Thousands of charred, semi-frozen, oddly sticky hundred dollar bills carpeted the bank floor; some still fluttered their way down. The huge vault door gave a deceptively quiet whine as, both super-heated and super-chilled, it vacillated between exploding or shattering, before finally deciding on an anticlimactic crumpling.
A heavily armored, would-be arch criminal slumped, dazed in the webbing securing him to the wall. And floor. Also the ceiling. And the floor again.
Okay, maybe he’d been a teensy bit overzealous. Peter was man enough to admit that. In the privacy of his own head. Which was pretty much the only place he had privacy now. At least until Aunt May decided to adopt Professor Xavier too.
Next to the vault, Johnny surveyed the falling money with interest; Bobby slid to a stop beside the cocoon.
“So, do you think he gave himself that name? On purpose?” He looked askance at Johnny; Johnny looked askance at Peter.
Peter shrugged and looked askance at the bank manager, who broke the chain with rolling eyes and a nervous laugh. She was from out of town, he guessed. A seasoned New Yorker would be yelling at them for damages by now.
“This is embarrassing,” Johnny said, as the woman made for the the main doors. “I totally get why you wear a mask now, Web-head. If this was my usual standard of bad guy, I wouldn’t want to show my face in public either.”
“I have three words for you” Peter held up a gloved fist and extended three fingers, one by one. “Paste. Pot. Pete.”
Johnny’s lips pursed. “We never speak of this again. Agreed?”
“Neither of you have anything on me.” Bobby smirked. “All my bad guys are awesome. Well. Evil and terrifying. But awesome at evil and terrifying. I’m going to the Bugle — I’m telling all.”
They all watched with faint interest as the armor’s telescopic legs sluggishly attempted to force their way through the webbing. It was weirdly hypnotic.
“Seriously, this is, like, the third Stilt-man,” Johnny said, breaking their contemplation. “And they’re getting worse. There’s a Lady Stilt-man. I’m not even joking. I really wish I was joking. You think they have a support group?”
“Maybe we’re being trolled. Or on America’s Funniest Bank Robberies.” Peter craned his head around, on the off-chance they were now in the Twilight Zone and Fury was about to jump out and tell them they’d been punked.
“We could call him something else,” Bobby said, after a beat. “Does he looks like a Leggy to you?”
“I am Stilt-Man!” shrieked the (by Peter’s finely grained ranking system) 18th-rate super villain as he jerked into alertness and began to struggle harder against the webbing. “Stilt-man!”
Johnny patted the man on his weird-shaped helmet. “Whatever you say, Legs.”
“Yeah, no,” Peter said firmly. “Now it’s all femme fatale, and my brain is so not ready for that.”
A pair of stilts, wearing lipstick and fishnets, and absconding with a jewel-encrusted statue, ran across his mental landscape. “Never mind,” he said, waving a hand as—somehow—they winked. “Turns out it’s just been waiting for the opportunity. Go ahead.”
Bobby stared at him in horror. Maybe a little envy. “Your brain is a dark and terrible place, dude.”
“Right?” Johnny agreed a little too enthusiastically. “Last year, he was—”
“Not the time?” Peter suggested quickly, as the sound of police sirens encroached on the edges of his hearing. “Unless you want to tell New York’s finest too?”
“Honestly?” Johnny grinned the happy grin of someone the police had never shot at. Or in, more to the point.
“You mean the cops, or that cake shop over on Staten Island?” Bobby asked, also failing to move.
“Because bakers all over the city have a history of cooking first and asking questions later.” Peter put a hand on each of their shoulders.
Johnny’s grin widened. “Your aunt—hey! No pushing!”
“So much pushing,” Peter disagreed, and shoved with a careful fraction of his strength.
Spider-man’s relationship with the cops was better than it had ever been (admittedly, when your bar was “not target practice,” that wasn’t hard,) but he didn’t really feel the need to see how far the good will went. He hustled Bobby and Johnny towards the slightly... melty exit.
“Later, Legomatic!” Bobby called cheerfully back over his shoulder.
The furious, oddly mournful cry of “Stiiiiiiilt-maaaaaan” followed them outside and halfway to the rooftops, where it was drowned out by sirens.
“So, that was fun,” Johnny said, flame flickering away.
“You know what else is fun?” Peter stripped his mask off. “Making second period.”
He looked around, trying to remember where he’d stashed his bag. Definitely next to a chimney. Sadly, in this neighborhood, that didn’t narrow it down a whole lot.
Tony Stark never had this problem.
Johnny held up his hands. “Or—just hear me out here—breakfast burgers at the mall.”
Peter and Bobby shuddered in unison.
“Right. Right. Never mind.”
— o O o —
“Huh.” Gwen bent and pulled at the crumpled bit of paper stuck—webbed—to the underside of Bobby’s sneaker. “Holy crap. Dude.”
Bobby flailed and toppled into Johnny, who staggered into Peter, who remembered two seconds after fielding them both that he wasn’t meant to have the proportional strength of a spider, and dramatically flung himself into the lockers.
Then noticed no one was even looking.
Except MJ, who rolled her eyes hard enough Peter was kind of surprised she didn’t sprain them. She probably did a few really sarcastic warm up exercises every morning.
Oblivious, Gwen tugged again. The paper tore free and she rose, triumphant, with most of a hundred dollar bill in her hand.
MJ leaned around her shoulder. “We’re rich,” she said flatly. "Rich beyond the dreams of avarice.”
“Okay, first, I don’t know what your allowance looks like, but this works for me.” Gwen waved the bill. “And second, seriously, put the extra credit down and step away.”
Bobby hopped on one foot, trying to peer under his other sole to see if he’d accidentally robbed the bank of any more funds.
Peter steadied him, resisting the urge to escape in the direction of Woodshop. Mostly because Woodshop was no escape; lathes were not his happy place, it turned out. Whole other story, not to be revisited this … ever.
“Here’s another one—two! Wow! That’s … a lot of money.” Bobby looked around the huddle they’d automatically formed around money’s warming glow. “You think they’d miss it?”
“They’re a bank,” MJ pointed out. “It’s their actual job to miss it. Besides it wouldn’t be—we can’t keep it. Can we?”
“No.” Peter scowled. “I can see the Bugle’s headline now: Spider-menace or Spider-villain?”
“No way.” Gwen shook her head. “They’ve already run that one.”
“Fine, Spider-menace or Spider-plagiarist. Anyway, plus, it’s not ours.”
Except three hundred dollars would pay for the groceries this week. He glanced at Gwen; her expression was pinched. Thoughtful. Her gaze met his steadily; she started to speak—
He startled guiltily and spun, feeling the other four draw up behind him. And somehow he was holding all the money.
Spidey-sense should definitely protect him against this kind of rank betrayal, he thought, if not Mr. Trainer’s tendency to roam the school hallways like a small, plump shark in a hair piece.
Trainer crossed his fins. “Second period started five minutes ago, ladies and—is that drugs?”
“Drugs?” Gwen stepped up beside him, eyebrow arched and hands on her hips: combat engaged. “Are you serious? How does this look like drugs?”
“And how do you know what drugs look like, Miss Stacey?” Trainer’s eyes narrowed.
“I have a TV.”
“And the Internet,” MJ interjected. “Ooh—library card?”
“Eyes,” Johnny said.
“That’s quite enough…” Trainer stuttered to a halt. “Mr. … Parker?” he went on, after an uncertain moment.
“Johnny,” Peter said helpfully, glad to be edging away from expulsion territory. “My cousin. John Parker. And this is my other cousin, Bobby — Robert — Parker.”
“I’m not a Parker,” Gwen said. “I just live with them. Is there, like, a group name for Parkers?”
“A piteousness,” MJ said, promptly. That book on birds was the worst thing she’d ever read, Peter decided, then noticed how Mr. Trainer’s gaze had stayed fixed on the notes clutched in his fist.
“Is that money? What is it covered in? Why is it wet? And ... burned?”
“Uh,” Peter started, wishing—and not for the first time—his super power involved thinking up believable excuses. He was the worst at this. “We found it.”
“You found it.” Trainer looked less than convinced.
“Yeah. Yes.” Peter gestured vaguely towards the door and, by extension, the entirety of Queens and most of Manhattan. “Over there. We were looking for a teacher to give it to. Because, responsibility.”
“Yes.” Bobby nodded rapidly. “We’re responsible. I mean. Not responsible, responsible. That would make us bank robbers.” He swallowed thickly. “Which we are not. Even accidentally.”
Apparently, Peter was not, in fact, the worst at this. Later he might feel good about that, but right now, not so much.
“Uh,” he said again, on the grounds it couldn’t get worse.
“So, it’s like this,” Johnny started, as Mr. Trainer’s eyes somehow narrowed even further.
Why was the universe so insistent on proving him wrong? Did he somehow kick its puppy? Because Peter was pretty sure he would remember kicking a puppy, especially a cosmic one. He made a mental note to ask Dr. Strange anyway.
“A school! A school of Parkers,” MJ interrupted again. “Which, coincidentally, is where we are. And we’re late.”
“For learning,” Gwen said, nodding with a virtuous expression.
“Which is so important for young, impressionable —”
“— completely non-criminal —”
“— non-criminal minds,” MJ finished and snatched the money from Peter, pushing it into Trainer’s unresisting hands. “So as we’ve now given the money to an authority figure, we’ve done our part. Don’t worry, we don’t want extra credit or anything. It’s the right thing to do .”
Peter found himself shoulder to shoulder with Bobby as MJ steered them down the hall at speed, Gwen pushing Johnny ahead.
“Why are they so … sticky … ?” Trainer asked helplessly in their wake.
— o O o —
“I got a call from the Principal today,” May said, standing in the kitchen doorway, drying her hands. “Apparently one of your teachers is concerned you’re on drugs. Possibly all the drugs. I got the impression he wasn’t sure. It may,” she added, gaze landing squarely on Peter, “just be the sticky ones.”
“It might also be the burnt and frozen ones,” Johnny admitted.
May closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose, something Peter had long ago learned preceded laughter and ice-cream, or being grounded forever.
“Either,” she said, “that’s some kind of new slang for gateway narcotics, or you’ve all been very careless and, honestly, I’m not sure which is worse.”
“This isn’t our fault,” he tried.
May’s expression didn’t seem to agree.
“This is Bobby’s fault,” he amended.
“We rob one bank and we’re already turning on each other.” Bobby’s expression saddened to somewhere around Telenovela levels of tragedy. “Next Gwen’s going to be at the police station telling stories and not really existing and—”
“Hey! How did I become the Soze? I wasn’t even there when you turned to a life of crime. If I had been, you’d have made it out with way more than three-hundred bucks.”
“Could you not mastermind your criminal empire while I’m standing right here?” Peter asked plaintively, if only to make his position on the whole thing clear.
“I’m going to need a partner,” Gwen said, completely ignoring him.”MJ will do it—colleges are looking for applicants with extracurricular activities. We’ll need a henchman or two.” She stared at Bobby and Johnny, who shrugged in tandem.
Peter sidled closer to May, who didn’t seem to be about to ground them anytime soon; cautiously, he began to hope for ice-cream.
“Will one of you actually tell me what happened?” she asked, but looked more amused than expectant.
“We turned out to be better bank robbers than Stilt-man, which is a special kind of pathetic. Or piteous,” he added, remembering. “We were trying to work out the name for a group of Parkers,” he explained, off her look.
Her hand cuffed him gently upside the head. “A family, Peter. Now come lay the table. And try not to steal the silverware.”