhere. I'll tell you anything that comes up, alright?"

"...Thanks." He couldn't deny that would be useful, assuming she kept her word, "...On that note I should probably get out of here."

"Why? Where are you going?" She stood up abruptly, "You could stay and talk. I'm in no rush-"

"We're not friends, so I don't see the point of staying unless you have something important you have to tell me. And unless you wanna watch me every hour of the day, I think there are things I can do that don't need your supervision, 'Ma'am'." He bit back, putting on his mask, " I'll be back here by tomorrow noon. Don't worry, I'll keep my end of the bargain. You won't see any more incidents..." Besides, she still hadn't given back his gun. Even if he took one of Hammerhead's typewriters she probably would've broken that too.

"Just...take care of yourself, alright? I'll see you tomorrow..."


He spent the next few hours just wandering. He went back to where he first showed up in this madhouse, trying to find any clue about where Octavius had gone. Maybe Spider-Woman would actually hold up her end of the bargain, but he wasn't going to hold his breath. If he wanted to find his way home he couldn't rely on some secret agency to gather his information for him.

But as he began to expect he had nothing to show for it. No trace of Octavius' presence and the few bums he'd managed to talk to just gave him hogwash in the hopes getting paid a buck (which, incidentally, lost a lot of its value in 82 years...). Eventually he stopped, landing on top of a rooftop and sitting at the edge in exhaustion. A part of him wanted to sleep, but where was he supposed to go? He didn't have a home here...hell, if Spider-Woman was right - which he doubted - he shouldn't have even been alive here. Made finding a mattress complicated to say the least.

The sight of the rising sun was enough to give him a brief moment of respite. He had to admit, the thought that some things remained constant was comforting. From up here it almost seemed like he was back home..."

The door behind him opening caused him to nearly jump off the roof. Looking back, he found a somewhat odd sight: A blonde woman in a sweater and wool pants carrying a large box of pizza in her hands, two mugs balanced precariously over its surface while a cat wrapped itself around her head like it was a hat. At this point he'd stopped considering that a weird sight, but-

Wait a minute...

"...Gwen Stacy?"

He saw the young woman jump in surprise, though miraculously none of her food had spilled itself. Head snapping to his direction, her mouth parted in shock for a brief moment before she regained her composure, "Uh...hey, Darkman, didn't expect to see you here."

"Neither did I...what are you doing here?"

"Uh...I live here? This is my apartment, you collapsed on this roof like a day or two ago." It was? Huh...odd coincidence he'd end up back here. "...Though I'm not really surprised you don't remember. Doubt it was a pleasant memory."

She made her way to where he sat before sliding the pizza next to him, the cat again refusing to budge even after she took a seat at the edge, legs swinging idly, "So...anything interesting happen after you left? I asked Spider-Woman, but she was pretty mum on the details. Superheroes, always wanting to keep us innocent civilians out of the danger." She rolled her eyes, lips quirked in a slight smirk.

"Long story, not exactly pleasant conversation..." He muttered. He was never one for venting, though he was tempted to do so now. Something about her pushed him to trust her...though that was likely the fatigue talking and the fact that she was the only one here besides Gabriel who helped him without waiting for the other shoe to drop.

She adjusted the furry cat's place on her head before continuing, "Right...so, what are you doing up here? I thought you'd be running out there patrolling or whatever it is you superheroes do. That's what they say on the forums, at least."

"I'm not a..." He sighed. There was no point in correcting her, "Forget it. I was...looking for someone, but as you can imagine in a city like this this it's like trying to find a needle in a haystack..." He rubbed his tired eyes and groaned, "I was a taking a break, trying to...regain my bearings so to speak. None of this is making any sense to me and-"

He was cut off when he heard his stomach rumbling. Damn pizza...he hadn't eaten in days. He tried not to think about it too much, but with that thing sitting so close it was hard to ignore it, "...Sorry about that-"

She laughed under her breath, "Hey, it's fine, we all get the munchies. Even superheroes." She removed the mugs of what appeared to be hot chocolate and opened up the large box, exposing the still-warm food inside, "Long day for me too...my work leaves me starving; you'd think working a bodega would be easy but nooooo." She picked up two slices, offering him one which he accepted reluctantly. Given the damage his mask had he could probably eat through it...

"Thanks..." He took a bite and had to resist the urge to sigh in relief. Three days..four now, actually, and it was the first meal he'd had, "...I'll pay you back-"

"Hey, you're a hero, right? I'm pretty sure a free pizza's the least I can do." She offered him the extra mug as well. He couldn't help but take notice of the crudely drawn 'Murderface' scrawled across the suface, "Betty insists that Murderface has his own mug. He never drinks any of it, of course, but tell that to the Scream Queen." She petted the aforementioned cat draped across her head, "You don't mind sharing, do you, boy?"

The cat purred lazily, it's eyes never opening despite its precarious place.

"Thanks..."

Huh...maybe things weren't so bad; at least for now. Starts-and-stripes and whoever she worked for was hounding him while Spider-Woman was holding his leash, but at least Gabriel was safe and he met at least one other person in this madhouse who he didn't want to look over his shoulder when he talked to, 'And to think it'd be Gwen Stacy...who would have thought?'

"Wait, just realized: We've never formally been introduced, right?" She swallowed the next bite of pizza before offering her free hand, "Gwen Stacy, bodega cashier and drummer extraoridinaire. You are...?

"My name's Gwen, I moved next door with my daddy. What's your name?"

"Spider-Man...just Spider-Man. Nice to meet you, Gwen Stacy."

"My name's Peter! Nice to meet you, Gwen!"

 

Chapter Text

Her life was fucking weird.

Granted her life hadn't exactly been a bed of roses ever since that spider bit her: Smashing her prized possessions in a row before she could control her strength was probably one of the least weird things she'd experienced. Sticking to a wall or having her first experience with her spider-sense topped those easily; there was nothing quite like leaning against the wall only to find she couldn't get off it or doing a spinning flip because her sixth sense decided someone spilling mustard on her shoes was worth blaring an alarm in her head...even though it didn't think to warn her about Castle trying to electrocute her or Hobie spraying her in the face with spray paint.

Unreliable piece of...no, she wasn't going to complain. For all she knew that thing had a mind of its own and if it did then pissing it off really wouldn't help her. God knew she needed all the help she could could get considering the amount of shit that was piling on her the past week alone.

Still, talking to her (possibly) resurrected best friend? Topped all that easily.

"So...you're telling me that the webs come out of your wrists? No webshooters? You better not be bullshitting, pal."

Gwen tapped the coffeemaker (an apartmentwarming gift from her dad) and hummed cheerily as the machine whirred. They'd talked on the roof for a couple of hours, long enough for the sun to rise properly, before she decided to invite him inside, 'Dad always told me not to talk to strangers, but...' She looked back at the masked vigilante sitting on the table, his expression mostly unreadable underneath the tattered mask he wore, 'Seriously, how isn't he itching wearing that thing?' Between the broken goggles and misshapen cloth that thing must have felt worse than the sweater Betty knit for her for Christmas.

"Hey, you're the one telling me that there are gizmos here that let Spider-Woman use those vines of hers." He let out what sounded like a disbelieving laugh before shaking his head, "Still, I stand by what I said. I'm pretty sure I don't got any doohickeys that lets me spray the things."

"But...how does that work?" She asked back incredulously, "Does the webbing come from your veins or something? I mean...where does it come from? I've seen some of your webs...on the news, I mean." She added quickly. No need to be so obvious... "And that's...well, I gotta say it's a lot and even under that trenchcoat of yours I'm pretty sure you're not nearly as fat as you're supposed to be if you're filled with that shit."

"You're asking me?" He shrugged, "Tell you what, I'll answer that question the second anyone can tell me how Spider-Woman can stick to walls and avoid being turned into a pancake when lifting a truck. Who knows, maybe you can ask her next time when you 'text' for help."

Oh yeah, there was also the teeny tiny fact that she was Spider-Woman and he didn't know...fuck, what else was she supposed to do? Suddenly interrupt his third slice of pizza with 'Oh, by the way I'm Spider-Woman. Hope that doesn't make this shit awkward or anything'? He'd made it pretty clear what he thought about her if his comments about her being a...what was it he said again? Oh yes, 'An attention-seeking broadway starlet who thinks she lives in a fantasy land'.

She had to admit that that hurt...if anything she would be a rockstar, not a stage actress.

So yeah, she was lying through her fucking teeth and pretending to be one of Spider-Woman's saved victims who occasionally dialed the hero's cellphone when reporting crimes. Sort of like a neighborhood watch, except she was pretty sure she'd get in trouble and get taken in by the police for questioning if she actually did alert 'Spider-Woman' like a fangirling sidekick. But hey, at least she didn't make things awkward by admitting the truth. Lying wasn't wrong if it served a greater good and all that.

Sally Avril would have been so proud...

"Hope you like your coffee black, forgot to buy some cream last time I went on a food run." She picked up both mugs and set them at the table, sitting across from him with a light groan. Even after eating that pizza she still felt fucking exhausted (and hungry). She didn't know exactly how her powers worked even after four years of having them, but one thing was for sure: Her food budget apparently decided it deserved more attention than her rent, clothes and buying that new drum set she'd been saving up for. It was kind of hard to buy that thing when after every patrol she wanted to stuff a dozen hotdogs and cheeseburgers down her throat.

"Yeah, thanks..." He picked up the cup and took a tentative sip, angling the rim past the torn cloth, "Feels like I've been running on fumes ever since I got to this madhouse. Haven't really had the chance to just sit down and take it all in..."

And then of course there was the guy sitting across from her. Peter Parker, her best friend, the second of the three amigos (she was the first and unofficial leader) when they were in high school, the guy she'd been friends with since she was 9 years old and who she'd shared nearly everything with.

The guy who turned into a monster because of one tragic mistake.

And now he was here, or at least she assumed he was. He seemed...confused. Whatever it was that happened to him he seemed to think that he was from 1934 or some other shit. She'd seen enough movies and read enough comic books that she might have bought it, but she was pretty sure that unless they perfected cloning technology in the 30's - and somehow managed to clone people who weren't alive yet - none of the stuff he was saying made any lick of fucking sense. Even if he did call this place a 'madhouse' like it was going out of style.

Still, she couldn't deny something was off about all this. Here he was talking to her, the same voice (albeit raspier like he was smoking a ten-pack a day) like nothing was wrong and yet it halfway felt like she was talking to a stranger. If he recognized her he didn't say anything and he certainly didn't act like he'd intentionally come back here to see her. Hell she had to admit she wasn't expecting to see him for at least a few more hours, and that was when they both had costumes on.

"So, another question: How exactly did you get your powers?"

Now here they were talking like it wasn't a big fucking deal. She wasn't what one would call a good actor - what kind of police dad would George Stacy have been if he taught his daughter to lie better? - but after four years of keeping her identity hidden she'd picked up enough of the fine art of bullshitting like a motherfucker to deflect suspicion when people started asking questions. She just had to play the role of the curious civilian; God knew she'd seen enough of those even when the police had a shoot-on-sight order for her. Granted she wasn't going to use him as her cellphone wallpaper, but hey.

"That's...a bit personal." He looked down at his mug before sighing, "I suppose I owe you, and you've had more than enough chances to unmask me before." He nodded and set his coffee down, "I told you before I had a friend, kept my head on straight. Anyway, I also told you that he had a bad habit with heroin. Long story short he was out of it one night when his informant called, saying that there was something going on at the docks. I got curious and went there, found out some mob goons were unloading some statues and when it broke..." He clenched his left hand, "Spiders poured out. Killed Fancy Dan and one of them bit me...then here we are."

The way he said it...if nothing else then he certainly seemed to believe it was the truth. But how? Peter didn't have a part-time job before that disastrous prom night and he was nowhere near the docks at the time, 'Remember, his memory's probably like scrambled eggs at this point. Just nod and go along with it.' She nodded and smiled, silently urging him to continue. She needed to be calm and understanding...he already hated (maybe she could consider it highly disliked instead?) Spider-Woman so this was the best she could do.

"I...saw things when I got bit, things that are better not repeating." He muttered, causing her to raise an eyebrow. All she saw after getting bitten was a few bright colors, and that was because the next project was a neon exhibit, "After that little show I woke up...cocooned to the ceiling covered in webbing. I...admit that it was definitely a surprise. After that bite I thought that'd be it for me; sleeping with the fishes next to Fancy Dan and the rest of Norman Osborn's enforcers..."

'Norman Osborn?' Alright, time travel her ass; unless Norman had an identical great-grandpa there was no fucking way he was from 1934, "So...you just got powers and decided to fight crime right off the bat? That's nice." Better than what she did. It took her dad criticizing Spider-Woman on TV right in front of her for her to actually do something to help people...and then prom night happened.

"...Maybe we should talk about something else."

'Right, pushy issue then.' She held back a grimace and tapped her fingers alongside the side of the mug. She couldn't push her luck, "Alright...so, wanna talk about hobbies then?" She piped up, raising her voice to a cheerful chirp, "I mean assuming that's not too personal or anything. Superheroes tend to be really secretive about that shit, you know? You should see the forums blasting off about 'truths' people post. Betcha most of it's crap." Especially since she'd checked her own webpage and found more than a few bullshit 'fun facts' about her.

Really, how could anyone claim that Spider-Woman hated cats? She lived with Murderface and let him squat on her head! That was more than most crazy cat ladies did!

"I suppose it's alright." He leaned back in his seat, "Well...I have an interest in science. I worked another job to further my education, but since I'm currently trapped in this madhouse you could say it's on hold." He exhaled through his nostrils, "Beyond that there's really nothing else to say about me. Without my mask you wouldn't be able to pick my face out of anyone in a crowd. I was just the guy who was there when those spiders were let out.

Science...well, she supposed some things never changed, "Come on, there has to be more than that." She made a theatrical roll of the eyes, "I mean, look at me: I like drumming and playing dungeons and dragons. You gotta have something besides science, you know? Besides, that thing sounds more like your career than it does something you do for fun. Come on, what's the cool shit you do when you're not out there saving the world?"

"I'll have you know some of those books are a really entertaining read." He said back, voice sounding almost playfully offended, "I mean, what's not to love about finding out new discoveries? Could you imagine what was going through scientist's heads when they made the first successful lightbulb? Or when the Wright brothers made their first successful test flight? That euphoria...I'd give anything to experience the same. Make a legacy, you know?"

Gwen let out and exaggerated yawn, "...Huh? What? Sorry, all this nerd speak was making me sleepy." She gave him a lopsided smirk, "I mean, I gotta admit when I met Spider-Woman for the first time she was this really badass and cool heroine. Didn't think the second hero I met would be a colossal nerd." She continued, voice dripping with faux-disappointment.

"I dunno what that word means, but you can kiss my keister..." Another soft laugh came and went before he crossed his arms. Even though he wasn't doing it she could totally see him pouting after he said that, "Not everyone's a star, Ms. Stacy. I'm just a normal guy, sorry if that disappoints you."

'Yeah, a normal guy who has Peter Parker's DNA and fingerprints.' She thought, "Only thing that disappoints me is the fact the fact that you called me 'Miss." She stuck out her tongue in disapproval, making a noise of disgust at the back of her throat, "I mean I dunno how they do it where you come from but here you call friends by their first names. It's a time-honored tradition or some shit like that."

"Haha...alright then...Gwen." He replied back, the name rolling off his tongue uncertainly, "Joking aside, I do appreciate the help you gave me. Most people in this city or back home would just look away when they see something that looks like it could be a burden to them. I don't even blame them; why stick your own neck out for a stranger? It's much easier to look away and keep your head down."

"Yeah, well, that's not the way I was taught. Dad didn't raise no fool..." She shrugged, setting her own finished mug down, "You needed help and I was there, it'd be a real dick move if I just went 'Well, that's none of my business' and left you freezing your ass off on the roof."

"Again, thanks. Granted it wouldn't have been the first time I woke up in a cold roof after getting injured, but it's definitely appreciated. It was...a relief to wake up to someone helping me. I haven't exactly been swimming in allies ever since I got dropped in this madhouse."

"Hey, that's not true! Spider-Woman's your ally! ...Saw you two fighting Rhino in the news." She added lamely, 'God, Gwen, could you be any more obvious? Maybe you should show him your backpack and make it easier for him!'

At the mention of her alter-ego's name she heard him sigh, his gaze shifting downward, "...Look, I can tell she has good intentions, but as far as I'm concerned the less time we spend with one another the better. She does her thing and I do mine, get me? Same reason I don't work with the coppers. Sometimes...sometimes you need someone outside the law to make it work."

She wanted to disagree, but the tiny bit of white fabric sticking out between the gaps in her bag's zipper kept her from speaking out. She disagreed on some things, but considering a few weeks ago she was running from police cars she couldn't really say much, "I'm sure whatever she did to you she had good reasons." She broached, "These kinds of people always have the best case in mind."

"Really? I don't see her yanking the guns out of copper's hands." He clicked his tongue, "Made it a bit more difficult to defend myself. My...abilities can only do so much. I ain't bulletproof, I can't just take a wave of lead without getting killed. And besides, what she took from me...it wasn't just a gun."

"...What?" Why did she get the feeling she wasn't going to like what he said next?

"...It was my Uncle's, okay?" She saw his eyes close before he shook his head, "Maybe it's silly, but it's one of the few things I have left of him. He wasn't a man who thought about owning a lot of things, so when he...passed away the few things he had we cherished even if my Aunt didn't like them."

'Uncle Ben doesn't have a gun...and he's not dead.' Gwen internally grimaced. It felt dirty being so two-faced like this, "I...well, I'm sorry..." She rubbed her hands together. She was still sure it was the right decision, but Peter seemed to honestly believe that gun was one of the few things he had left of Uncle Ben even though he and Aunt May were still back in their home and they kept his mementos intact.

"It's not your fault. It's not like you can control what Spider-Woman does." He stood up and made his way to the stove, thankfully missing the pained look she was sporting, "I have to leave soon, but to pay you back for what you did for me how about I cook you a light breakfast? I didn't want to say anything earlier but your eyes were darting towards food and I could hear your stomach rumbling. Working a bodega must be tiring..."

"...You can cook?" She asked incredulously. Neither she nor Peter were very good with cooking; the penalties of growing up with May Parker, Goddess of the kitchen, "I mean, I can barely fry eggs. It's a miracle I don't burn water."

"Sure, as soon as I figure out how this stove works..." He bent over and eyed the various nozzles, "My aunt helps feed some of the others out in the streets so she taught me some tricks to make sure I could pitch in if no one else could help." He picked up a couple of eggs from the carton, "I'm no gourmet chef, but a light breakfast should be right up my alley."

"Oh...well, thanks." She blinked. She had to admit the sight of 'Spider-Man' in full costume cooking eggs in her kitchen was something she never expected to see, "Uh...I'll be in the living room if you need me, okay?"

"Sure."

She picked up her bag and trudged to the living room, taking one last look behind her before she sat on the couch and zipped open the smaller pocket. The (thankfully) unloaded) gun and the usb stick were crumpled together, both connected to 'Peter', "Family heirloom, really...?" She traced a finger through the barrel of the gun before picking up the USB, covering the weapon with another zip. Captain America told her this thing had irrefutable proof that Peter was connected to the Lizard serum, but would it have anything on the fact that he was in her kitchen right now cooking her a second breakfast?

"Wish Harry was here...maybe he might be able to make sense of this." She spun the stick around in her hands before pressing it against her forehead with a sigh. Who was she kidding? Harry would flip his shit once he saw Peter alive and upright...and dressed like he just walked out of a Bogart film. Hey, she had to give him props; it took guts to wear a trenchcoat in this day and age without looking like an idiot doing it, "Where'd he even get that thing, anyway? A costume shop?" She shook her head and stuffed the hard drive in her pocket. Probably the same place he got the gun, mask and that weird slang he used.

She kicked off her shoes, leaned back on the couch and closed her eyes, letting her mind wander. Betty was off on one of her 'overnight dates' with Falcon (she hoped she brought protection) so she should have the rest of the day to herself if she was lucky. She promised to meet 'Spider-Man' back where they were, but she was tempted to just fib to Peter and tell him she asked Spider-Woman to give him a longer break. The guy looked like he needed it, 'Where was he even sleeping? ...Was he sleeping at all?' She wondered idly. She'd gone for days without sleep before, but she usually crashed once she actually did get some rest.

Speaking of which, she was really fucking tired. Peter wouldn't mind her catching a few minutes of sleep, right? She felt like she was about to crash.

...Why was she hearing footsteps?

One eye cracked open and she saw the door open to reveal the rest of the 'Mary Janes' trudge into the apartment, the thick jackets they wore covered in a thick blanket of snow while they grumbled something unintelligible to her, 'Were they rolling around in the snow or something?' She closed her eye again. Oh well, not like the others hadn't seen her at her worst drool moments before. Besides, it was just her alone in the apartment...wait a minute-

'Oh shit!'

Her head snapped up, causing the three other band members to look at her in surprise, but before she could make up an excuse or say anything to ward them off the door to the kitchen opened and tall, dark and broody stepped out, "Gwen, I think I might have twisted something in the stove. I don't think anything's broken, but-"

The room was engulfed in painfully awkward silence. To her left she could see Peter paused mid-step, one hand carrying a plate of (edible-looking, at least) eggs while the other held onto what looked like a broken nozzle. To the right she could see her friends and bandmates frozen between either taking off their bulkier winter-wear or unloading their instruments. Neither of them seemed to be willing to make the first move, though she could see Glory and MJ's mouths open in shock.

And here she was caught in the middle of the awkwardness sandwich like an unwanted piece of ham.

Eventually she found it in her to say something to cut through the uncomfortable silence.

"Uh...I can can explain?"

...Yeah, no she couldn't.


This was way too fucking awkward.

She and the rest of the 'Mary Janes' sat around the table; almost like sardines considering the apartment definitely wasn't built for parties. The table itself was bare save for a single plate of eggs at the center. There was a reason they always ate out or on the couch whenever they chose to get together as a group. Shit, it was a miracle the stove was even working enough for Peter to break it considering they almost never used it. Besides take-out the only cooking that went on in the house was heating up food with the microwave or making drinks. She didn't even know why that thing was still there.

Speaking of Peter himself he was standing with his back against the wall in the corner, arms crossed and his gaze doggedly refusing to leave the floor like it was showing him the mysteries of the fucking universe. Would he try to explain? No, of course not. It was much better that they sit around in here with their thumbs up their asses like a bunch of morons cause, frankly, she had no idea how to say anything either.

"Alright, I'll bite." Glory spoke up, looking at her and the masked vigilante with narrowed eyes, "Gwen...why do you have the Dark Spider cooking you eggs in your apartment? Last I checked you weren't exactly putting up fliers for a cook."

"He's-"

"Name's Spider-Man, toots." Peter interrupted, "Dunno where you got that Dark Spider thing from but-"

"Whoa, alright, first of all call me 'toots' again and I'll shove this plate up your ass." Glory cut in, her voice never rising despite her words, "Second, it's not a shock I'm going to be paranoid. I may not believe everything the Bugle craps out, but I definitely saw you being recorded shooting someone. Who knows, maybe you were right; I wasn't there so I ain't gonna be throwing stones, but I'm gonna be worried about Gwen having you here alone." The way she emphasized the word didn't do anything to calm Gwen's nerves. Considering what Betty was up to she had a pretty good idea what she was thinking.

'Oh God, someone kill me now...' Gwen groaned and covered her eyes, "Glory, it's-"

Peter cut her off again, "That's fair to think." He shrugged and nodded, "Look, Gwen saved my behind a couple of days ago and I owe her. You're right to be worried for your friend, but I don't mean her any harm. We were just talking, alright? If you want me to leave I will, but I want you to know that I don't mean her any harm. You can ask your friend there...the one with the glasses." He pointed to Betty, "She was there when Gwen helped me.

"Wait, Betty? You knew he was here?" It was MJ who spoke up this time. Gwen could only hope she could keep her 'Gwen is Spider-Woman' theories to herself until he left. She did not want to explain why she spent the entire morning bullshitting him, "Uh...you didn't think to tell us this?"

"Didn't think it was too much of a big deal." Betty shrugged and picked up the plate, shoveling some pieces of egg into her mouth, "Hey, this is pretty good."

"Alright, focus." MJ snapped her fingers in irritation, "I know you're going out with Captain America's sidekick, but not all of us here think 'Huh, oh well' when a superhero just drops in on a friend's apartment!" She turned to Gwen now, "A little warning would have been nice, Gwencent! I nearly had a damn heart attack when I saw this guy walking out of the kitchen!"

"Hey, it wasn't like I planned this!" She snapped back, "I ran into him on the roof a couple of nights ago and I helped him out, it wasn't like I was up there expecting to run into anyone!"

"Still don't know why you were up there in the first place..." Betty mumbled, missing Gwen's glare entirely since she refused to look up from her meal. What was in those fucking eggs, the fucking panacea? "But yeah, she found Darkman up there and we helped patch him up. He was burnt cause of the whole fight with Electro. You saw the news, right?"

"Still doesn't explain why he's here now." Glory gave him a pointed look.

"Look, I ran into him when I was having an early breakfast up on the roof, okay?" Gwen answered for him, her tone growing more irritated, "It was cold up there so I was being a gracious fucking host and invited him inside so he wouldn't freeze his ass off. He wanted to thank me so he said he'd cook something and I decided to wait in the living room when you guys came in. Alright? There's no big conspiracy here, nothing that's worth stressing over." She gave each of them a pointed look. The message was clear: 'Could we just drop this already?'

Sadly little detective Watson seemed to either miss or not give a fuck; most likely the latter cause what else was new? "So, what, you 'just ran into him' two times in a row?" MJ asked, her voice practically screaming 'are you fucking kidding me?' at her, "What next, you tell me that you have Captain America on speed-dial?"

"No, but she has me on speed-dial." She bit back sarcastically, momentarily forgetting Peter's presence, "Look, I saw him injured and I just thought I'd be a decent human being and help him out. Surely that's not too hard to grasp for the great Mary Jane Watson, right?"

Peter shifted, his mouth forming words she couldn't make out. She didn't know if the others noticed or not, but she could have sworn she saw his eyes train on MJ with surprising focus, "...Can't be. Mary Jane Watson?"

"Huh, what's wrong?" MJ looked to him now, one eyebrow raised questioningly. He didn't say anything back, "Uh...why are you staring at me? Do I have something on my face?"

"It...It's nothing. Sorry." He shook his head and let out a shaky breath. Gwen's brows furrowed; what that was it wasn't nothing. Something spooked him, "I...look, Gwen, I appreciate all you did for me, but I should...I'll be leaving." He gave Glory an apologetic nod, "Sorry about making you worry. I promise you don't have to be concerned about her safety from me. You got my word on that."

He left the room before she could say anything else and by the time she'd followed him to the living room she once again found it empty, the only sign he was there being the slightly ajar door leading to the stairway, "Great, pull your disappearing act again and leave me holding the bag. Just perfect..." She brought a hand across across her face and released a frustrated breath. She supposed she should have been thankful that he'd left before MJ made more of her 'theories' clear, but she couldn't help but feel pissed off. This was her chance to get some answers and now...

"So...does he have any idea you're Spider-Woman?"

Now she had to deal with this.

Gwen looked back and gave a half-hearted scowl as MJ leaned against the side of the kitchen door, Betty and Glory passing by her so they could sit in the couch. The redhead's face was halfway between 'I told you so' and 'I knew I was right': The perfect mix to piss anyone off. A part of her was tempted to throw a gob of webbing at her face just to wipe that smirk off her lips.

"Dunno what you're-"

"Oh, come of it, Gwen! The last shit was suspicious enough, but this?" She threw up her hands melodramatically, "Darkman ends up in your kitchen baking you eggs because you 'just happened' to run into him twice? Shit, most superhero fans barely ever see their idols on the street!"

"Except that's exactly what happened! I didn't-"

"Not saying I believe her, but MJ's got a point; this is kinda sketchy, Gwen," Glory said, wincing at the look of disbelief the blonde gave her in response, "Hey, hey, all I'm saying is it's suspicious, alright? Weird enough that Betty's going out with Falcon but now all this stuff's piling up and it's painting a pretty weird picture, if you catch my drift." She pinched the bridge of her nose, "Look, unlike MJ I actually respect your privacy so I'm not going to push it. But...you do know that you can talk to us, right? We're not going to post this shit on tweeter...well, at least me and Betty won't and we'll make sure Watson doesn't, either."

"Haha, very funny." The aforementioned singer rolled her eyes, "Look, Gwen, I just want an explanation on all the weird shit you've been doing. I ignored it when it was just the start, but you you've been skipping for days at a time, missing gigs or whatever!" She sighed, "Shit, I thought you were taking drugs. How else would you explain you waking up in Manhattan looking like you've been through a bender by the time Randy found you?"

"That's..."

"Hey, if you were Spider-Woman we'd be totally cool with it." Betty chimed in, raising both hands lazily in a thumbs up gesture, "Secret identities and shit, we know the drill. We all watched the Owlman movie."

Her mouth parted, but no words came. Should she just tell them? She'd considered it before, but something always held her back. Hell, it took her dad pointing a loaded gun to her face to get her to admit her secret to him. If she was never cornered like that, never placed in such a desperate situation, would she have continued lying to him? Her dad finding out...it was difficult at first, of course, but now? Now she had a confidant, someone to help share the burden and someone she didn't have to lie to when he found her limping back home covered in bruises and cuts.

Wouldn't this make it easier? Now they'd know why she was missing practice, why she had to miss some gigs because someone set a building on fire and she wanted to help evacuate it. She could trust them to keep her secret...well, she could trust Betty and Glory while she could always web MJ's mouth shut the second she heard the word 'Spider' coming out of it.

"I'm-"

"Don't fight the name if the name fits! You're doing good think that you could do better!?"

Her phone (Yes, she was using their own song as a ringtone. So sue her, it was free publicity), "Hold on..." She pulled it out of her pocket and caught sight of the unknown number, '...Somehow I don't think that's spam.' She shook her head and left through the door, running up the stairs to the roof and ignoring MJ's calls for her to come back. She could deal with her identity issues later, right now she had to focus.

"Hey, Cap, nice to hear from you. Didn't think we'd be talking so soon after last night's little shindig. Anything new?" She asked casually. Maybe she'd get some good news for once.

"We did a preliminary scan of Peter Parker's grave shortly after the clean up at the warehouse." Cap replied, her voice sounding...nervous? Uh-oh, that wasn't a good sign, "I...Gwen, I'll be straight with you. There's no easy way for me to say this, so I'll just be blunt and I encourage you to brace yourself. No matter what I tell you, you have to remain calm and keep it to yourself. Am I clear?"

Gwen felt her heart rate spike. That bad feeling was coming back, "Cap...what's going on?"

"We scanned Peter Parker's grave and the result...the coffin's empty, Gwen. And if we're right then it's been empty for a while."

"Empty...?" Her grip on the phone loosened, her breath catching in her throat. She felt dizzy, the urge to vomit over the side of the roof growing higher as she replayed Cap's words in her mind, "Wh-What do you mean it fucking empty!?"

"I mean the body's gone. We found traces of blood, but they're old and dried. Can't say for sure yet how long, but I have to assume at least a few months." There was a pause at the other end of the line as she heard the older woman sigh, "Look, I told you before that I was willing to give you chance to rein him in, but I have to push this. Gwen, we need to bring him in for testing as soon as you're able. If that really is Peter Parker, if he still has traces of the lizard serum in his blood, then we need to be certain he's not a danger to himself and everyone around him. Do you understand me?"

"I...just-just give me time, alright?" She asked back numbly. Honestly she could only hear half of what Cap was trying to tell her, "I-I can convince him to get tested, but you have to trust me, okay? You can't just drag him in there by force it'll just make things worse."

"I'll talk to Peggy but you have to hurry, Gwen. We need to get on this before we have another repeat of what happened before..."

Chapter Text

Peter never showed up.

Gwen supposed it made sense. Ever since Cap's little bombshell she'd been left in a daze, swinging around New York absentmindedly trying to make sense of it all because, really, what the fuck else was she supposed to do? She'd considered Peter coming back to life, of course, but hearing that the grave was empty added a certain...finality to it. Half of her thought her best friend had come back while the other, more logical (or as logical as it could be considering she broke the laws of physics every time she jumped) side of her kept trying to dampen those thoughts.

'People don't come back from the dead', it would say, 'That kind of crap only happens in comic books'. Though she had to admit an excuse like that felt far less impressive considering she spent time with Captain freaking America and her opposite sex clone sidekick along with the whole radioactive spider thing. Considering she got superpowers rather than supercancer was someone coming back from the dead so absurd?

Of course by the time she finally remembered that she was supposed to be meeting him as Spider-Woman it was four hours past noon and when she'd got there he was gone. She wanted to be pissed, but considering the alternative was waiting in a dirty roof with his thumbs up his ass for four hours she really couldn't blame him for deciding to not keep to their appointment. After all, if she forgot why would he care?

Besides, she'd see him again eventually. She was sure of it.

Days passed, but still nothing. She'd kept an eye out during her patrols, waiting till the last minute before she put away the costume so she could work at the Dollar Dog or go back home. But no, it was like he'd disappeared into another dimension or some shit. She'd even kept an eye on the news or superhero sightings forums, making sure to check for anything that could ping his location, but nothing. Most of it was hearsay and bullshit, claims that they'd seen him spending time in penthouses or bodyguarding celebrities. Considering those same sites claimed she was secretly She-Hulk's lover she really shouldn't have been surprised.

Still, Cap never stopped calling, never stopped urging her to 'bring him in for testing'. She wanted to trust the senior hero, but the edge in her voice made her wary. The Lizards left a mark on S.H.I.E.L.D; five of their agents and Dr. Connors were fucked over because of the serum and they were still scrambling for a permanent cure rather than a suppressant. Even Harry was...no, dwelling on it would get her nowhere. They wanted results, not justifications.

In the end it didn't matter how much Cap wanted him for an examination; if she couldn't find him then then she couldn't find him. He'd pop up eventually; Peter could be stubborn, but eventually when he needed help he would come talk to her again. All she had to do was wait.

In the meantime the best thing she could do was to try and gain back a sense of normalcy. Running an errand for her dad seemed like a good start...well, it was better than her running away from her friends and twiddling her thumbs waiting for news from Cap on where Mac and the other S.I.L.K subjects could be. She'd tried looking on her own in-between stopping muggings and trying to find Peter, but unlike comic books she didn't miraculously find them just cause she wanted to.

So hey, running to deliver some notes seemed like a good idea to take her mind off of everything; and she even did it without swinging over town and riding a bus instead like a normal person (though she still kept her costume in close just in case). Evidently her dad was going through one of his 'I'm worried even though my daughter's a kickbutt superhero' phase and he thought this would be a good idea to keep her mind off it.

That and she had to admit that bullet grazed her shoulder with her last attempted rescue and she really should have been paying attention to that guy livestreaming on his phone. Her dad turning on the TV to a story about how she 'nearly died' (yeah right, wasn't even close) really wasn't fun when she came in for their patented bonding time. Especially not with Jameson saying it was because of some kind of internal gang war and that she was just 'another thug' (har har) who masqueraded as a hero.

But really, what else was new?

Shaking her head, Gwen stepped off the bus and began the slow walk to Alias Investigations. After spending most of her time the past week swinging through the New York skyline it felt almost bizarre to be back on the snow covered streets again, 'At this rate I'm never going to get a license...' She rubbed her gloved hands together. She took to cold better than most people even before her powers, but it still felt natural to do. The same way it was normal to climb winding stairways rather than crawling up the wall to her apartment window and probably freaking the hell out Betty and Murderface.

"This it?" She looked down at the scribbled address then back to the plaque at the side of the building's door, "...Seems like the right place." She stuffed the paper back into her pocket and began the long trek up the stairs. She'd heard that the place had a pretty good reputation all things considered, though by that she at least expected it to be an actual office rather than looking like a run-down apartment building.

But hey, looks could be deceiving. She knew that better than anyone.

She stopped at the third floor and scanned the room numbers. Apparently when her dad had been here a few days ago an 'incident' happened and the door plate was busted. Considering what little he told her about this Jessica person all she'd have to do was look for the broken down door and-

'Found it...' She eyed the broken glass panel and busted doorknob warily. Why did she get the bad feeling she was going to enter some kind of drug den? 'Don't be silly.' She shook her head and knocked on the door gently, ignoring the urge to just push it open since it was pretty clear the person who owned said apartment didn't really give a shit about privacy given the broken lock and sounds of what sounded like arguments coming inside.

The person who opened the door certainly wasn't who she expected. A head of long dark hair peeked out, framing the face of a young woman who looked to be about her age, jacket-covered arms holding onto the doorframe to keep her from peeking inside, "Uh...if you're a client then you might wanna wait up a bit." She looked back for a moment at the sound of a yelled 'you this this is funny, don't you!?' and cringed, "Uh, make that a lot."

"Huh...oh, no, not a client." She waved her arms and forced a laugh, "My, um, dad sent me here to deliver some notes. My name's Gwen. You're Ms. Jones, I'm guessing?" She held out her hand reluctantly. From all she'd heard from her dad she'd have thought the woman would be older, not looking like she was a college freshmen.

"Oh, definitely not." She opened the door wider, allowing Gwen to have a better view of the inside of the small office, "My name's Kate, I'm working for Ms. Jones." She took the offered hand and shook it energetically, lips quirking in a wide smile, "Anyway, could you come back later? She's kind of dealing with an unruly client right now and-"

Gwen saw it before she felt her spider-sense tingle. Pulling the other girl towards her and wrapping her arms around her protectively, she winced as a guy's head was smashed through the already-broken glass of the door panel, "You're lucky that was already broken..." The older woman, and presumed to be the owner of the office, sighed, "Next time don't shoot the messenger." Rolling her eyes, she pulled him out before tossing him without a care out onto the hallway.

"Uh..." Right, real smooth. What next, 'Er...' and 'Buh...'?

"...Who are you and why are you hugging my assistant?" She raised an eyebrow, causing Gwen to push aforementioned helper away in a slight panic. Spider-instincts kicking in were a bitch sometimes, "Look, if you're Kate's friend or girlfriend could you come back later? Now really isn't a good time..." She gestured to the guy moaning on the dirty floor of the hallway, "If you're a customer then come in...but if you're going to get pissed and blame me when I find out your wife's cheating on you then you can just get out of here. I'm really not in the mood."

...She was scared. It was like being back in Mrs. McCoy's class after forgetting to do her homework.

"She's here to deliver something, Ms. Jones." Kate supplied helpfully, thankfully keeping her from making an ass of herself, "She said her dad sent her here to deliver some notes. Isn't that right, Gwen?" Her smile pretty much said it all, 'Just smile and nod'.

"R-Right..." She nodded and did her best to give a friendly smile.

"Dad? ...Wait, you're George's kid. That right?" She asked, and Gwen nodded again, "Hmm...well, come in, I guess." She opened the door fully, the gesture not at all reminding her of when the animal tamer invited the kids to go inside the lion's cage.

"Thanks, Ms. Jones."

She stepped inside and the second impression she got from the place wasn't any better. While she wasn't one to judge on messy apartments considering the trash of the titans she and Betty had for an apartment, the entire place was definitely giving her's a run for its money. Even at a first glance she could easily make out the messy stack of papers and alcohol bottles lining the table. The rest of the floor was no better, looking like the place hadn't had a dusting in months while the air smelled like it'd been saturated in booze.

'Geeze, I've been in gang hideouts that looked better than this...'

"Take a seat, I'll just...finish up something first."

The older woman - Jessica Jones, she reminded herself - made her way to the desk and started compiling the papers till they halfway resembled a decently organized pile. Despite the cold temperatures outside and the open window letting said cold in the private investigator wore nothing but a tank-top and jeans, showing no signs the freezing temperatures outside bothered her in the least.

"Want anything, Gwen? Tea or Coffee okay?" Kate asked beside her, looking at her worriedly.

"Huh? Oh...yeah, sure, whatever's fine with you." She shook her head and sat at the couch awkwardly, rummaging through her pack for the notes while Kate went to the kitchen to brew something. She had to admit she wanted out of here, but that would have been rude. Her dad told her that Jessica could be rough, but he seemed to trust her. Her father always had a good sense of character, so if he said she was okay then she believed him.

"If that guy comes back again I'm throwing him through the window..."

...Then again, everybody could make mistakes.

Eventually Jessica managed to arrange the stack to a more manageable height, a soft breath escaping her, "Sorry you had to see that." She plopped down in the chair in front of her, hands pressed together and her posture pseudo-professional. A good effort, though she could have been doing the hula and she wouldn't have cared considering their first impressions.

"It's fine. When your dad's a police officer you get used to it." She mumbled, only half-lying, "So...what was that about, if you don't mind my asking?"

"Same bullshit that always happens: He hires me to check if his wife's cheating on him and when I show him the proof he's pissed and takes it out on me." She rolled her eyes, "I guess none of these guys ever heard 'don't shoot the messenger', cause they get it in their heads that it's somehow the P.I's fault that they were shitty enough husbands that their wives think fucking a stranger is worth it."

"Uh-huh..." She moved her legs uncomfortably. While she wasn't exactly a stranger to being cussed out after she'd saved people - or even being blamed despite proof to the contrary - those were things Spider-Woman experienced. Gwen Stacy was just a normal girl who should have had no clue what the older woman was talking about, "I'd be lying if I said I knew what that was like, but you have my condolences."

"No need, you're not the one throwing a bitch fit cause they don't like the truth in front of them." She waved a hand lazily and eyed the notes in her hands, "So...George sent you over with those, correct?"

"O-Oh, yeah, he said he was following up a separate lead so he sent these over." She placed the stapled papers atop the wooden table. Despite her curiosity she'd resisted the urge to sneak a peek. Her dad never said anything about it, but she wanted to respect his whole 'independent detective' shtick. It wasn't like he asked questions as to why she smacked Hippo with a crapload of cars.

"Thanks..." She picked up the stack of papers and leafed through them, her expression unreadable. Gwen was about to stand and leave for the kitchen (or maybe out of the building) before she spoke up again, "You know...with the way George gushes about you I would have thought you were 10 or something, not the same age as Kate over there..." She turned to the next page, eyes never raising to look at her, "Hope this isn't too much of a bother. Girls like you are always busy doing...whatever it is you do."

"Oh no, definitely not. I mean, I needed something to take my mind off some things so this was pretty good, actually..." She muttered back, pointedly trying to ignore thinking about the messages her friends left in her phone or Peter being M.I.A for the past few days. Sleeping over at her dad's felt embarrassing, especially since she was pretty sure she'd missed band practice...again. They were probably in so much shock from considering that she was Spider-Woman that they hadn't gotten around to writing her pink slip yet.

Kate came back with two cups of coffee, which Gwen took gratefully. Normally she wasn't one for drinking caffeine, but considering the early hour of the day - just a little past 9 am - she would take it, "So...if it's not too much to ask, what case are you working on with my dad?" She asked, trying to fill in the silence. Jessica seemed content to rifle through the papers while Kate was fixing the pile of papers at the table into a neater list and she had to admit the quiet was getting to her.

"Typical case, really. Girl ran away from home convinced she's met the love of her life. Most cases like this end with credit card numbers being given and a scam artist using that money to buy a new Lamborghini. The sister wants us to find her before that happens." She sighed and handed back some of the papers, "Do me a favor, would you? Tell George I appreciate the detailed list, but I'm not a police detective. Some cliffs notes are more than enough."

"Hey, dad's a perfectionist. If something's worth doing then it's worth overdoing."

"No wonder he and Ms. Jones get along!" Kate quipped, causing the older woman to give her assistant an unamused look, "What? It's true. Despite how she looks she doesn't doesn't like leaving any stone unturned. Here in Alias Investigations quality and accuracy are guaranteed."

"'Despite'? I'd dock your pay, but any more cuts and you'd be paying me to keep working here." Jessica scoffed, standing up and grabbing a leather jacket hanging from the chair's back, "Anyway, take care of our guest and clean up, would you? I've got a meeting with an old friend, should be back by tonight." She pressed the cup to her lips and drank all of the piping hot coffee before slamming it back down against the table, "Lock up when you're done...well, put a chair in front of the door or something."

"Got it, Ms. Jones."

Gwen raised an eyebrow as the paid detective left. Was this normal for private investigators or something? Was she going to go back to her home one day to her dad smoking a cigar with one hand, drinking whiskey with another while monologuing about how the 'dame in red' made it harder for him to do his job? She fucking hoped not. The last thing she needed was finding her dad in bed with some sort of femme fatale.

"So your dad's Ms. Jones new partner?" Kate asked, jolting her out of her thoughts.

"Yeah, I guess?" She picked up both mugs and placed them on the sink. Might as well help out while she was here, "To be honest I don't really know what dad's deal is with the whole P.I thing. I mean I'm glad he's not just sitting around bored out of his skull and he's probably a really good one considering he was a detective and all but I'm not sure what he's really doing. I just hope he's not in danger."

"Doubt it. Ms. Jones might not look like it, but she's way tougher than you'd think."

"Yeah, saw that earlier." She eyed the guy still lying on the hallway outside. Given the lack of panic Kate had she could only assume it wasn't a rare occurrence for clients to get physical, "So...this a winter holiday job for you?" She asked, trying to drum up some conversation.

"Mmm, not really. I left my...well, I'd say mentor but that's not exactly accurate. Doubt you're supposed to want to punch your teachers in the face so much." She replied, smiling in a peculiar way, "Lets just say I had some differences and I had to quit my old job. I'm trying to be a P.I like Ms. Jones so I thought getting to work for her would give me some tips or advice until I can strike off on my own."

"She doesn't seem like the teacher type...no offense."

"Eh, none taken. Truth be told I feel more like a secretary than an assistant." She laughed softly, "So hey, you wanna get out of here? Whenever Miss. Jones has one of her 'meetings' she's going to be coming back piss drunk. I'd rather not be here when she does..." She gave a pained grimace, "We could get something to eat, my treat. Don't worry; despite what she says I'm not actually paying to work for her."

Well...spending time with someone who didn't suspect she was Spider-Woman would be nice, "Sure, lets go."


She'd spent most of the morning and afternoon with her new acquaintance. She had to admit she had fun, even if the girl was more closed off than she initially appeared: Discussing family was definitely out of the question as was whatever the hell her 'old job' was. Beyond that she was an open book: Music, old boyfriends, hopes and dreams, her zodiac sign and her interest in classical stuff like dancing, piano, fencing and archery (especially that, given how much she gushed about her custom bows).

Definitely a rich girl. She didn't say it out loud, but the way she talked and her hobbies more than gave the impression.

It was nice not having to worry about the other side of her life and just hanging out with a normal girl. She had to make sure to thank her dad for this when she went back home...that was of course assuming he hadn't gone on another all-nighter on a new case like he was prone to doing nowadays.

Of course nothing could ever last. By the time Kate was inviting her to the archery range for a little show and tell she got a text from Officer Grimm that perfectly matched his namesake: 'We need to meet' followed by an address, 'Well, that's not foreboding or anything...' She raised an eyebrow at the short message. A physical meeting after barely a week of 'anonymous tips'? A part of her was expecting to walk into an ambush, but she'd had a good track record recently.

Saying her goodbyes to Kate (though not without a promise to meet up in a couple of days again), she ran to the alley and changed into her uniform. The address she'd been given led her to an abandoned warehouse (she'd been running into a lot of abandoned buildings lately...) and judging by the lack of 'Put your hands up in the air and lay flat on the ground' and her spider-sense being eerily silent she could assume it was safe...unless it was crapping out again, which she honestly wouldn't have doubted. It'd been on the fritz the past week, particularly where Peter was concerned.

She found DeWolff and Grimm standing in the center easily enough, the former holding a briefcase, though their third companion caused her to raise an eyebrow: Jessica Jones, standing close-by with her arms crossed and looking none too pleased to be there judging by the half-scowl she was throwing DeWolff's way.

Well, time to make an entrance.

She attached a line of web to the ceiling and eased her way down with her head facing the ground and her legs balancing on the wire, causing the two police officers to jump in surprise, "Woah, what a coincidence to see you two here!" She announced cheerily, ignoring the glares the pair gave her. Everyone was a critic, "So, hey, got your invite and all but I didn't think we were going to be having a fourth wheel. Care to introduce me to your friend there?" She gestured to the P.I, who only raised an eyebrow slightly in response to her appearance.

"Spider-Woman...I gotta admit I was half-doubting you'd show up." DeWolff replied, breathing finally settling into a slower rhythm, "We...haven't exactly done a lot to engender trust in you the past two years."

"And I gotta admit I was half-expecting a bunch of Swat guys to bust in here...they aren't, right?" She looked around dramatically, "Please this isn't the part where one of you screams 'it's a trap' and reveal you're all Jameson fanboys."

"Nah, kid, you been doing good. Those little anonymous tips you've been giving us are a goldmine...and to be honest if the Swat were busting down doors we'd be behind bars too. This ain't exactly a police operation, if you catch my drift." Grimm sighed, scratching the back of his head lazily, " Just so you know; no one can know we did this, capisce? Right now Jean and I are supposed to be on a patrol route and definitely not meeting with a masked vigilante who's still technically guilty."

"So you've said." Jessica cut in, her voice more tired and annoyed than anything else, "Lets skip all the bullshit. You're Spider-Woman, right? Didn't change your name or anything?" Gwen nodded. The P.I definitely got straight to the point, "Alright, name's Jessica Jones and as to why where here I'm going to be assuming Jean wants us to do some extrajudicial work."

"So you want us to do some hush-hush work? Off the record, so to speak?" Gwen asked, causing DeWolff to nod grimly, "Right...uh, quick question: Why exactly is a police officer asking still technically Wanted vigilante and a private investigator to do this? You're a cop, can't you just do whatever it is this is? Unless you're asking me to whack someone in which case I have to decline. Contract killings aren't my thing."

"Because our badges are keeping us from doing anything." DeWolff admitted, lips dipping into a frown, "I'm a detective assigned to another case entirely while Ben's still on probation after what happened with Vulture a few months ago."

"Geez, you fall into a dumpster and get put into a body cast one time and suddenly everyone walking on eggshells around you." Grimm grunted.

"Anyway, I tried to get my boss to let me change focus since I think I actually have a lead on something significant, but..." She clicked her tongue and looked away, "Well, lets just say I'm lucky I didn't get demoted and leave it at that. He made it very clear that if he found me 'sniffing around' I'd find myself getting kicked to the pavement. I suppose I should be appreciative he gave me a warning, at least..."

"Think he's turned? Word on the grapevine is that both Silvermane and Murdock are making moves." Jessica suggested, "Is that why you want us here? If you want to find dirt on this guy then I can do that myself. Don't need a superhero watching my back."

"Not sure if he's been bought, and even if he is that's not why I brought you here." The police detective pulled a folder from the briefcase and offered it to them both. Gwen took it first, much to Jessica's annoyance, "The case I was telling you about? A human trafficking ring with ties to the Maggia family. The old bastard's been real careful ever since Hammerhead got taken in by S.H.I.E.L.D and accused of terrorism. Those guns he was smuggling must have cost a pretty penny because he's been stepping up operations as far as I can see."

"Your boss is refusing to let you investigate this?" Gwen asked, handing the folder to Jessica after a quick (upside down) scan. She didn't have to read through it; the pictures said more than enough, "Either he's on the take or he's really incompetent. Can't tell what's worse."

"So why'd you call me then?" Jessica questioned, "I'm a private investigator, not a superhero or vigilante. Sounds like you know everything there is to know, you just can't do anything about it. Not something I can do anything about."

"Because I need both of your special skills for this." DeWolff looked them both in the eye, "From what I could gather these girls are being shipped out tonight, so if we don't do anything then they're going to go through hell on earth." She closed her eyes and shook her head, "Spider-Woman, I know we haven't done anything to make you trust us but we'd really appreciate your help here. And Jess, I know you don't want to get involved but I'm cashing in that favor. If my badge doesn't let me help people then it's not worth it, so please do this for me. If not for me then those innocent girls."

Jessica pinched the bridge of her nose and released a frustrated breath, "Fine, I do owe you and George both. Consider this one of my back payments..." She looked to costume heroine, "But my earlier point still stands; I don't need a bodyguard. I can take care of myself."

"Hey, even if you don't I'm not exactly going to say no a chance to kick some scumbag's teeth in." Gwen replied, finally landing on the floor to stand upright, "If we can give Silvermane a black eye while we're at it even better." She took a moment to consider her next words, "Uh...no offense, by the way, but even if you can take care of yourself it might be better to just let me do most of the fighting. Not to say you're weak or anything, but-"

Her next words were drowned out when Jessica picked up one of the large, wooden crates with one hand, raised it above her head and threw it clear to the other side of the warehouse. She could see Grimm grimace (heh) as the box splintered upon impact with the ground, "Trust me, whatever asshole we find down there I can deal with them. Just make sure not to get in my way."

"You're...You're a superhero?" Gwen asked, mouth parting in shock. First Peter and now this; it was almost like they were crawling out off the woodwork.

"No, I'm a freak. There's a difference." She rolled her eyes, "I can run faster, lift more and take more punishment than most people; but that doesn't make me a superhero. You wanna waste your time running around in spandex then feel free, just make sure not to tell anyone about me. I don't want any attention."

"Jessica was...in an accident when she was a teenager. Her powers manifested not long after, or so tells me." DeWolff informed her, "Either way I'd feel more comfortable knowing you were both on it. You'll be paid for your troubles, don't worry-"

"I only accept money for cases, not favors. Like I said, this my back payment." Jessica interrupted.

"Not in this for the money either." Gwen affirmed, "Trust me, we'll get those girls back safe and sound; you got my word on that. Although..." She crossed her arms, "A good word with your fellow officers wouldn't be unappreciated. Most cops I run into don't try to arrest me anymore, but a couple days ago some new blood tried to blackmail me so he wouldn't put me under quarantine. Not to sound egotistical or anything, but I'd really appreciate it if they laid off for a bit."

"Hey, if it gets us more of those tips then I'll do my best." Grimm answered, "Thanks for those, by the way. They've been a real morale boost for most of the guys on the beat."

"No prob." She gave them both a thumbs up before attaching a webline to the open window, "Well, I'll see you there, partner. Time's a wastin."


On the bright side it wasn't another abandoned apartment building.

"Get these two bitches!"

On the not so bright side, that was because it was filled with guys in suits who liked to scream the b-word around just cause they weren't fighting a couple of guys, 'Seriously?' Gwen ducked under the clumsy punch and flipped backwards, feet smacking their jaws as she did a showy pirouette. It was almost routine at this point, a far cry from the first time nerves and fear she felt when she stopped her first mugging. A guy in a pinstripe suit practically screamed 'chump' to her now.

"Come on guys, this is embarrassing!" She webbed another to a wall and leapfrogged over one of the burlier thugs charging at her. Thankfully they didn't have any guns; probably cause they didn't expect her and Jessica to smash down through the roof, "Do I have to do this one hand? Cause I'll totally do it if you think it'll help!" She placed her left hand behind her back, picking up a thug with her other and throwing him to a clustered group of his friends, "Nope, doesn't seem to be helping at all."

"Shut the fuck up, bitch!"

"Just for that, I'm hitting you extra hard!" She punched aforementioned curse-y thug in the stomach and, after a moment of looking like he was going to throw up, she slammed him to the floor face-down (didn't want him choking on his own vomit, after all).

Still, besides the thugs she had to say that her new partner could definitely hold her own. Bowling over another three of the hired goons, she watched with a sideways glance as Jessica picked up two of the suckers and smashed their heads together. Not much in the way of formal combat training by the looks of it, but hey it wasn't like she was the Judo Juvenile herself so who was she to point fingers? Her super strength seemed to do well enough.

"Ah, son of a bitch!"

...Not much in the way of dodging, though. The soon to be very sorry thug looked down at the broken plank in his hands and backed away as Jessica glared at him. She didn't know how durable she was, but it was enough that she seemed to be able to shrug off most of the hits she'd been given. Granted she still seemed to get hurt by them, but considering the plank broke rather than the back that it hit she considered it 'good enough'.

"So hey, you're pretty good at this!" Gwen jumped on the nearest one's shoulder and made him crash against his friend, "You sure you're not a superhero? You sure seem like it!"

"Clients get bitchy when they don't like the news you tell them. You learn to take care of yourself." Jessica grabbed one of them and headbutted him, causing his nose to start bleeding profusely, "Stop playing with them. This isn't fun and games."

"Hey, like my dad always said; why work when you can't find some fun with it!" Actually what her dad told her was that he never stopped being satisfied putting criminals behind bars, but hey she got his point. She took a little bit of pride seeing a mugger or rapist being cuffed...though those usually only lasted for a moment before she had to avoid being placed in the car next to them. Hopefully this would help boost her street cred a bit.

"...You're a weird kid, you know that?"

"So they tell me!"

The rest of the muscleheads felt more like cleanup than anything else, and she made sure each of them were snug and comfortable in their brand new web-blankets. Once they freed those girls there would be no way these guys would walk, regardless of what DeWolff and Grimm's boss said. She could only hope it didn't blow back to either of them; she didn't know them both very well, but they seemed like good people. Following the spirit of the law rather than the letter, something she thought she was doing every time she put on the mask.

That done, she followed Jessica up to the upper floors of the complex; clinging to the walls in lieu of taking the stairs. Honestly they looked cleaner than the alternative, "Hope the police like the present we left them." She said.

"That's assuming most of those guys don't walk. Dunno about you, but DeWolff's boss definitely sounds like he's on Silvermane's payroll. We might save these girls, but if you're expecting 'justice' to happen then keep dreaming."

"Wow...who pissed in your cornflakes?" She asked, causing the older woman to roll her eyes and walk ahead of her without another word, "Hey, sorry! Didn't mean to make you mad!" She called out. Jessica said nothing back, "No, seriously, I apologize! There's no need for the silent treatment-"

"Shh, you hear that?"

Jessica pressed a finger to her lips in a shushing gesture and looked up. Brow furrowing, Gwen followed the instructions: Muffled screaming followed by the sounds of something hitting against the wall. If she concentrated hard enough she could even hear what was either cursing or prayer judging by the amount of 'God' and 'Jesus Christ' she kept hearing.

"Someone else is here."

Rushing up the stairs, Gwen was met with a sight she'd gotten used to in the past few days: Rows of thugs stuck to the wall with black webbing, their struggles doing nothing to release them from their binds. Jessica went ahead of her, inspecting the webbing while ignoring the rent-a-goon's muffled pleas for help, "Whoever this third attacker is they're thorough, I'll give them that."

"I think I have a good idea on who it is..."

There was only one door at the end of the hall, and the closer she got the more she began to hear the sounds of what sounded like something being smashed, "H-Hey, we-we can make a deal! I pay protection, I'm insured! You can't-"

"Nobody buys me! Where are the girls!?"

"...Hello, Pe- Spider-Man."

Opening the door, she wasn't even surprised to find Peter smashing what looked like the leader (his suit was cleaner and he looked older than everyone else) against the desk. She saw the masked vigilante's head snap up to meet her gaze, his expression unreadable under his crudely repaired mask. She could see the obvious stitch marks where the new cloth met the old, his eyes hidden underneath the dusty new lenses of his goggles. She supposed she should have been relieved to see him again, though the circumstances were less than ideal.

"We scanned Peter Parker's grave and the result...the coffin's empty, Gwen. And if we're right then it's been empty for a while."

"Spider-Woman..." He picked up the thug and threw him against the floor, webbing his feet to the surface to keep him from crawling away, "Funny...didn't think I'd run into you here."

"I mean the body's gone. We found traces of blood, but they're old and dried. Can't say for sure yet how long, but I have to assume at least a few months."

"Yeah...me either." Her hands clenched. He didn't remember anything, she couldn't just point blank accuse him of punching his way out of a coffin; even if it made it easier for her to have confirmation, "Um...what are you doing here?"

"Could ask you the same thing." He crossed his arms, one foot stomping on the thug's hand before he could try to pull the webbing off his legs, "You never showed up for our rendezvous so I left. I heard them running downstairs, gave me a chance to slip in and take out most of the goombas that stayed behind." He nudged his head to the web-covered hallway, "Didn't think the intruder'd be you, though."

"Yeah, sorry about that. I was busy..." Yeah, busy trying to make sense of Peter's fucking grave being empty that she forgot to meet the guy himself to try and get some answers, "Well, we're here to-"

"Doing the same thing as you are, most likely." Jessica interrupted, cutting past her and entering the room, "Lets cut the chatter." She looked to Peter, "Whoever you are I'm guessing you're here for the girls this prick's planning to ship out. D'you get anything from him?"

"Nah, not yet. He's still trying to buy me off." He squatted and grabbed the thug's hair, forcing him to meet his gaze, "Anything else to say, greaseball?"

"L-Look, these guys you're fucking with aren't a joke! You do anything but take the money and look away and-"

His offer was cut off, though not by who she expected. She watched with morbid fascination as Jessica picked him up, disentangling him from the webbing almost effortlessly, before she slammed him against the wall; one hand at his neck while another cupped between his legs, "Right, good cop routine over: Tell us where you're keeping the girls or I'll turn your balls to paste. You wanna go back to your wife telling her you're not a man anymore?"

"Y-You wouldn't-"

Jessica squeezed, hard enough to make the older man scream in both pain and panic. Gwen winced and debated on whether to pull her away before he spoke again, "Argh...the basement! We're keeping them in the basement! Door hidden behind a bookcase, the code is 0547! That's where they are, I swear!"

"Thank you."

The private investigator gave him a wry smile before slamming him against the ground, a quick kick breaking his nose and knocking him out entirely. At her side she heard Peter whistle, his arms crossed in what she could only assume to be appreciation, "Huh...he squealed faster than a pig in a slaughterhouse. Nice work."

"Dickheads like this always cave." She clicked her tongue and wiped the squeezing hand on her jeans, "Next time go for the manhood, always gets faster results. These macho tough guys can't bear the thought of living without their gun."

"Duly noted."

That...was scary. Jessica left ahead of them, Peter webbing the thug to the floor and going to follow her before she grabbed his wrist, "Wait, Peter, we need to talk-"

"Don't call me that." He grunted, wrenching his arm away from hers, "I know it don't mean much, but I'd rather not have my name being blasted out where just about anybody can hear it. If you wanna talk call me Spider-Man, you don't see me calling...whatever the hell your name is."

'It's Gwen. You know, the girl who you talked with for hours and made breakfast for?' But of course she couldn't say that out loud; couldn't admit she'd been lying to him like that, "Right...Spider-Man." She frowned. It still sounded weird to her, "Look, you didn't answer my question earlier: What are you doing here? Last time I saw you...you said you were going to look for that Octavius guy."

"Yeah, well, no luck there." He sighed, "I've been trying to find Castle's family, tie up another loose end, so I've been hitting up the smugglers and traffickers in the area. Overheard them talking about those girls they were shipping when I got here, though, so change of plans." His hands stuffed themselves into the pockets of the tattered coat, "You're on a little rescue mission, too, right? No point in delaying it any further."

Castle's family? What was it with those two? She had to look into that later.

"Actually, that's...not the only thing I wanted to talk to you about."

"If that really is Peter Parker, if he still has traces of the lizard serum in his blood, then we need to be certain he's not a danger to himself and everyone around him. Do you understand me?"

Whatever spiel or plea she was tempted to give was cut-off by Jessica calling them, "Hey, are you guys coming or not?"

"Whatever it is can wait. We need to deal with this first."

"Yeah...sure." She shook her head and took a deep breath. They were right; she could ask Peter another day, but those girls had nearly lost everything tonight. She could focus on it more as soon as they were safe in police custody.

Chapter Text

Home sweet home.

Peter pushed open the door to the ratty apartment, closing and locking it behind him with a bit more force than necessary. The stench of the interior hit him immediately; the stink of old cigarettes and cheap alcohol, a present from the last residents of the 'humble abode' before they were kicked out for not paying their dues to the neighborhood friendly slumlord. Given the fact that a lot of their things were still here it wasn't exactly a stretch to imagine that they were kicked out with nothing but the clothes off their back...a sight he'd gotten far too used to back at home.

It didn't take him long to find the place. Even 82 years passing didn't change things; the rich were still getting richer while the poor were wallowing on the streets. Looking at the newspapers didn't paint a pretty picture: Announcements of big businesses harping on about new products, rumor mills about television and film stars on who was sleeping with who and God only knew what else. He saw a few of the rags mentioning the occasional death on the streets, the stabbed junkies or mugging gone wrong. It was never the focus, just something to put in a quota for something else.

'Superheroes' and 'Supervillains'.

The similarities never changed. The Bugle slandered Spider-Woman (mostly when this madhouse's Jameson wanted to rant), others praised her, while some were too busy giving speculations on the 'Supervillains' like Vodkalky and little miss lightning bolt to pay her any mind. He even saw his own name mentioned, though most of it was speculation on his 'true nature' (what was he, a politician?) after the little short film of him killing the electric bearcat. He'd read enough rants on how he was 'supposed' to be a hero, 'supposed' to set an example and 'supposed' to be better than killing someone who was begging.

A big fat load of baloney, all of it. A lot of beating gums talking about things that were none of their beeswax.

Ignoring the bottle of whiskey lying on the table (one of the few things he bought), he trudged past the almost decrepit living room and opened the door to the bathroom. The place made Uncle Ben's horror stories of the trenches seem almost bearable, but what else could he do? Places like this existed in every rundown neighborhood and it was the first place he found after asking a couple of junkies on the street for a place to stay. Beggars couldn't be choosers, and as far as he was concerned he was a hair's breath away from being one considering how things were going for him.

Besides, it had everything he needed: A locked door, a roof over his head - the fact that it wasn't rotting was one of the few selling points given to him... - and a modicum of privacy. Granted the walls were thin and he could hear what were either rats or spiders scurrying overhead, in addition to everything else wrong about it, but it didn't matter. The owner didn't ask questions and as long as he got paid upfront he didn't care to know what the residents were doing.

The only rule he had to follow was that he kept any and all nasty business to himself. The owner didn't know and didn't care to know. 'Out of sight, out of mind', he said. It worked just fine for him.

Flicking the switch, the small bathroom was lit up with the dim white glow of the fluorescent up above, "Ugh..." He'd been given a 'complimentary spray freshener' (after paying a little extra to guarantee there won't be anyone knocking on his door) but it just replaced the stink of vomit and urine with an artificial stench that was making him dizzy...although ironically enough the bathroom was probably the cleanest part of this place. Whoever the last residents were they were apparently so high up on whatever drugs they were smoking or injecting into their wrists that they did their business wherever they were lying down at the time.

Thankfully he'd tossed those things out the window and burned them when he had the chance. Now he just had to deal with his place's normal rot and filth rather than that in addition to whatever its last residents put into it.

Standing in front of the sink, he removed his mask and grimaced at the reflection that met him. Besides the bags under his eyes the bruise on his cheek was definitely eye-catching. He'd been careless; one of the brunos inside that little hellhole got a lucky hit in since he was too busy with his buddies. He didn't let him get a second one in, but it still stung. He'd gotten careless and...

One of the girls died.

Gloved hands gripped the sink tightly, minute cracks appearing at the sides. He was used to disappointment, used to seeing failure despite his best efforts, but it still stung. There was nothing quite like saving some kid maybe a year or two younger than him only to find him begging for money on the streets so he could get a little more floor polish a couple of months later, "You can't save everyone, kid. Sometimes people don't want to leave the hole they dug themselves...' He muttered. Urich's words, not his...huh, it was almost prophetic considering what happened to him. Everyone paid eventually...Urich and himself included.

Maybe it was 'her fault' she was there, maybe she was a promising young woman who was snatched off the streets cause she was pretty. Maybe it was the drugs, maybe it was the beatings or maybe she just wanted to die rather than face what was coming; either way she was dead and by the time he, Spider-Woman and that other dame had busted into that room it was too late to do anything about it.

"Please, help her! She-She's not m-moving and we don't know what to do!"

He still felt their desperate hands on his wrists, begging and pulling for him to do something, anything. Their eyes said it all: 'You're a hero, do something!' among other pleas, "Damn it..." He shook his head and turned on the faucet, letting the sound of running water distract him however slightly. He saved people from the killers and rapists, but he couldn't rebuild their lives. It wasn't his responsibility. He could punish the guilty, protect the innocent from immediate harm, but he never went beyond that. He wasn't a doctor or a miracle worker. He couldn't do more than break a few faces in.

"She's dead! And if we don't get these other girls out of here they're going to be next!"

The other dame, the only one of them not wearing a mask, had taken charge after that. He had no idea who she was, but she didn't even blink even with all she saw inside. Admirable, sometimes he wished he could just tune out like that. It was pathetic, he knew that. He knew she was dead as soon as he saw her, saw how blank her eyes were and the paleness of her skin. But he still tried to drag her out, still tried to cling to the vain hope that she was alive and that this madhouse might be able to save her. They could treat Gabriel, so they could treat her, right?

But people didn't come back from the dead...no matter what certain people thought.

"Peter...it's alright. We still saved those other girls...that's something."

Spider-Woman was the worst. It would have been better if she still joked, still tried to make light of what just happened, but no; she was all comforting words and platitudes and he despised her for it.

She was just trying to help, he knew that, but hearing the pity in her voice just caused him to get more frustrated. It reminded him of Felica, all open smiles and comfort before the rug was pulled under him. There was a catch, there was always a catch. The way she used that name - 'his' name - was far too familiar. She knew the Parker from this midhouse, and he had the distinct feeling her interest in him was because he shared a dead kid's face. Without it she wouldn't have cared so much.

Taking off his gloves, he cupped the running water and crashed it against his face, ignoring the slight throbbing of his new wound. It would heal in a couple of hours after he went to sleep, there was no need to patch it up. One good thing about being bitten by the Spider-God; he saved a fortune on medical supplies. They were already struggling to make ends meet back home, he didn't need to waste money on medicine and bandages either.

Leaving the bathroom, he tossed his mask onto the table and shrugged off his coat before picking up the bottle of whiskey. No need for cups; it wasn't like he would share it with anyone anyway, "If only Aunt May could see me now..." He trudged to what could count as the bedroom (it was more a closet, really) and sat on the bed. The sheets were gone - being one of the things he had to burn - but he didn't mind. It was better than sleeping on the floor or a cold rooftop in the middle of winter. At least now he could be...well, comfortable would have been a lie. At least he wouldn't freeze or break his back.

He pressed the tip of the bottle against his lips, letting the warm drink relax him. He savored the taste, the smokey flavor lingering in his tongue. 82 years and the alcohols didn't change much...and neither did the people selling them; it only took a few extra dollars for the guy behind the register to ignore asking for identification and just give him the damn bottle. But hey, it was a dead-end job with a terrible boss. He couldn't blame the guy for wanting a little extra long green to tide him over.

And if it meant he could drink and try to forget about his problems then all the power to him.

It was futile, of course. Ever since he'd been given his abilities he found it almost impossible to lose himself in the mire of alcoholism. Maybe the Spider-God had a sense of humor or maybe never being drunk was one of his 'gifts', but he'd never actually lost himself in the bottom of a bottle ever since that fateful bite. He never stopped drinking, though, never stopped trying to drink himself into a stupor.

And God did he need to get drunk right now.

Throwing off his shoes, he leaned back against the frame of the bed and closed his eyes. The cold metal dug into his back, the feeling almost comforting in a way. What the hell was he doing? He should have found Octavius, should have gotten a way back already. But no...he had to get involve with blockheads and freaks then get tangled up in Spider-Woman's web because she thought he was that other kid come back to life.

And now? Now he had no idea what he was doing. Gabriel was safe, he was glad for that at least, but now he was running blind. Wherever Octavius was he was long gone, he couldn't find him just searching on his own. Spider-Woman told her friends, that 'Shield' thing, to keep an eye out. Still, he had his doubts. He had the distinct feeling that whatever help they gave him it would come with a catch.

Then there was Castle's family. He never found him again ever since that night at the warehouse, and it was really none of his business, and yet he was still looking. Hammerhead seemed to believe that his family had done everything they could to get away from Castle, but some part of him kept on doubting. And even if it was the truth leaving them in the hands of those gangsters really didn't give him a good feeling, especially not after what he saw today.

He took another swig from the bottle, his eyes drooping slightly. It was still early, but he already felt like collapsing. The slowly ticking clock on the wall rested its hands on '9:07', the longest hand continuing its circular path. Normally it would have been the perfect time for him to head out, spend all night beating up on some thug or bastard in need of a good teeth loosening, but he felt like he was about to collapse.

Some rest wouldn't be amiss, he supposed...


"I'll show them...sssshowww themmmm aaallll!"

Peter shot up, the whiskey bottle crashing against the floor and shattering upon impact. Just barely he could see the dark liquid seeping through the floorboards and he scowled, "Damn it..." He rubbed his temples and groaned. He couldn't get hangovers anymore, but whatever...these things were they were a hell of a lot worse. It was bad enough that he had to be trapped in this madhouse, but now he was becoming one of the crazies. Next thing he knew he would be hearing voices.

He never had dreams, at least not anymore. He used to when he was younger; nightmares about Frankenstein's monster coming to kill him, of Carl King beating him up or Davis and his cronies proving even your friends would leave you the second you started asking uncomfortable questions. The last ones he got were about Uncle Ben, about him being torn apart by wild dogs while he screamed and begged for his help. He'd try to fight through the mutts, kick them away and try to pull his Uncle to safety, but it never worked.

And then he'd hear Osborn laughing. About how he was just a kid, that there was nothing he could do. That his aunt would be next.

He had pleasant dreams sometimes. Imagining Davis and the rest weren't bastards, having perfect weddings with Mary Jane before he curbed his childish crush or even Uncle Ben beating Osborn's face in while he wore his airforce uniform; like a soldier putting down the enemy. They never lasted, but they were relieving all the same. Sometimes he wished he still had them.

Nowadays he never saw anything but blackness. He was tempted to blame the Spider-God for that too, but even that was a stretch. Maybe after being tortured and given the 'curse of power' his mind couldn't conjure anything else to top it...well, until now. Now he was seeing things; maybe it was what that kid saw, but if it was then he definitely wasn't some innocent little lamb that got led to the slaughter. A real wolf in sheep's clothing, if he was understanding right.

It was just a little past three according to the clock, and judging by the darkness outside he didn't doubt it. Six hours of sleep...better than what he usually got, "Well, can't sleep now..." He shook his head and put on his boots again, making sure to give the broken glass a wide berth. He'd clean that up later; wasn't like the bossman would care all that much considering what the rest of this hole looked like.

He was barely two steps out the door before he felt a vibration in his pants pocket, "Knew I shouldn't have given it to her..." Sighing, he pulled out the 'cellphone' (he still thought it sounded dumb) and flipped the screen up, eyeing the 'Fellow Superhero' text dominating the surface. He'd bought the thing for cheap just in case - a 'disposable flip phone' according to the street vendor - and gave it to Spider-Woman so she could put her number in when she asked (more demanded, really) a way for them to keep in contact. He thought it would satisfy her, at least.

"Knew I shouldn't have given it to her." He frowned at the name but pushed the green button. That was how they answered, right? "Yeah, what is it?"

"Hey...sorry, did I wake you?" Spider-Woman asked. It was the first time he'd used the thing and he couldn't deny it was amazing. Something like this would have been amazing back home, "I...sorry, I knew it's early but-"

"You didn't wake me. I wasn't sleeping." Well, at least not for a couple of minutes before she called, but she didn't need to know what, "What do you want?"

"I...Peter, look, we need to talk-"

"Stop calling me that. I told you, it's Spider-Man..." He opened the tiny refrigerator and pulled out a cold slice of pizza, biting into the cold bread without a second thought. Anything to fill his stomach. He could fill up better when he could afford it, "If you're calling to check up on me then don't bother. Until I find Octavius then I'm not going anywhere so don't worry your head about losing track of me."

"That's not why I called..." There was a pause on the other side followed by a sigh, "...Look, Spider-Man, we need to talk. Just you and me, one on one."

"We're talking now. Whatever it is just spit it out."

"I...can't. I have to say it face-to-face, not over the phone." He resisted the urge to point out it wasn't exactly much of a face-to-face meeting considering they were going to both be wearing masks and let her continue, "Look, are you free right now? I can't sleep and I'd like to talk if that's cool. What we saw today...I mean, talking about it helps. You seemed really pissed earlier and-"

"I'd rather be alone for now if that's okay with you, boss."

Even if he did want to rant to someone she was the last person he would've wanted to do it with. Crying on someone's shoulder while they said they understood...he never saw the point of it. Dealing with his problems head-on made more sense, and if he couldn't then he could channel whatever anger he felt to something a bit more productive. Kicking some thug's teeth in was a better use of his time than feeling sorry for himself.

"Don't call me that." She snapped back, voice momentary taking on a harsher edge before she sighed again, "Look, if you wanna be alone that's fine but we need to meet soon, okay? Just tell me when you're free."

"Yeah...sure."

He cut off the call, the apartment once again being bathed in silence save the occasional skittering coming through the walls. He looked down at the miniature phone before stuffing it back into his pocket. She was giving him an olive branch, but it didn't mean he had to take it. He wasn't going to begrudge her trying to do good - it was actually admirable of her - but it was better for them both if she kept him out of her little world while she stayed out of his.

It was still early, but since he wasn't going to get any sleep her might as well get some 'work' done. Pulling the apartment's door open, he winced slightly at the cold wind that greeted him. Taking his coat would have been more comfortable, but his paranoia was biting at him again. He didn't want to make it too obvious; running out with his full Spider-Man costume sans mask would have been just a bit too conspicuous.

Retracting his steps, he pushed through the dark alleyways and through the side-door jutting out of the marked building. The bodyguard gave him a quick once over, giving nothing more than a grunt when he waved a stack of long greens in his face before he let him inside. There was always a minimum fee to get inside, but anyone halfway decent could easily double what they paid to get in.

The sound of cheering from inside was almost overwhelming. The smell of alcohol and blood permeated the air, sweaty guys and dames screaming and raising bottles of beer or stacks of dough as two people beat each other up in a makeshift cage at the center. He saw the bigger of the two opponents squaring off slap the smaller one to the ground before stepping on his hand, the poor bastard screaming while the crowd roared.

A fight club. Kind of like betting on boxing matches except without the air of legitimacy about it. Squeezing his way through the crowd, he made his way to the guy accepting bets and gestured to the lummox on the cage beating his fists like a gorilla, "How much you willing to give for beating him?" He asked. He was tempted to wear a mask, but that would just get more attention than anything else.

"Tch, you kidding me, kid?" The rotund bookie looked at him incredulously before noticing the stack of money in his hands and licking his lips. Greed never failed to win out over rationality with these guys, "Hey, if you wanna fight Kong then I ain't gonna stop you. Just make sure you don't come back here ranting about how we ruined your life, capisce? You break an arm or a leg and it ain't our fault."

"Just tell me how much he's worth." He dropped the money onto the table, the older man eagerly pocketing the cash like he was afraid Peter would change his mind, "And no cameras here, right?"

"Kong's been on a streak, pot's gotten to 15 grand and it's only getting better." He grinned, showing off his chipped teeth, "And yeah, no cameras. This place ain't exactly Madison Square Garden, ya know? I don't think the boys in blue would appreciate our little betting pool so we make sure no one squeals. Why, camera shy or something?"

"Just a private person, that's all."

He waited for the last poor sucker to be dragged out before stepping into the cage, taking off his shirt and dropping it in the corner. He never thought he'd find himself here - beating someone in a cage for the amusement of a crowd - but he wasn't exactly swimming in options. Bullseye had suggested this place in what he could only assume to be a joke, but he was grateful all the same. Something like this...well, he would have been lying if he said he didn't feel dirty doing it, but it felt easier on his conscience than stopping a mugging and then taking the poor fink's wallet. That's what he did to afford that apartment and he still felt like a bastard for doing it.

Places like this always skirted the edge of legality, but he could at least placate himself with the idea that these guys did it of their own free will. In the streets it was hard to earn an honest living, so what was wrong with joining a place like this and fighting one another? Everyone did it of their own free will and if they didn't...then he'd have to apologize to Bullseye for shutting down one of his favorite hangouts.

The fight didn't bear remembering: Tall, bald and smelly guffawed when he first saw him, asking the crowd if he was fighting 'little boys' now. Peter clenched his hands but didn't respond to the baiting. A big guy saying he wasn't worth his time? He dealt with that on Wednesdays every time a new bozo thought he had the Spider-Man's number and that he just 'got lucky' when dealing with Osborn and Crime Master.

He didn't bother making a show of it. He dodged the big guy's clumsy strikes before retaliating, punching where he was most vulnerable and leaving him gasping on the ground. He made sure to avoid crippling him, though; no need to be a bastard to someone just trying to make a living.

The crowd was silent for a moment before the cheering erupted once more, the announcer or whoever the hell it was sputtering in dramatized disbelief as the 'up and coming champion' was taken down so quickly. Peter shook his head; it was all giving him a headache. Putting on his shirt, he grabbed the piles of stuck-together long greens and stuffed them into his pockets. The less time he spent here the better.

He was about to turn and leave before a hand grabbed onto his shoulder, "Holy shit, kid, that was insane!" The bookie gaped at him openly, ring-covered fingers still holding onto his (Well, Gwen loaned it to him) shirt, "Look, whoever trained you I can see a winner coming from a mile-off. And you, my friend? I see champion material!"

"Coming from the guy who thought I was insane for trying to fight him earlier, that's really touching." He shrugged off his hand, "Now if you'll excuse me-"

"Hey, when are you coming back?" He rushed in front of him, a far too friendly smile plastered on his face, "I'm telling you, kid, you can go places! You think that cash is good? That's a drop in the fucking bucket to what fighting the real big boys can get you!" He stood up taller, looking down at him like he was a piece of meat, "Listen. You come back here, you win some fights and make a name for yourself, and you're going to be rich!"

"And you rake in a cut of the profits." Peter rolled his eyes and pushed past him, ignoring his calls for him to come back and that they would be 'going places' together, 'Wherever he's going I don't wanna follow.' He thought. He might have to come back here eventually, but that would have entailed staying here for longer than a month to pay more rent to that 'home' he had and that was a thought he didn't want to entertain. Finding Octavius shouldn't take that long...

At least that's what he kept telling himself.

He breathed a sigh of relief as the cold wind hit his cheeks and he stepped outside, the smell of blood, alcohol and sweat finally leaving him as he walked away. He'd take a little cold over that any day. Now he just had to-

"Fuck out of here, kid!"

Looking back, he raised an eyebrow at the scene that greeted him: The guard at the door shoving a girl probably no older than fifteen to the ground, a scowl on his previously bored face. The girl herself didn't seem to care, however, standing up and looking at the bouncer with a fierce glare. Everything was telling him not to get involved, but of course he found himself walking closer regardless, "How many times we gotta tell you that you ain't welcome here!?" The guard screamed, looking down at her fiercely, "Your mom made it clear that if she caught your skinny little ass here there'd be trouble, so stay the hell out! You know what she'd do to Earl if she found out you were here!?"

"Fuck if I know, and it's not my fucking problem!" She snarled, hands balling into fists while her long brown hair whipped around in response to her actions, "Just cause you're a sick fuck with a MILF fetish doesn't mean you get to kick me out!" She stamped her foot, refusing to let up, "Just let me in there! I got cash, I can pay-"

"Girl, you could be a co-star in Fantastic Four and I still wouldn't let you in!" The Negro man crossed his arms, blocking the entrance when the girl tried to rush past him inside, "You wanna bet on something? Fine, but you do it away from here. I ain't taking the heat for you again, Lana, not after what happened last time! So get your ass outta here before I lose my patience and stop playing nice."

She didn't listen. Again she made an attempt to slip past him, which was cut short when she was pushed to the ground again, "Ow, you fucking asshole! You get your jollies beating up girls, that it? No wonder you gotta pay people to fuck your ugly ass!"

"You know what? I ain't dealing with this." He threw up his hands and rolled his eyes before walking inside, turning to look at the coughing girl on the ground one last time, "Oh, and Lana? Make sure to tell your mom I'll be seeing her later real soon...and tell her to wear that pair I like. She knows the one I'm talking about." The sound of the door clicking shut followed his announcement. He'd locked it.

He saw the teenage girl stand and jiggle the doorknob, but it refused to budge, "You fucking asshole!" She kicked the metal surface, an action she quickly regretted judging by how she was hopping on one foot with a spew of curses that would make a sailor blush, "When I get my hands on you I'll-"

"You ain't kicking that door down. Not unless you wanna break your other foot, too." Peter interrupted, causing her to turn and glare at him. Now that he got a better look at her he was definitely right; she was young, and the thick jacket and pants she wore only seemed to add to that. Pale skin and long brown hair with some dark makeup, nothing he hadn't seen before. The only thing out of the ordinary that he saw was a skull pendant hanging on her neck bobbing in time time with her pained hopping.

"Fuck off, asswipe!" She leaned against the wall and let out another expletive before looking to glare at him, "Look, I don't know who you are but you can just skip on out of here, dickhead! I'm not in the mood for whatever you're selling..."

"Just curious." He shrugged, "What's a kid like you doing trying to get into a place like that?"

"Kid? Huh, real fucking rich coming from you!" She snapped back, "Dunno who you're trying to fool what 'old guy' act, but you're not much older than I am so knock that shit off!"

"Point taken." He raised both hands in a peaceful gesture, "Still aren't answering, Why are you trying to get in there? I've been inside and it's not exactly a place where teenage girls go to have a good time.

"Fuck's it to you? None of your business, dickhead!"

Peter sighed; this was getting nowhere, "If you say so..." He turned around and made a show of walking away, one of the stacks of money 'accidentally' falling from his pants pocket. He had a pretty good guess on what she was planning to do there - Either she was planning to bet on the fights or participate herself, and for some reason he was leaning towards the former. Who knew why she wanted it. Maybe she was going to donate it to the church, maybe she wanted to buy tickets for one of those 'boyband' concerts (and he thought opera was weird...).

Either way maybe giving his pseudo-illegal gains to someone else who needed it would make him feel better.

He'd barely taken his fourth step before he heard a yelled 'Hey, asshole!' from behind. Looking back, he found the girl stomping (well, more like hopping with that bad foot of hers) towards him before she pushed the fallen stack of dough to his chest painfully, "Yeah, I know an 'accidental' fall when I see it. You can keep your fucking pity party to yourself. I'm not gotta put out and spread my legs just cause you're giving me some cash, you prick."

"You think I'm paying you to sleep with me?" He looked away, face knotting in disgust, "Look, you're either there because you want to bet on the fights or you wanna try your luck in the cage and frankly I don't recommend either."

"So what, you're giving me three hundred bucks out of the 'goodness of your heart'?" She asked back incredulously, "Yeah, you want something. Unless you're trying to be Mother fucking Theresa I'm not buying it. Saints don't come down this part of town and if they do they don't last very long." She looked up at him, eyes narrowed in suspicion. The kid was paranoid and thought there was a catch to everything...smart girl, even if that wasn't that case now. A healthy dose of paranoia never hurt anyone.

"Believe what you want, then. It's not my problem." He grabbed the dollars from her hands and let them fall to the snowy ground, "Take it if you want, leave it on the ground if you don't or give it to an orphanage. Either way it's not my business what you do with them."

He turned and walked away, not bothering to look back and see what she did. It was a pointless gesture, more for his own benefit than hers, but hey he was still human. Maybe if he was lucky she was a girl with a sick little brother who she was trying to get money for. God only knew he needed a bit of an ego boost after the constant pile of crap he'd been getting since he got here.


Peter was halfway through the alleyway before he heard it. The sound of crunching footsteps, the tapping of a cane against the brick walls.

"...Didn't think I'd be seeing you again."

Turning around, he stared through narrowed eyes at the red haired main in the gray suit walking towards him. Matt Murdock, Carrot Top, the 'Devil of Hell's Kitchen' and the bane of many a prosecutor looking for a conviction. He didn't know much about him given their brief first meeting, but the papers sure loved to mention him. A 'miracle worker' who turned guaranteed convictions to innocent verdicts, most of his clients being members of Wilson Fisk's criminal gang.

Even in a madhouse some things never changed, and Fisk was still a fat bastard with more ambition than rationality. Daredevil would have gotten an aneurysm at seeing it, he was certain.

Granted he had no idea whether Murdock was a member or not, but the way his spider-sense blared just by being near him wasn't giving him a good feeling.

"Neither did I, truth be told, and yet you handled yourself in dealing with Mr. Joseph's gang rather admirably." The blind(?) lawyer tapped the cane on the ground, an easy smile on his face, "It occurs to me that I need aid in another matter and your capabilities will be perfect for the job. Don't worry, you'll be very well-compensated for them, I assure you. You may not be a proper employee, but that's no excuse for sub-par rewards, after all."

"I'm not interested in working for Fisk's gang." He bit back, a scowl on his unmasked face. Murdock knew who he was; blind or not there was no hiding from him. The next best thing was to show no weaknesses, "Money doesn't interest me."

There was no twitch, no indication that he even acknowledged the accusation. The smile still remained on his face as he deliberated his next words, "I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about, and I find it amusing that you think what I'm offering you is something as crude as money." He laughed, though it held no trace of amusement, "No, what I offer you is something far more substantial: Information on the family you've spent days seeking out, risking your life against the operations of the Maggia to find."

...He was well-informed, he gave him that. Peter did his best to keep his voice level when he replied, "What do you know about Castle's family?"

"That's not how this works, Mister Spider." There was that emotionless laugh again, "I offer a transaction: You help me solve a little matter and I give you the information. You could of course attempt to torture me, but I must assure you I've faced far worse than a few broken fingers or a shot to the stomach and I will not break. If you don't believe my information to be legitimate then you're free to walk away, of course, but given the accuracy of the last one I offered you I believe you know better than to think I'm lying to you. One does not establish a good rapport by ripping off potential partners, after all."

He was playing with him...using him. As far as he knew there were two main crime families in this madhouse - The one belonging to Fisk and the other belonging to some old bastard called Silvermane. If Murdock was a member of Fisk's little cabal (and Hammerhead seemed to think he was) then he stood to benefit the most for that blockhead losing the weapon's shipment and the Maggia losing one of their top dogs.

Either he played along and stopped them or he did nothing and let them commit their crimes. Either way someone won, and it wasn't him.

"...I'm not going to kill someone for you."

"And I wasn't asking you to. You're more than just a lowly hitman for hire, and I wouldn't sully your skills with something as crass as killing some gangbanger down the block." He pulled out a picture with an address written in the bottom. Peter raised an eyebrow; the dame in the photo was a Negro, though with platinum blonde hair he usually didn't see with others of their skin tone. The way she was posing, reclining back in her chair while surrounded by cats and looking right at the camera, indicated that it was a professional shot. Someone famous, maybe? She seemed pretty enough.

"...What do you want from me?"

"This woman stole something that belonged to my employer, an object of sentimental value: His first dollar." Again, Peter raised an eyebrow. This was starting to sound sillier by the second, "My task for you is to retrieve what she was stolen and bring it back. In exchange I will give you the information I have and then we will part amicably."

"So you want me to be a thief..." He took the picture and noted the address for later, "Do I have a deadline on this before your goons start burning my place down?"

"Nothing like that. I suspect the dollar will be in her possession for the foreseeable future, although the more you sit on this the more Mr. Castle's family might be in danger. Ultimately it's up to you."

Peter scowled at the implied warning, folding the picture and putting it in his pocket in lieu of punching the smug bastard in the face, "Fine, I'll give it to you when the job's done...let me guess, you'll know it when it happens, right?" He clicked his tongue at Murdock's nod. He needed to look out for whatever spies he was using to keep track of him, "What's her name, then?"

"Le Chat Noir, though her birth name is Felicia Hardy. She's a very famous singer if you follow those circles, though I personally don't see the appeal."

He kept it better concealed this time, but he still couldn't help his heart rate spiking or the frown that enveloped his face at the sound of the name. Felicia Hardy...this madhouse was throwing everything at him, wasn't it? Jameson, Gwen Stacy, Mary Jane Watson, Uncle Ben and finally her. If- When he made it back home he would need a lot of therapy...though if Xavier came anywhere near him he'd break both of his hands.

"Something the matter, Mister Spider? Come now, don't tell me you're on of Miss Hardy's fans."

"Maybe I am. Either way it's none of your business."

With a mumbled 'fair enough' the lawyer turned and left, leaving the alley with a confidence he'd never see on a blind man back home.

Peter slumped against the alley's wall and let himself fall, sitting down with his knees to his chest and releasing a heavy breath,"Felicia..." He closed his eyes, lips quivering slightly despite his best efforts. It wasn't her. The woman he...cared about was back home, and she certainly wasn't some kind of Negro broadway starlet like she seemed to be here. He just had to get a grip and do what carrot top wanted him to do for now. Maybe then...then he could pretend he knew what the hell he was doing.

Another vibration in his pocket jolted him out of his reverie. Surprisingly enough it wasn't Spider-Woman, but rather an 'unknown number' with a message attached, "The hell...?" He clicked the button and read the message.

"Hey, this is Gwen. Spider-Woman gave me your number since she thinks I'm your friend - You are, right? Cause if not then awkwwwaaard. Anyway, she seemed bummed, did something happen? Nevermind, probably don't want to know. But hey, I got pizza and hot chocolate again ;D If you wanna talk or just want some free food then come to the roof. Murderface is gonna be there too :P"

Huh...maybe talking with a friend would do him some good. Carefully typing back an 'okay', he made his way back to his apartment to get his costume. Spider-Woman might have put a collar on his neck and Murdock might have been trying to pull his strings, but at least he had one person he could trust in this madhouse.


That went on a bit longer than expected. Anyway, I wanted to show Peter delving into science books and the like but he hasn't exactly fully settled just yet. Maybe next time :) Read, review, give suggestions or whatever.

Chapter Text

This wasn't happening.

Eugene gaped at the screen of the television in front of him, the words plastered at the bottom of the screen only causing his jaw to lower even more, "Frog-Man released..." He muttered, hands pressed together tightly in an almost-prayer. The words of the news reporters came in one ear and out the other; they could have been talking about a meteor about to crash in the middle of New York and he wouldn't have heard it. Only one thing kept repeating in his head.

His dad had made parole.

"Oh God..." He pressed his thumbs to his forehead and groaned. One of the news anchors made a leapfrog pun, the other one giving a forced laugh at the 'hilarious' joke. On the side-screen he could see various people being interviewed about their feelings about the 'local celebrity' coming back to his usual haunt. Most people didn't even know he was being released (and he couldn't blame them) and the few that did...weren't exactly fans.

"Well, I'm more embarrassed than anything else! Honestly, a man his age dressed like a frog of all things! I'm ashamed to be his neighbor!"

"Man, he's just a guy trying to buck the system. In a frog suit."

"Wait...wasn't his name Man-Frog?"

Eugene grimaced and leaned back on the ratty couch. His aunt was out of the house, which was good cause he was pretty sure she would have cheered at the news and he really didn't need another blow to his self-esteem. She was one of those 'free spirits', which more or less meant trying to be a glorious bachelorette even though she was on the early side of forty and couldn't pull off hotpants anymore. With his dad back she would get her 'independent lifestyle' back, and really he couldn't even blame her. If he was her he'd be cheering about not having to take care of a deadbeat brother's kid too.

Then again his dad dressed up in a frog suit to steal from diners so what did he know?

He should have been happy, right? Most kids cheered when their dads got parole...unless they were complete shitheads as parents. Granted his dad wasn't exactly father of the year - he couldn't recall ever having idyllic times playing catch in the front lawn or being taught how to fix up a motorcyle - but he couldn't say he was a crappy parent either. They were just like every teenager and parent who lived in this suburban Siberia.

They mostly ignored each other; Eugene being too busy with schoolwork or trying to bring up his (nonexistent) rep while his dad tinkered with his inventions to keep them afloat and pay for his mom's cancer treatments...well, mostly just keeping them afloat now that she'd passed away, but same difference. What gave his dad the bright idea to start a career as a Supervillain (and he used that term very loosely) he had no idea, but really it didn't matter. In the end it was the same.

Eugene wasn't anyone special, relation to Frog-Man aside. He was slightly more on the rotund side than most other people with a head of ginger-blonde hair (both things he got from his mom), but other than that no one would be able to discern him in a crowd unless they were looking. He was average, painfully so some would say, and nowadays he preferred it that way.

Ever since his dad got outed as being a 'Supervillain' - again, very loose term - the teasing and insults never let up. Only by a rigid method of conformity and clamming up on himself did he go all the way up to being tolerated, and nowadays being teased for being Frog-Man junior was only brought up lazily whenever someone really had nothing else to do between going online, hanging out with friends or doing schoolwork. It almost made him think that just maybe he could go through high school without getting turned into a geek cliche or being dateless for the upcoming prom.

He turned off the television with a groan and stared up at the cracked paint of the ceiling. Everyone knew the story: Small time suburbanite Vincent Patillio decided he would break bad and join the big leaguers like Rhino, Vulture or Shocker in the big city. With a smile on his face (How could they tell? The mask covered everything!) and an evil laugh (Sounded more like a cough from a smoking fit...) he started his 'crime spree' and robbed his first diner, taking the cash register entirely and hopping his way to start a wave of crime the city had never seen before.

And he would have...if Spider-Woman didn't make an ass of him on live TV.

Releasing another groan, he adjusted his position till he was lying on the couch with his head on the armrest. There was ho way anyone could miss it: His father, hopping away with a cash register on hand to count his spoils, and he would have gotten away with it too if it wasn't for that 'meddling Spider-Woman and those pesky TV reporters'. Hell, the reporters weren't even there for him. They were doing some news story on sewage when she and his dad passed by and they were 'lucky' enough to video the superhero webbing his dad across the back and immortalizing his shame.

It was hell after that. This little suburban piece of the world never had anything happen to it; the worst that ever happened were some jocks loitering on the corner store and shoplifting some beef jerky. Seeing one one of their own making a complete ass of himself on live TV gave them someone to pick on. Supervillains weren't exactly rare in New York, but it was pretty rare to see someone fuck up so bad. Hell, even Stilt-Man got a few licks in now and then!

His dad, on the other hand? Complete loser, and he was the son of that guy. Frog-Man junior as far as everyone else was concerned.

The sound of the door opening snapped him out of his thoughts. Looking up, he found not his aunt with another one of her 'paramours' but rather his dad entering the house with an uncertain look on his face.

"...Dad?" Eugene asked, sitting up on the couch in surprise.

"Hey, son, how ya been?" His dad strode into his aunt's house slowly, a small smile on his face and his hands stuffed into the pockets of his old jeans. Already Eugene had mixed thoughts; one part happy to see his dad again and that his time in jail didn't look like it'd wrecked him while the other part cruelly reminded him why he was in jail in the first place.

"I...it's been okay..." He mumbled, scrambling to stand up properly. He knew the news report had been delayed - it came after a segment on dog cleaning, for fuck's sake - but he didn't expect to see him so soon.

"Ah, good...that's good..."

The conversation died quickly, replaced by an awkward and uncomfortable silence. His dad wasn't exactly the most affectionate before his life of crime (well, mischief) and now he had his criminal (again, mischief) record hanging over his head.

"So...how was prison?" Eugene asked, only to immediately wince afterwards. That definitely wasn't the right question to ask an ex-con, even if said 'criminal' was his dad.

Thankfully he didn't seem to mind, even laughing slightly before sitting down on the couch, "Ah, it was...well, mostly boring if I'm being honest. They make you think it's this concrete house for hardened criminals, but the place I went to was...well, I wouldn't say it was good but it ain't as bad as it could be. I mean I got a bed, a toilet and I was fed. Wasn't so bad, right?"

"Yeah, sure..."

The rest of the afternoon passed by in a blur. He'd packed quickly (not like he had much things...) and they made their way back to their house. Thankfully no one seemed to recognize either of them just yet, but he didn't count on that lasting long. Once word on the news spread - and it would because the guys around here were practically bloodhounds - his life of conformity and tolerance was going to go down faster than Jameson's approval polls.

His dad tried to make conversation, asking him about school or how he'd been in general ever since he got incarcerated a year ago. Eugene did his best to answer, but he was distracted. He loved his dad, he'd argue against anyone that told him otherwise, but he couldn't deny that the whole Frogger thing really screwed him over. Once he could walk down the hallway with a few people asking him if everything was cool, but now he was lucky if he could be ignored on his way to the bathroom.

Seeing his room again brought up more mixed feelings. It'd been a year since he'd left the place but everything was the same. Making his way to the bed, he grabbed the blankets and sneezed at the onset of dust that wafted up his nose, "Perfect..." He sat on the mattress and sighed. School was going to be absolutely hell tomorrow, he was sure of it. Nothing interesting was going on so he might as well have painted a target on his back.


He was absolutely right.

"Oh, fucking shit..." He shut his eyes tightly, halfway hoping that maybe it was all just his imagination, but when he opened them again he was met with the same sight: Crude drawings of an exaggerated frog, 'frogboy' and other insults scribbled all over the door of his locker. He got them back then too, but when the hype died down people eventually left him alone and he cleaned it up to look like every other shitty locker in this place.

Now everything - the drawings, the writing and everything else - was fresh. People definitely knew.

Punching in the combination, he let out a small sigh of relief when he saw that at least the inside of it was still untouched. Small blessings, he guessed, "Guess they didn't want to get into too much trouble..." He grabbed two of his textbooks and stuffed them into his old backpack. All he had to do was keep his head down and get to class. Maybe if he was lucky he could make it to the weekend without-

"Yo, Frogboy!"

...Or maybe he'd get shit on before first period started. Whatever worked.

Holding back a grimace, he turned to the source of the voice and found two of the people he wanted to see least, J.J, Tony...how's it going?" He forced a smile before quickly closing his locker. He didn't want the inside vandalized too.

Tony Slimms and J.J Kohak, the closest thing this place had to big men on campus. Honestly Eugene thought they came straight out of a teen movie: Two jocks who hit the glass ceiling in high school and they'd spend the rest of their lives working in a gas station. They certainly weren't good enough to get scholarships considering the losing streak the school was going through, but they were big and they wore Letterman jackets so they were the top dogs as far as everyone else was concerned.

"It's going pretty good, Froggy!"

Tony came up on one side, J.J on the other. They were boxing him in, trying to keep him from getting anyone else to help...though really who'd stick his neck out for Frog-Man junior? Everyone around him was either ignoring what was happening or they were looking and laughing it up. Even the teachers wouldn't do anything to help him. As far as they were all concerned he was the certified punching bag.

"So, heard your dad got out of prison!" J.J said, the black buzz cut and and wide grin he was sporting reminding him eerily of the army general of a board game he played when he was younger, "And we were thinking about recruiting him for something."

"O-Oh yeah...?" Eugene asked back, holding his bag tighter against himself like a safety blanket. God, he felt like such a loser. They were going to insult him, make fun of his dad and smear his already crap reputation and he would just sit here and take it with a smile.

"Yeah, totally!" Tony continued, his shaggy blonde hair swishing as he nodded just a little bit too eagerly, "We were thinking of making a group of villains to be humiliated by Spider-Woman and we need a leader with, you know, experience! Know anyone like that?"

There it was. They wanted to hear him say it, wanted to see if he'd throw his own dad under the bus to avoid a beating. He could have said anything, could have insulted Tony about his dad getting his mom pregnant then leaving her a couple years in or J.J's dad getting drunk and smacking his car on a telephone pole. He could have said that they were better supervillains than his dad ever was; 'The Drunk Driver' and 'The Deadbeat Dad' had a certain ring to it, right?

Instead, he decided to grin and bear it.

"Hey, yeah, my dad's an expert at that..." He muttered, which caused the two to start guffawing like damn hyenas. He'd sacrificed a part of his soul and all of his pride, but he'd avoided a beating; a fair trade off as anything could be to a high school student. He'd tried being smart before when his dad first got arrested, but the punches to the gut and them not getting in trouble because they were the closest this place had to athletes made him reconsider.

The rest of the school day wasn't any better. Most of his classmates just loved to remind him that 'Frog-Man sucks!' like it was going out of style and the few that didn't were content to just ignore him. Ever since his friend Jerome moved away he'd practically faded into the background and the only people he could really hang out with were the 'Mystery Team', and even he wasn't enough of a loser to consider hanging out with those three dorks.

Oh, and his teachers weren't any better.

"Sure you're okay, Eugene? Wouldn't want you to get written out of the will for murder!" Mr Letzmer asked, the old dickhead's voice filled with faked concern. He never liked the crotchety old prick; he was a crappy teacher who liked dissecting animals way too much to be considered healthy. But hell it wasn't like anyone else would teach here so they let that go too.

He could hear his classmates snickering, Tony using one of the frogs to make a 'Eugene, I am your father!' joke while the teacher played along. Again Eugene just sucked it up cause, really, what the fuck else was he supposed to do? It was his word against the two 'star athletes' and what passed for a science teacher in this place so he kept quiet. As long as he made it home he could go online and try to forget about his problems till the next day.

Classes came and went but eventually the merciful blaring of the dismissal bell rang throughout the school. Before anyone else could get a last hit in he rushed to his locker, stuffed his books as quickly as he could before running out of the school gates. His classmates and the other teens might have made fun of him, and so did that prick Letzmer, but everyone else around the neighborhood usually just blamed his dad and looked at him like he was a victim. He guessed that there were some things to being old.

He had nothing else to do, so he found himself wandering around the neighborhood aimlessly. His dad was out - spending his allotted hours out of the house - trying to find a job, so he was pretty free. Eugene wished him luck, though he had his doubts it'd be so easy. Ex-cons in shows always had a hard time getting a callback and even though his dad's 'life of crime' wasn't exactly glamorous a criminal record was a criminal record.

He found himself walking to Mr. Fitch's place. The Pump n' Go gas station was the closest thing this place had to a hangout, and even then it was mostly filled with loitering junkies because Mr. Fitch didn't really mind them staying as long as long as they didn't make a mess. He liked the old guy, even if he could be a crusty bastard sometimes. If there was one person he could guarantee wouldn't screw him because his dad was back it'd be him.

"Get back here you little fucks!"

...Right on cue.

Turning the corner, he watched dully as a couple of skaters dashed out of the corner store with their stolen loot of day old beef jerky while Mr. Fitch chased after them. The chase, if he could even call it that, didn't last long. The pair passed by Eugene without even a second glance before hopping on their boards, skating away and high-fiving one another as the old Black man stopped close to him with a flurried series of pants.

"Damn kids...!" He wheezed, hands on his knees and continuing to look at the ground. The two guys probably didn't even want the jerky; messing with the Pump n' Go owner was practically tradition at this point. It was one of the few things people did here considering they didn't even have a mall...they were so close to New York and it still felt like they were in the boonies. At this point he was pretty sure everyone but Mr. Fitch knew about the joke.

"Hey, Mr. Fitch..." Eugene greeted, one hand rubbing the back of his head awkwardly while another offered to help him up.

"Who's that- Oh, it's you, kid." The older man accepted his hand gratefully and straightened himself up, "Ah, damn skater kids! Little bastards stole another packet of jerky!" He spat to the side and glared at where the pair ran away from, "Don't even know why! It's always the same thing, too!"

"Yeah...how weird..." He mumbled, sinking into the folds of his jacket. The winter didn't hit as hard here, but it didn't do much to fix his nerves. He wanted to tell the poor guy the truth, but his reputation was already shot; snitching to Mr. Fitch would upgrade him from 'Frog-Man junior' to 'Frog-Man junior and a little snitch' and that was definitely something he didn't need.

Still, a part of him was already beginning a lecture on how he should have at least stuck his leg out to trip one of them. He could have passed it off as an accident, at least...

"Nothing for it, I guess." He sighed and trudged back to the shop, Eugene following after him awkwardly, "Hey, I heard about your pops. You doing okay? His time in prison...make him worse?"

"Huh? Oh, no...same old same old." He shrugged halfheartedly. Mr. Fitch didn't care if his dad dressed up in a frog suit, just that he stole something that didn't belong to him. He supposed it made sense coming from a guy who stealing from was a sort of hazing, "He's out looking for a job, though I doubt he'll find one...it's one of the reasons I came here, actually. Would you...?"

"Give him a job?" He finished. With a chuckle he sat on the chair behind the counter and rubbed his white mustache, "Hell, I like you, kid, but I'm not sure I want an ex-con working the register considering what he tried to pull." He licked his lips and sat up straighter to look him in the eye, "You wanna job here then I'm all for it, but for your dad? 'Fraid I can't help you there, sorry. Maybe once I see that he's really on the up-and-up."

"Nah, it's fine. I understand..." Eugene sighed and grabbed a soda, sliding the crumpled bill to him sluggishly. It was to be expected, of course, but it still left him feeling deflated. At this rate it'd be a miracle if his dad could find a job considering his 'infamous' reputation in town, "I...wanted to apologize for not helping earlier, too." He drank the soda forcefully, trying to ignore the way his stomach churned in discomfort.

"Ah, it's fine. Between you and me, they got the expired jerky!" He winked, and Eugene grinned back weakly in response. It was nice to see that the old guy could still find it in him to not be a complete prick even though the entire town treated him like he was a beef jerky pinata, "And hey, you need anything you come on back, you hear? If your dad gives you any trouble I got a bat you can use."

"Heh...sure."

He was back home before he knew it, the sun still high in the sky as if taunting him about his lack of social life. When he opened the door he wasn't surprised to find it empty; his dad still outside trying to find some work and probably breaking his limited hours away from the home clause that came with the house arrest. If he found anyone who was willing to throw him a bone in this place it'd be a miracle.

With a sigh, Eugene walked lazily to the couch and plopped himself on top of it. It was lazy and he knew it, but his chat with Mr. Fitch killed any thoughts of going online to forget about his problems. He wished he could have helped him, but really what could he do? Besides, a voice in his head would remind him, it's just beef jerky. Mr. Fitch could survive having a few packets of dry beef being taken from him...

"Wonder what's on?" He fumbled for the remote and turned on the television. A televised match of She-Hulk beating some no-name jobber immediately came on the screen and he shifted in his seat. He ignored the fight, ignored the screaming of the announcer, and just started at the green-skinned amazon dominating the screen. She showed up a few years ago and took the wrestling world by storm and even now she was still running strong. He knew it was all Kayfabe, of course, but she definitely put on a good show and he could appreciate that.

That and she was really hot and made sure everyone knew it.

His mind wandered to fantasies. Being a hero must have been amazing: Fighting villains, saving crowds of people from doom, being asked for autographs and all that stuff. That and he could help people without having to worry about all that dumb stuff. He wouldn't have to worry if he would be considered a snitch or a loser for not just ignoring the bad crap that happened and playing along like it didn't bother him.

Before he realized it the sun was finally setting and the living room began to turn dark. His dad still wasn't home, so either he was still looking for a job or he was officially on the lam and it was back to living with his bachelorette aunt; and honestly he couldn't tell what was worse.

A knock on the door caused him to sit up. His dad never knocked, which meant it was likely some other kids from school coming to tell him how much his dad sucked. Shaking his head, he turned up the volume of the television - an interview with She-Hulk on her next match - and doggedly ignored the soft taps that came from the entrance. Maybe if he just ignored them they would go away and he could wait until tomorrow before getting humiliated again. There was only so much he could take in one day.

Except it didn't stop. Eyes, narrowing he turned off the TV and pressed his palms against his face with a groan, "Yo, Vincent...you there?" An unfamiliar female voice called out. His brows furrowed; a woman? Since when did his dad have lady friends? Shaking his head, he stood up and made his way to the door. If they were there for his dad then they probably weren't here to humiliate him. He'd just open the door, tell whoever it was that his dad still wasn't home, then look up some stuff online.

Seeing the one standing on the other side of the door immediately put an end to all those plans.

Spider-Woman was standing on his porch. Eugene's jaw drop in shock, his heart beating rapidly against his chest like a drum. He must have been hallucinating or one of his classmates from school was playing a prank on him with a fake costume. Any second now she was going to punch him in the gut and they were going to come out of the bushes with a camera to post it all over headbook.

The awkward silence lasted for another minute before she coughed, one hand waving in front of his face to make sure he was still awake, "Uh...is this the house of Vincent Patillio? I couldn't really get directions but the effigy up front told me this was the place..." She jerked her thumb to the crude paper-mache frog that was hanging on the tree on his front yard with a 'Will work for dignity' sign stapled to it. He'd seen it earlier but didn't really see the point of taking it down. If he did the guy who wasted his time making it would probably just hang another one.

"Um...uh..." His mouth opened and closed like a fish gasping for breath, any words he wanted to say immediately dying in his throat.

"Right...well, I think I got the wrong address so-"

"V-Vincent's here! Frog-Man lives here! H-H-He's my dad, I mean!" Eugene fumbled out, words coming out in a rush despite his best efforts, "M-My name's Eugene, I'm his son...well, you know that already cause I told you he's my dad, but yeah..." He closed his eyes tightly and grimaced. God, could he make any more of an ass of himself? Bad enough he was a loser in school but now he was being a spaz in front of a superhero.

He heard her laugh softly before he could say anything else, the sound causing him to feel even more self-conscious, "Hey, no need to be nervous. I'm not here to cause any harm." She extended a hand, which he took after a few seconds of staring, and shared a stiff handshake with him, "I'm just here to check on old Vinnie. You know, make sure he's keeping his house clean and staying on the up and up. He even told me to visit him after he served his time."

"H-He did?" He let go of her hand, standing up straighter to regain some of his pride, "H-He didn't say anything about that."

"Ah, it was while we were waiting for the police. He told me about how he saw the errors of his ways and that if I wanted proof I could check up on him after he was released. Not sure if he was being serious about it, but here I am." She shugged lazily, "Sorry if I'm dropping in so late. You wouldn't believe how hard it is to get a cab sometimes, I tell ya. Least the guy who dropped me off gave me his number so I could call him back."

"O-Oh..." He gulped and looked back at the dark interior of the house for a moment before looking back at her, "W-Well, my dad's not here right now, a-actually. He's still out trying to find a job..." And likely failing cause if a guy like Mr. Fitch wasn't hiring who would?

"Huh, that's nice of him." She nodded, a hand on her chin like she'd just learned something profound, "Well...this kinda makes things kinda tricky. I was hoping to talk to him, maybe bury the hatchet if he's still holding a grudge, but if he's not here-"

He didn't know what compelled him to say what he said next, but whatever it was he wanted to bury it six feet under once he got his hands on it, "You could come in and wait. I'm sure he'll be back soon." He suggested, the words miraculously holding no trace of a stutter, "Uh...just a suggestion, though. If you wanna leave then...cool, it's just a suggestion though. I mean, I'm not going to force you or anything-"

"Woah, calm down!" She clapped his shoulder cheerily, which did little to help his nervousness, "It's just...are you sure you're cool with it? I'm not gonna go in there to find your dad with a baseball bat promising revenge, right?"

"No, definitely not!"

"Huh...well, sure, I guess." She shrugged again, "It'd be nice to sit down, it's been a real rough day. Hope you don't mind..." She looked to the side and her 'eyes' narrowed when she saw there was nothing there. Eugene could only wonder what she was looking for, "...Or you just do your ninja BS and leave, sure. Whatever works." She sighed, looking at him apologetically, "Lead the way."

Eugene stepped aside and let the superheroine inside, taking only a moment to look around to see if anyone else had caught their exchange. Thankfully the street was mostly barren save a small kid on a tricycle gaping at the unlikely pair, so he was safe. As glad as he was to have a chance to talk to Spider-Woman herself he didn't need any more mocking and insults that she just came there to kick his ass.

She was already in the living room by the time he got there, her arms crossed and her attention drawn to a re-run of She-Hulk's match, "Huh, been a while since I watched wrestling. Didn't realize she went back to being a Heel."

"R-Really? I thought you attended a few matches..." He placed his hands in his pockets and took a deep breath, "Uh...why don't you take a seat? I'm...I'm sure dad's going to be home soon so you could, you know, have your talk with him."

"Sure, thanks." She plopped down on the end of the couch, right leg crossing over her left as she adjusted her place on the lumpy seat. Even through the relative darkness of the room Eugene saw the way the spandex stretched across her legs and gulped nervously. He'd seen her on television before, even searched up pictures and fanart of her on Giigle, but seeing her in person was...well, he didn't know how else to describe it. The best he could think of was a fan meeting a celebrity during a meet and greet, but she wasn't just a celebrity. She was a hero (though some said criminal...) and she was sitting on his couch.

"Kinda dark here..." She mumbled, looking around the living room.

"O-Oh, yeah, sorry!" He cringed, "We're trying to save power till dad gets back on his feet, you know? If you want I could-"

"Nah, it's fine. I'm not scared of the dark. Besides, I get the feeling a certain someone prefers it." She raised her voice, though Eugene didn't see anyone else. Shaking her head, she clapped her hands together once and before looking at him again, "So...how's Vinny been? I gotta admit I wasn't expecting him to have a kid. I mean when you see a guy jumping around in a frog suit calling himself Frog-Man your first really isn't 'Doesn't he have a kid?' or whatever...no offense."

"None taken..." He coughed and pointedly tried to avoid looking at her and worsening his already red cheeks. He didn't trust where his eyes would go to, "It...It was a surprise to me too, you know? I was at school when I heard the news. Dad said he was going to town for some business, I...didn't think he was going to try and be a Supervillain."

"God...I'm sorry about that. I didn't think-"

"S'not your fault. You were being a hero, stopping the supervillain and whatever. No one forced dad to act like a douche or anything..." He sighed. Talking about it with Spider-Woman felt even more humiliating than hearing the insults coming from his schoolmates, "It's just...I'm hoping dad doesn't hold a grudge, you know? I mean you're a hero, going out there kicking bad guy ass and taking names, so..."

"Yeah, thanks." She replied, another short laugh escaping her, "I just wanted to check in, you know? Most Supervillains - again, no offense - don't really make an effort to turn things around. Most of em bust out of jail or they're repeat offenders, so I was hoping to find at least one person who actually serves his time and tries to turn their life around.

"My dad's not much of a supervillain...you kicked his ass on TV and all."

"Hey, I'll admit a frog suit wasn't who I was expecting but I do think your dad can actually do pretty good things. I'm no science whiz, but those spring-boots of his could be useful to the right person. He managed to make those with crap he could buy at the hardware store, so he's obviously pretty good. I just hope he can actually do something with those smarts other than trying to steal diner registers."

"Maybe..." He frowned. The pep-talk was appreciated, but it just reminded him how much of an idiot his pops was being dressing up like a giant toad, "I'll...I'll get you some water or something."

He waved away her 'I don't want be any trouble' and made his way to the kitchen, the empty room finally giving him a chance to rein in his embarrassment. His cheeks felt hot and even now his heart was going a mile a minute because Goddamit there was a superhero in his living room and he was acting like a complete idiot! He'd seen her before on videos on the youweb and the news and people claiming to 'know her' on tweeter and various forums.

But never in all his life did he think he'd ever actually get a chance to have a conversation with her...and it was because of his dad getting embarrassed on live television.

'Come on, Eugene, you can do this...' He shook his head and got two glasses from the cabinet, filling them up with water from the tap. He just needed to calm down and not make an ass of himself in front of the superhero. As long as he didn't act like one of those creeps on red carpet hijinx it would be cool. He could have a civil conversation with her, watch her talk with his dad and then he could say goodbye without looking like a weirdo stalker because he bought a Spider-Woman hoodie when he went into town a few months ago.

...Right, better he not mention the hoodie.

He was about to open the door to the living room before he heard muffled voices. Was his dad home?

"What are we doing here?" The voice didn't sound familiar at all. Eugene's eyes narrowed but he kept quiet, "This...Man-Frog, is he really worth all this?"

"Told you, we're here to make sure he's on the up-and-up. The fact that he has a kid just makes me even more worried, you know? He got released early cause it was his first time offense but if he tries any more shit Eugene's going to be left here without a father."

"Then you should have done this alone." The word was said in a hiss and he felt his hands shake. Whoever he was he sounded pissed, "I know you're holding my leash, but that doesn't mean you get to walk me like a dog. I'll fight with you, I won't use guns, but I'm not going to let myself get dragged along whenever you get bored and decide to check on petty thief ex-cons."

"Would you get your head out of your ass?" He heard her snap, "There's more to this gig than kicking people's teeth in. What's the point of stopping criminals and putting them in jail if they're just going to turn around and do the same shit over and over again? I just want to make sure we don't have to deal with another Supervillain and that he's taking care of his son."

"Whatever you say, boss..."

Curiosity finally won over hesitation and he pushed the door open a crack. He could see Spider-Woman sitting on the right side of the couch, her head looking to the side. Peeking closer, he could have sworn he saw a figure standing in the shadow of the corner but a quick blink and a shake of the head later and there was nothing there. Was he just imagining things? No, he heard her talking with someone, he was sure of it.

"Is everything okay?" He asked, pushing open the door and doing his best to act like he hadn't heard anything weird.

"No, just...dealing with a friend who has a stick up his ass..." She sighed and accepted the glass of water gratefully. Almost unexpectedly she pulled her mask till it was on her nose and drank, the action so quick he almost missed it. Eugene drank his own glass nervously, eyes gravitating to her lips despite his best efforts. She wasn't wearing any make-up, at least as far as he could tell, but the water added a wet sheen to the pink surface that gave him a lot of thoughts that he didn't want to verbalize out loud.

"S-So..." He placed the glass on the table, watching with slight disappointment as she rolled her mask down again, "You...You said that you're here to make sure my dad's not doing anything, right? So...do you wanna see the garage? He keeps most of his Frog-Man stuff there. He didn't want to throw it out, said it was 'his life' or something. I don't think he's going to do anything with it, but you never know."

"Sure, but won't he get pissed? I already barged into your home."

"Nah, I'm sure he'll understand. It's just old junk now, and if he's not gonna use it then it should be cool."

"Well...alright, if you you say so."

He pointed to the garage and she walked past him, arms raised above her head in a tired stretch as she said something he couldn't make out. Again Eugene found his eyes drifting to uncomfortable places, 'Don't look at her ass, don't look at her ass, don't look at her ass...' He recited futilely. It wasn't his fault her costume was like that! She wasn't doing it on purpose, he knew that, but puberty and his hormones didn't really give a crap. There was a hot Superhero in front of him and he knew it all too well.

'Just wait till dad gets home, then everything will be cool...'


Evidently his dad wasn't cool with it.

Things were going so well. He'd brought her to the garage, showed her the table full of his dad's junk, and she seemed almost interested when she checked out the springs of the boots. She'd even jokingly suggested that he put on the costume to 'redeem the name', though he knew she was just making fun. She did that a lot, making jokes and puns even when fighting supervillains.

Still, he couldn't deny the idea was tempting. Helping people and showing up Tony and J.J? It sounded good to him.

"What the hell is going on here!?"

Whatever thoughts of a happy and civil conversation died when his dad charged into the room with a baseball bat, swinging at Spider-Woman's head like his life depended on it. Thankfully the superheroine dodged the clumsy strikes, grabbed the bat from his hands and chucked it to the corner of the garage before anything other than his pride could get hurt.

"Woah, Vinnie, good to see you too!"

"Stay away from my son!" His dad stood in front of him protectively, completely unaware of the cringe Eugene was giving him, "Whatever beef you have with me doesn't involve him, you hear me!? If you hurt a single hair on his head-"

"Woah, calm your tits, dude!" She interrupted, both hands raised in a surrendering gesture, "I've been here for a while now! Eugene invited me in so I could wait for you."

"Yeah? What do you want, then?" He spat back.

"Just wanted to make sure you were keeping on the straight and narrow." She shrugged, "And hey, you were the one who told me to check up on you when I webbed you up for our boys in blue."

"Right, well...didn't think you'd actually follow through on that so you'll pardon me if I wasn't expectin' a guest after trying to find some work." His dad crossed his arms and let out a frustrated breath, "Look...sorry about trying to whack your head off, alright? I want you to know that I don't hold a grudge for doin' what ya did, but seeing you alone with my son...well, a dad worries, you know?"

"Yeah, I know. Believe me you're not the first overprotective dad I've seen and you're not gonna be the last."

There was a fondness in her voice that surprised him, though he didn't have long to think on it before his dad was shooing him out of the door so he could talk about his 'criminal past' without his son present. Eugene wanted to protest, say that he wasn't a kid anymore, but he was out the door and on his front yard before he could say anything else. The sun was nearly setting and darkness was beginning to blanket the neighborhood.

He waited outside like a kid given a time-out for a quarter of an hour before they both eventually came out, the unlikely pair shaking hands and his dad smiling and looking damn pleased with himself.

"Sorry again about the violent reaction." His dad said.

"Hey, again, totally cool. It's clear you care about your son." She clapped his shoulder before turning to Eugene, "Hey, it was nice meeting you, Eugene. Good luck in school. Maybe we'll see each other around sometime."

"Y-Yeah, thanks Spider-Wom-"

The blaring of a car horn drowned out his next words. Turning around, he felt a sinking feeling at the pit of his stomach as he saw Tony and J.J drive by in their car, "Yo, Spider-Woman and Frog-Man are making up! You two gonna kiss and make freak kids, too!?" Tony jeered, J.J laughing next to him like the hyena he was. God he just wanted to go over them and punch them right in the face.

And then they turned over two buckets and dumped the frogs they'd dissected earlier in school right on his front lawn.

The next moments came and went in a haze. His dad swore at them, cursing and making threats for property damage while Spider-Woman just told him to not let it bother him and that it would pass eventually. 'Don't pick a fight', she'd said. Something about it never solving anything and that she knew a friend who paid the price for trying to get revenge, though he couldn't help but think that it was weird for a crime fighter to be saying that.

Eventually he and his dad had trudged back to the house - Spider-Woman calling her cab back so she could go back to the big city - and the hours passed until it was near-midnight.

Eugene found himself tossing and turning in his bed, any thoughts of going to sleep overtaken by images of Tony, J.J and Mr. Letzmer calling him a loser for having Frog-Man for a dad. His dad told him to let it go, Spider-Woman told him to let it go, but damn it he just couldn't! How long was he supposed to deal with shitheads making his life a living hell just because his dad made one mistake? Was he just supposed to keep smiling and act like he did today for the next year?

He couldn't. Even he had limits on how low he was willing to sink.

How it led to him going to the garage and putting on one of his father's spare suits he didn't know, but he had donned the full costume and was out of his garage before he could stop himself. He didn't have a plan, not really. Hell he didn't really know how the suit worked; he knew it would protect him, however slightly, from the jump's impacts but he'd zoned out when his dad explained it to him before. After all, what use would it be to him?

Evidently a lot judging by what was happening now.

"Shit, shit, shit!" He grabbed one of the tree branches, the wood snapping from his weight and joining him as he fell flat on his ass on the pavement, "Agh..." He hissed. It'd been an hour since he went out on 'patrol' and it took him nearly all that time to muster any courage to use the springs to live up to the namesake, "Son of a bitch..." He pulled himself up. How did Spider-Woman deal with all the heights and stuff?

That and there was nothing happening. Hell there was no one outside, though he considered that a blessing cause at least no one would see him making an ass of himself, "No wonder dad went to the city. The worst thing people do here is break curfew and steal jerky..." He muttered...wait, that was it! Mr. Fitch had trouble with loitering and shoplifters on the Pump n' Go!

And if he was right that's where Tony and J.J would be. They liked messing with Mr. Fitch the most and they were one of the few students who ignored the unofficial curfew.

He bounced to the gas station nervously, though thankfully he'd avoided landing on his back this time. He wouldn't say it was perfect, but a definite improvement once the first time nerves finally wore away.

He found them there as he expected, though they had an unexpected tag-along in the form of Bridget Buyers. He wasn't expecting her to be with the two troublemakers, but he couldn't let it stop him. She may have been the love of his life (or at least the girl he wanted to ask to prom) but he could finally do something about Mr. Fitch's trouble and get back at the two for all the grief they'd given him.

"Okay, you loitering son of- Gah!"

Maybe it was a miscalculation on the jumping, maybe it was because he shouldn't have been talking and hopping at the same time, but his entrance was ruined by the sight of him falling on his back and wrecking some of the machinery upon impact.

Well, he definitely had everyone's attention now. He could see a few of the high junkies looking at him and muttering something about licking frogs and letting them see stuff while Tony, J.J and Bridget looked down at him in confusion.

"Hey...is that Eugene?" Bridget asked, a tinge of worry in her voice that gave him some hope that he wouldn't look like a complete idiot, "I..I think he's trying to say something."

"Yeah...your loitering days are over..." He winced. His back hurt and his voice sounded no better, but he had do this, "Get out of here before I-"

"Well, we might as well defend ourselves!" Tony interrupted.

And then they were kicking him, sneakers and boots smacking against the suit while he put his hands up feebly. Even Bridget joined after a moment of hesitation, slapping his head and giggling like a kid with a new toy. He couldn't do anything, couldn't jump away and salvage some of his dignity, and before he knew it he'd resigned himself to being the punching bag and waiting for them to get bored kicking the shit out of him.

He could hear J.J taunting him about thinking he was better than he really was...and right now he found himself agreeing. What the hell was he thinking doing all this? They'd called him Frogboy and Frog-Man junior and made his life a living hell, so maybe he just wanted to prove them all wrong. Show them that he wasn't just the loser son of a loser dad who'd never amount to anything.

A few more kicks came and went before they abruptly stopped. Cracking open his eyes, he just barely saw the three running away and screaming something he could barely make out, 'What...What the fuck?'

"...You alright?"

He looked in front of him and almost pissed his pants at what he saw in front of him: The Dark Spider looking down at him, his expression masked by the crudely stitched mask he wore. He'd seen him on the news before...seen what he did to supervillains and criminals he ran into. That Electro lady was dead and Stilt-Man had actually avoided breaking out of prison ever since he'd threatened to blow his brains out. Word on the street was that he was likely one of those 'Supervillain killed my parents' heroes and that he hated people who dressed up in costumes and created crime...

...A costume he was wearing right now.

Eugene felt ice in his veins and he scrambled back, his breath catching in his throat, "D-Don't hurt me! Or kill me!" He grabbed the mask and threw it away in a panic, completely ignoring the blood running down his nose or how pathetic he looked, "I-I'm not a Supervillain or anything, I swear! Please don't-"

"I'm not going to kill you, kid." He interrupted, voice dripping with annoyance. Before Eugene could say anything else the masked vigilante grabbed his hand and pulled him up shakily, "Saw you bouncing around and I followed you. If you really wanted to cause trouble we wouldn't be having this conversation right now." Eugene shuddered at the implied threat, "Besides, if you're what passes for a villain around here then I don't think anyone has to worry about anything. Those three got you good."

"Y-Yeah..." He wiped away the blood on his face and grimaced. That was going to leave a mark or five, "Uh...if you're not going to hurt me then what'd you do to them? They were running scared."

"Nothing. I tapped the short one with the buzzcut on the shoulder and he ran with the other two." He shrugged, "Ain't the first time I've had that reception so it doesn't even surprise me."

"Oh...cool." Truth be told he was tempted to run himself. The Dark Spider might have been a Superhero, but Eugene himself was dressed like a former Supervillain and that was more than enough to make him nervous, "So...what are you doing here?"

"Besides saving your kiester, you mean?" He asked rhetorically, "I came here with White Widow earlier, but I decided not to go back with her. I needed some time alone to think and this place reminds me of home." He let out a tired breath and crossed his arms, "Wasn't expecting to run into you putting on your old man's suit, that's for sure. They always said the apple doesn't fall from the tree..."

"White Widow? Wait...do you mean Spider-Woman?" He asked, to which the vigilante gave a muted nod, "Wait, that means you were the one she was talking to earlier!"

"Yeah and you were the one eavesdropping. What's your point?" He scoffed, "If she wants to play nice and check up on ex-cons then that's her choice; she had to drag me over here so I say I can stay for a bit longer if I want. 'Sides, it's not like anyone here would have seen me. Only reason I'm here now is cause you were getting your teeth kicked in and near as I can tell you were trying to do the right thing."

"Y-Yeah, I guess so..." He rubbed the back of his head. That's twice now he'd made himself look like a tool in front of Superheroes; was the universe trying to make him break a record? "S-So...thanks, actually. I dunno what I was thinking pulling this crap."

"I saw those two goombas dump those frogs on your lawn. I got a good idea on what you wanted..." The Dark Spider uncrossed his arms and then he gave an honesty to God laugh, "Those three are real pieces of work."

"Hey, Bridget's alright..."

"Then I guess you didn't see her yucking it up with those two." He replied back bluntly, ignoring Eugene's wince, "Anyway, I know what you want. If you need any help just say the word. I got some time to kill."

"Wait...what?" He asked back dumbly. Was he suggesting what he thought he was suggesting? "Uh...you're gonna help me? What's the catch?"

"I don't like bullies...and I want something from you." He pointed at his (now wrecked) spring boots, "I'm gonna pull a stunt and since I can't stick to walls or swing on webs like Spider-Woman I'm gonna need some insurance. You give me one of your dad's boots and I'll help you get back at those two no questions asked. What do you say?"

He didn't even need to think about it before answering, "Yes! Absolutely yes!"

"Huh...alright then. We got a deal, kid." The vigilante stuffed his hands into his pockets and nudged his head to the direction of Eugene's house, "First things first we gotta get those frogs your dad cleaned up."

"Wait, the frogs? What for?"

Eugene could just imagine the hero smiling as he said his next words, "Eye for an eye, kid. They're gonna find out what happens when you mess with someone called Frog-Man."

Chapter Text

"Wait, so you just dumped the frogs on their beds?"

Gwen gaped at the vigilante sitting across from her on the table. Peter shrugged lightly in response to her incredulous question, though she didn't miss the almost smug way his lips curled up in a smile on his partially unmasked face. It wasn't much but it was practically a shit-eating grin and evil laugh considering how he'd acted ever since she ran into him on that alley a couple of weeks ago.

"Hey, they dumped em on his front lawn. Way I see it fair is fair." He took a sip of his coffee, smiling into the cup when she raised an eyebrow skeptically, "Besides, it's their fault for starting it. Kid's dad might have been a thief but junior over there was innocent; seems pretty clear cut to me. Eye for an eye and all that." He circled a finger in the air lazily, "'Sides, it wasn't like he could tell a teacher. From what he told me those goombas got the frogs from the guy who made them all dissect the poor bastards in the first place. Running off to squeal wouldn't have done nothing."

"Still, you don't think it's a bit much?" She asked back, though she couldn't help the hint of mirth from seeping into her tone. Something about the image of Peter and a guy dressed up like a giant frog dumping nasty shit on a bully's head reminded her of that When Nerds Strike move, "I'm all for standing up to bullies and all but if you go too far then it comes full circle. Come on, haven't you ever seen Bad Girls? It's all fun and games till everything goes to shit."

"You'd think that'd be obvious." He propped his head on a free hand and looked at the burning stove with a sidewards glance, "Anyway, its fine. Pretty sure those three got the message and the kid seems convinced that it'll up his 'street cred'. Still, he left that dame out of it. He's convinced that she's 'not a bad girl' even though she was yucking it up with those two bozos and beating the hell out of him."

"The power of boobs compels you." She snarked, voice adopting a faux old man tone.

She wasn't ashamed to admit that she took more than a little satisfaction on seeing Peter cough suddenly, coffee almost spilling out of his mouth as he lowered the mug in a rush, "That's...one way to put it." He grabbed a napkin and dabbed at his face quickly, "Either way it's not my problem anymore. He seems convinced that he can ask her out to his prom dance, though I've got my doubts. Dunno how things go in this madhouse but where I came from that ain't exactly the start to a relationship."

"Prom..." She looked down at her mug and shook her head. Prom was tainted for her after what happened two years ago, but dwelling on it wouldn't get her anything, "So...what happened after you dumped the frogs on their beds?" She asked, rushing to change the subject.

"About what you'd expect." There was that self-satisfied smile again. He smiled a lot more than she thought he did, though maybe that was because it was the first time he'd taken off the lower half of his mask during their little hang-outs, "A lot of screaming and flailing mostly. None of them got hurt, though I thought the old guy would have a heart attack for a second there. All in all mission accomplished, it's just..."

"What? Did something happen?" She asked, brows furrowing together worriedly.

"No, it's just...I think the kid got the wrong idea." He clicked his tongue and frowned slightly, "Kid wanted to get a few licks in, hit em while they're down. I don't really blame him since they were kicking the hell out of him earlier, but he...told em that he was my 'sidekick'."

Gwen tried to not say anything, she really did, but the image of it was enough to make her crack a smile...then when it looked like he was actually pouting at her (he might have just been frowning, but fuck it) she absolutely lost it, "Pfft...hahahahaha!" She threw her head back, hands slapping the table and laughing her ass off even as Peter glared at her, "Wait, wait..." She let out a few more chortles, ignoring his annoyed growling, "He told them you were his sidekick? As in your number two and all that?"

"Yeah, though I don't see what's so funny about it." He leaned back in his chair, arms crossed in his best 'I am not amused' posture, "Honestly, that kid's going to get himself killed playing hero like he does. I can understand wanting to help people, but you need more than just wanting to do good if you wanna make a dent."

"You should totally teach him...snrk." She tried in vain to muffle any more coming laughter, though given the sigh he gave they both knew it wasn't gonna happen, "I mean I can see it now: The Spectacular Spider-Man and the Fabulous Frog-Man. Partners in crime, saving the day one citizen at a time~" She sang, Peter ignoring the off-key tune and using both hands to cover his ears to block her out, "In the chill of the night, at the scene of the crime they arrive just in time~ Look out, here they come-"

"Make it stop." He groaned, giving her a half-hearted glare as she continued to sing the impromptu theme song. She'd told him that she was in a band, so really he should have seen this coming. It wasn't her fault she could actually see it like a buddy cop show, "...You know if you don't stop singing I'm not gonna be able to finish your breakfast properly. When you're eating dog food you'll only have yourself to blame."

"Right, right." She rolled her eyes and stopped singing, Peter giving a sigh of relief and his posture relaxing, "You know I don't get what the big deal is. I mean aren't you partners with Spider-Woman? Forums are practically buzzing and tweeter's going apeshit with theories and news on what you two are up to." She did her best to ignore the fact that most of those seemed convinced that them working together meant that they were 'together' or people using it as proof that she really was the murderer that Jameson claimed she was.

And those were the nice ones. She didn't even want to get into the 'theorists' who made assumptions just because they heard him complain about being 'collared' and her 'pulling on his leash'. The Spider-Woman and Captain America romance stories were bad enough.

Thoughts of Maxine came before she squashed them down. She didn't like it, but there was nothing she could do to change the past. The best thing she could do was make sure it never happened again, that neither of them were ever placed in the situation where they had to take a life to protect others.

"Yeah, partners...guess you can call it that." He looked away, lips dipped in a slight frown "I don't do partners, Gwen, and sidekicks count as those." He shook his head and circled a finger over the side of his head, "Tried it with a couple of others back...back home, but it never worked out..."

"What happened?" She asked, doing her best not to raise her voice. It was odd hearing him voluntarily share information; usually he was tight-lipped every time she tried to prod even something minor from him.

"Wasn't the best." He grunted, frown deepening, "There was this blind guy, called himself 'Daredevil' and dressed like he came from hell. Met him when I was tracking this killer-for-hire. She called herself the 'Bullseye Killer...probably cause 'Eliza' ain't exactly very intimidating. Anyway, when we tracked her down she escaped because the dumb red bastard was in love with her and didn't want to take her down."

"What happened?"

"We found her again eventually, and she didn't get away the second time." The way he worded it caused her to adopt a troubled look, which he noticed quickly given the way he shook his head, "Don't get any ideas. She was roughed up but we left her for the police. Didn't see Daredevil for a few days after that, but he showed up eventually and told me he had a lead on the 'Kingpin' behind it all."

"I'm not hearing an ending here." She prodded.

"Nothing really happened. We took down the fat fink and I never saw him again. For all I know he might be dead in a gutter somewhere or he could be doing the same thing he's been doing since we split up. Either it's none of my concern. As for Castelione..." He looked down at the table and tapped his fingers on the wood, " ...Maybe it's better I not share. Not sure if it's something you need to hear before eating something."

"Oh come on, dude! I'm not a fucking ten year old!" She snapped back, momentarily forgetting that she wasn't wearing her mask and him realizing this was a very bad thing. "I've lived in New York all my life. Living in a place where people like She-Hulk are celebrities and costumed villains are a dime a dozen just makes it hard to buy whenever someone tells me that whatever shit they're selling is too much for me. Whatever it is, I can take it."

He stared at her silently for a few seconds before shrugging, "Fine. Castelione shot a guy in the gut and let him bleed out over three days; the next guy he put to a pitch and set on fire; the third he fed to his own rabid dogs like he was food and the fourth-"

"Alright, you made your point." She interrupted, looking away with a disgusted noise, "How...How'd you know he did all that, anyway? Were you..."

"Didn't do it myself, if you're wondering." He crossed his arms, "Castelione was...I wouldn't exactly call him the most stable person, but he was focused. There was a point where he nearly shot an innocent cop, but he reigned himself in. Good thing...didn't want to have to fight him."

"What about the rest? He should have let them get arrested." She pressed, though it wasn't as focused as she would have wanted. Hearing about something after the fact...it always made it seem really damn pointless to argue once it was done...well, that and she wasn't sure if it was even real. After hearing his tales about Norman Osborn being the childless leader of the New York mob she really doubted the truth of a lot of his stories.

One thing was sure, though: He definitely believed it was the truth.

"Wouldn't work. Jigsaw, Barracuda...these guys were above the law. Cops were in their pocket and they never let themselves get caught. Any lawyer that tried to put em in the slammer ended up sleeping with the fishes with a new pair of concrete boots or they cut themselves shaving and ended up with a slit neck. Besides..." He gave her a wry smile, "They killed his father. Not exactly my place to judge him."

"Huh..."

She was about to ask another question before he suddenly stood and made his way to the stove. Miraculously it was still working even with the missing knob and she saw him take the cover off the frying pan, the smell of ground beef covering the entirety of the kitchen and making her stomach grumble. Despite his claims to being a mediocre cook he blew what she and Betty knew about cooking right out of the water.

She watched him transfer the meat and some bread onto a place, her thoughts drifting to just how weird it...everything was. She'd texted him days ago on a whim and halfway expected him not to answer. She was pretty surprised when he'd agreed to the invitation at all and now...now here they were, sitting in her apartment's kitchen while he made something he called a 'slugburger' for a second breakfast.

It was strange. She'd invited him over to get information from him - something she'd had mixed success in since she couldn't really interrogate him without making it obvious that she knew more than she let on - but their meetings had turned less and less about her trying to pry every little thing she could from him to just...talking. Granted she still tried to get every detail she could whenever possible, but at times she almost forgot that these little meet-ups had a point and not just a reason for him to cook her a second breakfast and tease him with off-key singing.

It was almost like she was hanging out with Peter again...

"Breakfast is served...again." He placed the plate in front of her, the still-hot beef's smell wafting up tantalizingly. That done he sat across from her again and picked up the science book lying on the other chair, flicking to the page he'd last read before he left a couple of days ago.

The way he acted was...odd. Ever since...whatever happened to him Peter had been acting bizarre, almost unrecognizable at times. If she didn't know any better she would have just assumed he was a violent thug, or at the very least that he had a warped idea of what being a superhero entailed. But now...she didn't know how to describe it other than he was probably a schizo. He was patient, he joked, he smiled and even his voice didn't sound like he smoked a ten-pack of cigs a day when he talked with her. If he wasn't wearing that dopey costume she might assumed he was someone else entirely.

Picking up the greasy sandwich slowly, she took a tentative bite and hummed in appreciation, "Great as always, Chef Spider." She quipped, causing him to smile slightly before he buried himself more in the thick book. She didn't know why he'd taken off the lower half of his mask but she didn't bring it up; mostly cause if she did he might cover his face again and she liked to think it was progress and that he didn't just forget to fully cover his face when meeting the 'hapless civilian'.

"So...watcha reading?" She asked, casually taking note of the way he quickly flicked through the pages.

"Just some facts about medicine. Back in...at home, medical advancement is...dated compared to what's here now. It wasn't too long ago that people thought drinking water filled with radiation would make them younger, but if what I've read here is true then it just gives you cancer..."

"Yeah...it kinda does that..." She rubbed her left hand slightly. She still had no idea why that bite gave her powers and she had a feeling she wasn't going to for the forseeable future; ever since she got bitten she'd been paranoid about even going to the doctor for vaccine shots on the off-chance they found something weird on her. She definitely didn't want some mad doctor running experiments on her once they found out she was a metahuman.

How many times had they done this now? It wasn't planned, not really, but they found themselves settling into a sort of routine - Breakfast on the roof, her trying to pry information as discreetly as she could and then this little second breakfast because apparently her stomach never knew when to shut the fuck up. Thankfully Betty was always out doing whatever it was she did so it never got awkward.

"You sure I can't convince you to work as me and Betty's personal chef?" He looked up slightly in response to her question, "I mean I don't make much money working in a bodega, but I have these little things called scientific journals and I feel like they'd be right up your alley." She teased. Whatever the reason he seemed to enjoy reading those dusty books and when he'd first seen it sticking out of one of her shelves she thought he'd fallen in love the way he almost pounced on it. Now whenever they weren't talking his head was buried in those damn things.

"Real tempting, how could I say no?" He replied, a short laugh coming and going, "Still, I'm working for another dame right now. Till Spider-Woman lets go of the leash she has on me I'm stuck...though maybe I can finally get her off my back."

Ah, right: The testing. It took a lot of persuading, and more than a little yelling on both sides, but she'd finally convinced him to just allow S.H.I.E.L.D to test him. He'd agreed mostly on the assumption that 'Spider-Woman' would lighten up once it was finished. If he really wasn't Peter Parker (or the serum didn't stick after death...) then he should've been clean and S.H.I.E.L.D would lose interest in him.

Granted she'd probably still keep an eye on him - whether with the mask or without - and she still needed answers. Hopefully she figured it out soon cause she still had that problem with Mac and that S.I.L.K organization to deal with along with Murdock and his dumb ninjas. She didn't need more problems on top of those.

"Speaking of which, it's about that time." He gestured to the clock on the wall reading '10:37'. Gwen raised an eyebrow; they weren't supposed to meet for the testing till hours from now, "I should probably-"

"Hey, what's the rush?" She piped up, cutting him off before he could stand. A voice at the back of her head quickly reminded her that she had patrol of her own and that she was pushing her luck but she doggedly ignored it, "I know heroes go out on patrol or whatever but you still have some time to kill, right?"

"I don't really..."

"Dude, are you seriously going to make me beg?" She finished the last of the sandwich and clasped her hands together, lips jutting out in an exagerrated pout. She was never good at the puppy dog eyes, but hey there was a first time for everything, "Come on, Darkman. Would it kill you to just relax for a couple more hours? I'm sure the world will survive without a superhero for a bit."

"You're impossible." His mouth pressed into a thin line, lips shaking as he tried to hold back from laughing; or at least that's what she hoped he was doing, "...I guess I can do it after finishing that thing Spider-Woman wants me to do. Just one thing." He leaned forward on the table and looked her in the eye, "The name's Spider-Man. Not Dark Spider, not Darkman, not Leatherface and whatever else everyone in this madhouse thinks of. That clear?"

"Sure thing...bug boy."

"You-"

He heard it before she did, but she wasn't too far behind - Footsteps coming towards them. Eyes snapping to the door, he grabbed the lower half of the mask on the table and attached it to the rest just before Glory trudged inside.

"Hey, Gwen. Just wanted to tell you that- Oh, you're here." Glory frowned as she caught sight of Peter sitting on the other side of the table.

The others knew that 'Spider-Man' came here, however slightly. Betty saw him once, but mostly she just asked him if he could cook those eggs again and didn't really care when he showed up; benefits of dating a superhero, she supposed. MJ didn't comment on it, though she didn't say a lot of things nowadays given the issues between them. That left Glory...and boy did she make her thoughts on what she thought about him.

She didn't like him. Not at all. Glory had always been a bit of a mother hen and Peter wasn't an exception to that rule. All she saw was a dangerous vigilante - which she had to concede he was... - sitting in front of one of her best friends. In a way she guessed she couldn't blame her too much for being protective.

Gwen wanted to say something but Peter cut her off before she could start, "Don't worry, I was leaving anyway." He shook his head and stood up, walking past Glory and pointedly ignoring the look her friend was giving him and turning to look back at her, "Rain check?"

"Ah, don't worry about it." She waved a hand lightly, a forced smile on her face, "I'll see you next time. Maybe we can watch Bad Girls, get that 'revenge is bad' thing drilled into that thick head of yours."

"In your dreams."

Glory kept her eyes trained on him like a hawk before he left the apartment entirely. Gwen made to stand and go on patrol - maybe try to clear her head - but Glory's incredulous look put a stop to those thoughts, "...What?"

"What do you mean 'what'?" She asked back, gesturing to the door Peter just left from, "Look, Gwen, I know things are fucking weird right now: MJ thinks you're Spider-Woman, Betty's got Captain America's sidekick on speed-dial, whatever. But really? You're gonna act like that isn't a big deal?" She rolled her eyes, "There's only so much bullshit someone can take before they call you out on it, you know."

"Dunno what you mean..." She mumbled, looking down at her feet. She hated acting like this, hated not being able to just tell Glory and the others what she thought. At this point her secret identity was an open secret anyway but she refused to take that final step. Maybe she was afraid, or maybe she was just paranoid that they'd somehow leak it without intending to. Either way she just kept lying and trying to put it off.

Glory sighed, arms crossing in annoyance, "Look, when you came back a week ago after your little emo phase we decided to drop the whole Spider-Woman thing. MJ still thinks you're running around being a part-time hero or whatever, but me? I don't really care. Spider-Woman or not it's none of my business, but this?" She gestured to the kitchen door, "Gwen, this is insane no matter how you look at it!"

"I'm fine, Glory. I can take care of myself."

"Maybe, but you don't see police officers juggling with loaded guns." She snapped back, "Look, Gwen, you're not stupid: That guy's dangerous. I wasn't there, but that video speaks for itself. He shot that girl. Maybe she deserved it or maybe she didn't, I don't know, but are you really sure hanging out alone with a guy like that is a good idea? You had to have seen some of the shit he did on the news."

She definitely did. He'd barely been here for a couple of weeks and already the news was on him like paparazzis to a scandal. Thugs with broken limbs, people left hanging upside down after the police were called using their own phones. Hell she'd seen a live interview with a police detective during a ganghouse raid interrupted when one of the gangsters was thrown out a window and left dangling from the edge with webs on his feet.

She still had no idea what he was even doing in the last one. Maybe she could ask him when he came over again.

"He's not gonna hurt an innocent person." She bit back. For all she'd seen him do he honestly did seem to have good intentions, that at least she was sure of. He just needed to calm down...and maybe get a lecture on 'due force' or something. Maybe she could borrow her dad's old police powerpoints, "Besides, he couldn't shoot anyone if he wanted to. His...Spider-Woman took his gun from him. He told me so."

Glory raised an eyebrow at the obvious lie but said nothing else, choosing instead to shake her head in exasperation, "Fine, if you think treating him like a stray puppy's a good idea then it's your funeral." She sighed, "Just make sure to be careful, okay?"

"Aren't I always?" Gwen asked back, giving the other girl a grin which she returned with a reluctant smile.

Glory worried, it was what she did. For all the times she complained dealing with them she never actually followed through on her threats to just quit the band and 'show MJ not everything's about her'. Gwen could appreciate the thought if nothing else; frankly she was more worried about her and the others getting roped into her troubles because of the costume in her backpack. Missing band practice was the least of her problems: After Hippo trying to kill her dad in one of their concerts and Felicia's concert turning to a three way between her, Felicia and those damn ninjas she was starting to believe she was cursed.

...She really needed to clear her head. Maybe a couple of hours of patrol would help.


Sometimes she wondered where these guys got all their toys.

That thought ran through her mind as she stared down at the would-be mugger she was facing. She'd faced D-list Supervillains before - Koalla Kommander and White Rabbit came to mind - but ever since a few weeks ago they'd been practically crawling out of the woodwork. What happened to the bad old days where she just had to deal with guys in ski masks and business suits trying to rob a bank? She beat them up and left them for the police all the same but at least there it made sense.

Now she was dealing with this.

The figure in front of her could best be described as looking like a wetsuit ninja. His entire body was covered in what looked like squeaky leather except for his eyes which had a pair of comically large yellow goggles. On his back she saw - and really at this point she wondered if she'd taken some pills earlier - an honest to God katana while his feet were covered with what looked tiny rollerblades.

"Who are you supposed to be?" She asked, dodging his clumsy slap as he skated past her. Really with how narrow the alley was she could probably just stay on the wall and watch him tire himself out but morbid curiosity kept her from just ignoring him altogether, "If you're trying to be a ninja then you're a few years too late. Cyborgs are all the rage these days, you know?"

"Hah, so embarassed by your previous defeat that you play dumb! I'd expect nothing less!" He drew the katana and held it in both hands, legs bendings over in an awkward combat stance, "Sadly your attempts are futile! This rematch has been years in the making! Come, face your death at the hands of Slyde!" The mugging victim looked at her in annoyance. Hey, it wasn't her fault! "Prepare to be Slyde'd! Er...Slid? Slydomized?"

...What the fuck was going on?

"...No, seriously, who are you?"

He didn't answer. Gwen raised an eyebrow as he charged at her with a primal scream, swinging the blade like a baby shaking its rattle for attention. With a sigh Gwen webbed his feet to the ground with one hand, making sure to attach a webline to the katana's blade and pulling it away from him before he could hurt himself. The last thing she needed was this idiot getting a papercut because she got careless.

"Wah!" He screamed as he landed facefirst on the ground, moaning in pain as the pain quickly registered. Without missing a beat Gwen coated the rest of his back in webbing and ignored his protests to the 'embarrassment of her cheating in order to scrape together a victory'. Honestly she had way too much shit to deal with and guys like these definitely weren't a priority.

'Well, that was easy.' Looking down at the decorated sword, she shook her head and webbed it to the wall. Police would want it as evidence if nothing else, "You alright?" She asked, turning to look at the guy in the business suit, "It's safe now. You can-"

"Trash."

She blinked. She'd expected the guy to be pissed at almost being mugged...but he was looking right at her when he said it, "What do you mean-"

"I mean you're trash." He repeated, voice taking on a harsher tone, "It's your fault guys like these exist. You dress up in a costume and beat people down while making jokes. You think you're above the law." He sneered, "You're worse than he is."

Her mask's eyes narrowed though she managed to keep her cool. After days of the public somewhat turning around she'd almost forgotten that this was the norm: Getting shit on after she helped someone and being ignored the other half of the time. At least when the police were shooting at her they really thought she was a criminal - silly as it sounded - and she could move past it.

She supposed fate or whatever bullshit decided she needed a reality check.

"You're welcome." She shook her head and ejected a line of webbing to the roof, ignoring the glare the old man was giving her. She shouldn't have been surprised. Maybe it was a generational gap but she definitely got more acceptance from the newer generation than the last one. Maybe they still bought into Jameson's ranting; honestly she didn't know and didn't really care. Getting people's approval would've been nice but it wasn't why she put on the mask day after day.

Speaking of which...

She was barely on the roof for more than a minute before she heard him, "...You're late." Head snapping to the source of the voice, she found Peter standing against the wall of the roof, his hands crossed impatiently. At this point she'd learned to stop being surprised at his sudden appearances or her spider-sense doing jackshit to warn her whenever he was there, "Any more clowns you want to beat up or can we finally get this over with?"

"Oh...you saw that?" She winced. It was silly but the idea of being lectured in front of someone she knew grated on her.

"If you mean that ungrateful bastard who thinks you're worst than the guy who tried to mug him, then yeah I saw it." Her eyes narrowed. She couldn't see his expression from under his mask and his voice made it hard to tell if he thought anything about it, "It's none of my business what you do with your time. Lets just get this over with so I can get stars and stripes and her little cult off my back."

"S.H.I.E.L.D isn't a cult." She snapped, quickly growing annoyed at the uncaring shrug he gave, "They do their best to keep the peace. I know you have issues with them-"

"Didn't ask for your opinion, boss. Lets do this test already so I can prove I ain't that kid you're harping about."

She was tempted to argue - she was tempted to do that a lot whenever she talked with him in costume, she noted - but he was right. All of them needed answers and sitting down debating on S.H.I.E.L.D's ethics wasn't going to get them anywhere. Maybe when she finally got a clue on what was going on she could handle the total crapfest the past couple of weeks had been.

The trip to the address Cap gave her was painfully quiet. She'd tried to strike up conversation once or twice, even offered to carry him so they could swing and get there faster, but he never said anything back. It was enough to make her tear at her hair in frustration. She knew he could be friendly, she'd seen it just a few hours ago, but his dogged insistence at ignoring 'Spider-Woman' was beginning to grate on her last nerves.

Thankfully they arrived at the place without incident (though longer than she'd liked given his refusal to do anything but run there). Looking up at the nondescript building, she pushed open the door and looked down at the sent message again, "Says here we need to go to the back and then just say password. If it's really us then they'll let us inside."

"Nothing can ever be simple. This is worse than Fat Larry's clubs..." He muttered, more to himself than to her.

Making their way to the back, they found nothing but an empty room stacked with a few old boxes and nothing else, "Uh..." She looked around the small space. She was expected a doorman or even an oddly conspcous door, not this, "Ahem...well," She brought up her phone and looked at the password, "Uh...'And invisibly we engulf the stolid, form-bound Kree." She said loudly, ignoring how stupid she looked. She knew what it meant - growing up with Captain America comics tended to do that - but it didn't do much to change how she felt.

Her spider-sense gave a light buzz just before the floor underneath them lowered, "Shit!" She quickly regained her balance and glared at the quickly passing wall, 'Thanks for the warning, Cap.' She turned to Peter and found him muttering what sounded like a curse - something about sauce - under his breath but beyond that he seemed none the worse for wear.

The impromptu elevator lowered for a few more seconds before it stopped in front of a see-through glass door. At the other side she could see a few S.H.I.E.L.D agents carrying rifles milling around, a few glancing in their direction but most seemingly content to ignore them and go about their work.

The double doors opened with a soft beep. Looking at Peter again, she shrugged and stepped inside while he followed behind; giving the aforementioned agents a few looks. He was nervous, at least that's what she guessed. Better they didn't stay here too long.

If she had to describe the place the words 'secret base' came to mind immediately: Smooth silver walls, sleek machinery and guys with high-tech laser guns and matching uniforms milling around the place. At the far end of it she could see a couple of guys in lab coats, Captain America standing not too far away and saying something she couldn't make out. Cap told her this was a sort-of research lab, a little place S.H.I.E.L.D put up 'just in case'. She supposed she should have expected it to be really fancy.

It reminded her way to much of those Jane Bind films with secret underground bunkers and agencies.

"Spider-Woman. Good, you're both here." She nodded at them both stiffly, her gaze lingering on Peter just a bit longer than usual before she gestured to the scientists, "These two are going to be the ones conducting the testing. I assume Spider-Woman told you of what's going to happen?"

"Need a syringe full of my blood, right? That'll prove I'm not the Parker kid you're all worrying about."

"Exactly. It should be quick and painless, Mr. Spider." The older of the two scientists - probably in his fifties at least judging by his gray hair - nodded, "Ah, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Spencer Smythe, this is my son Alistair." He clapped the younger man on the back, the dark haired junior scientist giving them both a friendly smile, "May I say it's quite an honor to meet two heroes of your stature-"

"What dad means to say is that he's a huge fan and he wants an autograph when this is done." Alistair interrupted good-naturedly, "We both are, really. We've seen you both on the news and the Captain here has only pleasant things to say about you, Miss. It's great to finally meet face-to-face." He offered them both a hand which she shook gratefully and Peter ignored. Honestly it helped wash down that last asshole's words from earlier.

"Well, now that we've all been introduced." Cap cut in, "Could you two give us all a minute? I have some things I need to say."

"Oh, of course. We'll just be preparing the apparatus. Come along, Alistair."

She watched them go to the corner of the mini-lab, pulling out vials and syringes and other scienc-y stuff she expected from any old science class. When she was sure the two were pre-occupied Cap finally decided to speak up, "Before we get to this test I need to tell you both something - I followed up on Spider-Woman's lead and ran the name Otto Octavius to whatever databases I could access. Results were scarce, but I managed to to get some results."

"That's a surprise. He's been an eel ever since I got here." Peter muttered, though she didn't miss the hint of relief in his voice, "I assume you're going to tell me when this test of yours pans out."

"You catch on quick." The right side of her mouth raised in a 'smile', "Still, there's one thing I have to get out of the way before we do anything. Spider-Man..." She looked at his masked face and narrowed her eyes, "Tell me honestly: When did you arrive here? Your timing is just a bit too close to S.I.L.K's experiments for comfort."

"If you mean little miss lightning bolt then a day or two. Honestly those first few days were hazy after Hammerhead..." He looked away and let out a sigh, "I woke up in an alley after Octavius' little fireworks machine and I met White Widow here about a few hours after that. I didn't exactly have much time for a guided tour, if you catch my meaning."

"You told Spider-Woman you're from 1934, correct?"

"Yeah, but she thinks that's too insane and it makes more sense for me to be that dead kid's corpse sprung back to life." He gave her an unreadable look and she had to resist the urge to say something snarky back. Maybe she was wrong or maybe she was right, no point in drudging it up now that they could get some proof, "Somehow I get the feeling you don't believe me either."

"You'd be surprised." She said, "Honestly I've been thinking about what Spider-Woman's told me and I have my own theory: It's quite possible you came from an alternate dimension."

A silence settled over the pair. She couldn't tell what Peter was thinking but she knew what she was: 'That's insane', quickly followed by a voice cutting back with an 'Is it really?' and other such arguments. She'd read Cap's comic books growing up, and she'd seen enough comics about the multi-verse to buy into the idea of other worlds existing. Subtle differences, constants and variables and all that mumbo-jumbo shit.

But still, of all people why Peter? Was it just coincidence that he was here in New York at this moment among all the millions or billions of people who could have come instead?

"But isn't dimensional travel supposed to be impossible?" Gwen blurted out.

"In most worlds, yeah. Some portals opened up time and again, but sometimes I had to wait for months or even years when I made my own travels. Even now it's impossible with the technology we have to open dimensional portals so I have my doubts on your claims that a scientists from the 30's can create a portal given the technology of that time."

"Yeah? Well in my time a Negro woman signing up for the army would get lynched, nevermind becoming the 'face of America'." Spider-Man scoffed, Cap raising an eyebrow in response, "And really this isn't anything too shocking. Time travel or alternate worlds, all I know is that I don't belong here. I admit it clears some things up, but it doesn't change anything. All I know is I gotta find Octavius and have him build that gizmo so I can go back."

"There's the rub." She crossed her arms and sighed, "Spider-Woman told me about it before but I wanna hear it from you: Do you or do you not have flashes of memory that belong to 'Peter Parker'? Answer me honestly."

Spider-Man let out an annoyed growl before answer, "...Yeah, they come and go." He clicked his tongue, "Real inconvenient, too. Most times I go to sleep I end up having nightmares...it's a real pain in the kiester."

"You didn't tell me you had nightmares..." Gwen mumbled.

"Considering most of them start with 'me' turning into a monster and then dying in your arms it's not hard to see why." He bit back at her before looking back to Cap, "What's your point? That kid's dead."

"My point is that's not supposed to happen." She looked at them both in turn, "I've been to different worlds and I've seen a lot of things. I've seen worlds where I was the same, worlds where I didn't exist, worlds where I was a man or I was dead. Know one thing in common?" She tapped the side of her head, "Their memories were theirs and mine were my own. Hell I ran into a world where that dimension's version of me was the Red Skull's second in command. I had to kill her before she could do something horrible and know what? Nothing. No memories, no shared link or anything like that."

"So what are you saying?" He asked, voice taking on a harder edge.

"What I'm saying is that if you're really from another dimension then something's wrong. Who knows maybe I just got lucky and I never had to deal with linked memories, but from my own track record all I have to say is that whatever you're experiencing isn't normal."

"Right, normal. I think that word stopped making sense the second you considered alternate worlds."

"She has a point, Spider-Man." Gwen supplied, "I haven't traveled to other worlds or anything but Cap's the closest thing we have to an expert on this. At the very least we have reasonable doubt and that any explanation can make sense..." Now she just had to make up her mind on which one she wanted to be true.

He was about to say something back before Dr. Spencer called out to them that everything was prepared, "Moment of truth..." Looking at the syringe, Spider-Man let out a sigh and sat on the offered chair and quickly rolled up the right sleeve of his coat.

Gwen watched nervously, heart thumping against her chest as the needle went into the skin and the syringe was quickly filled with crimson blood. She wasn't squeamish about injections - she took her vaccines like a champ before getting bitten - but even with Dr. Spencer trying to lighten the mood with some jokes she couldn't stop herself from rushing to the worst case scenarios.

If he really was from another world then...then what? He wasn't this world's Peter, just...just another version of him. So...more like a cousin? 'This is fucking frustrating...' She shook her head and took a deep breath. Even if he wasn't her Peter then why was his corpse missing? She wasn't going to buy that was a coincidence and she'd seen way too much shit the past two years to just leave it to Cap and the rest.

No, whether he was her Peter or not she was involved in this.

The next few seconds came in a sudden rush. She remembered Alistair placing the blood on a some kind of dish and putting it on a computer for analysis and then...

Then everything went to shit.

Something loud blared overhead and the S.H.I.E.L.D agents were quick to respond. They rushed to surround the miniature lab and pointed their guns at them...no, they were pointing their guns at him. She saw Spider-Man stand suddenly, the chair skidding across the floor as he looked around the circle of guns and batons that surrounded them. He looked like he wanted to fight, and probably would have if Cap hadn't spoken up first.

"Everyone put your guns down! Aggravating him isn't going to help anyone!" She ordered, the agents reluctantly lowering their weapons in response, "Spider-Man...I'm afraid you have some explaining to do."

"What the hell are you talking about?" He hissed, hands clenched into fists and shaking with barely contained anger.

"Yeah...what's going on?" Gwen asked, though she already had a sinking feeling in her stomach. It was easy to see the fear in Spencer and Alistair's eyes, the way the agents continued to hold on their weapons tightly despite Cap's orders.

They were scared of something...they were scared of him.

"That." Cap pointed to the large screen of the computer. She saw the diagrams of blood cells and a a list of data that she couldn't fully comprehend, "Mind explaining that to us?"

"I...I don't get-"

"He has the Lizard serum in his blood, Spider-Woman. He's infected."

Chapter Text

He knew he shouldn't have trusted her.

Spider-Man looked around the soldiers surrounding him. Stars and Stripes' orders made them stop pointing their weird lightshow guns at him, but he could still feel his spider-sense blaring dully at the back of his head. He didnt know how far it went, not really, but even through their helmets he could tell that a lot of them were tempted to just shoot him. They were afraid of him, afraid he'd turn into a monster like the Parker kid and tear em all to shreds, and all because some computer told them he was 'infected'.

Damn idiots.

Then again, he couldn't exactly throw stones considering how he got in this mess, 'Just let em test you and then they'll leave you alone...she sure sold that bridge to me.' He glared at the supposed 'Superhero'. She was looking between him and the screen, her 'eyes' wide and her arms hanging limply at her side. He frowned and resisted the urge to try and split the joint. He could take out a few of these guys, but with Stars and Stripes and White Widow he wouldn't get very far.

He didn't like his chances.

The older guy in the labcoat was the first to talk, looking at him up and down like he was a piece of meat, "Um...Mister Spider," he said, fingers twitching nervously, "Do you...feel anything out of the ordinary? Any flashes of anger or..."

"Depends. Wouldn't you feel angry if people pointed guns and looked at you like you're about to turn into a monster?" he asked back, rolling his eyes when the doctor failed to give an answer, "If you mean that then yeah, I'm not exactly feeling like I just got offered a warm glass of milk."

"That's not what we meant," Alistair said, "You see...the serum has certain properties when inserted into the human body..." He gestured to the screen, at the numbers and pictures that didn't make any sense to him like it would prove his point, "The serum has both benefits and drawbacks. As you can tell by the reaction of the agents those drawbacks can be severe." He grimaced. Spider-Man didn't miss the way said agents looked at each other uncomfortably, "Forgive our caution, but an outbreak of infection could be severe."

"I could tell that by the little party you guys threw me," Spider-Man said, crossing his arms and relaxing slightly as the blaring at the back of his head dulled. They were calming down, if just for a bit, "If you think I'm gonna turn into a giant lizard then you might as well shoot me. I'm not gonna turn, but I doubt there's anything I can say to convince you otherwise so just pull those triggers or don't."

Nothing. He saw a few of their hand's twitch, one of them even going for the handle of their baton, but Stars and Stripes cut in before anything could happen.

"No one's shooting anyone," she said, giving them all a severe look before flashing him a glare, "And I'd appreciate if you try not to antagonize them, thank you." She shook her head, mouth curled in a frown, "Everyone's on edge because of the results but lets think about this rationally. Spider-Man, do you remember getting injected with the serum at all since you got here?"

"No. The only drugs I put in are morphine and painkillers, nothing that turns me to something big, green and scaly," he replied, giving White Widow another look. She hadn't said a word and it was beginning to worry him.

"Think carefully. Perhaps you-"

"I just said I don't know why." He scowled and held back an insult. He was surrounded by guys with guns and itchy trigger fingers in a brightly lit room; he'd get turned to Swiss cheese before taking even half of the greaseballs out, "I don't know how...that got into me, but it sure as hell isn't because I put it in there myself..." He stared at the computer console and frowned. He was tempted to call it sabotage, but his spider-sense never once warned him anything was wrong when they put the needle to his arm.

Something else was going on.

"I...I believe him," White Widow said, finally speaking up. He raised an eyebrow at the sudden vote of confidence but said nothing. He'd take what he could get, even if it came from her, "Cap, we saw what the serum did to people. They...They turned in seconds and they couldn't control themselves. Pet- Spider-Man is in control and he doesn't look like he's going to turn into one of...those, right?"

"It's still a risk-"

"We know, Spencer, but Spider-Woman has a point." Stars-and-Stripes looked at him, her eyes narrowed, "The computer doesn't lie: Your blood is practically covered in the serum, but the fact that you're standing here now and show none of the symptoms is suspect. Relieving, but suspect."

"So glad to have your approval..." Spider-Man said, the sarcasm obvious, "So...what happens now? Your goons gonna shoot me anyway?"

"No, but we can reach a compromise." She pulled another syringe out of her pockets and offered it to him, "I brought this just in case. If you put this into your system I'm sure everyone around will be much calmer."

He stared at the offered syringe for a moment before carefully accepting it. There was nothing suspect about it at first glance - except for the fact that the liquid inside was yellow, but honestly that was one of the least weird things he'd seen - and again his spider-sense was eerily silent as he placed it closer to his neck. She wasn't lying to him and it wasn't going to harm him, that at least he could be sure of.

He injected the the needles into his flesh, hissing slightly at the stinging sensation that came and went. A part of him expected the drug to cause havoc, maybe make his blood feel like it was on fire while it did what it did, but there was only a spreading feeling of numbness. It was almost relaxing in a way, and by the time he returned the syringe to Stars-and-Stripes it was already fading.

"...What was that?" he asked, giving another once-over to the group surrounding him. Already he could see their postures relaxing, some even beginning to walk away to return to their posts.

"A suppressant," she replied, "The Lizard Serum has no known cure so anyone infected has to take these daily to avoid going out of control and turning." He saw her grimace and shake her head before she turned to the screen, "That should last you at least a couple of days. We've found that different people have varying degrees of resistance. Some need to take it every few hours..."

"Great..." He sighed.

"Your resistance must be more potent than the rest," Alistair said, hand on his chin and gaze focused, "Even if we ascribe to the idea that your infection was recent you should have already been showing signs of the symptoms long before you arrived here. If we posit instead that you've had the serum in your blood for days..." He paused, "It could mean that you have the closest thing to immunity to the serum as we've seen so far."

"We can deal with that later. I'm more curious on the 'how' and 'why' he exactly has the serum in him at all," White Widow said, "Every time I've seen that serum it's ruined people's lives. It...we have to find out how you got it, Spider-Man, before..."

'Before I end up like that Parker kid...' He rubbed at his wrist, thumb grazing over the fresh injury from where they drew blood. He wasn't sure if he bought that crackpot's little drug being inside him, but what he believed didn't matter: They sure as hell believed that he had it and what they said goes, at least least until he got out of here. Bullseye might have been content with running from these guys but he couldn't afford to be chased down by these bozos while he was searching for Octavius.

"Agreed." Stars-and-Stripes nodded, "With that in mind I suggest we take this conversation elsewhere. What I'm about to show you is sensitive and I'd rather not talk about it so openly." She gave the soldiers a look, most of them immediately dispersing while a few stayed behind for a few seconds before quickly following the rest. He had to admit; he didn't think a Negro dame dressed like a propaganda picture would earn so much respect, but there it was.

"Shouldn't we run more tests, Captain?" Spencer asked, "This is-"

"Later," she said, her voice little room for argument, "Spider-Woman, Spider-Man, follow me."

He kept his eyes on Stars-and-Stripes' back, ignoring the fleeting stares that a few of the soldiers gave him as they passed. The 'Superhero' was looking at him too; he could see the way she twisted her neck to glance at him, almost immediately turning away when he looked back at her. She knew about the serum, knew about what it did to...that kid. It didn't take a genius to see that she blamed herself for his dumb mistake.

"Oh my God...Peter, I-"

He looked down at the floor and scowled. He didn't know much about that kid, but his last words were ringing in his head: 'I just wanted to be special, like you...' He shook his head and tried to stave off the coming headache. He heard it every night he went to sleep, woke up hearing the echoes before other thoughts came to replace them.

It was so...petty. That would-be scientist wanted power for its own sake, wanted it to take revenge and because he was in love with the idea of a hero, 'I wonder if she knows he felt like that about her,' Spider-Man thought, glancing at the White Widow. The kid admired her, maybe even loved her, but it was just a shallow image. She was a 'Superhero', the dame in the colorful suit who broke every law of science and physics and then making a joke about it afterwards.

All he saw was a dame sitting on a high horse convinced she was always right.

They stopped in a small room, the inside barren save a large metal table and a few chairs, "We should be alone here," Stars-and-Stripes' said. Before they could do anything else she pressed a button on the wall and a thin metal sheet covered the windows, blocking anyone from possibly peeking in.

Spider-Man took a seat on one of the empty chairs, White Widow jumping on the side-wall and sticking to the surface, her feet and back keeping her from falling, 'I can't tell if she's trying to show-off or she's just milking the spider thing for all its worth.' He shook his head and watched as the other dame pulled out a folder from one of the cabinets. She was an attention seeker, at least that's what he figured. She wouldn't know the meaning of keeping a low profile if it shot her in the keister.

"Sorry about the panic earlier." Stars-and-Stripes' said, "The serum's hit a bit close to home for all of us."

"I could tell by the guns." He rolled his eyes and leaned back in his chair. Now that he wasn't surrounded by paranoid goons with itchy trigger fingers he could allow himself to relax, even if only slightly.

"Glad it didn't end up going too badly..." White Widow said. Her voice had none of its usual force or cheer, which he found halfway relieving and worrying, "I've seen the effects of the serum first-hand. If it's inside you...I mean, if you've been affected by it then it's possible-"

"That I'm a dead man." He gave her a withering look, "You don't have to dance around it, boss. This ain't the first time I've been dragged through the mud and it ain't yours either. We put on this mask and go out every night it means we might not come back...well, at least I won't. Not sure if anyone can really kill you considering you can lift a damn truck like it's nothing."

"That's different. It's not like fighting Hippo or those gangsters in the warehouse. You can't just punch the serum away like you could them. Once that's in your system..." She took a shaky breath, "The suppressants help, but you're going to need a daily dosage to avoid turning and...God, we still don't know why you remember things from you or Peter or wh-whoever!"

"Does it matter at this point? We both know it's not mine and I can deal with a few nightmares."

"Maybe, maybe not," Stars-and-Stripes' cut in, "Either way it's just one of the problems here, like Spider-Woman said. Something tells me this involves both of you, in more ways than one. Lets start from the beginning."

"Didn't we already do that?" Spider-Man asked back.

"Not exactly..." She opened the folder, spreading open the pictures contained within, "You told me before that you came here two weeks ago, correct? I'd place your arrival at about the first week of January, so just a little after the new years. You're sticking to this story?"

"Don't see why I wouldn't; it's exactly what happened."

"Uh-huh..." She turned to White Widow now, "You also told me you found him not long after this, correct?"

"Yeah...he was saving that kid you guys have under treatment." He frowned. He'd nearly forgotten about Gabriel with everything that had been going on. Hopefully the kid was alright now that the Blockhead and the rest of his goons were in the slammer, "Beyond that it's been...on-and-off more or less. He's been doing his own thing for the most part, though I meet up with him from time to time."

"More than I'd like..."

"Right. Here's the next question then." She looked back at him, "When you woke up in that alley you were alone, right?" He nodded. If Octavius was there he would have wrung that little bastard's neck and beat the answers on how to get back home out of him, "Right, this is crucial: Tell me exactly where he was before you two were separated. You were both in front of the portal, I have to assume, so what was the distance between you two?"

"Close...I had my hands around his neck." White Widow gave him a look, which he ignored. He'd already imagined that from De Wolfe, he didn't need it from her, "That thing...he said it didn't work, but when I got there...damn thing started buzzing worse than Frankenstein's monster." He shook his head, "I had my hands around his neck when that thing spread over to us then..."

"Then you woke up in that alley," she finished. At his nod she let out a tired breath, "Right, I can tell you believe that's the truth, but-"

"Not for nothing, it's what happened. If Octavius was next to me when I woke up you think I'd still be in this madhouse?"

"That's assuming he could repeat whatever it is that brought you both here, which I have my doubts." She tapped the photos and urged them both to look closer, "Let me tell you two something: I've been traveling through different worlds for 75 years, and I didn't always do it alone. I've had friends who decided to leave their worlds to accompany me either because of loyalty or because they wanted to find a way out of their dimensions and make a home elsewhere."

"There a point to this, flag-bearer?" Spider-Man asked.

"Point is that when we went through a portal we didn't end up separated. Whether the portal was created from technology from that world or it was a natural occurrence we left and arrived in comparable distances to one another."

"And Octavius was missing..."

"Right." She nodded, "Now, look at these pictures."

Taking a closer look at the assorted photographs lining the desk, his eyes widened and he almost grabbed the folder from the table in his haste, "Octavius..." He rifled through the pictures. Most of them were an uncolored gray, some of them blurry, but he could see him in all of them: The crippled half-portion looked the same as he always did sans his twisted wheelchair, replaced by something that looked like it could blend in easier in a crowd.

The places were all different. Sometimes he looked like he was in some kind of lobby while wearing a business suit, at other times a wide area filled with luggage and dressed like he was going on vacation. He looked like he'd been busy the past two weeks.

"Searching for an 'Otto Octavius' was a bit more complicated than I thought it'd be," Stars-and-Stripes' said, "It's not a common name by any means, but from what Spider-Woman told us you described him as a 'small, crippled German'. That narrowed the search margin down by a lot, but I still wasn't sure if he was the correct one." She stared at him, though he was too busy sorting through the pictures to pay her any care, "...I'm guessing he's the right one."

"Yeah, I'd recognize this fink anywhere." He couldn't stop himself from scowling as he came across a picture of him shaking another man's hand, a smile on his pale face. The Nazi crumb...he'd gotten away twice now. Once he found him he would-

"Huh, so that's what he looks like," White Widow said, jarring him out of his pleasant thoughts, "But...wait, that doesn't make any sense-"

"What are you talking about?" He asked, turning toward her with a glare, "Octavius is here, there's proof right in front of you-"

"Look at the date, Peter! It says he's been here for five years!"

He wanted to give a rebuttal, say something to prove that she was wrong, but she grabbed one of the pictures from the pile and pointed at the numbers lining the bottom before he could say anything, "Look, it says right here: 03/19/2011! This footage was taken years ago, so it doesn't make any sense that you're from another dimension or whatever if you both just got here a couple of weeks ago!"

"...You're lying-"

"She's right," Stars-and Stripes' said grimly, "I checked over these pictures myself. Your reaction to seeing this Octavius guy was legit, so at least I can gather that this is the guy you're looking for. Now the question I have to ask: You say you've been here for a couple of weeks, but the dates on those pictures don't lie. Either you're telling the truth or you're hiding something."

"Why would I lie to you?" he bit back. None of this was making any sense. He knew he'd been here for only two weeks. He'd woken up in that alley with everything intact and he was pretty damn sure he would have noticed if he aged five years, "I...don't know what's going on but I'm not hiding anything. I woke up in that alley with nothing but the clothes off my back and anything I was carrying on me."

"Calm down. Despite my words, I do actually believe you." Stars-and-Stripes' replied, "I got a good look at that mug of yours and unless you started this vigilante gig of yours when you were 13 then the timeline doesn't make any sense. Still..." She grabbed one of the pictured and tapped the date, "This doesn't lie, either. I believe you when you say that you've been here for only two weeks, but the facts aren't matching up."

"If I'm really from another dimension then maybe we just got put in different times? Makes about as much sense as anything else," he suggested.

"Doesn't work. I spent 75 years traveling to try and find a way back and 75 years passed here as well. I don't know what 'rules', if any, these alternate dimensions follow but time seems to be at a constant flow regardless. This Octavius guy was here for five years, we can determine that, but based on your physical age it doesn't add up if you both came here together." She let out a tired breath, "Unfortunately, that's not even the worst news."

"Of course there's more," Spider-Man muttered, "Let me guess: He's the president?"

"Nothing quite so simple," she said, giving him a wry smile, "We found him in contact with agents of S.I.L.K; Spider-Woman's been acquainted with one of their top agents and you met one of their victims not too long ago with that Maxine girl."

"...Honestly, that doesn't surprise me." He rolled his eyes and sighed, "Octavius was always a little toad, latching onto anyone that would take him; first the Nazis and now whoever this 'Silk' group is. I'm not sure if it still holds up, but back in my time his natural genius was almost unparalleled. I guess he could have offered that so they'd look out for him..."

"A Nazi?" Stars-and-Stripes raised an eyebrow before quickly brushing it off, "Either way I doubt this is a coincidence. Spider-Woman has more experience dealing with them than you do, but this Octavius' connection to the group means that you're involved as well." She looked at his left wrist, "And it might explain where you got that infection. S.I.L.K's been refining the serum ever since they got their hands on it."

"You think that Octavius guy injected Peter?" White Widow asked, her 'eyes' narrowing.

"It's a possibility, though that doesn't explain his lack of symptoms. Unfortunately we can't tell when exactly he had the serum injected to his system, but I think it'd be best if he took the suppressants just in case." She put a hand on the younger girl's shoulder, "But besides that we need to talk about something else, Spider-Woman. Alone." She turned back to look at him, "Are you going to be fine on your own for a few minutes?"

"Not afraid I'm going to leave once you turn your back?" he asked back.

"Sure, if you think you can find Octavius or take down S.I.L.K on your own then feel free. You'd be doing us a favor." She shrugged, "But since I doubt that's going to happen any time soon you better just sit down and wait."

"Yeah, yeah..."

He looked back at the table and focused on the assorted pictures, ignoring the sound of the door opening and closing behind him. He needed to make sense of this, try to understand what was happening, "You're a dead man, Octavius..." He took one of the more recent photos - taken only a few months ago - and stared intently at its contents. Still Octavius, only his hair was styled differently this time.

It didn't matter; he'd recognize that face anywhere and those mangled legs of his were going to stay with him till the day he croaked. He was going to pay for everything once he got his hands on his spindly little neck.

The door opening from behind was followed by the dull thrum of his spider-sense: Someone's here. Turning around, he was met with another dame in uniform being flanked by the two scientists from before and a few pairs of guards carrying lightshow guns. Despite not having much in the way of bulk it was pretty damn obvious she was in charge...female rights protesters back home would have thrown a parade if they saw this place.

"Is this him?" she asked, the older scientist giving her a nod in return, "Right then..." She stepped into the room and stood in front of him, the others staying by the door and blocking any sort of escape. By the way her eyes were narrowed it was clear she didn't want to be here any more than he did, "My name is Maria Hill. You're the vigilante known as The Dark Spider, correct?"

"Spider-Man, actually," he replied. This dame was trouble: Rigid posture, short brown hair and equally dark narrowed eyes that practically bore into him. He could feel the thrumming grow louder, though not to the point of true danger. It was the same feeling he got whenever he had to talk to Gwen Stacy from back home; she didn't like him, that was clear, "I'm guessing you're here for a reason."

"You have the Lizard serum in your system. Is this true?"

"Yeah, and I got the injection to keep it under the lid. Your point?"

She nodded to the assorted goons at the door and they practically stampeded into the room, most of em rushing to his back. The thrum had turned into a louder beat, "You're coming with us. We need to conduct some tests."

"...And if I say no?"

Multiple clicks from behind sounded out and he could practically feel the barrels of the lightshow guns being pointed at the back of his head. At this distance at least one of them would hit, and he didn't like his chances being on the other end of any of the dynamos in this madhouse.

"I wasn't asking."


He was shoved into a clear, square container, the door shutting behind him just as quickly as it opened. Turning around, he threw a punch at the glass-like surface and winced as it refused to budge, "It's no use. That's a containment cell specifically designed to hold those with enhanced abilities. Any attack will have no effect," she said, her face never changing even as he threw another punch where her head would have been, "You can continue your futile attacks or you can cooperate and we can get this over with."

"Lady, you got a real twisted meaning of cooperation if you think shoving a gun at someone's head and putting them inside a box is a good idea."

"This is the most expedient way, and in the interest of continuing that I'll make this brief: I don't care who you are under that mask or why you've been empowered, so don't worry about that. You do, however, have something we need."

"Yeah, what's that? Common sense?"

"The possibility of a cure for the serum," she said, just barely keeping her eyes off him to grab a small bottle, "One of the doctors has a theory and we'd like to test it. If it fails then we'll let you out and you and I will never see each other again."

"And if it succeeds?"

"Then we save six innocent people at acceptable risk to you. You have nothing to lose."

Spider-Man turned away and scowled. Her words...she was being honest, he could at least pick that up. Still, he couldn't deny that a part of him wanted to smack her right in the jaw for having her goombas put those guns at the back of his head, 'Not a good idea...' He sighed. One of the reasons he was still alive was because he knew when to get up and when to stay down.

And right now he had to crawl on his knees.

"...What's this theory?"

"It's quite possible that one of your abilities is a resistance to toxins," she said, her tone becoming less clipped now that he was 'cooperating', "If so then it's quite possible that we can analyze and replicate it - to a degree, at least - and we can find a cure for the serum. This will also allow us to preemptively counteract any more uses of it again us and others and save a lot of lives."

"You sound like you're trying to sell me something." He scoffed. If she was then she was doing it after stealing his wallet, "Fine, I'll do your tests. What do I have to do?"

A small hole in front of him opened, the bottle she held being shoved through it immediately which he took off her hands, "These are painkillers. Most of the time they disperse from someone's system in a few hours or days, but if the theory's correct then it should be flushed in an accelerated rate. The containment unit you're in analyzes your internal body, so we just have to wait.

"Peachy..."

He took three of the small pills and swallowed, ignoring the slight numbness that he felt. A part of him hoped that they were wrong, but he knew it was a pipe dream. Ever since he got bitten by that spider he'd been changed, and not getting drunk was just the beginning. Maybe it was the price he had to pay for his abilities, but there was a reason why drugs and other narcotics only gave him short bursts of relief before leaving him.

Who knew, maybe it was the reason he healed so quick or maybe the Spider-God just liked to fuck with him.

Fifteen minutes passed before Spencer finally spoke up, "It's...I wouldn't believe it if I didn't see it for myself, but..." He took a deep breath to steady himself before continuing, "Mr. Spider...your genetics are normal, almost oddly so, but if what I'm seeing is correct then our theory is right - You flush foreign substances and accelerants far faster than any human being I've seen. The painkillers should have lasted for at least half a day, and yet they're gone from your system."

"You'll forgive me if I'm not dancing for joy, doc..."

"But that's not all!" he continued, ignoring his rebuke, "We've...I-I don't know to describe it exactly, but here." He turned the smaller screen around and showed him what looked like a green cell, "The serum is in your system, but it's...inert. Like a...benign tumor, if you pardon the comparison. It was so latent we almost missed it, but-"

"What dad means to say is that this is normally impossible," Alistair cut-in, "When the serum is injected into the bloodstream it quickly spreads throughout the body, warping cells as it goes and turning the infected into an inhuman state. But here..." He tapped a few buttons on the keyboard and the image moved, "You can see here it's trying to spread, but whatever is inside your body is preventing it from doing so. It cuts away the infected cells before it can take over, albeit it's not strong enough to expel the base of the infection directly."

"Why would my blood be infected, then? It should have come up as safe." He knew he should have been less frank, but the part of him that stuck his head into books and research made it hard for him to not be at least curious.

"Unknown at the time, but if what I'm guessing is correct whatever antibodies your gifts give you remains only while the serum is in contact with you specifically. When we took the blood from you the infected cells that were rendered inert spread across the now-separated blood." He clicked his tongue, "Unfortunately, with the serum now trapped at the baseline level we can't see how it did this."

"So it's useless." He frowned, "If this 'antibody' you're looking for is inside me then you can't give it to anyone else."

"Not exactly, Me. Spider," Alistair said, "There might be a way we could see the process in action, but the risk is more severe than simply ingesting a few painkillers.

He was about to ask what he meant before the hole opened again, Hill shoving a syringe into the small gap and letting it fall to the floor. Peter watched the it roll towards him, stopping only when it hit his boot, "...Something tells me this ain't another painkiller." He picked up the syringe and stared with narrowed eyes at the green fluid that filled a quarter of the inside.

"The Lizard Serum, at least what we managed to recreate from what we could gather," Hill said, "It's not a large enough dose to force a transformation, but there's enough there to provoke a reaction. Once it's inside your antibodies should purge it from your system and we can gather the data. Once we have the results you'll be free to go, and we'll compensate you if that's what you want."

"You came prepared, didn't you?" He twisted the hypo in his hands. If the kid's memories were right then an overdose of this would turn him into a monster, 'Probably why they put me in this cage...' If he lost control then at least he wouldn't kill anyone, that was probably what they were thinking.

"I'm not gonna lie; it's not going to be pleasant, but I can assure you that you won't turn into a monster."

"Little late to be playing the trust card." He scoffed, twisting the cap off and staring at the two small needles. It boiled down to numbers - It put him at risk, but if they extracted those antibodies from him then they could save six innocent people. Pragmatic and...he had to admit that from a impersonal view it made sense. One life for six, though usually the ones he risked were criminals.

Besides, it wasn't like had a choice at this point.

The stinging sensation of the needles piercing his skin was nothing compared to what came afterwards. He could hear his spider-sense blaring, the loud drone almost deafening as he fell on his knees. Just barely he could hear the scientists saying something, but it was drowned out by the sounds of his own screaming and the din of his sixth sense warning him that he was in danger.

"I...I did it!" Peter looked at the test-tube excitedly, his hands grasping the glass gently. It took him weeks and he even had to steal some supplies from anywhere he could, but it was all worth it.

Finally, he could be more than just 'Puny Parker'. He would show them all.

"How is his body purging the serum? That defense system wasn't there before!" He shut his eyes tightly and used his hands to cover his ears. Too loud, they were all too loud! He needed to shut them up!

"Ah. Yeah...right. The gig. Ah, okay then. I'll-I'll see you there, I guess..." Harry mumbled, turning away and leaving the gym as Gwen gave him an odd look.

"Girl, you're either a deadly viper assassin or you've got subzero game," Gloria said.

"Huh? What?" Gwen looked back at her, a confused expression on her face.

"Osborn, you're just gonna let him twist like that? He was asking you out, genius."

The lead of the pencil snapped as he applied too much force to it. Mumbling an 'I have to go', he trudged out of the gym and ignored the heckling of Carl King and his pack of cronies as he passed them by on the hallways. It was easy; they were bullies, jerks who wouldn't amount to anything once they left high school and couldn't push people around to do their work for them. Their days were numbered.

But Harry...Harry was one of his best friends, and that made what he did sting all the more. Harry knew he loved Gwen, but apparently none of that mattered to him. He understood why he fell for her, but understanding didn't mean a lot right now.

His fists grew sore as he continued to punch the walls of his cage. The scientists were scrambling, trying to find whatever it is they were looking for while Hill just continued to look at him. A growl emanated from the back of his throat and he punched the glass a final time, the barest traces of cracks finally appearing on the surface and causing the woman to step back slightly.

Good. She knew she was next.

It was going to be simple. Once he injected himself with the serum he would become one of the Gifted, no different from the likes of Janet van Dyne or Captain America who used science to become who they were.

He could be just like Spider-Woman. He could become a hero, idolized by the masses rather than being a loser who'd never amount to anything.

Throwing away the last traces of his hesitation, he pressed the test tube to his lips and drank the serum down.

"What the hell is going on here!?"


Gwen surprised herself by how loudly she'd shouted, but the sight in front of her was enough to push through whatever uncertainty she had: Spencer and Alistair poring over a terminal, a S.H.I.E.L.D agent standing in front of what looked like a Plexiglas container...

...and Peter was trapped inside, barely moving as he rocked himself in a fetal position.

Cap was the first to say anything, pushing past her and glaring at the other agent in the room, "What the hell are you doing here, Hill?" She asked, looking like she was barely avoiding just openly sneering at the woman outright, "This isn't your operation-"

"It's not yours either, not anymore" she said, looking at both Cap and her passively, "Your task was to take the vigilante in for testing."

"I did that. He's-"

"The only one immune to the serum," 'Hill' finished, looking back at Peter's slowly rocking form, "At that point the variables changed. Don't you understand what this means? He's the key to saving those six people, saving Harry Osborn's victims who your little 'protege' let escape." She glared at her, Gwen giving her own back, "He wasn't given enough to transform him and we knew he could purge it given enough time. The risks were acceptable.

"Jesus Christ, he's just a kid!"

"A kid who killed one S.I.L.K's experiments and who, need I remind you, you fought along with Frank Castle before you unmasked him. The facts don't change just because he's younger than you assumed." She turned to the two scientists, "Did you get the results you needed?"

"No, it's..." The older Smythe shook his head, "The antibodies he uses to purge the serum...it's as if they disappear completely once they accomplish their task." He rubbed his temples and grimaced, "We'd...We'd need to try and extract them from him as they're flushing the serum from his system, it's not something we can replicate on just visual data alone."

"Meaning we need to repeat the procedure-"

"Are you insane!?" Gwen yelled, stomping up to the older woman and shoving a finger at her chest pointedly, "Look at him! You know what the serum can do, what makes you think injecting him with it twice is anything but a bad idea!?"

"I could say the same for releasing a known terrorist who gave the serum to S.I.L.K in the first place," She replied, looking down at her coolly, "You are in no position to judge me. Just because you have Wilson's ear doesn't change facts: You're not a S.H.I.E.L.D agent and you certainly don't have the right to decide what I can and cannot do given the things you've already gotten away with."

"You're torturing him!"

"An acceptable risk to save six innocent lives." She turned back to the scientists, "Give me another dose, the same as before."

Enough was enough.

Gwen grabbed the woman by the collar and pulled her up, lifting her off the floor with her back against the see-through wall of the cage, "Get him out of that cage! Now!" She saw the agent's eyes narrow, her lips dipping in a sight frown, but she showed no other signs of caring at the sudden manhandling she was receiving, "I'm not fucking around! That serum's not going to kill anyone else! Open the door!"

"Belay that order," she said calmly, "Spider-Woman has no authority here."

She raised a hand to punch her before Cap pulled her back, "She doesn't, but I do." She tightened her hold on her arm, "Spider-Woman, let go of agent Hill and you can take him away from here. You have my word on that."

"Wilson-"

"Look at him! Even if he is immune to the serum it still affects him either way!" She looked down at his shaking form in pity, "I...We'll talk to Peggy about this, but until then neither of us are going to get involved, is that clear?"

"You're making a mistake-"

"Just let him out." Gwen released her hold on her and stepped back. She'd nearly knocked her lights out, and as ashamed as she was to admit she didn't feel very guilty even if the agent wasn't a criminal. She'd be damned if she let what happened to Peter happen to anyone else no matter who they were. That serum ruined enough lives, adding another body to the pile wouldn't solve anything.

The 'door' (if it could even be called that) to the cage opened and she stepped inside, carrying Peter out with as much care as she could muster. She could hear both of the Smythe's and the agent say something to her, but she blocked their words out. They could have made a speech about how it was completely justified and how it would serve the greater good at some point and she honestly wouldn't have given a fuck.

Gwen rushed outside, crawling up the walls in lieu of taking the elevator, and then broke into a swing once she got out of the building entirely. It was more difficult with Peter hanging off one hand, but she sure as hell wasn't going to leave him anywhere in his state.

She was angry...no, that was an understatement: She was pissed. She didn't know who he was - maybe he was Peter or maybe he was an alternate dimension counterpart like he believed - but right now it didn't matter. That fucking poison took both her best friends away from her, doomed six other innocent people and God only knew what else once that S.I.L.K organization started weaponizing it.

She wasn't going to lose anyone else.

She had dipped low in her swing over a roof when he stirred, moving in a sudden frenzy that caused her to drop him in surprise, "Shit, Peter!" She winced as he landed on the snowy surface of the building. She could only hope he didn't break anything from the fall, "God, shit, I'm sorry!" She rushed to his side and knelt down next to him, "Is anything broken? We can-"

"Get off me."

He shoved her off and stood up shakily, his few steps wobbly until he fell again with a dull thud. Gwen gave another wince and offered him a hand, "Come on, whatever they did to you really fucked you up. Let me help you."

"Like you care..." He swatted away her hand and stood up again, finally finding a sense of balance, "You were the only reason I was 'in there' in the first place. You were the one who told me to get tested, and because of that...I got drug put inside me again."

"Peter, that's not what I-"

"Stop calling me that!" he screamed, loud enough that she almost shrunk back, "That's my name...but the way you say it, you think I'm that stupid kid who died." He laughed bitterly, "That's what this is for you, isn't it? Some twisted try at 'redemption'. You think that I'm your second chance, that if you 'save me' you can take away the guilt because you think you're responsible for an idiot getting himself killed."

"Peter, stop..." She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, her hands shaky. It wasn't his fault. The serum, it must have been affecting him, "That's not why I-"

"Isn't it? You didn't care enough to keep tabs on me before you found out I had a dead kid's face. You didn't take my gun from me and treat me like a damn cripple until you saw what was under the mask." He scowled, "Well you know what? I'm not him. I didn't get jealous just because a friend asked out a girl I liked. I didn't crawl into my bed and cry myself to sleep when I got beat up. And you know what the biggest difference is?"

"Peter, don't-"

"I didn't turn myself into a Goddamn monster!"

She knew she made a mistake as soon as she'd done but, but hindsight was always 20-20. Before she could stop herself a hand lashed out, fingers curled into a fist and impacting right where his mouth lay hard enough to make him fall on his side.

Whatever anger she felt dissipated as she looked down at him. He pulled off his mask and coughed, his lower lip split open and bleeding profusely, 'Oh no...I didn't mean-' She looked down at her right hand, feeling her guilt worsen at the flecks of blood that lined her white fingers.

His blood. Peter's blood.

He looked up at her, shock and pain clear on his face before he replaced it with a scowl, "...Guess I should have expected that..." He looked away, the blood continuing to drip on the snow covering the rooftop, "That's what it boils down to, isn't it? I can't be who you want me to be, we both know that. So just...just stay away from me. I'll find Octavius on my own, all you have to do is leave me alone."

"No...no...no! Leave me...alone!"

"I...I didn't mean to-"

"Don't you get it?" he asked, voice barely above a whisper, "I'm not him. I'm not your friend, I'm not your victim, I'm not your second chance. I'm nothing to you. I'm not-"

"Peter, please-"

"I'm not your responsibility."

Responsibility...Peter's death was her fault, she'd always known it. She didn't need Jameson screaming at the airwaves towards anyone who'd listen, didn't need Aunt May pinning his death on her during a moment of weakness or her dad putting a gun to her head like she was a common criminal. If she'd done things better, if she hadn't...beaten him so severely, maybe there was a chance. Maybe they could have saved him like Harry and the others.

And now...now she was just trying to make-up for everything again, trying to grab for any second chance so she could try and erase her mistakes but ending up right where she started: Using her fists to try and make the problem go away.

She opened her mouth to say something, anything, but all that came was a soft, "I'm sorry..."

Peter...Spider-Man put his mask back on, stumbling to the edge of the roof and dropping from out of sight. She didn't know if he heard her, but even if he did she doubted he would care. Taking a deep breath, she jumped off the other side of the roof and let herself loose in a swing.


Gwen stared up blankly at the ceiling of her apartment, her headphones screaming a random rock song from her playlist loud enough to deafen most people. The entirety of the small flat was pitch black, a result of a power outage that affected her entire block. Maybe it was because of the snow, maybe they were doing maintenance, or maybe fate or destiny or life just decided she needed one last middle finger to end her day.

The song ended, an equally loud one taking its place a second later. Honestly she didn't know what she was doing, moping in the dark like an emo teenager, but she didn't know what else she could do. Talk to her dad? Out on a case. Cap? Not likely unless she wanted a repeat of their earlier talk about motivations. Rest of her friends? Well first she'd have to deal with the secret identity thing and she really wasn't in the mood to listen to MJ say 'told you so' for the next half hour.

Which left just staring up at the ceiling because the only other alternative left was trying to 'find herself', and she was honestly too tired to try and even begin attempting that.

Her eyes were beginning to close before she heard it: Slow knocking, almost impossible to hear over the din of the music. Pulling away her headphones, she stood up and padded over to the door. Did Betty forget her keys? Nah, she would have heard a lot more complaining and yelling if that happened. Wasn't a burglar either; her spider-sense didn't warn her and you had to be a pretty shitty thief to knock on the front door.

She twisted the lock and pulled only to find Spider-Man on the other side.

"...Spider-Man?" she asked, her voice soft.

"Hey..." He looked down at his feet, "I...is this a bad time?"

"Ah, no, but...what are you doing here?"

"I'm sorry, but...I-I just needed someone to talk to. It's..." He took a deep breath, "Sorry. I know this must be a bother, but you're one of the only people I can trust in this madhouse." He looked back at the dark stairway, "If...If I'm bothering you I'll leave, but...I'd really appreciate just talking to someone, try to get my mind off everything that's happened today."

She should have said something. He trusted her...but he hated her, too. It was...dirty, like the time before she'd revealed herself to her dad. You should tell him the truth, a part of her said. You should tell him to leave, another whispered. It would hurt less if she told him now, hurt less if she just turned him away and made an excuse of being tired and wanting to go to bed.

Instead, she said three words she was sure she was going to regret.

"Yeah...come in."

Chapter Text

"Sorry about this..."

"You already said that."

Gwen looked back at Spider-Man sitting on her couch, his figure almost unnoticeable in the darkness. Her powers gave her a lot of things, but evidently night-vision wasn't one of them. It made doing night runs a bitch sometimes, 'Should've asked Ms. Van Dyne for some extra stuff...' she thought, carefully stepping over the assorted pile of crap at her feet and hoping she didn't stub her toe or step on Murderface. This crap was awkward enough as it was, she didn't need to add any more to it.

She felt her way through the small living room, the dim light of her phone doing little to help her, mentally cursing at Betty at turning their apartment into the trash of the titans. Granted she wasn't exactly a neat freak herself, but the Scream Queen put her to shame when it came to turning shit into a mess.

"Come on, where is it..." She rifled through the cabinets, tossing what sounded suspiciously like a chew toy over her shoulder as she emptied out its contents, 'Why do we even have that? Not like Murderface ever does anything but sit on his ass and sleep...' She shook her head; she needed to focus. As awkward as things were right now sitting in the dark while Pete...while he was almost invisible was worse. She needed a proper flashlight or something.

That and if her dad found out she was alone with a guy in the dark he would have gotten a heart attack, even if she was a kick-ass Superhero.

"Why is it you're doing all this, Spider-Woman? Why do you put on that costume every day?"

"I help people, Cap. Do I need any reason besides that?"

"...Do you need any help?" he asked, voice taking on just a slight tinge of concern as she let out another muffled curse, "I can see pretty well in the dark, I could-"

"No, I got it." she replied, teeth grit in frustration as she opened another drawer. Her dad would have been giving her a lecture right now; something about the value of emergency supplies and always being prepared or some shit like that, "I know I bought a flashlight a few months ago..." She stuck her hand into the dark space and pawed at its corners. She was sure she'd seen Betty use it when she went out as 'Ghost Rider' on Halloween.

"Maybe not, but how long do you think you can do this? You're young, you've still got your entire life ahead of you. You could do much more than putting on a mask and being a vigilante, beating up crooks and Supervillains only to get nothing in return."

"I didn't do this for thanks. If I can stop people from getting hurt and put the bad guys behind bars then that's enough for me."

No flashlight, but she found a couple of fat candles with a nearly empty matchbox, 'Yeesh, did Betty buy these or did the last guys who owned this place forget about em?' Shaking her head, she stood and made her way back to the couch, "Hope candles are fine with you," she said.

"Doesn't bother me. I'm used to the dark."

"Yeah, I can tell." She rolled her eyes, propping both sticks of wax down on the table and quickly lighting one of the three remaining matchsticks. They weren't very tall and she doubted they would last long, but fuck it; it was better than nothing, "Speaking of, you might wanna get out of that trenchcoat of yours. You look kinda like a blob wearing that thing and..."

She was stunned into silence when she found his unmasked face looking past her and staring at the table, the soft candlelight illuminating his features, "Uh..." She blinked. What was she supposed to say? Was he trying to go for a dramatic identity reveal? Did he take it off by accident without realizing? She wasn't really used to being on the receiving end of these things, "I...think you took off more than you intended." She made a gesture in front of her face and forced an awkward smile, "I said trenchcoat, not mask. Big difference."

"Doesn't matter. Apparently this face doesn't belong to me, anyway..." he muttered, Gwen doing her best to hold back a wince at his words. He sounded...tired- no, more than that. He sounded like someone who'd given up, "Why, does it bother you? I can put my mask back on if you don't wanna see my ugly mug-"

"No, no! It's completely fine!" she interrupted, waving her hands in an exaggerated manner, "It's just..."

Just what? What was she supposed to day? 'You look just like my dead best friend who killed himself by ingesting some kind of fucked up serum'? 'Your lip is busted up and that's totally my fault so I don't wanna see it and feel guilty'? She knew he had flashes of Peter's memories, he'd admitted to it right to her face, but she didn't know how far those memories went. Did he just remember turning into the Lizard or were there other things? Did he know about Harry and her? Did he remember anything at all before that night at prom? Was that why he came here?

"Just...?"

"It's just..." She bit her lower lip. She couldn't tell him everything, but a little honesty went a long way, "You...look like an old friend of mine. Peter Parker."

"Perfect..." He brought a hand across his face and frowned, looking up at the ceiling and muttering something she couldn't make out. It would have been so simple if he only remembered the Lizard, but his words earlier still rung in her mind: 'I didn't get jealous just because a friend asked out a girl I liked. I didn't crawl into bed and cry myself to sleep when I got beat up.'

'I didn't turn myself into a goddamn monster!'

She saw him sigh and make to cover his face with the mask before she stopped him, her hand lashing out and grabbing his wrist, "I said you look like him...I didn't say you were him." She let go of his hand, his arm dropping down onto his lap when she backed away, "It's just...I mean the resemblance is weird, sure, but I know he's dead, you know? You're Spider-Man, a Superhero. You're not...

He wasn't Peter.

"Thanks..." He gave her a barely noticeable nod, finally looking her in the eyes. She would've been lying if she said it wasn't unnerving; despite her words it was hard to just pretend he didn't look almost identical save for his injuries.

...One of which she was responsible for.

"So..." She sat next to him, making sure there was enough distance between them to avoid any awkwardness, "Any particular reason you came to visit? And would it have anything to do with that new battle scar you're sporting?" She winced. Maybe it was because her dad always told her to be honest but sometimes she had trouble beating around the bush and just got to the point, "I mean...well, you know."

"I don't, actually." His mouth tugged up in a compressed smile, "I just...I guess I needed someone to talk to. Today's been...well, it's been real bad. Back home dealing with the thugs and wannabe kingpins was easy compared to this."

"Fucked up day, huh? We all have one of those." Her eyes gravitated to his most recent injury and she felt another bubble of guilt well up, the fingers of her left hand shaking before she gripped onto her shorts tightly. She'd lost her temper, that was all on her, but even admitting it didn't do much to make her feel better. Was she pissed at him calling Peter a monster? Yeah, but it didn't excuse it at all. Peter made his choice, and while she mourned him she couldn't put him on a pedestal like Harry did. He was a human being and he made mistakes just like everyone else.

"Are you doing this to help people or is it because you feel guilty for Peter Parker's death? Because that blowhard Jameson smeared you for two years and you want to prove to everyone that you're innocent?"

"I don't care what he thinks about me. I...I put on this mask and go out every day to help people."

"I..." He leaned back and looked at the ceiling, "I dunno...truth be told I probably shouldn't have come here. You look like you're about to go to sleep." He gave a sideward glance at her oversized shirt(one of her dad's) and shorts, "Like I said I don't really know anyone in this madhouse, so I thought...I guess I just wanted to do anything to take my mind off what happened earlier."

"You mean that wound?" she asked again.

"What, this?" He traced a gloved hand through the tear and gave a weak snort, "I've gotten worse ever since I got dropped in this place. Hell, if I remember right when we first met you saved me from dying after little miss lightning bolt cooked most of my chest like barbecue." He shook his head, "I heal fast when I go to sleep so it'll be gone soon enough. Takes more than a fall down the stairs to shake me up."

'A fall down the stairs?' Her brows furrowed together. He was hiding it from her, trying to play it off even though she could still see traces of dried blood at the edges of the cut, "Looks more than something you'd get from tripping."

"We all have accidents." He shrugged, "Like I said it'll heal soon enough-"

"Cut the crap." To his credit he didn't seem put-off by the sudden interruption; more surprised than anything else, "Look, just...I'm not a little girl you have to baby. My dad was a police chief. He didn't come home with gunshots or anything, but I could tell his work really got to him and one thing that pissed me off more than anything is when he'd make some crap up about how it was 'just a long day' or 'he has to file a bunch of reports' or some other shit. You came here to talk, so talk."

'Yeah...big words coming from someone lying right to his face. Spider calling the other spider black, much?'

"If you insist." He sighed again, though she saw what appeared to be a relieved smile before it quickly faded, "I...got into an argument with Spider-Woman. Can't tell you what it's about, mostly cause it barely makes sense to me either. But..." He closed his eyes for a couple of seconds, "I don't even think it was just that. We've never really gotten along; this was just the straw that broke the camel's back, really."

Well...that certainly sounded nicer than 'I hate her and never want to see her again'. She couldn't tell if she was relieved he seemed to be taking it so well or worried because he didn't seem to give much of a shit that she'd punched him right in the face.

'Can't just do nothing.' She stood up and made her way to the bathroom, grabbing a small basin of water and a washcloth before trudging back to the couch, "Face here and keep still," she said, him giving her a confused look in response, "There's blood on the wound and I'm pretty sure you haven't cleaned that thing since you got it. Super healing or not it's better we make sure it's not infected, don't you think?"

He looked like he was about to argue for a second before he eventually nodded, scooting closer to her so she could reach easier. Gwen raised a hand hesitantly, her fingers brushing across a few of the lighter bruises before eventually settling on the wound at his lip. Looking closer it was definitely nastier than she remembered now that there wasn't a torrent of blood to block the injury.

'That's your fault', a voice whispered at the back of her head, 'You were the one who lost your temper.' She grit her teeth, "I know that..." she muttered to herself. Taking a deep breath, she dabbed the cloth into the water before raising it to his face.

He gave a soft hiss as the wet cloth made contact, his head nearly snapping back if not for her other hand holding it steady, "Just hold still." She dabbed the cloth at his mouth gently, his head giving another small shake before he eventually calmed. He didn't seem to be in pain; more shock than anything else. She got the distinct feeling he was used to just covering up his wounds and letting his healing factor fix them on its own.

She was quiet as she cleaned the wound. His flinching eventually stopping and he closed his eyes, leaning into the cloth with a soft breath. She wasn't doing much - just cleaning up the dried bits of blood - but she knew that sometimes that was enough. It didn't do much to assuage the feelings of guilt that she had, but that was about as much as she could expect.

Her thoughts drifted back to Peter despite her best efforts. He was always bullied at school, always being put down even when she or a few others tried to help. Carl King would give him a black eye or Sally Avril would start a new rumor smearing him just because they were both bored that day and he was an 'easy target'. Trips in and out of the principal's office didn't do much and after a while he'd given up hope of ever being able to fight back.

She remembered patching up his wounds, putting make-up on his face to cover the bruises and cuts. Aunt May and Uncle Ben knew he was being bullied, they'd done their best to put a stop to it, but he'd always insisted on the charade regardless. When she'd asked why he always told her it was because he didn't want to worry them, but now she wondered if it wasn't because he didn't want to be pitied. Didn't want to hear one of King's lackeys mocking him for how 'Stacy was more a man than he was'.

"...What do I call you?" she asked, hands lowering as the last traces of blood finally disappeared, "I mean, do I still call you Spider-Man or-"

"Ben...you can call me Ben." He wiped away the final bits of water and mumbled a 'thank you' to her, "It's my middle name. Never used it before, but I figure it's better than who Spider-Woman thinks I am."

Peter Benjamin Parker...sometimes she figured the world just hated her sometimes.

"Do you hate her? Spider-Woman, I mean." Gwen asked, her voice shaky. It was a stupid question; he'd made his feelings clear about her alter-ego ever since she'd taken that gun from him. He didn't like spending time with her, resented being forced to adhere to her own methods and at times he sounded a hair's breath away from just leaving her watch altogether. Sometimes it was a miracle when she could get him to talk without sounding like he'd rather be anywhere else.

"...I don't know. It's complicated." He brought a hand through his hair, releasing an exhausted breath not long after, "She's...what she's doing is admirable. Where I come from it's- no one sticks up for anyone. I told you before, it's much easier to keep your head down and keep to yourself. You stick a hand out it's pretty damn likely someone's gonna cut it off or drag you down with em, but she keeps trying to help people even when they're ungrateful shitheels."

"I'm sensing a 'but' in there."

"Yeah, I guess so," He clicked his tongue, "What she's doing is great, but it's not for me. She wants to live in a world where no one has to die, where the bad guys serve their time and then they try to make up for what they've done. It's dumb, but I can see why she'd want to think it was possible. She's an idealist, and those are a dying breed back where I come from. You either toughed it out on the streets and learned to look out for your own or you got swallowed whole. There ain't much room or heroes."

"Why not?" she asked back, "I mean, the world's not sunshine and rainbows but it's not a post-apocalypse out there. There's government, police and whatever. We're not savages who club each other and take what we want. There are rules and lines we all have to watch out for."

"You really think that?" He scoffed,"If everything worked the way it was vigilantes like me or 'Superheros' like her wouldn't be needed. A criminal tries to extort your business and you call the coppers so they can take care of it no questions asked. No one would need me to bust them out of being sold as prostitutes in some piss-stained subway or her to stop freaks like Vodkalky from throwing cars at them."

"She's just trying to help the police. They can't be everywhere at once, and those Supervillains are something fucking else."

"You don't need to convince me that they're freaks; and I know about freakshows more than most people." he replied, "It's just...she's striving for an ideal, and I can respect that, but she keeps trying to make sure everyone follows how she thinks the world should go. She's so damn convinced that she's right and that anything that goes against that is wrong. Only idiots deal in absolutes, that one thing's always right and the other's always wrong."

"You say that, but you refuse to tell anyone the truth. You keep what really happened with Peter Parker under lock and key and take Jameson's slander even when you can disprove it with a single word. Why?"

"Because this is bigger than me! I'm wearing a mask, I can take whatever shit Jameson or whoever throws at me! But if I release that data...Cap, do you have any idea what would happen to the Parkers? How devastated Ben and May would be once they found out that Peter turned himself into a that..that thing? He's gone, Cap...maybe he's back from the dead or maybe Spider-Man's some guy from another dimension, but he's dead and buried as far as they're concerned and I don't want to dig him up just to fix my reputation."

"So it's better they keep blaming you? That half the city considers you a murderer? This isn't a right or wrong situation, Spider-Woman. Sometimes you just have choose between two shitty situations."

"Killing people's the answer, then?" she asked, her voice taking on a harder edge.

"Not all the time, but neither is keeping every murderous bastard alive and letting them take another life when you can't just slap cuffs on em," he answered, lips dipping into a slight frown, "Some people just take and take and take; they don't care who they crush under their heels or how many lives they ruin just so they can get a little more money or influence. What happens to those people if the system doesn't work?"

"You sound like someone who's seen it with his own eyes..."

"That obvious?" He sighed, "There was this guy...I told you about him before. Called himself Osborn, propped himself up as the king of the crime families back in...back at home. Him and his freakshows had everyone under their thumb: Doctors, mayors, lawyers...you name it, he had everyone. People knew he was the one burning down buildings with people still inside for insurance or killing old men just for speaking out."

"This sounds personal." Her eyes narrowed when he looked away, lips pressed into a thin line. Shelving any hesitation she felt, she put her hand atop his and squeezed gently, "If you don't want to tell me that's fine, but I'm all ears."

"Yeah..." His hand twitched. She wondered for a quick moment whether he would shake her own off but it eventually became still again, "My uncle - more my dad, really - he was an activist. He fought in a war, and he threw away his medals cause he thought getting patted on the back for killing people wasn't something to be proud of. So instead he got on a soapbox, railed against the sweatshops taking advantage of those who couldn't afford any better. He screamed loud enough and eventually people took notice; three of those labor camps got shut down with more on the way."

Gwen felt a sinking feeling in her stomach. He'd mentioned his uncle was dead before...

"Eventually the bastard who owned the place had enough. He sent Osborn and his freakshows to get him. He was out helping a neighbor with some repairs, and when he came back..." He took a deep breath to steady himself, "I'll spare you the details, but lets just say they didn't give him the dignity of a quick death. When I saw him...I thought they let the dogs feed on him, but the truth was even more disgusting than I thought."

"I'm not a kid, you can tell me if you want."

He looked at her silently for a minute before nodding, "Osborn was part of the freakshow as a kid. When he killed his jailers he took the rest of the circus geeks with him; his own personal band of freaks and misfits. Besides his enforces they were his most loyal goons: Kraven the animal tamer, Chameleon the face-changer and finally Adrian Toomes, the Vulture. It doesn't take a genius to know why he was called that."

'Toomes? Is everyone in on this alternate dimension bullshit?' she thought, her thoughts drifting till she caught his last words, "Wait, do you mean he..." She suddenly felt the urge to vomit when he saw his grim nod, "Oh, God..."

"Told you it was disgusting," he said, his smile forced, "I would have preferred it if it was just dogs; at least then he wouldn't have gone out being eaten alive by that freak." She felt his hand shake, "I found him in the warehouse. They just...just left his body there to rot for anyone to find. I didn't believe it at first; it was just a few hours ago that I'd said bye to him and made plans when he came home. Seeing that was...well, I don't have to explain, do I?"

"So..." She swallowed, trying to calm the butterflies in her stomach. She was no stranger to trauma - the disastrous night of prom and her dad being attacked by two Supervillains came to mind - but the thought of someone's dad being eaten alive was something else, "So, that's why you...you know?" Kill people, she wanted to say, but it felt difficult without a mask to cover her face.

"Partly..." he replied, "It's not just that. I told you before about this guy I knew, Urich, ended up being a junkie. Well, he had pictures on Osborn and his little club of freaks. He'd bring them over to him, use it to blackmail the guy out of a few bucks so he can get his next fix. I saw him when I attacked Osborn's office." He shook his head, his expression bitter, "I could have ended it right there, snapped Osborn's neck. Hell the bastard was even goading me to do it, told me that threatening him to stop wouldn't work. Like an idiot I didn't do it and Urich ended up dying."

"What do you mean?"

"Apparently my little show 'inspired' him or something. He was going to blow the whistle, release every file and picture he kept on him to take down Osborn and the rest of his connections. Osborn found out and..." He raised his free hand and mimicked firing a gun, "Found him in his apartment. The body was still warm by the time I got there, and the coppers I called thought he just stiffed his dealer and got shot in a mugging. It was Osborn's fault, of course, so if I just snapped his neck right then-"

"Bullshit."

Ben glared at her for a moment, the expression quickly melting to something calmer, "...You sure about that?"

"I am. Look." She sat up straighter on the seat and turned to face him fully, finally letting go of his hand, "I'm sorry your friend died, I really am, but you can't just use that to justify doing bad things. Bad guys do bad things, that's not something you can control. You do the best you can, that's the only responsibility that you have. You can't blame yourself for your friend's death or what that Osborn guy did."

"You practice that speech in front of a mirror or something?" He rolled his eyes, though the barb lacked any real venom, "Results speak for themselves: Osborn died in the end, and if I just snapped his neck then and there Urich would still be alive. He'd be a hypocrite and a junkie, but at least he'd still be breathing. Maybe it's not my responsibility, but I'm not wrong."

"That's not-"

"Besides, if you wanna talk about responsibility you're better off giving that speech to Spider-Woman."

She blinked, "What...What do you mean?"

"I've seen the Bugle's papers. They called her a murderer, the one who killed your friend Parker. You believe that?" She could only shake her head in a 'no'. She didn't know what to say, "I don't either. I...well, I've seen her and she wouldn't be able to kill someone begging for death, let alone a kid who got in over his head. She's not the one who cost him his life, but still..." He shrugged, "She acts like she is. If I'm not responsible for Osborn killing Urich then she's not responsible for his death."

"...Why are you telling me this?"

"Because you're her friend, at least that's what I have to assume. You seem to know more about her than some random fan." He made a circular gesture with his fingers, "She and I ain't exactly on speaking terms, as you can tell by the little parting gift she gave me." A hand tapped the healing scar on his lip, "I dunno what her relationship with the kid was, but it's obviously weighing on her. She saw my face a couple weeks ago and she was convinced that I was her second chance. That she could use me to make up for something that isn't her fault."

"It's..."

"I get where she's coming from, but trying to dig up dead bodies never gets us anywhere. The kid's death isn't her responsibility. I know he was your friend, but when it comes down to it the only one responsible for our actions is ourselves. We can blame others as much as we want, but we're the one who ends up making the choice. I admit it's tempting just pinning Osborn for everything, but I'm not a dog. Every life I take it's because I'm the one who pulls the trigger."

"I know you think you're responsible for Peter Parker's death, but how long are you going to carry his cross? Are you doing all this because you want to help or because you want to try and assuage your guilt even though it wasn't your fault?"

"Why can't it be both? It doesn't matter, does it? I'm helping people-"

"Are you? Gwen, look at the news: How many people do you think actually stay in jail once you're done webbing them to the wall? Their victims don't stay behind to testify and no matter how much the public's opinion turns around in the eyes of the law you're still a criminal and a vigilante. Any decent lawyer could just use the 'Spider-Woman defense' and let these men and women off with a slap on the wrist."

"That's..." She bit her bottom lip, her hands shaking.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to upset you." He sighed, "I was the one who came here, but I'm insulting your friend. Could we just...change the subject? Something a little lighter to try and take our minds off things."

"Yeah...that's a good idea."She looked down at her lap and away from him.

First Cap and now him. It was so simple at first: She'd freaked out when she first got her powers, but that was quickly replaced by curiosity and a desire to just have fun. Then her dad convinced her to do good in-between the fun and games and after Peter died...she spent half her time dodging the cops and the other half taking down criminals when the police weren't around.

Now even that was being questioned, being taken from her despite how much she tried to hold onto it.

"What were you listening to?" he asked, causing her to look back in confusion, "You know...this thing..." He gestured to her smartphone, the screen showing that it was still paused in the middle of her current song, "Never saw something like this back where I came from."

It was an abrupt change of topic, but she could appreciate it anyway.

"Oh...well, it's a rock song. Band's called Nirvana..." She plugged one of one of the earphones on her left ear, offering him the right one which he accepted reluctantly, "I told you before I was in a band, right?" He nodded, brows furrowed as the song started up again, "I always loved rock music. Some people think it's weird, but fuck em. There's just something about the tunes and beats that gets to me."

"And you call me a 'nerd'." He winced, looking about ready to snap the earphones off when the chorus started, "...How the hell can anyone listen to this? It sounds like a gorilla beating on drums."

"Word you're looking for is rockstar, and if MJ has her way we'll be selling Platinums before we hit 25."

She held back a laugh as the next song started, a loud, metal scream blaring in her ear and nearly causing him to jump off the couch altogether, "Alright, that's enough." She could be cruel, but she wasn't heartless. She pulled the headphones back and turned the music app off, Ben giving a sigh of relief, "I take it rock songs aren't your thing?"

"Guess I'm more a jazz guy. I listen to music to relax, not...whatever the hell that's supposed to do to you."

"Hey, this can be relaxing!" she said, ignoring the raised eyebrow he gave her in response, "No, seriously. Just cause it's loud doesn't mean it's bad. The tune, the rhythm, hell even just the beating of the drums; shit like that. It's why I got into drumming, you know?"

"You told me you were a skin tickler before, though I've never seen you play," he said. Gwen had to resist the urge to ask what the fuck 'skin tickler' meant cause it sounded like a weird innuendo to her, "If you can find fun in it then go at it, I guess. Better than getting high on floor polish."

"Nah, Glory has a strict 'no drugs allowed' clause for band membership. She doesn't want us to burn out and turn to those prima donnas getting coked up on TV all the time. Besides, MJ's enough of a diva for all four of us." She snickered, "Hey, you should go to one of our concerts. I could probably get you a ticket; it's not like we're selling out at Times Square, so another head wouldn't be too much.

"If your music's anything like those songs you had me listen to then I should probably bring earplugs..."

"...Ass."

He laughed, the sound both alien and familiar coming from him. He sounded just like- 'He's not Peter.' She let out a soft breath. Whether he was from another dimension or not he clearly thought he was different; it was unfair for her to use him as an outlet for her guilt...her responsibility.

"...What do you want from me, Cap?"

"Gwen, your gifts are something rare. I'm not saying you're the only Gifted in the world - heck you're probably not the only one in New York - but so many people abuse their abilities or they keep it under wraps because they don't want to stand out. Whatever your intentions you're trying to help people, but what you're doing...it can't last."

"So what do you suggest?"

"I want you to join S.H.I.E.L.D. If not as an agent then at least as a sponsored hero. You can do more good when you're legitimatized and criminals you leave for the police have less of a chance of using 'Assault by a vigilante' as an excuse to just walk out and keep doing the same things they've done before. If you'll just-

"What, throw the Parkers under the bus? Out Peter as the Lizard?"

"Tell the truth. Right now you're a criminal, and any attempt at trying to join S.H.I.E.L.D while you're still considered under questioning will just get laughed at. Once everyone knows you're innocent you can do more, save more, than you can right now."

She still had issues with the way he did things, but whatever problems she had with him were just that: Problems she had with him. Not against Peter, not because of her lingering guilt, just Spider-Man.

They spent the rest of the night just talking, bouncing from one topic to another even when the candles finally faded and the battery of her phone died. There were some things she already knew: He loved science the same way she loved music, loved the discovery that came with solving an equation. Besides that, though, there were some things she definitely didn't expect; like a love of wheatcakes or a passing interest in horror stories like Frankenstein and Jekyll and Hyde.

She told him about herself...well, as best she could given the circumstances. A part of her wanted to tell him, just admit that the costume and his gun was in her backpack a few steps away, but she couldn't. She didn't know if it was fear or just plain old paranoia but she couldn't muster up the courage to admit it.

She felt her eyes drooping after a while, the fatigue of the day's events and constant patrols finally catching up to her. She'd fallen asleep before she knew it, and by the time she woke up the sun was shining through the windows.

"Ben...?" She rubbed her eyes and looked around, but found no one, "Guess he must have left..." She swung her legs over the end of the couch, casting off the blanket draped over her and trudging to the kitchen. She didn't know if the power was back on and she was starving; maybe she could find something to tide her over before she went on her daily patrol and work shift.

It didn't take her long to see the plate of flapjacks sitting on top of the table with a handwritten note next to it. Giving one more look around to make sure she was alone, she picked up the note and began to read.

"Thanks for dealing with me last night. Sorry if I bothered you, but it did help clear my thoughts. Ever since I got to his madhouse it's been one thing after another. I never really got a chance to just sit down and talk to someone."

"Maybe I'll see you again- that is, if it's okay with you. If not then thanks, I appreciate you putting up with me for even one night.

From: 'Ben'

P.S. Good luck with your bodega work. Cooked you a light breakfast to help you get started.

She put down the note and smiled, the gesture bittersweet. She was glad he seemed to find some satisfaction from their rambling, but it didn't change things: He still (sort of) hated Spider-Woman, he still wanted nothing to do with her half the time and she wasn't any closer to figuring out just why he had flashes of Peter's memory and why he had the serum in his bloodstream (even if he was supposedly immune to it).

And of course there was Cap's proposal.

"I...I can't. The Parkers deserve better-"

"So do you, and they deserve the truth, don't you think? Look, I'm not asking you to do this right now, but you can't sit on that data forever. At least talk to the Parkers, get their opinion on it if you want, but you can't just plug your ears and keep going. If you want to help people, sometimes you have to give up some things you might not like."

With a sigh she sat at the table, digging into the doughy bread mindlessly, 'If I want to keep helping people I gotta fuck over the ones I love?' She shook her head. The comics she read never had the hero getting this much shit piled on top of them, that was for damn sure. Why couldn't she just arrest the bad guys and leave the rest to the justice system? It would have been much more simple.

She took a deep breath and lowered the finished plate. She didn't know what to do, but Cap was right about one thing: She needed to talk to Uncle Ben and Aunt May. If she was going to make any decision then she needed to run it by them first.

It was just as much their responsibility as it was hers.

Chapter Text

Sometimes Peter wondered how things would have gone if he'd never went to the docks that night.

He'd never been one for 'what-ifs'. Uncle Ben told him that life was too short to spend on thinking what could have been: 'If I'd done anything else', 'maybe I could have changed things' or whatever else came to mind. Everyone had regrets, he'd say, if we spent all our time wondering what we could have done better we'd never get anything done. It was how he lived his life; acknowledging his failures but accepting that what's done was done and just trying to do better with what came next.

Still, Peter couldn't deny that he didn't find it so easy to follow his uncle's advice. He'd spent days going over what happened to Urich in his head, wondering what would have happened if he didn't assault Osborn's office like a deranged ape. Would he still be alive? Would he have 'redeemed' himself or would his habit have killed him anyway? Life wasn't a fairy tale, and the heroin's grip on him was tight. Just feeling bad wouldn't have changed the fact that he was a damn junkie who'd always need his next fix.

At least that's what he told himself. It was easier to put the guilt behind him that way.

Felicia and Robbie were harder to ignore, harder to pretend he wasn't responsible for. Robbie had tried to warn him about Octavius, railed about the bastard's inhumane experiments and the way he looked at Negroes like they were sub-human, and he didn't listen. He'd pushed Felicia to ask Crime Master and she paid the price for it. Maybe if he'd just listened or left well enough alone they'd still be alive; Robbie wouldn't have turned into a vegetable who could barely eat by himself and Felicia wouldn't have been forced to isolate herself because of the lingering scars.

And just maybe he wouldn't have been trapped in this madhouse.

He shook his head as he continued to trudge up the stairs of the old building. For every action there was an equal and opposite reaction...he doubted Newton had this in mind when he came up with the theory but the facts spoke for themselves. If he never got his 'curse' then Osborn and Octavius would have kept going and all those people that they stepped over would have never gotten justice...but in the end someone had to pay that price whether it was him or someone else he cared about.

"This is your fault! That...That monster attacked my father because of you! Brock's your responsibility!"

And now he was stuck here with no way out.

'He better be here...' He looked down at the crumpled paper in his hands and sighed. He had no idea how Bullseye figured out where he was staying, but the paper knifed to his door with an address and literal drawing of a bullseye didn't leave much room for doubt. It wasn't as if he hadn't met the deranged vigilante before, but usually it was a chance (or so the older man claimed) meeting in an alley or abandoned building somewhere. He definitely wasn't expecting him to invite him to his home.

'This is the place.' He looked up at the thick wooden door, the surface bare save a crude '307' scratched onto the upper center. Already he could hear his muffled voice inside and Peter could only hope he wouldn't walk into another donnybrook. He couldn't deny he owed the guy a lot, but that didn't mean he had to be happy about it. Beggars couldn't be choosers and he wasn't exactly swimming with options.

He raised a hand and knocked, tapping the wood three times before an excited "Come in!" sounded from inside, followed by what sounded like moaning. Peter grimaced and only hoped that he was wrong about what was happening inside.

The good news was it wasn't what he thought it was. The bad news was that he wasn't sure if what he saw was better or worse than what he originally thought.

Bullseye was inside, as expected, but rather than a naked dame the moaning was coming from a guy in a loose suit tied to a chair, small drops of blood splattered across the floor. Just barely he saw the guy look up, his gagged mouth letting out another frantic moan at his arrival before a sack covered his head and the chair was tossed into the ground without a care.

"Spidey, buddy! There ya are!" Bullseye came up to him, giving the vigilante an uncomfortable and most definitely unwanted hug. Peter could make out the stench of blood on him, see the flecks of crimson on his hands and cheeks, "Man, how long has it been?"

"A couple of days. You know that." He pushed him off somewhat forcefully and let out another sigh. He supposed he should have been shocked, but any surprise he had packed up and left months ago when he saw the blind guy dressed like the devil, "Do you have what I need?"

"Huh? Oh yeah, yeah, sure!" The blonde smirked and whistled made his way to the other room, stomping on the man's hands as he passed and eliciting a sharp cry of pain.

Peter's eyes narrowed and his fingers twitched. Bullseye was a sadist, that was clear for anyone to see. He laughed when he threw those cards, grinned when they cut open skin and the people screamed from the pain. A year ago he would have assumed he was no better than a common criminal, but the world wasn't as easy as black and white; even though sometimes he desperately wished it was.

He made his way to the squirming figure and grabbed the chair, lifting it up till he was upright again. He had to admit a part of him was still tempted to punch the guy right in his smirking mouth, but it wasn't that simple. He'd known him for barely over a week and already there was something stopping him: He only targeted criminals. Maybe he belonged in an asylum, but Spider-Man wasn't going to be the one to put him there. At least so long as he kept his targets focused.

He saw the figure struggle, trying to escape his bounds and saying something he couldn't understand. Maybe he was pleading for mercy, maybe it was threats about how he 'didn't know who he was fucking with' or whatever else came to mind. Gangsters, criminals, politicians or lawyers; when the chips were down they all pulled out the same cards and bluffs. Didn't matter if he was in this madhouse or not, at least that didn't change.

"See you're making friends with Ethan here!" Bullseye said as he sauntered back into the room, a covered package held in both hands, "You gotta excuse this guy, Spidey. He's a...how do you say it? Oh yeah: 'An entitled shithead'." He dropped the package onto the table and placed a hand on the man's shoulder casually, "Daddy's some kind of senator and he thinks because of that he can get away with anything he wants." His smile widened, "Always love proving em wrong."

"...What did he do?" Peter eyed the package at the table. Everything inside was screaming at him to just take it and go, but he could never really abide a mystery he had no answer to.

"You want a list? This guy's been all over the block. I'll shorten it down to the shit he just did this week: Killed a cop for trying to put him in jail followed by a little rape and pedophilia on a little girl named Nancy." He took out a knife from his back and stabbed it between the guy's legs, the blade cutting through the fabric of his trousers and almost hitting his third leg, "I'm gonna take this slow. It's not every day you get a bastard like this."

"...Let me talk to him."

Bullseye gave him a questioning look before shrugging, taking off the sack covering his face and the stained handkerchief that kept him gagged. Even through the bruises and the messy hair it was easy to see that the guy was good looking; definitely someone who was from a higher breed than those slumming it out on the streets. He knew from experience never to judge by appearances, though. Having the face of an angel didn't mean you couldn't have the mind of the devil.

"Did you do it? Did you kill that cop and rape that girl?" he asked, forcing the injured man's head up to meet his gaze. Bullseye was always right, so far at least, but he couldn't just leave without making sure.

"Of course he's lying!" he replied, lips parted in a sneer, "I never killed any cops and I sure as hell wouldn't touch a little girl! Why the fuck would I!?"

Liar.

Peter scowled and let out a frustrated breath. Bullseye was telling the truth, as expected. If he had any doubts he wouldn't have kept in contact with him beyond their first meeting, "...You've got a terrible poker face, pal." The man's eyes widened as he turned away, grabbing the bundled package and trying to block out Bullseye's giggling, "Good luck with your little one on one-"

"Wait, wait!" 'Ethan' struggled in his seat and looked up at him desperately, "It's not my fucking fault, alright!? That guy shoulda known the score! I warned him, told him that if he kept pushing there'd be consequences! Ain't my fault he didn't listen!"

No buzzing...he was telling the truth. Peter looked back and raised an eyebrow, "...And the girl?"

"She...her mom and dad offered, for Christ's sake! I didn't go out looking to fuck little girls!" Liar, "If you wanna make someone pay for what happened to her then you should look for her parents! Hell, I'll point you to em both if you-"

"Already know where they are, buddy boy." Bullseye shoved the handkerchief back in his mouth, "Little Nancy's with the police and an old friend of mine, so you three are going to get to know me very well when I bring both Paul and Andrea here for putting their little girl through hell." He pulled out another knife and stabbled it through his thigh, earning another high pitched squeal, "Then I'm coming for your dad, gonna make him pay for covering up for all the shit you did. It'll be one big happy family."

"What do you plan to do when you're done?" Peter asked, already dreading the answer.

"Mmm, I dunno," he said, dragging the last word out and playing with the embedded knife like it was a toy, "They've tried to pile a case on this guy and his family for years now but they always managed to dodge the bullet. My buddy thinks they can get that little girl to fess up, but really I'm just tempted to slit their throats and dump em all in the river. Always wanted to get some mileage out of those cement shoes I bought."

"Bad guys do bad things, that's not something you can control. You do the best you can, that's the only responsibility that you have."

"Try to build a case. I know it's tempting to just kill these bastards and let God sort em out, but let em stew in the big house. Guys in prison just love politicians and pedophiles." Bullseye looked unconvinced. Sighing, Peter grabbed the knife stuck between the the rapist's legs and pressed it against his shivering neck, "And if he or any of his buddies get out early on 'good behavior' then you can feed em to the fishes."

Let the system work once and if it failed then to hell with it. He was satisfied with it, even if the 'Superheroes' in this place weren't.

He saw the older man's mouth split into a grin, "Oh, wow, you almost had me there!" He clapped him on the back and took the knife away from him, "You know, for a second I was sure hanging out with with little goody blue shoes made you go full Superhero or something! Next time I turn my back you're not gonna be working for S.H.I.E.L.D, right? Cause that's definitely gonna be a conflict of interest, if you get me."

Right, how could he forget? Not only was the guy crazy enough to tattoo a literal target on his forehead but he was on the run from those 'Shield' finks, too. Peter was sketchy on the details, though he got the gist of it: Bullseye, or 'Agent L' as he called himself back then, apparently got into a disagreement with one of the group's policies on the greater good. Something about a tyrant in a third world country who they'd elected to make a deal with rather than taking down for the 'greater good' and 'longer-lasting stability'.

Two words he'd grown to despise after what happened with Octavius.

Needless to say he'd made his resignation and left it on said tyrant's windpipe after he was done with him. Ever since then he's been on their most wanted list; at least that's what he claimed. For all Peter knew the guy might have just been a delusional mental patient, though his spider-sense didn't blare at all when he'd heard the story. Either way it was clear he wasn't on friendly terms with the group, which was something they both shared.

"Not gonna happen. Doubt they want a freakshow like me working for em..." He placed a hand against his neck and grimaced, "Besides, me and White Widow aren't exactly on speaking terms right now."

"Aw, trouble in paradise? You can tell me." He smacked the hilt of the knife at the back of the criminal's head, putting an end to his struggling, "You two are all over the news, you know. Everyone wants to know what the deal is with the dynamic duo: Both people with spider powers, light and dark, one heroic and the other edgy. Forums and fan sites are having a meltdown with the debates."

"So I've heard..." He rolled his eyes. Why didn't people just ignore him? Back home he was a passing fancy, something for the people to gawk at for a few days before changing to the new trend on the block. The people in this madhouse had way too much time on their hands, "And there's nothing to say. It's like I said: Me and her aren't on each other's christmas cards list and I like it better that way."

"Ah...got it." He nodded, his expression one of exaggerated sympathy, "Well, there are other fish in the sea. You'll have better luck next time, just don't go for any kiddies or..." He spun the knife across his fingers, "You're gonna find a whole new side of me."

"Gotcha."

Another reason Peter felt leery talking to him; it was hard to tell what made the guy tick. One second he joked about taking off someone's fingers like he was talking about what he was having for dinner, the next he was railing against a drug dealer for selling drugs to children and recovering addicts like he was personally offended by it. Peter just tried to keep his head down and made sure Bullseye wasn't targeting anyone who didn't have it coming.

"Oh, almost forgot!" He rushed to the cabinet and pulled out another bottle of painkillers, tossing the container to him with the same exaggerated accuracy he did with anything he held, "You ran out, right? Two a day keeps the reaper away, I always say. Pretty useful considering who you're gonna visit." He gave him another grin, "Careful around that Castle guy, yeah? It took a lot of pushing for my sources to give me that info. He's got a bit of a...reputation around here."

"Two a day...right..." He sighed and stuffed it into the coat of his new jacket, "Well...you be careful with this guy. You have a chance to actually make a case for this, don't waste it."

"Yeah, yeah."

He waved him away and got a pair of pliers from the cabinet, singing 'this little piggy' and giggling under his breath. Peter made sure to close the door behind him tightly, the sounds of muffled screaming just barely heard before he made his way down the stairs. Even if the guy made it to jail he was likely going to be missing a few fingers and his pecker, but he'd have been lying if he said he was shedding any tears.

Peter waited until he was at the alley before he finally shed his mask, the cool winter air assaulting his uncovered face immediately. It was useless and he knew it - Bullseye knew who he was, he'd seen his face when White Widow and Stars-and-Stripes knocked the daylights out of him. He doubted the ex-agent turned vigilante had any idea about a dumb kid who died two years ago but he still felt a certain tension to being exposed in front of him that he didn't get from anyone else.

Trudging to the alley's end, he waved at the nearest taxi and stepped inside. At the top of the package was the address, a little extra from his ''friend', "Johnson street, 2nd avenue," he said to the driver, the redhead nodding in return as he pulled out the rest of the package. He already had a pair of Patilio's boots, but it was useless if he couldn't avoid breaking his legs or miscalculated the jump.

Thankfully whoever Bullseye's 'connections' were they included a place to get customized parachutes on short notice.

He found himself staring outside the window, at the passing buildings and the dim streetlights lighting up the dark street. From down here it almost felt like he was back home, but then they'd pass by one of the fancy new automobiles or another old man dressed like a clown trying to act young and he was brought back to reality. He wasn't home; his home was over 8 decades in the past and probably in another dimension...no, it still sounded insane even now.

What was he even doing, a voice the back of his head asked. He should have been spending his time looking for Octavius, especially now that he'd told Spider-Woman to shove off and couldn't rely on her and Stars-and-Stripes' help. Octavius had been here for five years, or at least that's what they told him. Saving Castle's family and dealing with sadistic crazies like Bullseye wasn't going to help him any more than sitting on his keister would.

But in the end he was still in this damn cab trying to look for Castle, so whatever thoughts he had about abandoning this pointless search they weren't very loud.

The cab driver suddenly speaking roused him from his thoughts, "You new around here?" he asked, eyes never leaving the road, "I've been at this route for a few years now and I never saw you."

"Yeah...just got here a couple of weeks ago," he replied, looking at the driver's reflection on the rear-view mirror. Besides the red hair and newsboy cap his features were indistinct, definitely no one he recognized.

"Huh, haven't had one of those in a while." He turned the cab to the left to avoid the incoming onset of traffic, "So what brings you here? Looking for opportunity like many of the poor travelers or are you just passing through?"

"Personal circumstances. Didn't exactly choose to end up here and I'd rather leave as soon as I can," He sat up in his seat, "...What's it to you, anyway? You normally this chatty with your customers?" he asked back, an eyebrow raised. It was probably nothing - his spider-sense hadn't warned him anything was amiss - but he was always leery of someone asking too many questions.

He shrugged, taking off his cap and putting it on the dashboard, "Only the new ones. Most people here have a place, but you seem like you're stumbling around. Not sure where you're supposed to be going?"

"Maybe..."

"Well, always glad to meet a new traveler on the roads." He smiled, the gesture oddly sincere considering the circumstances, "Name's Jake Lockley, by the way. I get the feeling we're going to be seeing each other a lot, Mr...?"

"Ben...and I really doubt that."

He looked outside the window again, doing his best to silently end the conversation. Thankfully the driver seemed to have caught on and the rest of the short drive was spent in comfortable silence. He'd already had enough doubts on his own; he didn't need taxi drivers trying to get on his case, too. Once he got Castle's family back he could wash his hands of the mess and go back home with a clear head that he didn't leave any unfinished business behind.

Thankfully it didn't take much longer to reach his destination and Peter was all too happy to step out of the cab and it's stifling atmosphere. Now all he had to do was find Castle and try to make sense of everything that was happening.

"Hey, Ben!" The driver called before he could leave, the smile still on his face.

"...What is it?" He really wasn't in the mood to deal with whatever-

"Hope Anansi's enjoying New York."

Peter felt a prick at the back of his head and closed his eyes. Not his spider-sense, something more akin to...familiarity, "Give my regards to Khonshu," he said, the words coming out of his mouth before he could fully process them. He heard what sounded like an echoing laugh and by the time he opened his eyes the driver was gone, the cab already speeding down the road and rounding the corner out of sight.

"The hell...?" He shook his head and took a deep breath. The tingling had stopped, replaced instead by what felt like a slight headache, "...Gotta focus." He brought a hand through his face and tried to put what happened out of his mind. This place was bizarre, a world where freaks like little miss lightning bolt and Blockhead were a dime a dozen. If he tried to make sense of everything in this madhouse then he'd never get anything done.

Besides, he had more immediate things to worry about.

He stepped into the dark alley, the snow crunching under his feet. The building was condemned, or at least it was supposed to be. If Bullseye's sources were right then this place had been due to be put down for months now and yet no one ever actually came. It was the perfect place, really: No one looked twice at a condemned building even if it didn't make much sense. Hiding in plain sight.

The entrance was near dead-center of the alley, the metallic doorway looking like it'd seen better days with the rust and chipped paint. Taking a deep breath, he knocked on the door and said, "Castle, I know you're in there. Open up, I have information on your-"

The door was pulled open and he found a gun pressed right against his forehead. Peter scowled and looked at Castle's bruised face, quickly noting that his finger was on the trigger, "...Nice way to greet a guest," he said, mouth twitching as he felt a slight blare. Castle was edgy, but if he was going to shoot him his spider-sense would have been screaming a lot louder than it was, "...Are you planning to keep this up for long or do you actually plan to listen to me?"

Castle kept the gun pressed to his head for a few more tense seconds, the metal growing a tad warm on his skin, before he eventually relented, letting out a long breath and putting the pistol back in his holster. Peter clicked his tongue and rubbed his forehead; he wasn't a stranger to guns being pointed at him close enough for him to taste the gunpowder, but it was never a pleasant experience no matter how much he got used to it.

Castle stepped inside, Peter following immediately after, "Nice place..." He whistled. Unlike Bullseye's apartment the place definitely looked like it was packed for the end of the world: Tables full of guns, at least three sets of body armor and a few scattered crates full of grenades and other ammunition. Castle looked like he was planning to go to war...and judging by the wounds on his face he was winning.

"What are you doing here?" he finally asked, crossing his jacket covered arms.

"I was going to tell you before you put a gun to my head." He scoffed, "Like I said, I got a lead on your family. Thought'd it be right and proper I told you first and made sure I wasn't just wasting my time."

"...The hell do you mean by that?" He frowned, eyes narrowing dangerously and fingers twitching.

"I'm just wondering if you're still looking for them. I've heard the rumors on the streets, about the 'Punisher' waging a one-man war on the thugs and other bastards slinking in the alleyways." He saw Castle's mouth twitch, "...Do you think they're dead, is that it? Is that why you stopped searching and just started killing every thug that you can get your hands on?"

"You got a lot of nerve, kid-"

"Answer the question," he interrupted, ignoring the older man's glare, "I have a lead, but I want to know if I'm just wasting my time because you don't care or they're not in danger at all. I thought they'd been kidnapped, I believed you when you said you wanted them back, but Hammerhead...he told me that they came to him. He wasn't lying, so...which one of you is telling the truth?"

"What are you looking for, a confession?" he asked, voice dipping low into a growl, "I wasn't the best husband or the best father, but if you're trying to say I hurt them enough that they went to those scum for help then you must be more gullible than I thought. I never laid a hand on Maria and the kids. They left because I was never there for them, but that's no reason to place themselves at the Maggia's 'mercy'."

Nothing...he was telling the truth, at least for that much, "Then what's this little crusade?"

"...Murdock." He sighed, Peter feeling the urge to join him, "He leaves me instructions, gives pictures of my family and tells me that they'll stay safe as long as I keep hitting Maggia businesses and rackets. I'm not sure how much of what he's saying is truth or not, but I'm not gonna put any of them at risk trying to call the bastard's bluff. That's the only reason I'm doing any of this."

A half truth, he could feel it. Peter's eyes narrowed but he stayed silent. Better not to show all his cards at once,"Carrot Top seems to have his hand in every pie." He sneered, "Well, he offered me a way to get their location. All I gotta do is steal a dollar from some broad and he'll give me the info. If he's as good as his word then maybe we can both put an end to this before he stars asking you to assault the White House."

"You're really doing this? This has nothing to do with you and you already saved the kid you were after. This is my problem, not yours."

"Ever heard about not looking a gift horse in the mouth? Cause you're staring." He crossed his arms and pursed his lips, doing his best to keep his expression neutral, "You don't want my help just say so, though I doubt you can steal that dollar back given what I heard about Le Chat Noir. Better I do this before either you or her end up in a body bag. I'm sure that's what Carrot Top would want, anyway."

"Right...just don't get yourself killed. You're my last shot."

Peter gave him a wry smile. He wasn't expecting a thank you, and to be honest he was perfectly happy with that. Castle might have been a shitheel, but at least he knew where they both stood. He wasn't an enigma like Bullseye and he sure as hell didn't project onto him like White Widow. They might not have liked each other, but they were allies for the time being. That at least he understood, it was just like how his previous 'partnerships' went.

"Grab anything you need," he said, gesturing to the tables and rows of weaponry, "Not gonna miss one or two of the pieces and you don't look like you're carrying anything decent."

'Right...Widow still has my gun...' He grimaced. In hindsight cutting off contact before he could get Uncle Ben's revolver back wasn't the smartest thing to do, but looking back there were a lot of ways he could have handled that situation. Pushing it out of his mind, he walked to one of the smaller tables and traced a hand through one of the pistols with a 'silencer' attached to it.

"I'm sorry your friend died, I really am, but you can't just use that to justify doing bad things."

"Not gonna need a gun for this one, thanks." He sighed and made his way to the exit. It was rational: He was already planning to rob the poor dame, he didn't need to risk shooting her on top of it. Better he get in there quick and clean, and if he was lucky he'd be long gone by the time she realized something was wrong and he'd never have to see her ever again.

At least that's what he kept telling himself. Easier to ignore the little voice at the back of his head that way.


It was supposed to be simple.

According to the blind lawyer's information this madhouse's Felicia Hardy lived in a penthouse, as to be expected since she seemed to be a famous celebrity in this place. Going up through the elevators was a no-go and the lobby was too brightly lit; it would've been difficult to sneak past the guards and god only knew what other security measures that'd been developed in the eight decades that passed.

So if he couldn't go down he had to go up.

Peter looked over the edge of the building, the rushing winds doing little to assuage his nerves. He wasn't a stranger to heights, but usually he was clinging to a ledge or something he could grab with his hands whenever he was high up. Now he was planning to jump to the opposite building using two things that could honestly just not work even after all the testing he'd done.

The building he was one was barely higher than the open terrace he was shooting for. Patilio told him that the boots would let him reach near six stories if used properly; he'd only had a few days of training, but it should have been enough. He only had one shot at this...one mistake and he'd end up a pancake on the streets and he really doubted Spider-Woman was going to come save him at the last second.

Taking a deep breath, he pulled his mask on and rushed to the edge of the roof.

The feeling of soaring through the air on his own free will was unlike anything he'd experienced before. For just a moment he wondered if this was how Spider-Woman felt, swinging through the air like Tarzan through the jungle, before he came back to his senses. As soon as he felt himself lowering he tugged on the strings of the parachute, tucking his legs closer to himself as the cloth expanded behind him.

'Hope no one looks up...' He held onto the strings of the chute tightly, doing his best to keep focused. Even now a part of him just wanted to take in the sights, to enjoy the air rushing against his body. He might not have been able to use his webs like vines on a concrete jungle but he could still make do, at least until he finally found his way back home.

He landed on the open terrace safely, though not without almost slipping and falling into the wide pool at the center, 'Yeesh, and I thought the socialtes back at home had more money than sense,' he thought, giving the pool a wide berth. Fumbling for the other strap, he pulled the band and waited for the spent chute to be pulled back and compressed into the backpack once more.

A re-usable parachute...he could find a use for it even after this. Just another favor he owed the the unhinged vigilante.

He stepped through the (mercifully unlocked) doors and found himself in the darkened interior of the large penthouse. Felicia was supposed to be coming back from a concert tonight, so his window of time was limited. From what he could gather her next concert wouldn't be for another couple of weeks and he really didn't feel like waiting around; he'd already pushed his luck putting this nonsense off as much as he did.

Even through the darkness he could see this place was a money dump: Furniture that looked like they came straight out of the lifestyle magazines this place sold; paintings and statues lining the walls and a few other knick-knacks that he could only dream of affording. Eyes narrowed, he jumped through the edge of the stairway and landed with a nearly silent thump on the carpeted floors.

So far so good.

He could see a few cats littering the place, most of them sleeping and the few that were awake paying him no mind. Could they see him, he wondered. Cats were always good at seeing in the dark, after all.

'Now where would she put it?' He looked around briefly before making his way to the bedroom. He didn't have much time in this place, so he would have to go with his instincts. He'd seen thieves before, caught his fair share of them really, but there was never a 'universal' hiding spot. Some guys kept their loot under their pillows or floorboards while others kept it in a safehouse across town. Murdock seemed convinced she was hiding it here, so why not start at the most personal place there was?

The first thing to hit him was the smell of perfume quickly followed by a sense of nostalgia, 'I know that smell...' He closed his eyes and breathed in the scent. It reminded him of the Black Cat, minus the reek of alcohol that was always present, '..Damn it, focus!' He shook his head and stepped into the brightly lit room, making sure to close the door behind him. It had to be here, he couldn't afford otherwise.

Sadly he didn't have much luck. He found a few jewelry boxes hidden under a few compartments, but that wasn't what he was looking for. Releasing a sigh, he leaned against the wall and scowled. He'd spent half an hour searching and nothing...maybe he should try his chances next time before he got caught. Nodding to himself, he turned off the lights and-

...Was that light always there?

Even with the sudden darkness and his eyes still not adjusting fully he could barely see the thin strip of light emanating from under the bookcase. If he wasn't so desperate he might have even assumed it was part of the floor's design, but as he drew closer to the bookcase that thought began to die down.

'A hidden room?' He picked up the bookcase and moved it as quietly as he could, the still-dim light glowing slightly brighter as the space increased. There was a wall behind it, but maybe...'I'm gonna look like a moron if this doesn't work...' He felt around the marble, feeling like an idiot the longer he went, but eventually he heard a click and the wall retracted with a near-silent thrum.

Peter stepped back and watched as the wall pulled itself up to expose the wide interior within. The lighting inside was warm and oddly comforting and he found himself drawn in, idly taking note of the various things lined up in a row.

'What the hell?' He eyed the hairbrush sitting on the glass case. This place looked like a museum, but nothing inside screamed value. A hairbrush, a dull looking brooch, even an amulet with a lock of hair inside, 'Who'd bother stealing all this?' He went down the display cases, feeling more and more like he'd made a mistake the more useless junk he passed, until he finally found it.

'Bingo...' A dollar put up on display, this had to be it. Clenching his fingers to calm himself, he reached a hand out to touch the glass-

Spider-sense.

Moving on instinct, he nudged his head to the side and just barely avoided the knife that whizzed past where his head was.

"Well, well...Murdock finally sent someone to reclaim that bastard Fisk's prize."

Peter took a deep breath and closed his eyes for a second at the sound of the familiar voice, "It's not what you think..." He turned around and met the eyes of the platinum-haired dame standing at the entrance of the room. Her posture was confident and the thin smile on her face did little to dampen the fact that if he hadn't dodged there would have been a hole through his neck.

"Really?" she asked back, her tone mocking, "What I see is a thief trying to steal something I hold very dear. How would you explain it?"

'Felicia...' He had to admit, the lack of physical resemblance was a blessing. He already felt cagey enough stealing something on Carrot Top's orders, 'Doesn't look like she's dressed for a fight,' he thought, looking at the dark jacket, white pants and boots she was sporting. It may have been what was considered fashionable in this time period but he was pretty damn sure it wasn't built for combat.

"Well? I'm waiting."

He didn't answer. Swallowing down any hesitation he felt, he punched an elbow through the glass and grabbed the dollar, rushing towards the entrance and hoping the shock would be enough to slip past her.

Her expression of surprise morphed into a scowl as he neared. Her leg raised in a high kick and he ducked, slipping past the gap in the doorway and rushing towards the living room. All he had to was make it outside and parachute out. He doubted she could fly and by the time she got down to follow him he would've been long gone.

He'd taken two steps into the living before they pounced, 'You gotta be kidding me!' He didn't need his spider-sense to see the group of cats jumping at him, the few that managed to make contact latching onto his skin and hissing in his ear.

"Let go, you little-"

Spider-sense.

He ducked into a crouch to avoid her roundhouse kick, elbowing her in the stomach even as the cats continued to latch onto whatever flesh they could reach with their claws, 'As if I'm not going to hell already...' He sucked in a pained breath and grabbed onto the clinging cats, flinging them as far away as they could reach. He didn't have much time before she recovered.

The last cat was off him by the she'd gotten her breath back, her scowl only worsening at the sight of her pets strewn about like ragdolls, "Is Murdock too much of a coward to get his own prize?" she asked, her voice a low hiss, "He won't even show himself, is that it? Thinks I'm not worth the trouble?"

Peter kept silent as he blocked her blows. She was fast, he'd give her that, but she wasn't prepared. He didn't know what her history with the lawyer was and right now he couldn't afford to care.

'Need to finish this quick.'

She pulled out a knife from her sleeve and slashed at him, the arcs wide enough that they cut through his jacket and the skin of his shoulders. Biting back a hiss, Peter grabbed her arm and aimed a kick at her feet, covering her in a net of black webbing before she could regain her bearings.

She struggled briefly in her bindings before she eventually stopped, making do instead with throwing a spiteful glare at him, "Ha...I didn't recognize you without your costume, but you're him, aren't you? 'The Dark Spider'." Her lips curled in a sneer, "First Spider-Woman and now you. So it's wrong for me to kill that murdering bastard but it's alright for you to work as his lapdog? You're pathetic."

He should have known Spider-Woman was involved one way or the other, but right now he didn't have time. Ignoring the venom in her words, he turned around and made his way to the terrace. Once this deal was done he could finally put it behind him-

"I hope you choke on that murderer's blood money, connard!"

Murderer...Peter knew the blind half-portion was a criminal, but the way she said it...she wasn't just stating a fact, she knew first-hand what he was.

'Leave it, it's none of your business...' he thought. He was already deep enough in this tangled web as it was, he didn't need to complicate things even more. All he had to do was jump and give the damn dollar back, and all this would be over.

"...What did he do to you?"

Damn him and his big mouth.

Fists shaking, he walked back to where Felicia lay and pulled away the web keeping her bound to the ground. The young woman looked up at him, her eyes narrowed in suspicion, before she stood up shakily, "What, you suddenly care? Isn't this a job?"

"You think I like working for Murdock?" He crossed his arms and frowned, "He has information I need, information that can save a family. If I wasn't so desperate I would've put a bullet in his head." He sighed, "The way you talk about him...he did something to you, and right now I'm wondering whether he sent me here cause he was expecting I'd throw you off the building and save him the trouble. So spill it, what's the deal with you two?"

She stared at him silently for a moment before eventually letting out a tired breath, "It's a long story..."

The fatigue in her voice...that was definitely familiar.

He looked at the dollar he held in his hands before pressing it against her palms.

"I've got time...trust me."

Chapter Text

He was getting a headache.

Peter squirmed as he sat atop the couch, the leathery material squeaking annoyingly at his movement. At the other side of the leather sofa sat Felicia (or at least this Madhouse's reflection of her), her hands clasped together on her lap as she regarded him. There was something in her eyes...paranoia and distruct, something he expected considering how they met, but also a hint of curiosity and wonder. She wanted answers, wanted to peel apart the mask covering his face and expose the truth.

Well, she was going to be disappointed.

"So...start from the beginning." he said slowly. This entire thing was a shit show and he knew it. It would have been easier if he just took the dollar and ran, got the information from Murdock then turned around and shot him right between the eyes once he made sure it was legit. This dame obviously had a grudge against that blind shitheel so he could have gotten her forgiveness once she heard that carrot top was six feet under.

"Not sure if I could trust you with that," she started evenly, her lips pressing into a thin line at his annoyed scoff, "You do see how this looks, don't you, Spider? You break into my house, attack my pets, bind me to the floor and now you expect me to trust you just because you gave back what you tried to steal from me?" She gestured to the dark wood table, the dollar lying innocently next to the other decorations lying on top of it, "You'll forgive me if I'm skeptical on how sincere this is."

"You came at me with a knife. I coulda done a lot worse than..." He sighed and closed his eyes, willing himself to calm, "You know what? You're right. My head ain't big enough to admit that I screwed up here. All Murdock told me was that the dollar we fought over belonged to his boss and he's willing to give me what I want in exchange for it. I'm not exactly proud of it, but it ain't the worst thing I did...tried to do."

"You mentioned that before. Information on a family, was it?" There was something in her voice; the same restrained hate Felicia from back home had when she talked about the Goblin, "Murdock is a leech, Spider. He plays at being the better evil, the devil you know, but he's no better than that pig bastard Fisk he's working for or that old fils de pute Silvermane. He's not someone you can trust."

"You think I don't know that?" He let out a wry laugh, "He's used me once already. When I got here he gave me and another guy info on a fink named Hammerhead; gave us his safehouses, operations...I knew he wasn't doing it out of the goodness of his heart, but I didn't catch on till after the fact that he was connected to Fisk's little cabal. Hammerhead was gearing to go to war, and he used as to put a stop to it without risking any of his own men."

"That's him, always pulling the strings and cutting them when they've served their usefulness." He saw her clenched hands shaking, "How did you think this was going to end? You give him Fisk's little prize and he just gives you what you want, let you live your life in peace?" She shook her head, a sardonic smile on her face, "He has his hands on you now, and until you cease being useful he's not going to to let go. He'll squeeze and squeeze until you have nothing left for him to take."

"There's a picture." Another wry laugh came and went, "You think he's the first guy I dealt with who thinks he can control everything? Bozos like that are a dime a dozen back where I came from. They think they're untouchable, that nothing can put them out of their pedestal, but they die all the same when it comes down to it. At the end of the day he's human, and you know what they say about humans and perfection."

"Supposedly impossible, though I'd say the same about the little tricks you pulled earlier."

There it was. She was fishing, trying to turn their little interrogation around. If she was anything like the Felicia he knew then one thing was clear: She hated being at a disadvantage. Felicia was never one for playing the innocent maiden act unless it helped her...then again some things in this madhouse were topsy turvy so who the hell knew. Last he checked his Felicia wasn't some kind of Negro chanteuse.

Still, better safe than sorry when it came down to it.

"This place is full of freaks. I'm just another one of them," he said, shoulders rising in a slight shrug. Technically it was the truth even if he didn't really belong in this little asylum, "Either way we're not here to talk about me. Murdock and you, spill it. All of it."

Her mouth twitched, though she covered it up with a strained smile just as quickly, "Of course..." She regarded him for another silent moment before suddenly standing, the sound of the heels of her boots clicking on the floor almost annoyingly loud in the quiet apartment. He was half-expecting her to attack him outright before she spoke again, "I'll need a drink if we're going to be talking about histories. You don't mind, do you?"

"...Go ahead."

He watched her walk over to the bar and pick up a couple of bottles, fancy glasses coming soon after. Peter rolled his eyes and leaned back on the seat. He didn't like it here, surrounded by the smell of perfume and furniture that cost more than his house back home (especially considering the value of the dollar seemed to have gone down the toilet). Maybe it was petty of him, but honestly he didn't care. Give him a cushion and a pillow and he was satisfied; he didn't see the need for all this fancy garbage.

Sighing, he let his eyes wander around the apartment as she continued to pour drinks. If he thought Captain Stacy's house was fancy then this place made it look like a storage closet. The things inside looked like it'd make a high roller back home blush and the view of the city - of all the 'little people' outside - was something not even the mayor could get. If media darlings could get even half of this back home more people probably would've tried the acting gig.

He was roused from his thoughts by a cat jumping next to him, the brown fur brushing against his right leg as it looked up at him, "...Nice kitty?" He did his best to ignore its unblinking stare. Felicia from back home (and apparently here, too...) had a fondness for cats, but he personally never saw the appeal. At least the little furballs were nice enough whenever he came to visit her, though he put that down more to her training them well than any natural kindness.

Cats were mean little bastards, he'd seen enough there to be sure of that. Just one more reason he was a dog person.

Still, Peter couldn't stop himself from grimacing slightly as the little bag of brown fur trudged onto his lap - its claws digging lightly through his trousers and onto the skin of his leg - before eventually settling down, curling into a ball with a lazy yawn.

"Well, well. Looks like Olivier likes you," chimed the chanteuse, sitting down at his side a smidge closer than before.

"Can't imagine why. I didn't exactly leave a good first impression." He waved at the other cats littering the apartment, most of whom were staring at them with unblinking, judgmental eyes. Little furballs could hold a grudge, he'd experienced that first hand.

She shrugged and offered him the spare cocktail glass she held, which he accepted after a moment of reluctance. Even through the haze of perfume surrounding him he could make out the sickly sweet fruity smell of the drink and it only worsened his headache. Even the drinks here were different...next thing he knew people were going to stop eating food altogether and just drink meals down their throats.

Maybe he should have asked for whiskey...

"Thanks..." He swirled the mixture but made no attempt to drink it. He had a feeling he'd have to go to the bathroom if he did.

"What's wrong? Worried I'm going to poison you?" she asked, Peter giving her a flat stare in response.

"Maybe...wouldn't be the first time someone's tried it."

She laughed softly in response, relaxing in her seat and crossing one leg over the other. It was...practiced, if that was the right word. She was trying to put his guard down, make it seem like she was relaxed, but her movements were too methodical. Everything was too precise; her laugh was too stiff, the way she moved her body slow and deliberate. He'd seen it before both with and without his mask. Some people just didn't like the idea of not being in control.

Gwen was the opposite from what he'd seen so far. She was loud and carefree, gesturing almost exaggeratedly whenever something caught her interest. She'd once joked that she wouldn't know fancy etiquette if it 'bit her in the ass', which he had to agree with. Still, he found it refreshing after everything he'd been through. Everyone (himself included) was too guarded, too paranoid, while she didn't care about tapping her hands on the table in a beat only she understood-

Why was he thinking of Gwen? He shook his head. He needed to focus.

"Not taking off that mask?" she asked, rousing him from his thoughts.

"Do take off that ridiculous mask."

"What's wrong? Does it bother you?"

"You don't like masks?"

She didn't answer. Peter raised the glass to his lips, lifting his mask by the barest amount possible, and took a sip. He almost immediately regretted it when the far too sweet drink crashed against his tongue, the taste of what seemed like either licorice or candied apples lingering even as he swallowed, "...Interesting mix." He coughed and put the glass on the table, being careful not to disturb the feline balled up on top of him to avoid getting another clawing.

"If you didn't like it I could have given you something else. It's not as if I'm lacking in spirits."

He took out the bottle of painkillers and swallowed six of the small pills. He needed a clear head if he was going to get anything out of her, "I try not to get drunk when doing my 'work'." That's what this was, after all: An interrogation, even if she was doing her damndest to make it seem like it wasn't, "Enough games. What did Murdock do to you and why'd you steal his bosses' long green?"

"A question first," she countered, Peter just barely resisting the urge to sigh in frustration, "If you don't like what I tell you what are you going to do? Will you just go back to your employer and tell him that you quit? Be honest with me."

"I'll punch you in the face and take it back. Already did it once," he said bluntly. There was no point lying to her, and if she was anything like Felicia back home then she would've appreciated a harsh truth to a comforting lie, "So you better sell your story, sister. And try not to lie; I can tell when someone's trying to pull a bluff. You ain't the first shark I've had to deal with."

Another laugh, though this one was noticeably more bitter. Still, at least it was honest, "You hold nothing back, don't you?" she asked, getting no answer in response, "Fine, lets make an agreement: I'll tell you what he did and answer any other questions you have, but in return I want you to answer my questions when I'm done. It seems a fair trade, doesn't it? It's not as if you have any loyalty to that diable."

"...Fine." He let out a tired breath. At this point he'd take anything to avoid the run-around, "First things first, what did he do to you?"

"He killed my father."

...Honestly, that was about what he expected. Tragedies were a dime a dozen from where he came from, especially when they involved the mob and wannabe kingpins of crime. He'd seen it all before: Husband who killed himself to stave off the debt collectors, daughter who got sold into prostitution to pay off gambling debts or parents who were murdered for refusing to sit down and take the piles of slop that'd been put on their plates.

Him, Castelione, Daredevil...and now apparently her. It was enough to make him wonder if God really was out there and if he did then he had a sick sense of humor.

"Why's that?" he asked, doing his best to keep his voice level. Trying to comfort or sympathize with her wasn't going to fix anything. Better they stay on the mark, "I don't know much about carrot top, but if he's a gangster like you said then they need a reason to put a hit on someone...or at least a pretense. They don't gun down people who're minding their own business; bad publicity that way."

"He..." She took another sip from her glass, nearly finishing it all in one go before she continued, "I suppose there's no sugarcoating it: My father was a thief. One of the best, the best according to some people. Le Chat Noir, the Black Cat..." Her lips quirked up in a wistful smile, though Peter could only hold back a frown. The Black Cat...he'd never asked Felicia why she named her speakeasy that way, never asked her about family either.

"Let me guess, he picked the wrong mark and it got him buried six feet under."

"Very astute," she said, swirling the last bits of alcohol left in the glass, "My father had a peculiarity. He had no interest in jewelry or gold and the insides of bank vaults never appealed to him. It was always the rare things, the irreplaceable objects that caught his eye. Anyone can steal a pretty diamond or a stack of valuable coins, but a hairbrush used by a Queen when she was younger? That's priceless."

The way she talked about him...it almost made it seem like her dad wasn't a burglar who got in over his head. The power of legacy, he guessed, "And what better prize than the first dollar ever earned by the man who ruled the city's underworld?" he asked rhetorically, looking over the single long green lying on the table innocently. All this for a damn dollar...he would have laughed if he wasn't so annoyed.

"Murdock killed my father to get it back - a test to prove his loyalty to Fisk - and I stole it back now that Fisk is in prison to lure him to me," she said, "He didn't even care enough to end me. Murdock doesn't care, doesn't hold personal grudges and overblown vendettas like his master does, but that makes him worse: As soon as someone's lost his interest they're nothing to him; whether dead or alive they're just another pile in the mountain of bodies he steps over every day."

"Now he's using me to get it back...thinks he's proving my 'loyalty', maybe?" He shook his head and rolled his eyes. Murdock was making him chase his own tail, "I wonder if he intended me to kill you. You say he doesn't care, but something tells me he wouldn't exactly be shedding tears if you fell of the railing in a happy accident."

"Perhaps..." She looked at him more severely, her posture stiff, "Now you're going to answer my questions. That was the deal, correct?"

"Yeah, yeah...ask away." He waved a lazily. She was probably expecting him to punch her in the face and bolt, but he hoped it wouldn't have to come to that.

She raised an eyebrow at the casual answer before she spoke, "Why exactly are you working for that diable? Is it really just for information? I've seen you on the news...you're one of those heroes, putting on masks and stopping the 'bad guys' from hurting innocents."

"Like I said, a family's life is at stake," he replied neutrally. She was presuming a lot of things about him, and he wasn't in a hurry to correct her.

"You said that before, and yet it seems so...impersonal." His eyes narrowed. She was trying to get at something, "Murdock isn't afraid to take someone's wife and child hostage to get what he wants, but in your case I'm not so sure. Tell me, is it your family you're trying to save or someone else's?"

He was tempted to bite back with something scathing, something to change the subject, but he reined it in. What would that accomplish? It wasn't like her knowing would chance anything.

"Not mine. They're from a..." A friend? Hardly. Friends didn't shove guns at each other's heads with their finger still on the trigger, "Acquaintance. Murdock took his family and he's been making him play at being the angel of death, running around alleys and gunning down any rival gang members he tells him to. I'm not gonna shed any tears for those dead bozos, but Murdock's making a play and he's the only one seeing the prize."

"That's it?" She let out a noise of disbelief and crossed her arms, "All of this, you throw yourself at that connard's mercy to save the family of an 'acquaintance'?" He couldn't tell whether it was disbelief or disappointment he heard in her voice. Maybe both, "That's all it boils down, then? Another play at heroics, trying to 'save the day' even if you have to work with a murderer to do it?"

"Says the woman with a room full of 'irreplaceable objects'," he replied, "I don't like it any more than you do, but a family's life is on the line here. I'll put a bullet in Murdock's brainpan once I make sure they're safe."

"And what if he dangles another family in front of you? Keeps making you do 'harmless tasks' to save just one more victim?" she asked back, "It's why I'll never understand you or Spider-Woman; clinging so tightly to what you believe is right that you'll never bend even if it's justified."

"That sounds personal...you mentioned her before. There a story there?"

"What, she hasn't told you?" she asked, expression turning into a sneer, "I lured Murdock to me, fought his lapdogs so I could avenge my father. And what did she do?" She laughed bitterly, "She stopped me. What I was doing wasn't 'right' in her eyes. It was wrong for me to kill the man who murdered my father, the reason why I wake up at night seeing the only one I could trust taken from me. So she knocks me unconscious and leaves me for the police."

"...There a point to this?" He scoffed, "Murdock killed your dad, I know that. I'd tell you I was sorry and that you have my sympathies but that won't change anything. All I'll tell you is this: I'm not Spider-Woman, and if you wanna put Murdock six feet under be my guest. I'll help you if it comes down to it, but until that family's safe I need him alive. Any more victims he tries to dangle in front of me...guess I'll just have to live with that."

A overbearing silence settled over them, broken only by the occasional light purring of the cat as his lap. He'd thought about it before, of course, of Murdock trying to string him along like a puppet and selling himself as the 'devil he knew'. Even now a part of him questioned; Why was Castle's family so important? Why bother saving them and not the next few dozen people he'd probably try to use to get his cooperation?

The fact that he had no answer infuriated him more than anything.

Eventually she sighed, her posture loosening as she almost sank into the seat, "...Take it." She gestured exasperatedly to the prize they fought over, "Take it and save that family. I suppose I'll have to take your word..."

Without another word he placed the cat at his side and took the dollar, stuffing it into his pocket as carefully as he could muster. She was trusting him, at least with this. Better he not overestay his welcome. Looking back at the terrace, he made his way outside and stared over the edge. The parachute would allow him to land safely; he just had to make sure he didn't land in the middle of the damn street.

"Wait." He looked back and found her stand at the entrance, "If you're going to turn against Murdock, then..." She bit her lip for a brief moment before continuing, her voice more confident, "Keep in touch. I have as good a reason as anyone to want to see that monster dead, but I want to be there rather than hearing about it from the news. Meet me again when you finish this little task he's given you."

"What, you expect me to just walk up to the lobby dressed like this?" He gestured to the loose jacket and patchwork mask, "I doubt they'll let me in and I'm not really in the mood to try and repeat this little break-in twice. It's a miracle I managed to get these boots working at all."

She looked down for a moment, muttering something he couldn't make out, before she rummaged through her pockets and pulled out a slip of paper. Peter raised an eyebrow at the sudden gesture but took it regardless.

"That's a VIP ticket for a concert I'm doing two weeks from now. If you've saved the family by then I want you to meet me there. No one will care if you're wearing a mask and it won't arouse suspicion considering everything else that happens nowadays."

'Le Chat Noir and her musical cats...' He gave her a nod and pocketed it as well. If it was anything like Gwen's music then he'd need to bring a pair of earplugs, "I find anything out about Murdock and I'll let you know. Promise."

"I'm holding you to that, Spider."

A last smile, this time hopeful. Peter couldn't help the slight bubbling of guilt he felt in his stomach at the sight of it. Heaving a sigh, he jumped over the edge and pulled the strings of the chute. Hopefully it wasn't another promise he'd have to break.


It didn't take much for him to find them...or would it have been more accurate to say that they found him? Back then Murdock never actually said that how they'd meet up again, just muttering something about how he'd 'know on his own' once he got his little prize. He just expected to run into him on another alley, the same way Bullseye tended to 'coincidentally' meet up with him every few days.

What he didn't expect was being surrounded by damned ninjas on a rooftop a quarter of an hour after he left Feli...Hardy's place.

Peter raised an eyebrow at the pack of yahoos around him. He'd seen ninjas on the picture films before, but even after hearing the rumors on the alleys about Murdock's little hit squads it was still hard to admit what he was seeing in front of him was legit.

"...A lot of guys for one delivery," he said, taking a cursory glance around him. He counted at least 6 of the goombas covering him in a circle, not including the leader with the glowing blue katana (did guns stop being useful when he wasn't looking or something?) standing in front of him.

None of them said anything. Tall, blue and stupid gave a small nod and the rest of his squad of morons drew closer, their swords drawn. Peter felt his spider-sense blare, though not loud enough for it to be about real danger, "...What the hell is this? I did what you wanted, got your bosses' dollar back exactly like you told me-"

"Do you think us a fool, child?" he interrupted, his voice booming. Peter raised an eyebrow; someone was trying a little too hard to be intimidating considering the get-up he and the rest of these clowns were wearing, "The master's eye is all-encompassing, young spider. You act in opposition to us."

"Yeah? Well I haven't exactly been hiding how much I don't trust carrot top." He dragged the name out, watching the taller man's fingers twitch in impotent rage. These guys were loyal, it was obvious even at a look. Like a damned cult, "Does it matter? I followed the terms of our deal. He gets the dollar and I get information on the family. How I feel about him doesn't factor in."

"It does when you conspire with one of his enemies." He stepped closer, the sword drawing closer to his stomach, "We know you've made a deal with that pathetic wretch Hardy, a deal that places the life of our master at risk. Any previpus agreement you've made is rendered void because of this."

Spider-sense.

Listening to the little voice at the back of his head, he bent his legs over in a crouch and heard the soft whir of a blade going over where his neck had been. So that was how they wanted to play it, huh? Fine, he could play ball.

"Real fair, guys."

He let out a burst of webbing to cover the three clowns to his right before he pivoted to the left, giving a kick to the closest one he could reach, "You wanna go? Let's go!" Just barely he heard the leader shout a "kill him!" before he leapt back, more of the disposable mooks jumping to the rooftop like guests at a surprise party.

They were trained, that much was clear. He was used to fighting big galoots with more balls than brain cells, but these jokers were precise, 'I'm starting to miss freaks like Sandman...' He jumped to the side to the avoid the throwing stars coming from above, the sharp metals tearing through the legs of his pants and cutting through skin, "Son of a..." Peter hissed, snarling at the closest one wearing a pajama.

"Murdock never planned to honor the deal, did he!?" He dodged the strike and grabbed the attacker's arm, smashing his fist at his elbow and earning a disgusting snap.

He didn't scream, didn't even seem to care that his arm was bent far too much to be healthy. Instead he grabbed hold of him with his remaining hand, screaming something in Japanese to the others just before they came at him with swords drawn.

'Too many up here.' He pried the suicidal bastard's hand off and threw him at the rest of his friends, jumping into the alleyway before they could recover. He couldn't stay up there; they'd just keep dumping more and more idiots who were so damn 'loyal' to Murdock that they'd let their buddies carve em up just to get even a small advantage. At least mafia goons caved when they thought it wasn't worth it, but these guys...he wasn't running from them.

No, he needed to bring them to his turf.

The darkness of the alley was almost comforting, but more importantly it was the one place he knew he had the advantage. Looking around quickly, he picked up a loose brick and tossed it at one of the lone dim lights lighting up the long stretch of intersection. Ninjas they may have been, but they were still human (hopefully...) and that meant they couldn't see in the dark.

He didn't have to wait long for them to come like lambs to the slaughter. Peter held onto the railing of the fire escape, watching through narrowed eyes as they separated and padded through the worn concrete and day old snow. He counted at least eight - four now that they split up - but he couldn't forget that these guys were coming out of the woodwork.

He needed to do this quick.

Peter let out another burst of webbing, covering the gap between the alley's walls in dark silk. That would buy him a few precious seconds.

He dropped onto the four when they passed under him, webbing all four to the ground and kicking each of their heads to keep them down. One of them screamed out something, probably a warning to the rest of his friends, and from behind he could hear soft footsteps followed by the sounds of something stretching.

Like flies to the spiderweb.

He grabbed one of the lying katanas and slashed at the top of the makeshift barrier, letting the rest of the black silk fall on the clowns before he aimed another burst at their legs and a punch at each of their faces. They may not have screamed but at least they still took everything else like human beings.

Now he just needed to-

Spider-sense.

He looked up for just a moment before he scrambled back, the leader impaling a sword through the concrete from where he was standing. Peter's brows knotted together in worry, 'Never seen a sword do that before...' He lowered his posture and tried to calm his rapidly beating heart. There was something about him, something that made his heart wanna burst out of his chest.

"You think yourself impressive, child? That you are the only one to be blessed by a deity?" He pulled the sword out the concrete and swung, knocking away the flecks of dirt that clung to the flawless blade, "You are weak, nothing more than an imperfect replica trying to graze your fingertips at true power. You think just because you wear that mask that you are strong?" He dropped something on the ground and the alley lit up like it was the fourth of July, "Let us see how adept you are without the darkness to coddle you."

"Anyone ever tell you that you talk too much?"

He underestimated him, a mistake he quickly regretted when he dodged his punch and aimed a slice at his side, "Ah, damn it!" He tried a kick this time, which he again avoided followed by giving him a deep cut on his elbow. The bastard was fast, but more than that he made him feel slow.

Three more slices, all at his back, and Peter found himself kneeling on the ground with a puddle of blood quickly forming around him, 'Come on, get up!' He tried move his legs but it felt like he was being weighed down with concrete shoes. Even trying to bind the bastard's webs with webbing didn't do anything, his wrists doing nothing but bleeding slightly rather than releasing the expected webbing.

"What the hell did you do to me...?" Peter looked up at him and glared. He wasn't going to give him the satisfaction of begging.

"I cut the strings that tied you to your...patron. No doubt it will try to come to your aid given enough time, but I will not give it the chance." He raised the sword over his head and brought it down. Peter could barely muster the strength to throw himself back and close his eyes, his right arm raised to try and futilely block the blow.

The sound of something smacking against the ground was almost deafening in the still alley. Opening his eyes, the sight in front of him was enough to make him scream.

His severed hand lying right next to him.

He stared at his right arm, stared at the stump where his hand had just been, and...he didn't know what to do. Maybe it was the adrenaline or the sheer disbelief but he felt no pain. He could see the stream of red rushing out, the bloody flesh that didn't belong, but it didn't feel real. It's like he was looking at a picture rather than experiencing it for himself.

"I'd hoped to make this merciful. Lie still, child, it will be painless."

He raised the blade up again, the tip of the metal aimed right at his forehead. That was it then, wasn't it? He was going to die in this madhouse, away from his home with his friends and family never finding out what happened to him. He'd always entertained the idea of being killed because of what he did, but he thought at least when he did he'd be at home. Maybe the media would make a storm out of it, but at least Aunt May and Mary Jane would know what happened to him.

No...he wasn't going to die like this.

His left hand lashed out and grabbed the blade, his grip on it tight even as it began to cut through the skin. He could see the drops of blood falling all around him, but he didn't care. He wasn't going to let a clown dressed in pajamas do him in.

"Impossible! Your abilities should have been-"

"Shut up!" Feeling returned to his right hand and he grabbed hold of the ninja's arm, aiming a kick at his mid-section as he did so. The force of the blow was enough to make him release the blade, the sounds of snapping bones once again reaching Peter's ears when his attacker landed with a thud a few feet away from him. He didn't care if that bastard was another freak; that had to hurt.

"Ah..." He stood up shakily and looked down at his right hand...his new right hand. He could still see the severed limb lying on a pool of blood, but a new one had grown to take its place, "The hell..." He moved his fingers experimentally. The flesh was...wrong, covered in a innumerable green scales and feeling heavy even as he tried to control it. This definitely wasn't normal even by his standards.

Still, he couldn't afford to be picky right now.

"An eye for an eye..." He picked up the bloody sword with his normal hand and brought it down on him, severing the clown's remaining hand and getting a muted scream in return. A part of Peter was disturbed by the smile his screaming gave him, but the louder voice kept it down. Why shouldn't he have felt happy? This bastard tried to kill him. Fair was fair.

He stabbed the sword through his gut, messily pressing the blade deeper into his body and the concrete below him.

His revenge was short-lived. Before he could drag the sword up to gut the bastard he felt a kick at his back followed by blades being impaled into his shoulders. Stumbling forward, he just barely caught sight of a dame in red pulling the sword out before slinging the bloody ninja over her shoulder.

"Stay away." She pointed a sai at him, her expression cold, "Otomo overstepped his bounds, but he will be punished under our judgement alone. Leave now."

"Like hell," Peter spat, "He's dying, and if you wanna help him you're going to join him six feet under."

He saw the barest traces of a frown before she nudged her head, more ninjas dropping in from the rooftops. Throwing more bodies at him? Again? Ninjas or mobsters, he guessed some things never changed.

The next few minutes were a haze. The woman and the leader were gone, but more and more ninjas came to try and stop him. Whatever conscience he had of taking their lives were gone and he remembered snapping their necks or impaling their own swords through their eyes even as his injuries began to pile up. They'd stop throwing themselves at him eventually; all that'd change was how many of them died before they caught on.

He'd lost count by the time they'd finally wised up, at least for the moment. Peter knelt on the floor of the alley, the numerous cuts and injuries all over his body causing his vision to fade in and out. How much blood had he lost? He should have been dead right now powers or no.

He blinked and scowled; one of his eyes was blind, cut through with one of their swords, "Damn it..." Looking down at the newly regenerated limb, he watched with morbid curiosity as the outer covering of scales broke apart and exposed the undamaged flesh underneath, "...Huh." He looked at the dead bodies surrounding him, the pile of corpses practically covering the alley. He could feel himself calming, but that was quickly followed by a rising sense of guilt.

He shook his head. They were trying to kill him; why should he feel bad? Releasing a tired breath, he pulled back his middle and ring finger and watched a minuscule net of webbing expel from his wrists, "Least I got my powers back..." And with that came slower healing...he didn't know whether he was relieved or not. He wouldn't have complained if the Spider-God decided to wait till he was healed before deciding to give him his 'gifts' back.

"Gotta get out of here..." He fumbled through his pockets and pulled out the bottle of painkillers. The pills were barely past his throat before he felt the urge to puke, 'Oh, shit...' He leaned against the wall and vomited, the yellowish bile mixed with more than a little blood. His head was pounding and he could feel more of the kid's memories trying to worm their way in.

Not this time. Not again.

Peter'd barely managed to stand on shaky legs before his spider-sense blared again, the warning almost like a whisper after everything that happened. Two more ninjas dropped, their sword held in front of them warily. Were these guys backup or were they waiting for the rest of these shmucks to wear him down? Either way he didn't like chances now that the high passed.

He stepped back and almost fell on his back. His body felt like lead, "You wanna die, too?" he taunted. Sometimes he just needed to talk harder than he was.

It didn't work. He saw any hint of hesitation leave and they stalked forward, their hold on their swords more secure. Peter crawled back and tried to release a burst of webbing, but it hardly covered the floor of the alley before fizzing out.

They were close enough to slash him before he heard it, "Cover your eyes!" someone screamed, quickly followed by an arrow impaling itself on the ground. Peter heeded the advice and covered his eyes with his a hand just before he heard what sounded like a firework going off.

He heard something land beside him before his right arm was tugged upwards, "Come on, get up! Flashbang won't keep them down for long!" He looked up and was met with a wall of purple - a jumpsuit of some kind - and a young woman wearing similarly colored shades. On her free hand he could see a bow while a quiver of arrows was fastened to her back, "Ms. Jones, hurry! I doubt these two are going to be the only ones!"

Another dame - one he recognized from a few days ago even with the hood covering her head - came rushing down the alley. She picked up one of the temporarily blind ninjas and smashed him to the other, a deep scowl marring her face, "God damn it, Bishop! We weren't supposed to-"

"Too late now!" She drew her bow and shot another arrow, this one covering the narrow alley in smoke, "Just carry him out of here before any more show up! You can lecture me when we get back!"

"Fuck..." She knelt down and grabbed Peter, slinging him over her shoulder almost effortlessly, "Watch my back. If I get stabbed by one of Murdock's lapdogs its on you!"

What the hell was going on? His mouth parted to ask but 'Bishop's' insistence that they "Go, go, go!" was drowning out the few words he managed to eke out. He'd almost managed a 'what' before he heard the sound of a car door opening and he was unceremoniously dumped in the backseat, 'Bishop' and 'Jones' piling on the front and starting it up with a rushed turn of the keys.

"Who...why are you-"

"Long story, but what matters is you're safe for now," the younger of the two answered, a strained smile on her face, "Just get some rest. We'll make sure nothing happens to you."

He heard the the older woman curse under her breath, her grip on the steering wheel tight. Peter could only manage a nod before he closed his eyes and let himself fall into the lull of sleep.

Chapter Text

Back here again...

Gwen sat on the edge of the windowsill, legs swinging idly and her feet just grazing the wooden floor, 'Nothing's changed...' she thought, looking around the room slowly. How long had it been since she'd been here? It didn't seem that long ago that she'd spend most of her days here, sleeping over because her dad was busy with work or couldn't make it home for one reason or another.

Aunt May was the one to suggest the idea of spending time over to her dad and he'd agreed easily enough; it was better his daughter spend time with friends of the family rather than spending another night alone in their house sleeping on the couch trying to wait up for him. "She shouldn't have to be alone in that place, George," she'd said, obviously worried, "She can stay with us. It's not a bother at all."

They'd slowed down eventually, of course; when she got to the dreaded 'rebellious teenage years' (her dad's words) her dad didn't like her spending too much time alone with Peter in sleepovers. It was for Peter's sake, or at least that's what he claimed. He didn't want her best friend to meet 'Uncle Background Check' and 'Aunt PG-13' and ruin a perfectly good friendship...emphasis on that last word followed by a not-so-subtle look to Aunt May and Uncle Ben.

She shook her head; it seemed so silly back then, her dad worrying about her finding out about the dreaded world of boy-girl relationships when only a year later she got bitten by a radioactive spider and got superpowers...though he probably would have preferred that to getting supercancer or turning into some human-spider hybrid like something out of a B-move from the 90's.

"Damn it..." She slipped off the windowsill and stood on the room proper, her footsteps soft in the bare wood. Her costume, normally a source of comfort whenever she put it on, almost felt suffocating in the darkness of the small bedroom. What was she thinking putting it on? Was hiding behind a mask really the only way she could face the Parkers, the only way she could admit that both her and their son had made a mistake?

But what else could she do? Knock on their door, wake them up from their sleep and just tell them that she had irrefutable proof that Peter turned into the midtown high Lizard? They'd never believe her, and the worst case she'd never be welcome in the house again. At least if she wore a mask she could still pretend it wasn't her, still come back to her second home like nothing ever happened.

A part of her was so tempted to just run, just jump out the window and swing away before Uncle Ben or Aunt May even realized she was here. Standing here in Peter's room dressed like the 'murderer' who took him from his family...why couldn't she just be honest with them? Why couldn't she just go up to them and tell them that...

That what? That their son turned into a monster? That she'd beaten him to death because she didn't realize he was Peter? Every day she thought about that night, thought about what she 'could' have done instead. Maybe she could have binded him with webbing, maybe she could have just talked to him and tried to calm him down. Hell he'd even begged her to stop attacking him and she ignored him, too focused on trying to push away her own fear that she didn't see his.

"Depends. If helping her meant letting more people get hurt would you have done it?"

She grit her teeth and clenched her fists, taking a deep breath to calm herself. She liked to think she would have done her damnedest to save anyone that got infected with that damn poison but a part of her, the traitorous little voice at the back of her head like a fucked up Jiminy Cricket, told her otherwise, 'You wouldn't care so much if it wasn't Peter. You'd feel bad but as long as it wasn't someone you knew you could live with it.'

'Shut up.' Shaking her head, she took a few tentative steps to the study desk across the bed. Ben and May didn't touch anything in the room; everything was left as it was. Even now she could see scattered papers and an old pair of glasses lying the surface of the table, the academic honors award standing proudly a few inches away without a speck of dust on it. They made sure everything was the same but the room was cleaned every day, everything dusted and wiped till it looked pristine.

It felt...wrong. They were doing their best to honor Peter but this place...it felt more like a museum or a time capsule than a room someone lived in before. Everything was too clean and even the messes looked artificial, like the way someone thought a messy room should look like.

She picked up one of the science textbooks and skipped to where the bookmark was lying, "Regenerative properties of lizards...?" Her hands shook and she had to resist the urge to chuck the damn thing outside the window. How long had Peter been planning this? Did he always think about creating the serum or was he inspired by Dr. Connor's research? Connors said he didn't plan the ideas in his head, but...

"God damn it..." She shook her head and slammed the book down on the table, momentarily forgetting that she wasn't supposed to be here. Before she could regret her rash action she heard something fall to the ground with a dull thud, the sound of something cracking quickly following, "Shit..." She knelt down and groped blindly for a second before she felt the hard, rectangular plastic.

Standing up again, she turned the picture frame around and immediately felt as if she'd been slapped when she saw the contents, "I remember this..." she mumbled, tracing a hand through the cracked glass covering the picture. Through the broken glass her reflections from 10 years ago stared back at her, her face split into a wide grin as she held her 'trophy' over her head. Peter was standing next to her, his smile similarly large and his arms stuck in a goofy pose.

The day they'd won a contest for a Captain America charity event. It was silly. First prize was a replica of Cap's shield - obviously nothing more than some cheap plastic that got spray painted red, white and blue - but to them it felt like they were on top of the world. She remembered them spending days just playing with the damn thing till they got the bright idea to toss it at the lake cause 'it's Captain America's shield, it'll come back!' or some other stupid reason.

Needless to say it didn't and by the time her dad finished lecturing them both and managed to fish it out the paint had washed off and they were left with a boring lump of plastic that they eventually dumped in the storage room never to be seen again.

Maybe it was fucking cliche but she did sometimes miss those days. Yeah, yeah; youth was wasted on the young and all that, but back then she didn't have to worry about Supervillains or disappointing everyone by not being good enough. Whenever she heard of criminals she always thought her dad would be there to protect her like her own personal Captain America. Now she was protecting him from douchebags like Vulture and Hippo...

She didn't know whether it was her spider-sense flaking out on her again or if she was just distracted - likely both considering her luck - but by the time she heard the door opening to her right it was too late.

Her head snapped to the side and she froze. Uncle Ben stood in the doorway with a bat in his hands, Aunt May not too far behind. They must have heard the noise and figured a burglar had broken in; it would've been her first thought, too.

An uncomfortable silence settled over the room. She opened her mouth to explain, but all that came were strangled half-words. What was she supposed to say? 'I snuck into Peter's room cause I was feeling nostalgic'? 'I didn't want to go through the front door like a normal fucking person cause I was scared'? They didn't know Spider-Woman, and Uncle Ben still considered her to blame for Peter's death.

...It was only after a few seconds of deliberation that she realized how it must have looked to him: His surrogate son's murderer, the one he and Aunt May condemned in a stage in front of dozens of people, was standing in Peter's room...

Uncle Ben's mouth parted in shock for a moment before his expression morphed into a scowl, his grip on the bat tightening, "You...what are you doing here!?" he screamed, causing Gwen to flinch back. She'd never heard him raise his voice; even when she was angry he was always calm, always willing to explain that he wasn't mad at them and that they just had to do better next time.

But the way he looked at her now...the hate, the rage...it brought her back to those first days after she'd been blamed. She'd shut down after Peter died, and seeing people disavow her - how they 'always knew' that she was a murderer and a criminal - was pouring salt into an open wound.

But still, none of that compared to seeing the two people she considered part of her family pinning her best friend's death on her.

"Ben..." Aunt May said softly, placing a hand at his arm, "Please don't yell."

"I...I just wanted to-"

Her spider-sense tingled just in time to warn her. Moving on instinct, she lowered herself into a crouch and winced as the baseball bat flew over her head, smashing into the wall with an almost deafening thud, "It wasn't enough that you took my nephew!? Now you have the nerve to show your face here!?" He swung again and Gwen jumped back, landing on the bed with far less grace than she'd have liked, "Haven't you done enough!?"

"I...I didn't-" Didn't think, didn't know what she was doing coming back here, 'Get out of there! He's not gonna listen to you!' The voice screamed, but she ignored it again. Jumping off the bed, she clung to the ceiling and resisted every urge and instinct telling her to web his hands to the wall. He wasn't some common criminal. This was the main who helped raise her, the man she called uncle as if he was her blood.

"I-If you'll just let me explain-" She bent her body to the side to dodge the thrown bat, grabbing it out of the air before it could land again, "Please, I know how this looks but you just have to-"

"I don't have to do anything!" he yelled, looking around the room for anything else he could use, "You took Peter from us! What gives you the right to-"

"Ben, that's enough!"

Both their heads snapped to Aunt May, stunned into silence as the normally calm woman glared at them both in equal measure, "Just...please, lets not make this worse." She touched Ben's arm again, the older man seemingly calming at the gesture, "You may not trust her, but you can trust me. If she meant us any harm she would have attacked by now rather than trying to plead her case. Lets just give it a chance."

"May..."

"And you." She looked up at her, her expression softening to something more pleading, "You came here to explain something, so...explain. But please don't hide behind that mask anymore. If you want us to trust anything you say then you need to be honest with us."

"I...I can't..." She detached herself from the roof and landed in front of them, Uncle Ben putting his wife behind him protectively before she dropped the bat behind her, "I know you deserve honesty, but..." But what? She wanted a fallback just in case this failed? Because she was a coward who would have preferred to keep lying rather than owning up to the truth? She didn't discount the idea that this could blow up in her face, and really what was one more fuck up to Spider-Woman compared to the backlash Gwen Stacy would get?

Aunt May stepped forward, both hands reaching out to touch her cheeks. Gwen flinched, resisting the urge to step back as her fingers grabbed the edge of the mask, "It's alright," she said, her voice soft and calm, "You don't need to lie to us, Gwen."

"Wha-"

Her eyes widened and she nearly stepped back before she pulled her mask up, lifting it till it reached her forehead. Past Aunt May she saw Uncle Ben's expression of shock mimic her own, his head shaking as he stepped back and muttered something she couldn't make out.

"H-How...?" she asked, her voice nothing more than a choked stutter. How did she know? She'd never shown herself as Spider-Woman in front of either of them before now; too ashamed to see how they would look at her everything that had happened. There was no way she could have figured it out, "I...I never got close to you while I was in costume, how could you have...it doesn't-"

"Shh, shh. It's alright, Gwen..." Aunt May put another hand on her cheek, a soft smile on her face, "I...I figured it out after George was kicked out of the investigation. The way he talked about Spider-Woman - about you - was...I just knew that it wasn't just a sudden change of heart. He trusted you, he was convinced that you didn't kill Peter. It couldn't have been anyone else..."

"But...But you never-"

"You knew?" Uncle Ben interrupted, the hurt in his voice plain to hear, "You knew for...for months now and you never-"

"What was I supposed to say, Ben?" she asked back. Gwen could see the beginning of tears in her eyes, "You...You blamed Spider-Woman for us losing Peter, you didn't believe George when he told you that she wasn't responsible. What would telling you have done?" She shook her head, "Gwen's family, I didn't...I didn't want us to lose her like we did Peter. I couldn't..."

"May..."

"I'm sorry..." Gwen said. She didn't know what else to say, "I'm sorry I lied to both of you, but I couldn't...people blamed me for Peter's death so the thought of just...just telling you the truth was too hard. What if... What if you thought it really was me? That I killed my best friend and didn't tell you for three years now?" She shut her eyes tightly and took a deep breath, willing away the urge to break down into tears. She needed to be strong, "I couldn't just..."

"It was you all along..." Uncle Ben looked away, his breaths shaky, "Why...Why would you come here now after all this time?"

"Because you deserve the truth...all of it." She stood up straighter and looked them both in the eyes. No more lies, no more running away. Whatever happened next she would live with the consequences, "It's time you knew what really happened to Peter."


They moved to the living room after that, a painful silence hanging over them. With every step she took the urge to run away diminished and by the time she was sitting on the couch any thought of retreating - of lying again - had been erased from her mind. They needed this, all of them. Whether the truth became public after this or not Cap was right about one thing; the Parkers deserved to know what happened to their son.

Gwen took a deep breath to calm herself, her arms folded on her lap. The last time they were here she was watching a video of her dad and Uncle Ben getting drunk and making asses of themselves in Mardi Gras, but now here she was in full costume sans mask trying to explain to them both what really happened that night at prom.

Sometimes she wondered if fate just had it in for her.

"This doesn't seem real," Uncle Ben said from across her, voice dipped low in a whisper. From the side she could hear Aunt May's soft shuffles, the kind woman making hot chocolate to try and put a sense of normalcy into all the insanity, "I...we blamed you for Peter's death. I thought you really..."

"I know how it looked. I was there, I held Peter in my arms before he..."

Aunt May came back, a tray holding three mugs in her hands, "I hope it's alright," she said, placing the tray on the table.

Even now she couldn't help but smile at the crudely written 'Gwennie the Pooh' markered on the side, "Thanks, Aunt May..." She took the cup and let the smell of hot chocolate calm her, at least for a moment. It was always what she gave whenever bad news happened; a bad grade, an argument with her dad about joining the band or whatever else she worried about more than two years ago.

They sat there in tense silence, the only sounds being the occasional sipping from the cups. She knew this wasn't normal, but she didn't know how to start it properly. Even with the USB stick burning a hole in her backpack she didn't know how to properly broach the topic.

Thankfully(?) Uncle Ben did it for her.

"Did you kill Peter?" he said suddenly, his eyes never once leaving his mug. Aunt May looked at him, her expression aghast, but he continued on, "Gwen, I just...don't sugarcoat it, alright? I just want to hear the truth."

"No." Yes, a part of her hissed. It was still easy to blame herself and claim responsibility, but it wasn't the truth,"I...I blamed myself for so long, I thought I really did kill him even if it was just an accident, but...but even if I didn't attack him he would have died. There was nothing I could have done once he..."

"Once he what?" he asked, his voice shaky, "Wh-What did Peter do to make you...attack him?"

Gwen winced and gripped onto her cup tightly. The moment of truth, "He...you know about the Midtown Lizard, right?" she asked, both of them giving reluctant nods in return, "After what happened with Peter it all got swept under the rug, especially since it never showed up again. But..." She bit her lip. It was hard to find the words, "But the reason it never showed up again was because...because the one who turned into the Lizard died that night."

At that moment a part of her would have given anything to take her words back, to erase the trauma she'd given them. She saw Uncle Ben's eyes widen, his head shaking as he muttered 'no, no, no.' under his breath like it would erase what she'd said. Aunt May was no better, her eyes shut tight and her hands covering her mouth as her shoulders shook with suppressed tears.

She knew the feeling. When she'd first seen the Lizard she was consumed with fear and rage; a monster was attacking prom, putting everyone in danger, and she was the only one who could stop it. She'd never fought anything worse than purse snatchers or thugs back then and the thought of facing a monster - her first 'Supervillain' - scared her more than anything.

So she taunted him; put as much force as she could into her punches and refused to hear his pleas for mercy. It was only after she saw Peter's broken body that she felt like everything had shattered, that she made the most terrible mistake in her life and she would have given up anything for a chance to do things over.

"You-You're lying!" Uncle Ben said, throwing a glare at her, "Peter wouldn't- he'd never turn himself into a- There must have been some other reason that he died that night! There has to be-"

"Ben...you know she's telling the truth." Aunt May squeezed his hand, trying to look strong despite her tears, "Why would Gwen lie to us? Peter and her...do you honestly think either of them could hurt one another if they had a choice?"

"I..."

"I know it's hard, Uncle Ben. God, I know..." She did her best to keep her voice level, but she couldn't stop the choked sobs, "Every night I told myself I could have done better, that I could have changed things. If I could go back I'd do it in a heartbeat. I love Peter, he was my best friend. If I could have saved him - stopped him from putting that damn serum in his system - I'd have given up anything to do so. But...But I can't change the past. All I can give you is the truth now."

"And what is the truth?" he asked, the glare making way for a haunted look she'd seen far too many times when she looked at her reflection, "That our son turned himself into a monster? That he...he died because he deserved it?"

"Peter made a mistake, I won't deny that, but he didn't deserve to die," she said, "He just...everything that happened to him: The kids in school making fun of him, beating beaten up by the bullies and finally that last straw at prom...he got angry, he lashed out. The serum took all that and turned him into that thing. He was so angry he just...wanted to make everyone else pay for hurting him."

"Gwen..." Aunt May looked at her. Was it pity or something else that she saw in her eyes, "If...could you have saved him?"

"...No."

There was something in that one word that seemed to hurt more than anything else. There were times where she thought of saving him, dreams where she just webbed him up till he calmed down and returned to normal...but there was no going back once he'd put the serum inside him.

"The serum, it...it killed him the second he put it in his body," she said slowly, each word harder to say than the last, "Even if I didn't fight him, if he just calmed down...the damage to his system was too much. As much as I want to tell myself otherwise there was nothing I could have done once I saw him at prom."

There it was, the whole truth of it. Peter turned himself into a monster and she couldn't save him from himself. Maybe if she'd looked out for him more, focused on helping him deal with his tormentors like Carl King or trying to curb the resentment he felt for Harry, he wouldn't have felt the need to create the damn thing just so he could be 'special'.

But then there were a thousand 'what-ifs', thousands of things she 'could' have done instead. Hindsight was always 20-20.

"How...How do you know all this?" Uncle Ben asked. There was something about the calm in his voice that unnerved her, "You couldn't have found this out on your own."

"I...you're not going to believe me, but Captain America told me." She unzipped her bag and took out the USB, the sight of the old revolver causing her to pause for a moment before she zipped it up again. This didn't involve him, "I ran into her when I heard rumors of more Lizards. She investigated what happened with Peter again and found out someone falsified the results. This is what really happened."

"Show me."

It only took a moment to zip back and grab Peter's laptop and boot it up. Her hands were slightly shaky when she put the USB at its side, few clicks showing her the DNA map and attached notes, "I...can't really explain it. I'm not a geneticist, but..." She swiped to the right and tapped the screen, "This was Peter's DNA prior to the serum. Nothing unusual." Another right swipe, "After the serum...his genetic structure became unstable, or at least that's what Cap said. T-The notes have more details, so reading that is...yeah."

She stepped back and let Uncle Ben grab the miniature computer, his gaze focused. She doubted he had any more idea about genetics than she did but she had a feeling that didn't matter; he wanted to find out the truth and he'd take anything to try and make sense of it all.

Gwen held back a frown and made her way to the kitchen, the sound of the mouse clicking the only thing reaching her ears. This wasn't going how she thought it would. She knew it would hurt, for both her and the Parkers, but imagining it was nothing compared to seeing the pain on their faces when they realized the truth. 'A harsh truth's better than a convenient lie', her father once said. Maybe that was why he took the reveal of her identity better than most would have, but not all of them could just keep going after finding their world turned upside down.

Releasing a sigh, the unmasked heroine put her back to the table and looked up at the ceiling. Technically speaking her goal was done: She'd told the Parkers the truth and given them proof. Hell she could give them Cap's phone number when the senior hero called her again if they wanted to make sure...

A pair of footsteps from behind put a nix to any idea of excusing herself. Looking back she found Aunt May slowly trudging into the room, her gaze cast downwards, "Ben's trying to make sense of it all, but I think he honestly believes you," she said, "I'm sorry for the things he said earlier. He was...ever since Peter died he's-"

"I understand," she said, cutting the older woman off with an attempt at a comforting smile, "In his situation I would have done the same thing. Jameson's been screaming that I'm responsible for Peter's death. Scream loud enough and people begin to believe you." She pressed her lips into a thin line. There were a lot of things she wanted to do to New York's mayor, and none of them she wanted to vocalize out loud, "It's not his fault-"

"No, Gwen, it is," Aunt May cut her off firmly, "It's both our faults. It was...is a disservice to Peter what we did, just clinging to our grief and trying to find someone to blame. We'd lost our son, but you lost your your best friend. We were both hurting and..." She took her and squeezed it gently. The warmth was comforting even through her gloves, "For two years you dealt with the grief, trying to save people even when they condemned you as a murderer. I'm...sorry I didn't do anything sooner."

"Aunt May, please...it's not your fault," she repeated, "This was all...just a big pile of mistakes."

That's what it boiled down to, didn't it? If she never got her powers maybe people would never have gotten it into his head that he could be 'special'; maybe if Carl King and the rest didn't bully him he wouldn't have become resentful; hell maybe if they never met Harry then Peter wouldn't have felt this insane need to prove that he was no better than him.

There was no one thing she could point at and go 'that's the reason' for what happened that night. They were all slipping down the slope.

"Maybe it is, but it doesn't change how we acted afterwards." She let go of her hand, Gwen immediately missing the warmth that came with it, "Gwen...you told us the truth about what happened, but that's not all there is, is there?"

Gwen bit her bottom lip and she looked down at the floor. It felt like she was a kid again, not wanting to admit that she hadn't done her homework or that she'd done something else she shouldn't have, "I..." She took a deep breath and steeled herself, Caps words ringing in her head again, "Yeah, you finding out the truth is just one of the reasons I came here."

"I'm listening."

"It's..." She shook her head, "Cap gave me that data for two reasons: One was because she thought you both deserved the truth, and the second was because...because she wants me to go public with it. Clear my name in...in exchange for-

"For Peter's," she finished, "She wants you to prove your innocence."

"Yeah, but...I don't- I'm not even sure if its worth it," she admitted. It was suddenly difficult to look Aunt May in the eyes, even if she showed nothing but understanding, "Aunt May, Peter's one of the reasons I go out there every day. The reason why I put on the mask and ignored all the insults before people started changing their minds. Before Peter's death I was...I was selfish. I just wanted to have fun with my powers, to go on talk shows like I was some kind of damn celebrity. I didn't even think about helping people - really helping people - until that night."

"But you're still doing it now, aren't you?" she asked, Gwen nodding reluctantly in response, "What you were back then doesn't matter, Gwen. In your shoes many people would have just given up, but you spent years trying to save people even when they gave you nothing but scorn in return. If anyone deserves to get a clean slate it's you."

"But...But you know what people are like!" she said, her voice rising despite her best efforts, "They can be- God, they can be such assholes! Three years I dealt with their insults, screaming that I was just a delusional criminal and that I killed my best friend even after I did my best to help them. If you reveal what happened, they...you know what they'd do if they found someone else to blame and hate even if it's not rational. I...I can't put you through that. "

"If it means your innocence then it's worth it." Aunt May put a hand on her cheek and nodded, "Ben and I are old, Gwen. We've lived our lives and we spent the last two years just wallowing in our grief. But you...you can do so much, save people and do a lot of good. More than Ben and I could ever hope to do. The innocence of one young girl - a hero - in exchange for a little grief for two old fogeys like Ben and me? It's a fair trade."

"Aunt May, I..."

"Hush now, it's alright." She pulled her into a sudden embrace, Gwen freezing up momentarily before she reciprocated the gesture. How long had it been since she was in Aunt May's arms, trying to hold back tears and look stronger than she was? "Ben and I aren't fragile dolls, Gwen. Whatever harrassment or insults they throw at us we can deal with it. You have the rest of your life and I don't want you to carry Peter's death like a cross."

"I'm not your responsibility."

"I...if you're sure..." She reluctantly pulled herself back from the comforting gesture, "But if you really wanna do this then let me call Cap first. I know you and Uncle Ben can take care of yourselves, but I'd feel better knowing someone was watching out for you both. And-And I'll make sure to visit and check up on you whenever I can. If you need anything or anyone ever tries to hurt you please tell me immediately, alright? I'll make sure to set the record straight."

"We'll be fine, Gwen." she said, a small laugh escaping her, "I can see now why Peter..." she trailed off, suddenly looking like she'd said too much.

"Peter...what?" she asked.

"I...probably shouldn't say. I don't want to drudge up old memories-"

"Aunt May, we spent this entire night just talking about the truth of all the fucked up things that happened." She placed a hand on her shoulder and squeezed, "Whatever it is I can deal with it. I've...I've had three years to move past everything, we all did."

"Gwen...Peter loved you."

"I...I know that," she replied, ignoring the voice at the back of her head telling her otherwise, "We were best friends since we were kids. I loved him too, like he was family-"

"No, Gwen, not that way. He loved you...the same way I love Ben."

Gwen's eyes widened and she stepped back, her mouth parting even though no words came. Eventually she managed to calm herself and speak up, "What...? That's...you know how crazy that sounds, right?" she asked, a forced smile on her face, "Peter and I grew up together. We-We played in the mud, we threw toys into the lake. Why would he-"

"I don't know his reasons, Gwen, not really. I never asked because I knew he'd just deny it or try to come up with some excuse on why it wouldn't work. Maybe he fell in love with you over the years, maybe something just clicked one day like it was for Ben and me, but it was obvious to me that he loved you. It's not hard to understand why seeing the amazing young woman you've turned into."

"That's..." Aunt May always joked about it before, that her son was holding a torch for the girl next door. Gwen laughed it off, said that real life wasn't a movie and that Peter was more in love with his chemistry set than anything else. She never would have thought that he even considered feelings for her in that way; he always seemed more interested in his projects and studies than relationships.

...And honestly even if she knew she didn't know if she would have felt the same way.

"It only makes the decision easier. Peter would want you to be happy, Gwen. Proving your innocence is a start."

"So just...just stay away from me."

"You-"

"Am I interrupting something?"

Gwen head snapped to the entrance of the kitchen. Uncle Ben stood there, his expression uncertain and holding no trace of the focus he had not too long ago. Aunt May looked at them both in turn before she mumbled something about 'giving them some privacy' before making her way to the living room. She wanted to beg her to stay, to make sure that she had someone who would support her in the same room, but all that came out was a soft "Don't go" that she doubted the older woman even heard.

Uncle Ben remained silent for a minute before he extended his right hand out, the USB held between his fingers, "I...read the notes," he mumbled, Gwen taking the data drive reluctantly, "I'd be lying if I said it all made sense to me, so I can only go with my gut."

"And what's it say?" she asked. Already she was dreading the answer.

"That you would never hurt Peter if you had any choice." He rubbed the back of his head and frowned, "It's just...I spent so long hating Spider-Woman for taking Peter away from us, and finding out its you...it's not exactly something I would have ever expected."

"Are you disappointed?"

"More angry at myself, really." He gave a wry laugh, the sound almost painfully loud in the dark kitchen, "Back in that room when May first pulled that mask from your head you what my first thought was? 'Gwen killed Peter'." He took in a shaky breath, "It was...wrong of me to do that. Peter was your best friend, I knew that his death hurt you just as much as it hurt us but I still wanted someone to blame. I didn't want to admit even the possibility that all of this was just a mistake."

"I understand...I'd want someone to place blame on if I was in your place."

"It still doesn't make it right," he replied, "I, uh, heard your talk with May. About revealing the truth, and I want you to know that I agree with her. You've spent enough time carrying Peter's burdens, it's about time we shared the load."

That was all she could take. Practically stumbling forward, she pressed her head against Uncle Ben's chest and cried, her arms circling around his back in a tight hug. She could feel him stumble slightly at the sudden gesture but eventually she heard a soft laugh and he wrapped his arms around her back too. He could have blamed her for everything, could have hated her for not doing enough to save Peter, and yet he was still trying to look out for her.

She remembered the piggyback rides, the screams and cheers whenever Uncle Ben carried both her and Peter like he was the world's strongest man. Even after everything, after all the problems, the villains and the death she'd seen, even something as simple as being close to the Parkers never failed to bring her a sense of relief. That was something no one could ever take from her.

The embrace lasted for a few more seconds before she heard the unmistakable sound of her phone ringing. Separating herself from him with a small smile, she pulled out the mobile phone and pressed the answer button when she saw the 'unknown number' flashing on the screen. It was either Cap or a telemarketer, but she was betting on the former.

"Hello, Ms. Stacy. Having a pleasant evening?"

Wrong on both counts.

Her face morphed into a scowl and Uncle Ben looked at her worriedly, "Murdock," she spat, mustering as much venom as she could into the name, "How the fuck did you get my number?"

"Wasn't hard, but that's not what's important right now. I think you'd-"

"No. You know what? Fuck you." She turned around, keeping Uncle Ben out of sight. He didn't need to see this, "I'm not going to play your games and I'm sure as hell not going to become your little protege. So delete my number and never call me again or I swear to god I'll-"

"My, such a temper!" He laughed, the sound causing her blood to boil, "And here I was offering something you might find interesting. But I can see - get it, see? - that you're not in the mood so I'll let the picture speak for itself. If you don't care then I guess that's your choice."

Before she could let out another curse the call cut off, a message being sent immediately afterwards. She was so tempted to delete it without checking; it was probably another one of his tricks, the same way he tried to goad her dad into killing Frank Castle so he could 'protect' her.

In the end curiosity won out and she opened it...and immediately regretted doing so.

An address with a photo attached. The picture wasn't the highest quality, not helped by the weird lighting, but it was enough. She could see a handful of Murdock's ninjas on the ground, the blood and wounds not giving her any false hopes that they were still alive. It was the figure at the center that got her attention - Even without his coat the mask was unmistakable, 'Ben...' She swallowed nervously and tried to focus on him. He was injured, cuts and other wounds marring his body, but that wasn't what worried her.

It was his right hand, covered in scales and crushing the last ninja's head like it was a damn grape.

"No...no, no, no, no!" She shut off the phone in a panic, suddenly feeling the urge to vomit. He was supposed to be immune! How could he have...there was no way he-

She had to find him. Now.

Aunt May looked up at her when she trudged into the living room, Uncle Ben following after her anxiously, "Gwen, what's wrong-"

She took a deep breath and pulled down her mask, "No time, I-I have to go." It would take too long to explain, time she didn't have right now. All she could hope for was that she could find him before it was too late.

"I have to stop someone from repeating Peter's mistake."

Chapter Text

"Urgh..." Peter's eyes parted open slowly, the bright light of the sun streaming from the window immediately giving him another unneeded headache, "Where..." He blinked and raised both hands up to cover his eyes. He could feel the heat through the window, the bare skin of his chest pressed against the hard mattress uncomfortably. Wherever he was he had a feeling in his gut he wasn't going to be offered a warm cup of milk and a bed in breakfast.

The last thing he remembered was...

"Ah, damn it..." He let out a pained cough, his headache only getting worse. It all came rushing back: The little stunt with this madhouse's Felicia; her confession about her cat burglar dad biting off more than he could chew; an agreement to meet after Castle's family was safe; those damned ninjas deciding that he was a loose ended that needed tidying up and then...

Then they cut off his hand. And it grew back.

He shut his remaining eye tightly and tried to control his breathing. More images came and went, all of them only worsening the urge to vomit (and probably annoy whoever was housing him when they came in to check). He'd killed people before, sometimes without even feeling guilty about it, but that...he'd always used a gun or even just a knife or a pipe. There was something impersonal about it, something that made it easy to not think about it too much. He didn't feel the blood on his hands and it was over in a moment.

Uncle Ben told him once that being a pilot was easier than being a soldier. Not because he didn't risk death every time he entered the battlefield, but because everything was so distant. Planes were shot down and bombs were dropped on clusters of faceless crowds; he didn't see the people screaming and praying that they didn't want to die. It made the guilt easier to swallow, and he talked about friends who had to beat people to death with shovels when their guns ran out of ammo.

He was lucky, he'd said, that he never had to watch the life fade from a man's eyes.

After that...he couldn't remember. It would come back eventually, but he didn't feel like sticking around for that, "Gotta focus..." First he had to get out of this place. Any thoughts about guilt, battle fatigue or shell shock could come after that.

Blinking away the blurriness, he frowned at the feeling of bandages covering his chest and left eye, "Whoever took me doesn't want me to die, at least..." he muttered. It didn't give him much relief; just because he was patched up didn't mean what they had in store was good.

He tried to raise himself up only to fall back down almost immediately. His body felt like lead and a quick look at his hands showed another problem, "...Perfect." He tried to separate his wrists and winced; handcuffs, pretty thick ones by the looks of em. Trying to move his feet wasn't any better - Even if he couldn't see them he could hear the clinking of the chains and something cold around his ankle.

Right, definitely not a good place to be.

Another attempt to break the links came and went, but the metal bindings showed no signs of bending. Either he was still weak or whoever brought him here used the same miracle metal that Stars and Stripes and White Widow cuffed him with a couple of weeks ago, "Not again. I don't need this right now..." He moved his shoulders and tried to prop himself up on the bed. He wasn't going to get out of here like this and he had a feeling Bullseye wasn't going to come to his rescue again.

He was on his own.

'Come on, think! You've been in worse before...' He looked around the room. Besides the bed and a small desk with a chair in front of it the inside was more or less barren. He could see two doors to his front and right, a muffled voice and footsteps coming from the former. Someone was here, and he wasn't going to stick around to see if they were friendly or not.

Thankfully whoever owned the place wasn't very tidy. The room was cluttered with no small amount of junk and a few empty bottles of booze, but there was something else he could use. Throwing himself at the edge of the bed, he grasped for one of the fallen paperclips and grabbed it with shaking hands. He could only hope that his fingers would stop trembling long enough for him to pull this off.

"Come on..." He sat up with a few pained breaths and pressed his back against the bedframe. He could hear the voices again, louder this time, 'Move, Parker...' He bit the small end of the paperclip till there was a small dent, bending the point so the metal would stick out. He wasn't exactly a master criminal, but desperation was the mother of invention. Do or die, and he'd been up to a lot of doing ever since he got to this asylum.

Holding the piece of metal between his middle and ring finger, he guided it towards the keyhole before using the makeshift handle to turn, "Come on, come on..." He looked at the door and jimmied the clip with his thumb. He just needed to-

*Click*

The ring of steel came off with a snap and his right hand was free. Throwing another glance at the door, he picked the next keyhole and gave a sigh of relief as the last of the cuffs fell onto the bed with a dull thud, "Eat your heart out, Bullseye..." He allowed himself a small smile before pressing his knees closer to his chest. Now he just had to get these damn leg cuffs off and find some clothes and he'd be right as rain.

It didn't take much longer than his previous bindings and after about a minute of fiddling with the lock he heard the satisfying click of the mechanism releasing its hold and falling to join its partner.

"Right, now to get outta here..." He took a deep breath and put a shaky foot down on the floor, making sure to avoid the bottles and just hoping there weren't broken shards of glass he couldn't see. His entire body still felt like it was made of jelly, but he'd been through worse, "Slow and steady..." He grabbed the bedframe with shaking hands and pulled himself up. He'd open the window and jump out half naked if that was what it took. Wasn't like he was worried about freezing to death.

He only managed two steps before he fell, his legs finally giving just before he landed flat on his face.

As if things couldn't get any worse he heard the door opening with a soft creak, 'Just my luck...' Looking up, he caught sight of a twist stepping into the room, a tray of food in her hands. It didn't take long for her to find him and she raised a brow, the expression quickly being replaced by something that looked like disbelief as an awkward silence enveloped the room.

"Uh..." she said, eyes shifting from him to the picked cuffs lying on the bed, "Well...that's not what I thought I'd see walking in here." She shook her head, sounding more amused than anything else, "Damn it, I told Ms. Jones the cuffs weren't a good idea but no~." She placed the tray at the side table before kneeling down and offering him a hand, "Come on, big guy, get up. Don't want you opening up those wounds again."

Well...she was friendly. Peter looked at the offered hand before reluctantly accepting; his spider-sense hadn't blared at all since he saw her, so that had to count for something.

She lifted him up with some effort before placing him back on the bed in a sitting position. Again Peter felt the urge to try and jump out the window but he reined it in. Sometimes his paranoia got the best of him, "...Thanks." he said.

"No prob," she said, throwing him a smile and a cheeky wink in response. It was bizarre; she was acting like he didn't look like a gutted pig covered in bandages, "Hey, sorry about the cuffs. Ms. Jones was a bit paranoid after what happened last night."

"Last night?" He pinched the bridge of his nose to try and stem the headache, "Who...Who are you?"

"You forget already? I'm Kate Bishop, one of the two good Samaritans who saved your ass. All in a days work and all that. "

"I...don't remember," he admitted. Besides going mad the last thing he recalled was that broad in red dressed like a prostitute taking that bastard away, "You...saved me?" He didn't doubt it if that was the case. Ever since he got here he'd been getting his keister pulled out of the fire whether it was by Spider-Woman, Bullseye or Gwen. At this rate he was starting to doubt he'd last much longer if he kept going.

"Yeah, you're welcome for that, too." She nodded, the smile never leaving her face, "Well, actually I can't take all the credit. Ms. Jones helped too, you know. Probably remember her; picked up one guy and threw him at another guy? Said we weren't supposed to get involved? Yeah, that's her."

"Not yet, but I'm sure it'll come back to me eventually..."

"It always does. Well hey, you should get something to eat; you look like you've been through hell." She picked up the tray and placed it at his side. He could see some (badly cooked) soup and bread lying on the plates but after everything it looked like a king's feast, "Can you eat on your own or not? I'll help you, but I get the feeling neither of us wants to see me drive the choo-choo train through the tunnel."

"Got that right..." He gave a strained laugh and picked up the spoon slowly. He could at least do this much.

He ate the light breakfast in silence, Bishop sitting at the chair and just watching him. He didn't know whether he could trust her fully, but he wasn't exactly swimming in options right now. Whatever the case he had to calm down and try to fix this hole he buried himself in: Murdock betrayed him - though it was more accurate to say he betrayed him first - and he didn't have any other options. Castle was counting on him to get that location.

He spooned the last of the thin soup into his mouth before he sighed. He couldn't see a way out of this, at least not one that ended in Castle getting his family back. He could just leave it, he guessed. It wouldn't have been his first failure ever since he donned the mask and he couldn't say he didn't try. Sometimes things just ended in failure, that was a lesson he'd learned all too well back home.

It was only after his second bite of toast that Bishop finally decided to speak, giving a short cough to draw his attention, "So..." She sat up straight on the chair and crossed her legs. Trying to look more professional, maybe? "Could we talk about what happened last night? I mean you kinda went..." She gestured in the air vaguely, "Well, don't wanna sound offensive or anything but-"

"I went insane..." He placed the crusty bread down and sighed, looking at Bishop with grim eyes, "If you want an explanation then you're going to be disappointed. I got no idea why the serum's inside my body or why it broke through the way it did."

"Serum?" Her eyebrows knotted together in worry. With obvious hesitation he saw her look around (did she think someone else was listening in?) before leaning closer, "Alright, real talk. What do you mean by serum? You one of Captain America's clones or something?"

"Do I look like a Negro to you?" he asked, Bishop giving him a weird look in response, "...What?"

"That's racist."

"Back where I came from it was the proper term. It's everyone else in this madhouse that's bizarre." He scoffed, "To answer your question; no, I'm not one of Stars-and-Stripes' little copies. The serum I'm talking about is..." He looked down at his right arm...was it even his arm, really? "I...it was made by this dumb kid a couple of years ago. Dunno what he was thinking putting all that junk together but it turns people injected with it to these giant Lizards-"

"You're talking about the Lizard serum?" she asked, her eyes wide, "Shit, I heard about it before but I never thought I'd actually see it firsthand. You took the suppressants, right? You didn't turn into a man-lizard thing so-"

"I'm supposed to be immune." Emphasis on 'supposed to be'. Then again very little made sense since that night at the docks, "I...I think that bastard with the glowing sword did something to me, and whatever it was it may have caused that little poison to spread. Seems fine now, but I'm not surprised that your boss decided she needed a little insurance to make sure I didn't go nuts again."

"Yeah, vibranium cuffs. All the rage these days...well, just gimme a heads up if you plan to go full Lizard or whatever. Don't really plan on being anyone's breakfast, thanks. "

"...Where is she, anyway?" he asked, ignoring the attempt at a joke.

"Oh, she's out on a case with Mr. Stacy. She didn't want to leave me alone but I kinda insisted." She snorted. Considering the cuffs Peter had to wonder just what she meant by 'insist'... "'Sides, you're a hero, aren't you? I mean...most heroes don't kill people, but those Hand fuckers come back from the dead so much that shoot to kill is pretty much first instinct for everyone else who runs into them. Wouldn't be surprised if they're already up and kicking again."

"They...what?" He looked at her like she grew a second head, "What do you mean they come back from the dead?"

"Uh...you didn't know that?" she asked back, looking at him like he was the weird one, "Reason they jump onto people's swords is because they think that if they do a good job the 'demon head' will raise them up as eternal servants or some other culty bullshit. Not sure how true it is, but they never really run out of disposable henchmen no matter how many S.H.I.E.L.D or anyone else takes down so there has to be some truth to it."

The way she talked about them...she wasn't just some good Samaritan. Peter shut his eyes tightly and took in a ragged breath. It was coming back. She did save him from this ninjas, but...

"...Who are you?"

She blinked at the odd question, "Told you, I'm Kate-"

"No, who are you?" he repeated, looking at her through narrowed eyes, "That...the other dame said something about how you 'weren't supposed to get involved'. You didn't just run into me that night, did you?"

"Well..." She bit her lip and looked around the room before speaking up again, "Alright, fine." She threw up her hands, "I used to work for S.H.I.E.L.D before I had a little falling out with my, uh, mentor. I still keep in touch with them, get updates if something's going wrong or whatever. Well, a couple of days ago they called and asked me for a favor."

"That being?"

"They wanted me and Ms. Jones to keep an eye out for the Dark Spider," she said, "I mean, how could I say no? It seemed harmless enough and it was a paying gig. Me and her went out looking for your usual haunts or followed anyone who tweeted sightings of you. Wasn't very successful in all honesty, but then we saw you..." That vague gesture again, "Having an argument with the Hand. That's when we came in and saved you, by the way."

"That gang of spooks again?" He clicked his tongue. He should have known they wouldn't leave him alone, "They tell you why?"

"Nope. Asked why, but I just got a 'need-to-know basis only, Ms. Bishop. If you were still an active member of S.H.I.E.L.D you would be privy to this information'," she said, changing her voice to a faux-baritone and rolling her eyes, "You know how it is. Anyway, Ms. Jones didn't want to get involved but the job would fail if you died so..." She shrugged, "Besides, fuck the Hand. Those guys have been a pain in the ass for years now."

Well, that was one thing they could agree on at least, "...You don't seem that worried. Not scared I might go insane again?"

"If you did it's not like I'm an untrained civ. Had to do lot of goodwill with S.H.I.E.L.D to get this little retirement. They usually don't accept 'mentor drama' as an excuse to let you quit."

She was something, all right. Still, he needed to get out of here. Clear his head, "Uh...do you know where my mask is? ...And the rest of my clothes?"

"Your mask is in the living room; bit scratched up - okay, really scratched up - but its still hanging on. As for the rest of your clothes..." She shook her head, "Yeah, you ain't getting those back. Those Hand ninjas sliced you up like a cake and unless you wanna try copying Lady Gaga I'd suggest against trying to put em on again. I bought some new clothes, don't worry. Don't want Spider-Streaker to be your new hero name."

"Huh...well, I guess that's another thing I should thank you for." He offered a small smile, one she returned just as quickly.

"No prob. Heroes gotta stick together, yeah?" She clapped him on the shoulder and laughed, "Besides, I'm pretty sure those ninja dudes did you a favor. I mean, garter socks? Seriously? What is this, the 30's?"

"I wish..." God, he wanted to go home. It might have been undergoing depression with the cops just as dirty as the criminals but at least it was familiar, it was something he understood. No crazy Russians in Dynamo suits or dames running around dressed like clowns trying to impose morality.

"...You know, don't take this the wrong way but you're different from what I thought," she murmured, giving him a look he couldn't make out.

"Meaning?"

"I just...I dunno, it's weird." She shrugged, "I've never really met an honest to god Superhero before...well, there was Cap but it's the not the same. She got her powers from an injection, she chose to get them, but I'm not sure if it's the same for people like you, She-Hulk or Spider-Woman. I mean it's not like there are comic books about you three," she gave him a toothy grin, "Though I'm sure some people would pay for that."

"My life's not interesting, believe me." He forced a laugh. Just stumbling into one disaster after another; who'd want to read something like that?

"Hey, you never know. I'm sure a lot of people would be curious to see who's behind the mask," she said, "I mean, you should see the voting polls for you and Spider-Woman. People are wondering just how old you guys are supposed to be. Minimum was 35 for you, by the by," she looked at his bandaged face, "They'd probably shit their pants if they realized just how young you are...and it'd probably give them ideas of trying to copy you."

"Yeah...I'd appreciate you keeping that a secret." He brought a hand through the raw skin. Maybe he should have been more worried about people finding out his identity but hell, he was running around with a dead kid's face. He doubted anyone would be able to find anything on him, "So...thanks again for everything, but I should probably go-"

"Ah, ah, ah. Not so fast, Spidey." She pressed down on his shoulder before he could move to stand, "My boss wants a word with you, or at the very least she wants a way to keep contact. We did get hired to keep an eye on you and all."

"...Fine, how much longer will she be?"

"Depends on that case. I'd call, but the last time I did that I botched one of her stakeouts and made her fail a case so..." She clicked her tongue, "Yeah, I'm already on thin ice with that little stunt I pulled last night so I don't wanna try my luck. Why not just stay in for a bit? Hell you could probably at least use a shower after everything you did. Your wounds should be healed by now, right? Supers have a healing factor."

"If you're offering..."


The warm water hitting against his skin brought no small amount of relief. Releasing a tired breath, he pressed his forehead against the cold tiles of the bathroom wall and let himself relax. His cuts had mostly healed, though some ugly scars had taken their place. He didn't worry too much; a night's rest and he was sure they'd be gone. It was one of the reasons he survived this long, after all.

Well, his left eye was still blind, but he could deal with that.

With the relative silence of the bathroom surrounding him his thoughts came back to his previous problems. Octavius was still gone, but that felt like a far-off problem despite the severity of it. No, he could worry about him later: He couldn't find a way home if he was dealing with Murdock and his ninjas. Maybe it was just him but he was pretty damn sure someone like carrot top wouldn't take what he did last night lying down. Even if Bishop was right and those bozos could be brought back to life he wasn't going to hope on that counting too much.

Castle's family was still a problem, too. Would he just go back to the guy and tell him that Murdock turned on them both? Hell, why bother? He could just ignore the guy; not like he gave him much reason to care about keeping him up to date.

...He was getting a headache again.

"Ah..." He shook his head and looked down at his right hand. Looking at it now it was hard to believe that it was covered in scales just a few hours ago, "...Damn kid." He scowled and shut off the shower. He didn't know how the damn serum got inside him but if Octavius was responsible then that was just one more thing he had to pay for. Add it to the list of atrocities that he'd put on his damn tombstone.

Then again, would he have survived if he didn't have it?

Frowning, he pulled back the shower curtain before doubling over, a sudden wave of painful coughs nearly forcing him on his knees. Both hands raised to cover his mouth and he felt something warm seeping between his fingers, 'What the hell...?' Pulling his hands away, he grimaced at the sight of blood on the pale skin. That...That was new.

"Get him off!"

A jolt of electricity stabbed into his side and he fell, fingers losing their grip on Octavius' neck, "Get back here, you bastard!" Peter could see the fink stumbling away, but he barely managed a stand before he felt more blades of electricity hitting his back and forcing him to kneel. No, he wasn't going to let it end like this! He didn't care if he had to crawl on his damn fingertips, he wasn't going to-

"Just stay down, would you? This is embarrassing."

A kick connected to his face and pushed him on his back. Faceless goons crowded around him, their hands on his arms and legs to keep him from struggling. Just barely he saw a dame kneel down, the smile on her face reminding him of a kid that just got a new toy.

"Well now, isn't this interesting? I'm gonna have fun with you!"

His lungs felt like they were on fire.

Wiping away the blood on the tub, he walked shakily to the folded towel and tried to keep himself focused. He just needed to get some fresh air or...or maybe he could ask Bishop for help. Anything other than turning into a weepy mess on someone's bathroom.

The cuffs were tight on his arms and legs. Peter struggled in the bindings even though he knew it was pointless. How many times did she do this now? He'd lost count at this point.

The door in front of the table he was trapped to opened and she stepped in, her labcoat stained with blood, "Well, someone seems energetic!" She grinned, ignoring the murderous scowl she gave him. It was pointless defiance; why would she be scared at this point? It was something she'd done before: Take him out of his imprisonment, stab a syringe into his neck and then watch to see what happened.

The benefits of 'natural immunity'...

"Got a new guest, by the way. She's just like you...well, not exactly. Haven't really broken her in yet," She picked up a syringe and flicked the needle, her expression contemplative for a moment before she grinned again, "I'll fix that eventually. I mean, how long did it take to for you, am I right?"

She stabbed the syringe into his neck and he screamed, sounding more and more like a wounded animal.

He had to focus.

Putting on the new clothes, he tried to stop his shivering and grimaced the feeling cloth on the still-wet skin. It wasn't just a headache now - He felt like vomiting his guts out and even a single blink caused his vision to spiral out of control, "Got to..." He closed his eyes and groped the walls, trying to find the door. A part of him was tempted to just lay down and let it win, to piss and vomit and lose control of everything.

He only managed a few steps before he felt something hitting his gut. Opening his eyes slowly, he found himself face to face with the mirror with the sink pushing onto the gray turtleneck, "Wrong way..." He turned the faucet and splashed the water on his face desperately. Anything to distract him, anything to keep him from turning into one of those crazies.

How long had he been here?

He couldn't move, could barely breath really. He looked up at the ceiling blankly, his body deathly still. He didn't even know what was happening anymore; he knew they came for him sometimes, knew they kept putting more and more poison into his veins, but everything between that and staring at the walls of his cell was a blur. He'd given up on trying to gain even a semblance of memory four tests ago.

The door to his cell opened. Another round of testing? He didn't even know why they did it. Didn't they have enough data by now, the scientist in him asked. Well, whatever...it wasn't like he would remember too much.

Rather than a pair of goons dragging him out he heard something he never expected to get in this hellhole: Pity.

"Oh my god..." A dame, but her voice...it was familiar in a way, but there was something off about it; too soft, too sympathetic, "What did they do to you?" He could feel warm hands cupping the sides of his face. It was hard to see her through his fading vision, his eyelids already dropping in exhaustion, but he caught a glimpse of lightly tanned skin and chestnut shaped eyes before everything went dark.

"I'm going to get you out of here. I promise."

Wrong. It was all wrong.

His right hand lashed out and punched the mirror, the glass shattering and falling onto the sink, "This isn't right..." His legs finally gave in and he fell onto the floor his face pressing onto the wet tiles. It wasn't...he remembered waking up in that alley, not in...not in some Frankenstein lab being experimented on by some depraved twist. That was the truth, that was...

No, he was getting confused. He had to control himself. He was Spider-Man, damn it! He was Spider-Man! He was-

"Spider-Man!"

The locked door opened with a crash and he shut his eyes tightly. He heard Bishop screaming something about 'privacy' but it was drowned out by an all-too familiar voice drowning her out.

"...Gwen?"


What the hell was going on?

Gwen grunted as Ben struggled against her, hands smacking onto her face and shoulders and mumbling something she couldn't make out, "It's going to be okay. Just stay with me..." she mumbled, doing her best to keep her voice level. She knew it would be bad ever since she found that alleyway but this...she needed to do something, fast. She wasn't going to lose anyone to that damn serum ever again.

"Come on." She trudged to the living room and placed him on the couch as delicately as she could. His struggling died down, replaced by more nearly incoherent cries, 'What the fuck did that serum do to you?' She placed a hand and on his forehead and hissed; hot, she could feel it even through the gloves of her costume. Scowling, she turned to look at the stunned archer, "I thought you said he was alright!?"

"Spider-Woman, what are you-"

"Not now!" she snapped, feeling slightly guilty at the sight of her friend flinching back, "Just...Just answer the question, okay? Was he alright when you saw him?"

"Yeah, he was fine!" she answered, "I mean he was injured and sluggish, but that was nothing new. He wasn't..." She looked down at him and bit her lip, "Look, all I know is he was good before he got into the bathroom. After that..."

"This happened..." She brushed a hand through the hair matted to his forehead, her scowl fading, "It's alright, I think I have something that can help him." She rummaged through her backpack and pulled out a syringe full of suppressant. She should have been here sooner, but what was she supposed to do without anything to help him with? It took her all night just to scavenge one of these things.

She really needed to get Cap's number. The whole one-sided conversations were getting old.

The needle was nearly at his neck before she heard a soft mumble, "Cindy...why are you..."

'Cindy? Who the hell's that?' She shook her head. Now wasn't the time, "Just hold on. This should help." She pushed the needle to his neck and pressed, his struggles lessening almost immediately when the counter-serum entered his system.

"Fuck me..." She pulled the injection away and nearly smashed it to the table. What the fuck was happening? Ben was supposed to be immune, right? There was no reason for him to be showing symptoms now of all times. Hell he was just fine after he got injected by that agent Hill or whatever.

So why in the fuck did he lose his shit last night?

"Uh..." Kate looked at her, eyes shifting between the two Spiders, "Look, in any other situation I might be asking for an autograph but first things first." She crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes, "How in the hell did you even know he was here? I checked, no one followed us last night else we'd probably be knee-deep in Hand ninjas and reporters right now; and trust me I don't even know which is worse. So spill."

Gwen remained silent. How was she supposed to explain that Murdock told her to come here? Hell, why was Kate involved in the first place? She knew Jessica had super strength or whatever but she made it clear that she didn't care about being a superhero, so why was her secretary dressed in a purple catsuit like it was Halloween? Did she miss something?

"I got a-"

"Ugh..."

Both of their heads snapped to Ben. The other Spider-person's eyes opened and he looked around the room, his lips curled in a frown, "...Feel like I got hit by a truck..." He swung his legs over the edge of the couch and stood, slightly shaky but otherwise stable, "What'd I miss?" He looked at Kate then her, his frown worsening, "I thought you were someone else." He shook his head, "...Am I still hallucinating? Feels like a bad dream."

"No such luck, Bucko." she replied, a slight bite on the quip. A 'thank you' wouldn't have hurt, or at least she could do without the look of disgust, "Found you passed out on the bathroom. You look like shit," He rolled his eyes and made a disgruntled noise, "So...mind explaining what happened?"

"Ask Bishop-"

"I'm asking you," she said, more forceful this time. Ignoring his glare she pressed on, "Look, I know you don't like me and fine, I can deal with that, but last night...shit, Spider-Man: It's all over the news! People are losing their shit wondering what the fuck is going on with you and I have to say I'm one of em. Why'd the serum spread? Hell, why were you even fighting Murdock's goons? Didn't even know you knew the guy!"

"Neither did I. First time I hear you knowing about carrot top..." He managed a small shrug, "I'll tell you the same thing I told Bishop: One of Murdock's lackeys...did something. 'Cut the strings that tied me' or some other mumbo-jumbo." He waved a hand through the air, "Wouldn't know how to make sense of it if I tried. Either way he took out my powers, at least for a bit, and without my powers-"

"You had no immunity..." she finished, her voice grim, "I...look, you need to be careful when dealing with Murderdock. I don't know what deal you had with him, but-"

"It's over. He had information I needed but I really doubt I'm getting it now."

Information? On what, Octavius? Gwen bit her lower lip and looked down at his right hand. What little she could see through the long sleeves and gloves looked normal, albeit paler than usual.

So why in the hell did she still feel so paranoid?

"If you're looking for information on that Octavius guy-"

"That's not it," he interrupted, "It's..." He looked away and scowled, his hands clenching, "Forget it-"

"Alright, knock it off with that bullshit!" She pressed a finger to his chest, again ignoring his glare, "You told me to leave you alone but it takes, what, a couple of days before you lose your shit because of the serum? And hell, now you're apparently making deals with Matt Murderdock!" She threw up her hands in exasperation, "Whether you're you-know-who or not doesn't change that this situation is pretty damn fucked, isn't it?"

"I can fix this on my own. It's not-"

"Yeah, bullshit you can! Look at what's happened so far! Face it, you need help-"

Something was wrong. Her head felt fuzzy, though it was so faint she almost ignored it entirely. Ben seemed to share her sentiments. His head turned to the apartment door just before she heard a knock, "...Expecting visitors, Bishop?

"No...Ms. Jones would have called if she was coming back," She looked at them both, "What's wrong? You both got quiet."

Another knock on the door resounded, cutting off any explanation either of the two could give. With a nod to them both Ben trudged towards the door carefully and opened it.

"Hey there, young'uns. That's what you young people say, right?"

Murderdock. Gwen felt her blood boil at the sight of the red-suited douchebag standing on the doorway, his lips raised into the same smug fucking smirk he always had, "Great, just what we needed..." The eyes of her mask narrowed and her hands shook. There was a special place in hell for people who punched a blind guy, but she had the feeling God would make an exemption for the devil of hell's kitchen.

A line of thought Ben shared given the attempted punch he gave. Sadly the move was sluggish and Murdock easily ducked it, "Now, now. Is that any way to treat a guest?" He delivered a kick to the back of his knees and pressed the bottom of his cane at his neck, "And yes, Spider-Woman I can 'see' you glowering at me." He turned to Kate, "You too, Ms. Bishop. I'm sure you're both itching to throw a punch or nock an arrow but I'd recommend against it for Mr. Spider's sake if nothing else."

"Don't listen to him, just-"

"Shhh, that's enough of that" He pressed the cane harder, "Regardless, I didn't come here for a fight-"

"You're not welcome here, we made that clear last time," Kate said. The glare she was sporting surprised even Gwen, "I know you're blind, but two arrows through the eyes still hurt."

"As you told me the last time." He laughed, the gesture doing nothing but infuriating all three of them, "Regardless, as I just said I'm not here to get into a little pissing contest. Matter of fact, I'm here to apologize for last night's unfortunate misunderstanding." He stepped over Ben's prone body and into the apartment. Gwen drew closer to the injured vigilante and offered him a hand, which he accepted with a cough. Their little arguments could wait till Murderdock was gone.

"What do you want...?" Ben asked, a hand rubbing his neck, "Your lackey made it clear where we stand-"

"No, no. Otomo had...overstepped." He tapped the cane against the floor, "I hope you don't let the way he acted color the rest of our dealings. He's very loyal, but zealous. He thought he was protecting me, that your little chat with Ms. Hardy proved that it's inevitable we come into conflict." Another tap, "I, on the other hand, am an optimist. I'm nothing if not adaptive to changes in certain situations."

"Your ninjas were trying to kill him!" Kate yelled, looking like she was a hair's breath from from throttling him altogether.

"And Otomo's being disciplined for his rash actions," he replied calmly, his head not even turning to look at her, "You don't trust me, Mr. Spider, and I accept that. In this business who can really trust anyone? But there's a saying I'm fond of: Keep your friends close and your enemies closer." His smile widened. Gwen thought it made him look more like a shark than he already was, "Otomo was rash, but he acted in defense of me. I still hope to salvage this situation."

"He's not working for you again," Gwen hissed, "You nearly killed him. He-"

"Would be suffering now if I didn't lead you to his location," he finished, "As adept as Ms. Jones and Ms. Bishop are they are unable to properly handle the serum as you did. How do you think he'd be if I didn't tell you where he was? If I wanted him dead I could have just kept quiet, let the serum degrade his mind till there was nothing left. I'm offering him an olive branch here, Spidey, and I'm hoping he doesn't waste it."

"You-"

"Say what you have to say..." Ben said, ignoring her and Kate's looks of disbelief.

"What I propose is this: I give you the address where the Castle family is being held. I know it's not your fault that Mr. Fisk's prize is no longer something we can recover, so consider this an apology of sorts. You also have my guarantee that Otomo will no longer bother you, and neither will the rest of the Hand so long as we continue our dealings. We don't have to trust each other, but we can still come to a mutual benefit."

"Yeah, and you send me to another wild goose chase? Gimme a break..."

"Ultimately it's up to you." He pulled out a slip of paper and slipped it on top of the table, "My information on Mr. Joseph's assets was accurate, was it not? And if you wish to use the logic of pragmatism then you know I have nothing to gain by lying to you: Liberating Mr. Castle's family deprives the Maggia of the assets they're using to safeguard them and their reputation is liable to take a hit after it becomes clear they can't hold on to those who rely on them for protection."

"Either way you win and I lose..."

"I like to think we both benefit," he replied, "Well, that's all I came here for. I hope to see you again, all of you. Oh, and Ms. Bishop? Tell Ms. Jones that the offer to free Hope Shlottman still stands if she's willing to make a deal."

If looks could kill then Murderdock would have been six feet under with the glare Kate was giving him.

Without a care in the world the blind lawyer left, whistling all the way down the hall with a skip in his step. Ben looked down at the floor for a moment before he made his way to the table, picking up the slip of paper and reading through it, "...He was telling the truth," he mumbled, looking at the now-empty hallway and putting it in his pocket, "...I have to go-"

"Woah, woah, woah! Are you serious!?" Gwen stood in front of him, her hands raised, "His goons just attacked you last night! There's no way-"

"What other choice do I have?" he asked, his voice a weak rasp, "He was telling the truth, my...the same thing that warns you about danger didn't blare at all." He sighed, "It's a risk, but I'll have to take it. Three innocent people are on the line. I can't just stay here."

"Then let me help!" she said, speaking up again to interrupt his 'no', "Look, whatever this is I'm not going to let you die because of it! We can go our separate ways or whatever when this is dealt with. Right now you look like you can barely stand, and whatever beef you got with me can fucking wait. So just suck it up and let me help you, okay?"

"Even if I did agree what makes you think Castle's going to say yes?" he asked back, "The last time you two met Stars-and-Stripes brained him with that shield of hers. He's pretty damn likely to shoot the second he sees you."

"He'll just have to deal then, cause I'm not apologizing to that prick," she spat. He crossed the line when he attacked her home - her dad - and placed the Parkers in danger, "Now come on, let's-"

"I'm coming with you two," Kate said. Looking at the only other occupant she couldn't help but raise an eyebrow at the (clearly customized) bow and quiver of arrows she was now sporting, "...What? I told Dark Spider over here that I was going to keep an eye on him, and since I don't fancy my chances of forcing him to stay this seems like the better option. Besides, could you two really afford to turn away help?"

Ben sighed, but nodded after a moment of silence, "...Fine. It's both your funerals."


Castle wasn't happy.

Gwen barely managed a couple of steps into the supposed safehouse before her spider-sense warned her of incoming gunfire, "Nice to see you too, buddy!" She jumped to the wall to avoid the hale of bullets. She was tempted to swing over and kick him in the face for old time's sake before Ben rushed over to him, grabbing the gun and forcing it down with a glare.

"You're trying this again, kid?" the psycho asked, glaring at his Ben's masked face, "The last time-"

"Stars-and-Stripes ain't here." He let go of the gun and crossed his arms, "Believe it or not she and Bishop here to help us, and unless you're too damn proud to accept help when your family's lives are on the line I don't see what turning them away will do now."

He threw another glare at her (and she liked to think she gave a good one in return despite the mask) before looking back at Ben again, "Don't you know who she is-"

"No, and like I told you before I don't care," he said, cutting him off before he could say any more. Gwen gave a small sigh of relief; she'd thought about the risk of that prick telling him her identity, but it was a chance she had to take, "We're dealing with her now whether either of us like it or not. Just suck it up till we can get your family then you can solve whatever little grudge match you two have without dragging me into it."

Castle let out an annoyed grunt before he eventually nodded, making his way to the table covered in a row of guns. Gwen scoffed and detached herself from the wall, landing next to Kate who was pointing an arrow at the delusional criminal.

"Wow...that was worse than I expected." She lowered the bow and placed the arrow back on its quiver, "So...what's the deal with you two? Seems like he's really got it in for you."

"Long story, mostly with a delusional douchebag who thinks bagging me and dumping me in front of the police station's going to fix the fact that he's a fucked up asshole whose family left him."

Kate hummed in response, though whether she really got it or not Gwen didn't know. Regardless she made her way to where Ben and Castle were standing, looking down at the stack of guns the latter was checking over, 'Yeesh, someone overpacked their zombie survival kit...' She crossed her arms and looked at them both, "..Hope you're carrying rubber bullets cause you're going to be needing a lot of em."

Castle's scowl was about as much as she expected, as was Ben's annoyed growl, "Are you kidding me? I know he shot at you but he's trying to save his family. Is now really the time for this little high horse you're riding?" He shook his head, "Why don't you look in the mirror and ask yourself if you wouldn't do anything you had to in his place? If your family was in danger wouldn't you kill to protect them?

"As a matter of fact I didn't. If I did Castle wouldn't be here right now."

An awkward quiet settled over the safehouse, broken only when Kate decided she didn't want a part of whatever this was and loudly decided to leave the room.

Eventually she saw Ben pick up a pistol from the pile and offer it to Castle, "...He's carrying a side-arm. You can't hold him to the same rules you have, hero." The way he said it was like an insult, one she felt easily enough, "He'll use those rubber bullets. but he'll kill if he has to. We both will. That fine with you?"

She could practically hear the resentment dripping from his voice, though she could tell her words had gotten to him, "Fine. With any luck neither of you will 'have to' go down that route."

Castle took the gun with a grunt, placing it at his waist holster before mumbling something about having to load the non-lethal rounds into the rifle. The both of them watched him go before Ben eventually left as well, trudging out the door and joining Kate outside.

'...He didn't take a gun with him.'

Another quiet settled over the unlikely pair, laced with the occasional sound of a magazine being fed into a rifle. Gwen was tempted to leave herself and let Castle do whatever it was that he was busy with before he suddenly spoke up, "Your father betrayed the law by lying for your sake." He pressed the magazine into the rifle with a loud snap, "He shouldn't be walking around like a free man."

"Yeah, and you think you're any better?" She snapped back, a bitter laugh escaping her, "Whatever high ground you think you're standing on is flimsy, 'Punisher'. You thought taking me back would save your family life? Give you the medal and pat on the head you wanted? You're delusional and if I had my way you'd be in prison."

"You killed Peter Parker. You have to pay for that."

"Oh please, like you even give a shit about Peter." She wondered if he even remembered who it was under Spider-Man's mask...or maybe he just didn't believe that it really could have been him, "Everything I've ever done is because I've been trying to make up for what happened to him, but you? Christ, you just keep on doing whatever you want and say it's because of justice. Give me a fucking break."

"And what do you do? You put on a mask every day acting like this city's your playground. You think this is all a joke, don't you? That as long as you wear that mask you never have to pay the consequences for the things you do." He pulled the handle of the rifle before slinging it over his shoulder, "I did what I had to so I could protect my family. Can you say the same?"

"Yeah, that's why you're doing it, huh? That's why put snakes in my house, why you spent years working for Stark's little PMC? Why you put innocent people's live at risk and turned yourself into a criminal? For them? Face it, Frankie, you're a nutjob, and if I see you anywhere near my dad and anyone else I care about I'll drag your ass to jail personally even if I have to unmask to do it."

She shook her head and swung out the open window. Why was she even arguing with him? He was a delusional psycho who thought everything he did was justified. The sooner they saved his family the better. At least then she wouldn't have to see his face again.


They left eventually, the address leading them to an abandoned apartment building. Gwen looked around the lobby warily: besides looking like it could use a good cleaning there was nothing odd she could say about it. It was normal...almost weirdly so considering this was a mafia venture. Hell her spider-sense hadn't tingled at all ever since they got here, and neither did Ben's if his complete silence was any indication, "It's quiet...too quiet," she mumbled.

"You know you just jinxed us, right?" Kate asked, the bow on her hands already half-drawn, "Any second now this building's going to explode or Red Skull's going to pop up and say he was behind everything just because you couldn't help the cliche."

"Quiet," Ben said, "...Something's not right. Where are the thugs? The bodyguards? Murdock wants to send a message to the Maggia and Castle's been hitting their rackets. There's no way that it could be this simple."

"Either way there's no point in waiting. I'll check on the elevator, see if it's still working."

"I'll go with you," Ben said, Castle nodding slightly before they both entered the small confines of the lift. She doubted it would work - it'd be a miracle if this place still had power given the state it was in - but she wouldn't-

Spider-sense.

Ben seemed to share her thoughts since his head snapped up. Unfortunately before he could do anything a large figure crashed through the roof of the elevator. Gwen just barely managed to see the red and white striped shirt they wore before the door closed and the sounds of struggling and what sounded like deep laughter came from inside.

"Spider-Man!" She rushed towards the elevator. Just as she was about to grab the door handles and pry them open her spider-sense warned her again and she jumped back. Landing on the floor in a crouch, she grimaced at the wall of fire that covered the front of the elevator, "How in the-"

An arrow whizzed over her head, knocking away the large throwing knife that would have hit her shoulder, "Spider-Woman, look out! She's-"

"Well, well. Didn't think we'd be getting heroes here!"

A woman landed from a higher floor, a pillar of fire following after her. Gwen gave her a quick look over: Red hair, leather clothes and one half of her face covered in white make-up. The manic grin on her face told her all she needed to know. She...oh god, she'd seen her on the news before: Mary Walker, dubbed by the Bugle as 'Typhoid Mary'. She could control fire and she'd been on a crime spree before Captain America stopped her.

Why in the fuck was she out of prison!?

"This wasn't what they hired me for, but..." She licked her lips and drew two knives, "I don't even care. This is going to be fun!"

Chapter Text

Peter'd seen a lot of ugly dames in his life, but the one in front of him was easily the worst of em all.

He could see her even through the dim lights of the elevator: A mountain of muscle and meat wearing a striped shirt, jeans and bloodstained boots. Her face - wide, square-jawed and covered in scars - was split in a wide grin, the laughter coming from her mouth and echoing around their small confines almost childish despite the deepness of her voice, "Hoho, this not who The Russian expecting, but will do!"

He didn't need his spider-sense to warn him that she was about to attack. Ducking the lumbering blow, he scrambled as far away as he could and pressed his back against the elevator's doors, 'That would have left a mark...' His eyes flicked to her arms and he couldn't help but grimace. Each of those muscles looked bigger than his head and the hand tore through the wall like it was paper.

Another freak. This place seemed to be full of em.

Castle was next. Before the other vigilante could react the lumbering mountain of meat smacked him to the ground, the sound of something cracking echoing across the confines, "Two on one, bad odds against The Russian!"

"Leave him alone!" Peter kicked her at the back of her leg, but all he got was another wave of childish laughter and an attack that he jumped over.

"Oh, slippery like spider, yes?" She pulled her hand back, the skin showing no bruising or cuts despite the hole it made. Definitely another freak, "Come now, be making this easy on The Russian, okay!? The Russian wants to spend hiring money on levi's and CD's already!" The next blow came faster than the last. Peter held up his hands and bit back a cry of pain as her fist made impact. It felt like he'd been hit with a sledgehammer.

He brought up his free hand and smashed her in the gut, the sound of the impact meaty and dull, "Haha! Nice trying, little man!" She placed both hands around his neck and lifted him up. Peter let out a choked cry and swung his legs, trying to kick and struggle as much as he could, "The Russian is disappointed this so easy. Big Silver Man says that whoever cause grief be very tough! Very sad that it not live up to hype!"

He was feeling faint. Peter opened his mouth - whether to stall or give a last curse, he didn't know - but whatever he was about to say was drowned out by the sounds of a gun discharghing. Looking past the cossack's ugly mug, Peter saw Castle on the ground with his sidearm drawn before he pulled the trigger again and again, 'So much for killing only when we have to,' he thought, already hearing Spider-Woman's lecture. Well, he'd deal with that over being choked to death once-

She didn't go down.

Castle kept pulling the trigger until the sounds of clicking reached their ears. Before he could pull out another magazine to reload the Cossack lashed out, a foot stomping on his hand and pinning it to the floor, "Ha, you try to sneak up on The Russian! Nice trying, but ends in failing!" She stomped harder, Castle letting out a muted grunt of pain and glaring up at her, "Skull in chest very pretty. Will make nice trophy when done!"

Peter could feel her grip loosening, 'She's distracted...' He looked around frantically. They couldn't stay here; prying open the doors would take too long, but they needed to find a way out or they were dead, 'Wait...she came from above us...' The emergency hatch was still open. Climbing out was an option, but there was nothing stopping her from following them up. He needed to make sure the entire elevator went down...

He looked down at Castle again. The next few seconds were going to be crucial; a single mistake and their corpses would be unrecognizable slabs of charred meat. He just hoped grenades still worked the same here like they did back home.

Peter kicked as hard as he could, the blow strong enough to make her stumble off them both. Before she could react he released a burst of webbing and pinned her to the walls for a precious few seconds, "Castle, all your grenades! Use them!" To his credit the guy seemed to know what his plan was. With nothing more than a nod he shucked off his belt and pulled the pin off one of explosives at the end.

Now came the tricky part.

Already he could see Cossack ripping through the black silk. Not wasting another moment he grabbed Castle and slung him under his arm before jumping, landing on top of the elevator for a split second before jumping again and grabbing hold of the steel cables, "Hold on, Castle! This is gonna be rough!"

The explosion was deafening. For a moment he wondered if he'd lost his hearing, but the the high pitched whine of metal as the elevator careened down put that thought out of his mind almost immediately, 'God, this heat...' He swallowed and shut his eyes tightly, gripping onto the steel cables harder. The Spider-God gave him strength, but carrying a grown man on one hand while holding on for dear life with another after getting the hell kicked out of him wasn't easy.

He could have sworn that he heard laughter just before the the thing finally crashed, another loud boom nearly deafening him, "Well...that's that..." He let out a soft breath and looked down. The elevator crashed through the floor, the slightly burning metal the only source of light in the dark shaft. Not that he needed it, but it was still nice to have, "Hey, Castle...can you hear me?"

"Yeah..." he replied. His voice sounded strained; probably because they both just got their behinds handed to em, "...That was a risky bet, kid."

"Worked, didn't it? That dame was ignoring your shots, didn't see what else we could do." He grimaced. He could feel his grip weakening, "Can you use your arms? We need to get down there. Don't fancy trying to pry open those doors without anything to step on. We can go through the basement and meet up with those two."

"One arm's not feeling so good, but I'll be fine. Just pull me up."

Nodding, Peter tossed him lightly upwards and heaved a small sigh or relief when the older man took hold of the cables with his left hand in a surprisingly strong grip, "Lets take it slow," he said, Castle grunting an affirmative and following him as he slowly slid downwards. He didn't fancy using a broken elevator as a floor, but beggars couldn't be choosers. He was expecting a lecture once they got outta here, but at least Castle's family would be safe. He could deal with that, at least.

The two of them landed on the smoking slab of metal, Peter grimacing at the fire emanating nearby while Castle reloaded his sidearm, "Ugh, not a good way to go." He released a burst of webbing to cover the flames, the fire extinguishing and the shaft once again being shrouded in darkness. That done he put a hand on the door and nudged his head at Castle, "That arm still good for pulling? It'll go faster if we do it together."

"Right."

Peter pulled one side while Castle did the other, the door giving a loud groan before it began to separate inch by inch, 'Least I'll have a hell of a story to tell...' He rolled his eyes. Yeah, because Aunt May and Mary Jane really wanted to hear how he killed a Cossack and blew up an elevator. Still, he was going to need an explanation when he finally got back. He'd been here for a few weeks already and he didn't fancy-

Spider-sense.

The sound of metal breaking behind them told all he needed to know. Looking back, his eyes widened at the sight of the burnt and mangled but definitely alive figure punching through the roof of the elevator, 'You gotta be kidding me!' he thought. There was no way anyone could survive that! Even little miss lightning bolt died when he shot her in the head!

Castle seemed to share his thoughts if his scowl was any indication. As soon as her ugly mug came out of the hole he fired, the bullets impacting with his head and definitely drawing blood.

Judging by her laughter he might as well have been throwing bird seeds at her.

"Owww! Both Punish-man and Spider not so smart, yes!?" She pulled herself up properly, the elevator groaning at their combined weight. Peter looked away in disgust; breasts weren't supposed to get that big...or look like raw piles of charred meat, "Big tip, Punish-man! Bullets are like flies to The Russian!"

She charged. Peter tackled Castle to the side and sneered once he heard the sound of the metal door bending. Struggling to stand, both he and Castle did their best to put as much space between both them and Moskal, "Just be giving up now, okay!? The Russian takes back words about being disappointed from earlier! You put up good fight, will tell people when ask about jobs The Russian took!"

The next strike came slowly, 'I'm going to regret this...' Ducking under her next punch, ran past her and jumped onto her back, wrapping his arms around her neck in a vice grip, "Do something, Castle!" He grit his teeth and put as strength as he could into the hold. Most people would have had their neck snapped, but she just giggled, "I can't hold her for long!"

"Yes, be doing something quick before Spider lets go!" she taunted, the smile on her face growing wider, "Once The Russian has finished with you, imagine what she will be doing to big skull family! Will be taking the time-"

Her taunts were cut off by the combat knife slashing across her chest. Even from his place on her back Peter could feel the force behind every blow, could see the look of rage on Castle's face as he stabbed the blade deeper and deeper into her flesh. The cuts were wide and precise, searing through the skin and drenching her all three of them in a cascade of blood.

Too bad it didn't do anything.

It was only after the tenth strike that the knife finally broke, embedded right where her heart should have been, followed by more of that damned laughter, "Bullets and grenades not work on The Russian, what make Punish-Man think puny knife would be any better!?" She grabbed Peter by the head and smashed him down onto the other vigilante, both of them crumpling to the elevator's roof in a heap, "Big balls on both, but not very smart!"

She raised both hands to smash them, but he was faster. A quick burst of webbing on her face was enough to make her stumble, "Come on!" He ran past her side and slipped through the cracks of the door, Castle not far behind him.

The basement was a maze; a winding loop of hallways with dilapidated signs that pointed to nowhere. Even the lights were dim, the only source being a few lightbulbs strewn around the place, "Any ideas, Castle?" he asked. He doubted the web would stop her for long, especially after the explosive treatment she got earlier. He hated to admit it, but a part of him wished Spider-Woman was here right now. She was better at handling freaks than he was.

"Not really. Never dealt with freaks of nature besides Spider-Woman." He pulled out another magazine and replaced the spent one in his pistol, though Peter didn't see the point. Everything they threw at her might as well have been spitballs.

He really hated this place. Sandman and Brock were bad, but at least they died when you shot em enough times. This madhouse seemed to do its damnedest to one-up itself on stupidity the longer he stayed in it.

Before he could say anything else the sounds of heavy footsteps came from down the hallway, 'Need to get outta here...' He nudged his head and placed a finger to his lips in a 'shhh' gesture, Castle nodding an affirmative. They couldn't fight her straight out, and it was suicide to try anything considering the state they were both in, 'You've been through worse, Parker. Just think.'

Whether it was God giving him an olive branch or just pure blind luck he didn't know, but he sure as well wasn't going to complain, 'Generator room...' He could hear the sounds of something whirring even through the thick door. The place did look bad, so he shouldn't have been surprised that it ran on a generator rather than the power grid, "...Generators still use gas, right?"

"Yeah, why?"

"I've got an idea..." He pushed the door open and winced at the booming sound. The Cossack probably heard that; he was counting on it, "Shoot the lights. Both the hallway and inside. She'll think we're trying to hide and-"

"You're planning to lure her in. Blow up the generators with her inside," Castle said, Peter nodding in response. It wasn't the best plan, but beggars couldn't be choosers, "...Another risky bet, kid."

"Got a better idea, soldier boy? Wanna try shooting her again and hoping it works this time?"

Castle frowned and shot out a few of the lights before finally replying, "A controlled explosion isn't going to cut it. We both saw what that freak can do." He pointed to a a few gasoline canisters strewn around the corner, "Douse her and the entire room in that. If the explosion doesn't kill her then the fire sure as hell will." He tossed a lighter which he easily caught, "One spark is all it takes to end it."

"And us if we don't get out." He sighed and trudged into the room, Castle right behind him. 'Do or die', he reminded himself. Ever since Sandman he knew there'd be problems he faced that he couldn't just beat down like the common street thugs and garbage he dealt with every night. He just hoped the Cossack out there wouldn't be the death of him. He didn't fight through little miss lightning bolt, blockhead and a guy with a glowing sword and pajamas just to get killed by the ugly duckling.

He waited for Castle to shoot the remaining lights and toss him the gun before he opened the canisters one by one and spread them all throughout the room; the smell of gasoline covering the room was enough to make him lightheaded, "...Stay by the door. Leave when you get a chance," he said, jumping on top one of the generators and doing his best to ignore the irritating beats of the running engine. They had once shot at this, they had to make it count.

He didn't have to wait long before the footsteps grew louder and he saw Ivan's ugly mug on the door. Hopefully Castle knew to keep his mouth shut, "You try hide in dark corner like little mouse!?" She stomped into the room, Castle silently leaving the doorway as soon as she drew close to him. Either she didn't smell the gas or she didn't care, "It was funny first, but now The Russian is getting impatient! Show yourself and let's finish mano and mano!"

'Now.'

Peter jumped and landed on her broad shoulders, a burst of webbing covering her head and then her arms and legs before he kicked her as hard as he could to a thick pile of the fuel, "I'm not hiding." He uncapped the last canister and tossed it where she lay, covering her in even more of the gas before rushing to the door.

"See you in hell, Ivan."

He flicked the lighter open and threw it right on top of her.


"Come on, darlings, it's no fun if you just run!"

Gwen jumped back to avoid the wall of flame coming right for her, the fires barely grazing the skin of her arms and causing her to hiss, "Fuck, that's hot!" She clung to the wall and ejected a line of webbing, the biocable melting as soon as it got near her, "...Why did I think that would work?" She really needed to get Ms. Van Dyne to check on these things one of these days.

Kate was next. She saw the archer release an arrow aimed straight at Mary's knees, "Nice try, babe!" The arrow stopped mid-air, a dull yellow glow covering it, "I'm not a one-trick pony kind of gal." With a cackling laugh she tossed the arrow back at her, Kate jumping behind one of the couches to avoid the returning projectile, "Come on out, sweetheart!" She set the loveseat on fire, "Promise it won't hurt too much!"

"Anyone else here feeling a little hot under the collar?" Gwen swung over the fire-wielding psycho and aimed a kick at her head, which she dodged with insulting ease, "...Seriously?" She threw a punch this time, Mary flipping back with a wink and another thrown pack of knives that Gwen managed to avoid, "Yeah, this isn't gonna work." She shook her head and grabbed Kate, swinging behind the table and putting some distance between them and the obviously insane Supervillain.

Another two arrows flew from Kate's bow, the same yellow glow forcing them down onto the floor, "Right, we need a plan. I think she's just warming up," Kate said

"Yeah, I noticed!" Gwen winced as a few more knives embedded themselves on the other side of the wood. A part of her was tempted to try and leave - she always did better fighting in open spaces - but she definitely didn't like the idea of giving her more people to catch in the crossfire (pun definitely intended) or leaving Ben behind with wheoever the fuck that was, "You, uh, ever fought Supervillains before?"

"A few, but not telekinetics! Kinda bad considering I use a bow and arrow and all!" she said, "So, uh...plan? I don't think this desk's going to protect us forever-"

An explosion came from the elevator followed by the sounds of something crashing. She heard Kate mutter a curse next to her, but it was drowned out by her own feelings of dread, 'Shit, Ben!' She peeked her head out only to duck down again as three knives rushed by, 'Fucking hell that was close!' She shook her head. Focus on herself now, worry about him later.

"Aww, looks like Ruskie and your friends just got turned to pancakes!" she taunted, laughing at the 'joke', "Don't be so down, girlies. Just come on out and I'll let you join em!"

"Uh...Spider-Woman, plan? Now?" Kate looked at her desperately.

"Got one, but it kinda sucks..." She peeked her head out. Mary was waiting for them to make the first move, a knife on both her hands and her tongue licking her lips like she was about to eat a feast, 'Creepy much?' She grimaced and looked to Kate, "You got any arrows that make a bright flash? Maybe some smoke?" On second thought maybe smoke wouldn't be a good idea right now...

"The former, why?"

"...Gonna do a something stupid." She took a deep breath, "I'm gonna toss you up so take your best shot!"

"You're going to what-"

Gwen grabbed the older girl and tossed her up, webbing her waist to the wall to keep her upright.

The arrow came and went, Mary stopping it in midair as expected. Shelving any hesitation, Gwen swung through the air and took the arrow in her hands, smashing the tip to the floor after some effort.

She shut her eyes just before the bright light and ear-splitting pop came. She heard Mary scream followed by the sounds choking heat, 'Here comes the stupid part!' She opened her eyes and put her arms up. Ms. Van Dyne made it so her suit could come back from being damaged but it didn't give her any extra protection. The next bit came down to just how much punishment she could take.

Gwen grit her teeth and resisted the urge to scream. She didn't know how much control Mary had over her abilities, but she was pretty sure she panicked like everyone else. She was expecting a frontal attack, the fire covering her front and shielding her from any punch or kick the costumed superhero was tempted to throw.

Which meant Kate had an open shot.

"Kate, shoot now!"

Two arrows whizzed over her, ricocheting from the wall behind Mary and embedding themselves at both her hands. Gwen felt slightly guilty, but she pushed it out of her mind. Kate knew the score, she had to, "Ah, that smarts..." She shook her arms and hissed. The suit was already healing, covering up the reddish skin underneath, 'Thank you enhanced durability...'

"Hey, that's cheating!"

"Yup, pretty much." She webbed Mary up till she resembled a cocoon, only her head remaining uncovered. That done she swung over to where Kate was stuck and pulled her free, ignoring the slight glare she gave.

"You know you could have warned me!" She huffed, crossing her arms as they made their way back to the struggling Supervillain.

"What can I say, it just came to me." She shrugged, doing her best not to let her voice waver. She wanted to pry open the doors to the elevator and see if anyone survived the little explosion but she had to deal with this first. Besides, he'd survived worse. He would be okay, she knew it in her gut. From what she saw of him the guy was too stubborn to die.

She knelt down in front of the cocooned woman, "Right, lets get down to business. I gotta ash you some questions, Mary," She ignored Kate's eye-roll and groan at the totally awesome pun, "Something's been burning at me: You're not a member of the Maggia last I checked. Too independent, so what's the deal here? You branching out? What's got the Maggia so spooked that they'd hire you?"

"How the hell should I know?" she asked back, eyes narrowed into a glare, "All I know is one of Silvermane's guys came up to me offering half a million dollars to stop the guys fucking over his businesses. He had me at half a mil, kinda stopped listening after that," She smiled up at her, the gesture oddly confident considering how she currently looked, "You weren't even supposed to be the ones I was gonna fight. What do you say you cut me loose and I give you both half of the take?"

"You really expect us to fall for that?" Kate asked, an eyebrow raised, "Next you're going to tell us you totally won't shoot us in the back the second we turn around."

"Hey, I got no loyalty to those guys and they paid upfront."

'Upfront? They must have been desperate...' Gwen's lips pursed together into a thin line and she stood, "Tempting as that is I'll have to pass." She used a glob of webbing to cover Mary's mouth before she could let out a string of curses at her. She was definitely not in the mood, "Kate, could you keep an eye on her? I gotta go check on Spider-Man and Castle."

"Uh..." Kate looked down at the powered criminal for a second before she delivered a kick at her exposed head and knocked her out, "Yeah, I guess so. Just hurry back, would you? I don't fancy being here alone when she wakes up again..."

"Right..."

Prying open the elevator doors, she looked down and frowned at the sight of the crashed elevator down at the bottom, 'That's not a good sign...' She looked back at Kate one last time before she jumped, using her stick-em powers to slow her descent, 'Shit, what the fuck happened?' She detached herself from the wall and looked through the hatch. No people and no exploded guts, so that was something, but-

Another explosion rang out, this time from behind her. Stumbling slightly, Gwen looked back and narrowed her eyes at the dark hallway, 'Power's out...why do I get the feeling that's not an accident?' Letting out a sigh, she slipped past the broken doors and made her way to the basement.

The hallways were more confusing than she'd hoped for given the darkness, but she found them eventually...just not in the way she'd hoped, "Spider-Man!" She rushed towards his prone figure, doing her best to ignore the smell of smoke. Both he and Castle were lying side by side, a few strangled coughs coming from them both, "Fuck, what the hell happened!? You look like you've been through a blender!"

"You should...see the other guy." He let out another cough before accepting her offered hand and pulling himself up, Castle ignoring it as expected as he struggled to stand. Well...fuck him, too. That's what she got for trying to be nice to a psychopath.

"I don't understand, what happened to that guy in the elevator with you?"

"That was no guy..." He removed the lower flap of his mask so he could breath easier, "She was in that room when it...exploded." He made a vague gesture to the smoking door. She was surprised it was still on its hinges, "Just...save the lecture for later, alright? That dame ignored everything we did: Punches, webs, knives, bullets...you name it. And even I ain't dumb enough to think blowing up an elevator's a first resort."

"I believe you...let's just get out of here."

Whether she really meant it or she just didn't want to make a scene in front of Castle she didn't know...

Ben was the one to lead them back to the elevator (faster than trying to find the stairs in all that mess) and they managed to climb back up after a brief argument between her and Castle about how he was going to carry her up the shaft. If it were up to her she would've just tossed him up the shaft, but considering he could actually get hurt if she did that she had to carry him up while Ben climbed the ropes.

God, sh