Disclaimer: "Do NOT start calling it my Peter Tingle."
ya'll...far from home...i didn't think i could love a movie more after homecoming...but i was wrong...so wrong...i've seen it five times in theaters...i'll probably see it again...marvel has so much of my money...halp...
Here is a chapter for you! I haven't done as much high school stuff as I'd like to so this is sorta kicking off more of that. Hope you like it! PS - since I've been so freakin horrible about responding to reviews recently, I've committed myself to writing a personalized answer / thank u / private message thing to anyone who takes the time to write a review on this chapter! Short or long, you'll hear from me! I know it doesn't make up for it much, but im trying lol. There are no spoilers for far from home in this btw (but there probs will be some in future chapters)
Peter Parker was dreaming about bacon cheeseburgers and New York style pepperoni pizza when Happy aggressively jostled him awake. Consciousness seized him like a claw around his throat.
"W-wha—?" he stammered, gripping the arms of his chair in terror. A grumpy, blurry man stood over him, his hands clasping Peter's shoulders, his face gnarled with irritation.
"We're here," Happy snapped. He grabbed the bag from under his seat and shoved it into Peter's chest. Peter blinked the fuzz from his eyes then peered out the window to see the Avengers facility in all of its crisp, modern glory, floating in a sea of perfectly green grass. Just like that, back in New York, he thought. Gradually, he let his muscles fall lax.
The two of them staggered groggily off the plane and into the car waiting conveniently for them on the runway. Another thirty minutes later, and the jagged silhouette of his city was rising on the horizon. He couldn't help but think how ugly it looked after spending a week in Birnin Zana, which showcased how breathtaking an urban civilization could be when built by consciously superior hands.
Still, it was good to be home.
"This you?" Happy grunted from the driver's seat. The car pulled against the curb next to his apartment complex.
"Oh, uh, yep," Peter replied, grabbing his backpack and popping the door open. He retrieved his suitcase from the trunk then waved at Happy through the window. "Thanks so much for driving me! And flying with me. And, uh, everything else. It was nice meeting you—"
"Yeah, yeah," he interrupted, flicking his index finger dismissively. "Just call me if there's an emergency. Otherwise, don't. See yah."
He sped away before Spider-Man could respond, kicking up mucky rain water that sprayed all over Peter's legs. Peter winced back and wrinkled his nose. Fun friend you got there, Mr. Stark, he thought bitterly, stomping and shaking his grime-coated foot in disgust. He really hoped no major problems would spring up over the next week, if only to avoid having to ask for Mr. Hogan's aid. He didn't really seem like the happy-to-help type.
He almost strolled inside and skipped right up the stairs before remembering he was in his full Spider-Man costume, and slipped into an empty alleyway to change into his regular clothes.
May practically tackled him as he stepped through the doorway, causing him to stumble back on his heels and laugh. The backpack hanging off his shoulder dropped at their feet and the suitcase he was holding hit the floor with a thunk.
"W-wow, uh, hello," he stammered amusedly, hugging her back with his one free arm, the other pinned to his side beneath her hold. "I'm back a week earlier than expected, and you're hugging me like you haven't seen me in years? Do I owe you money or something?"
"Oh stop with the sarcasm for two seconds, would you?" May grumbled into his shoulder. "Just hush up and let me hold you."
He chuckled as she squeezed him tighter. "M'kay."
The familiar smell of their apartment, though not exactly pleasant, was welcoming in its own way. May planted a fat, gushy kiss on the side of his head then stepped back, gripping his wrists in her hands.
"Tell me everything," she insisted. "The good, the bad, the embarrassing. I want the full highlight reel."
Peter smiled nervously, the lies already stinging in the back of his throat. "Yeah, yeah, of course," he said, yawning. He lifted his backpack off the floor and placed it in one of the chairs in the living room. "It was, um—it was a really crazy week."
"Here, sit," she said, guiding him to the couch. "I've got some leftover Thai in the fridge with your name on it."
"Thanks May," he called as she scampered into the kitchen. He heard a dull pop and then some scattered rummaging noises as his aunt shifted through the refrigerator's messy contents. With a few moments to himself, Peter inhaled then released a slow breath. He traced his weary eyes across their tiny apartment, across the photos on the mantel and the wilting tulips on the window sill. The sounds of the city thundered through the walls like they were made of tissue paper, bouncing around his skull with a strangely soothing rhythm. Back to normal, he thought, relieved yet solemn. As his career as the masked superhero carried on, "normal" for him was gradually becoming more and more out of the ordinary. A week in Wakanda fighting mercenaries alongside the Avengers had skewed his normal to the point where being Peter Parker with his aunt in Queens almost felt unnatural. Familiar and calm felt unnatural.
He knew he'd never be completely at ease until Mr. Stark returned from Africa, but he doubted he'd ever feel totally at home here ever again. For better or worse, Wakanda had permanently altered his paradigm. Now that he knew what kinds of places and threats existed beyond his little bubble in Queens, it was difficult not to get twitchy—anxious, even—when he knew he was supposed to be relaxing, recharging, getting back in the groove of things. Maybe a night of patrols would help ease the jitters a bit.
Sinking into the cushions, Peter pulled out his phone.
hey ned im back in Queens now, so i guess i'll see u monday! you won't believe all ive got to tell you haha youre gonna flip.
After a pause, he hit send. He started scrolling through his other conversations and winced internally at the name he saw near the bottom of the list. Liz Allen. Peter gnawed on the inside of his lip before hesitantly clicking on their last exchange. Eight messages. He'd sent her eight message since he'd left a week ago, and she hadn't responded to one. Hell, she hadn't even read any of them. What was going on? Perhaps she'd found someone else. Maybe another guy got the nerve to ask her to the dance and now they were dating. It wasn't fair for him to be mad if she'd moved on after he'd left her high and dry, but damn, the thought of it still hurt.
Oh god. What if she'd gotten back together with Flash?
"Here we are," May said cheerfully, placing a plate of leftover larb and sticky rice pudding on the coffee table in front of him. Her eyes sparkled behind her large spectacles as she sat beside him and tousled his hair. "Now—lay it on me. Super top-secret science convention in California. I've being dying for deets all week! Was it hot over there? Was Mr. Stark nice to you? Was anyone mean? Do I need to punch someone in the face? Because you know I will."
Peter chuckled half-heartedly. With a small sigh, he stuffed his phone back in his pocket. "No, it was great. Honestly. Everyone was so smart, so that was kind of intimidating, but they were all super nice. It was almost like being on another planet."
"Ugh, I'm so jealous of you!" May said, punching him playfully in the arm. "You know how much I would've killed to go Cali at your age? I bet it was beautiful."
"Yeah, so beautiful," Peter murmured. May smiled upon her nephew with an unmatchable fondness.
"I know you impressed everyone there. You've got the mind of your mother."
Peter glanced at his aunt with a hint of surprise as she laid her hand on his shoulder. May rarely ever mentioned his parents unless prompted directly by a question from him, which in themselves had become a scarcity. A warm but sad shroud fell across her expression while she cupped her palm against his cheek. "And the looks of your uncle. I bet you whooed a lot of young and eligible nerds out there."
Rosy redness flushed across his face as he pulled away from May with a shy laugh. "Yeah, okay," he said, swallowing wetly. A lifetime of mourning passed between them in the beat of silence that followed—a guttural ache they'd both learned to repress to avoid breaking down in tears every other minute of the day. Acknowledging the loss they'd suffered was too painful to do more than in a few scattered and lighthearted instances throughout each passing year. May stroked his back with her nails.
"So what was your favorite part of the trip?"
Peter was grateful for the change in subject, except for the part where he had to come up with a week's worth of exciting, believable lies pretty much off the top of his head. He definitely should have researched California more before claiming that was where he'd been with Stark. He'd never been a good liar—it was honestly incredible that he'd sustained the fiction for this long. Hiding his double life from his aunt was getting trickier and trickier. He wondered how she would react if, God forbid, the day came where she finally discovered the truth. He licked his lips nervously before opening his mouth.
"W-well, um, let's see—"
Ding-dong. Both of their heads swiveled toward the door. Phew, Peter thought, the tension in his shoulders unraveling a bit. Saved by the bell.
"I got it," May said, hopping off the couch and jogging across the room. Peter watched her go, hoping whoever was on their doorstep would occupy her long enough for his creative juices to start flowing. He retrieved his phone again, nibbling at his fingernails, wondering if he should google most fancy/expensive restaurants in LA or Tony Stark-worthy California destinations.
But before he could start typing, a sharp buzz blossomed at the base of his skull. Peter blinked slowly, silently, stupidly, wallowing in the bizarre sensation, then blinked again. What? he thought, reaching up and touching the back of his neck, digging his fingertips into his spine. His brain didn't seem capable of comprehending the fact that his spidey sense was going off while he was at home, in his apartment, wearing normal, non-lycra clothes with his aunt.
My aunt, his mind registered, lashing him like a whip. His eyes snapped up to May as she reached for the doorknob. The tingle in his head revved into overdrive, snatching the breath from his lungs and saturating his veins with adrenaline. Oh...oh my god. Oh god, oh god—
Whatever was setting off his spidey sense was standing on the other side of their front door—the door his aunt was about to open. Dazed by disbelief and terror, Peter flew to his feet.
"May?" he cried, reaching out, eyes wide, the world seeming to tilt underneath him.
He was too late. The door swung open. Though obscured by his aunt and the doorframe, Peter made out a figure—huge, towering, bulging with muscle. Out of all the people he'd pissed off and was expecting to see in the hallway, this one he didn't recognize. There were all sorts of strange things poking and hanging off his body that Peter couldn't fully identify, but looked an awful lot like weapons.
May flinched back in surprise. Peter couldn't see her face, but detected the fear in her voice. "Whoa, hello. Um, who are—?"
The man stepped into their apartment and stuck out his hand. "Move," he snarled, and shoved Aunt May to the ground like a bull plowing over a rodeo clown. May hit the wood hard with a startled yelp, her arm knocking into the small cabinet by the door. It crashed to the floor beside her, the teacups on top shattering with shrill pings.
Peter's blood went red-hot beneath his skin. "May!" he cried, rushing forward but blocked by the large man stepping between them.
"I'm not here for her," he said, pulling a machete from the leather sheath on his leg. "Only Spider-Man."
The fire in his veins froze into ice. The man strode toward him, the guns and knives strung around his waist pinging against each other with his every step, the teeth on his necklace clinking like hollow seashells. He wore military-style boots with matching pants and a vest made out of what looked like an honest-to-God lion pelt, leaving most of his upper body exposed. His voice boiled in his chest and tumbled from his throat with a gruff, Russian-sounding accent. He reminded Peter of some kind of over-the-top pro wrestling personality. If he was whacking leotard-sporting body builders with metal chairs on TV rather than shoving his aunt to the floor in his living room, maybe Peter would be laughing right now instead of trembling like a leaf.
Peter thought he'd learned what true fear was after being lost and alone in a foreign jungle. After being shot through the stomach and almost bleeding to death. But now, standing in his apartment, his aunt on the ground, a bloodthirsty stranger looming over him, Peter was struck with a whole new genre of terror.
An enemy had invaded his home. And he knew who he was.
His head was still spiraling with it all when the man swung the machete. Peter gasped and staggered back, throwing his arms up to defend himself, but the man changed directions mid-swing, aiming low. The blade sliced just below Peter's ribs—not deep enough to hit anything important, but effectively ruining one of his favorite T-shirts and inciting a cry of pain from his lips. Peter tried to jump backwards but hit the armrest of the couch and fell into the cushions, flailing on his back. Someone was breathing frantically, hysterically, and Peter realized it was himself. The man swung the machete again, cutting him just above his hip, but Peter caught his wrist on the third strike attempt and squeezed his hand until his grip broke. The weapon clattered to the ground.
"Run, May!" he screamed, kicking the man in the jaw. The hit barely stunned him. He dodged his next kick and swung a staggering punch into Peter's gut. Peter gagged, seeing stars, reunited with nausea, the brass knuckles on his fingers carving into him. He's so fast. Peter choked and floundered, clawing at his arm, but the man landed another hit with his opposite fist—this one in his chest, just as powerful.
"Hunter said you were a formidable opponent," the man sighed, watching the kid's blood soak into the couch cushions. "Sadly, as expected, it is more of the sa—"
WHAM! Peter snapped his knee up and into the man's chin, hearing his teeth clap together violently, then wrapped his legs around his neck. Using his girth against him, Peter whipped around the man's head and flung him into the wall. A deep crater formed where his body hit and the decorative bowl hanging by the light switch exploded into a million shards. Peter leapt off the couch and let loose a flurry of punches: temple, collarbone, stomach, jaw. Bruised and rattled, the man swung once, missed, then kicked Spider-Man in the ribs, sending him flying into the opposite wall, just above the TV. Peter coughed hoarsely but stopped himself from slipping to the ground, sticking in place with his palms.
"Ha!" the man laughed, wiping his bloodied lips with his thumb. "Now that is what Kraven likes to see! A fighter!" He stomped forward and shoved the couch aside with one powerful swoop. It skidded across the room and into the side table with a CRASH as he pulled a short spear from his belt. "Perhaps killing Spider-Man will be entertaining after all!"
Kraven? Peter thought dazedly. Never heard that name before. Who the hell is this guy?
Before he could make another move, a coffee mug sailed through the air and smashed into the side of Kraven's skull. Both of them turned to see May Parker standing in front of the door, eyes wide, knees quaking, a second coffee mug reared behind her head.
The man's face coiled in rage. "Why, you little—!"
"No!" Peter screamed, launching off the wall. He landed in front of his aunt with his arms at his sides, standing between his only remaining family member and the psychotic stranger. "Don't touch her!"
Blood and sweat swirled together and slipped down Peter's torso. The mixture pattered quietly as it dripped on to the floor.
"Peter...?" May breathed.
"You're here for me, right? Then kill me! Leave her out of this!"
To his surprise, the man stopped in his tracks, a noticeable shift in his expression. Kraven looked the American boy up and down, heeding the rage ablaze in his eyes, the desperate resolve in his shivering fists. His gaze flickered to the trembling woman, then back to Peter. Peter swallowed chunky gulps of air. He would not let this man hurt his aunt—he would protect her, defend her, no matter the cost. Slowly, Kraven furrowed his bushy eyebrows and cocked his head to the side.
"Kraven the Hunter only kills when a fight is fair," he said simply, uncoiling his muscles. "Otherwise, it violates my morality and is also boring. The woman's presence makes you weaker, distracted, frantic. I will not have it."
He stowed the spear back in his belt. Peter winced as the man stomped toward them and pressed closer to May, shielding her body with his. Kraven leered down at the cowering pair, his skin striped and etched with the scars of past battles, his gray eyes chillingly cold. Then he stepped into the doorway.
"I will send you a location. The day I do, you will go to that location to face me. Just Spider-Man. No one else. If anyone besides Spider-Man comes, I will kill this woman and then you. Do you understand?"
Tension twisted in Peter's chest and pulled at his throat. "Yes," he croaked out. He felt three feet tall standing in the giant man's shadow.
"Good," Kraven growled. "And do not try to run. I tracked you down once. Don't think I can't to do it again, or that I will ever be as merciful as I am now."
He walked into the hallway. His gait was leisurely—annoyingly so. Peter stayed stiff as a board until the man's heavy footfalls were out of earshot. Until he was certain they were alone.
"Peter," May said. Her voice was drawn as thin and tight as a bowstring. Her hands were squeezing the life out of his shoulders. "Peter, call 911."
Peter turned to his aunt, his breathing still strained. "We can't."
May reached back and grabbed her phone out of her pants' pocket. Her hands quaked as she tried typing in her password. Peter laid his palm over the screen.
"May, we can't," he said again.
"That man was trying to kill us! He was trying to kill you!" Her tearful eyes suddenly dropped to his torso and practically bulged out of her head.
"Peter," she gasped. She cupped one hand over her mouth. "Peter, you're bleeding. You're bleeding so much."
"I'll be okay. It's not as bad as it looks."
"We need an ambulance. You need a hospital. W-we have to call—"
"May," Peter interrupted sharply, clutching her hands in his. They felt oddly cold, like she'd soaked them in ice water. When his aunt's fear-stricken eyes met his, he thought he might choke. "I...I heal quickly, okay? I'm fine. I promise you."
The slow, daunting change in her countenance was all it took. One look, and he knew. Both of them knew. After all this time—how long had it been? This wasn't how he pictured it happening. To be honest, he never pictured it happening at all, as if ignoring the possibility would somehow make it a perpetual impossibility. He knew he could never put May under that kind of stress.
But now, it was too late. The truth was undone.
"Peter?" May whispered. "You mean...that man. He kept saying—kept calling you Spider-Man."
Peter swallowed thickly and closed his eyes.
"I..." he said hesitantly, "I'm sorry, I...I wanted to tell you, I just..."
The words cracked and crumbled in the depths of his throat. He couldn't believe this was actually happening. He couldn't look at her. His eyes began to sting in the corners.
"I don't understand. How could you...?" May stared at her bruised, bleeding nephew like he was an alien. Her hands cradled the face of the boy she'd taken in and raised as her own—a boy she thought she knew. Her head churned with fifteen years'-worth of confusion.
Peter pressed his palm against the cut below his ribs and inhaled carefully. "I'll try to explain," he said. "Just...please don't freak out, okay? And don't call anyone. Not yet."
May's gaze jerked between his face and the small puddle of blood on the floor. She licked her lips and stroked his cheeks with her thumbs before giving a slow, uneasy nod. Peter stood, numb with shock. He shut the door of their apartment, locked it, and began the grueling process of trying to lay all this out. And May sat beside him, an arm around his shoulders, a hand running through his hair, trying to listen, to understand. The larb and pudding had turned warm and stale by the time he finished his rant.
Peter slapped a hand over his mouth and nearly fell flat on his ass. "M-May!"
"I'm sorry, it's just—how did I not figure this out sooner?"
Night had claimed the city. May sat criss-crossed in front of her nephew, gripping the side of her head, her long, wavy hair tangled between her fingers. Peter found himself fighting back anxious laughter. He'd never heard such foul language spouted so brazenly from his aunt's lips.
"I mean, it makes sense, the more I think about," she continued, exasperated. "All the secrecy and injuries and the sneaking out at night. In a way, I'm almost...relieved." She puffed out her cheeks, tossed her hair over her shoulder, then rested her chin in her palm. "I was beginning to worry you were getting into some seriously bad stuff. Gambling, drugs, prostitution—"
"I'm not a prostitute, May," Peter snorted.
"Still, I mean, superheroing? That's not any less dangerous than all those things. Just look what happened today!" May took hold of his bloody shirt and lifted it up with a hiss. "Are you sure you'll be alright?"
"I'm sure," he said, pulling away from her skittishly. "I've bounced back from much worse."
The deep wrinkle that formed along his aunt's brow made Peter immediately regret his words. May reached out and wrapped his hands in hers.
"I wish you would've told me all this was happening, Peter. I could've helped."
While this was going a lot better than Peter could have anticipated, he knew he still had a lot of work ahead of him: mending the rift that his plethora of secrets had created between him and his guardian. Not to mention figuring out how the hell his spidery double life was going to work now that she knew about it. Would she let him go out on patrol at night? Would she want to monitor him, get updates, maybe be his second guy in the chair? The thought of his aunt radioing in with advice while Spider-Man was fighting a big bad was kind of hilarious. The hurt in May's eyes pulled him from his thoughts and made him bow his head in shame.
"I know, I just...I didn't want you to worry. The spider bite thing happened right around the same time Ben died, so..." He gave her hands a small squeeze. "It didn't feel right, burdening you with more."
May studied her nephew with quiet agony. She could hardly fathom the idea that all this time, this sweet little boy sitting in front of her—her helplessly dorky kid—had been that costumed maniac she'd watch swing across her television screen a hundred times over, battling criminals and Avengers and monsters.
"Plus, it's not like I've been doing this all on my own. I've had Mr. Stark watching out for me. A few of the other Avengers, too."
May blinked, her body stiffening slightly. "Tony Stark? He knows you're Spider-Man?"
A knot formed in Peter's gut. "Uh, yeah."
"How long has he known? This whole time?"
The knot began to contort and expand. Peter scratched the back of his neck. "Um, sorta. Since August. He's been kind of like my superhero mentor, making me suits, training me—"
"Since August?" she exclaimed, shooting to her feet. "You mean he's known about you being Spider-Man for months now, and he didn't think to tell me about it?"
"I—I asked him not to!" Peter insisted. "Please don't blame him for this."
"Then who's to blame for that Tarzan-looking psychopath bursting into our home and trying to kill you?" she countered. "Has all this stuff with the internship and the research grant and the work-study trip just been a front for you to go off and do hero things for him?"
Peter withered on the floor, hugging his knees to his chest. "Not...all of it," he replied reluctantly. "And Tarzan is my fault. Being Spider-Man means making lots of enemies, but I've never had one figure out who I am, let alone where I live." He backtracked quickly. "But, um, don't worry. I'll handle it."
"Give me your phone," May said, extending her hand.
"What?" Peter said, clutching the device defensively. "W-why?"
"I'm calling Tony. That man needs to explain himself."
Peter winced. "May, please—"
"He's been lying to me this whole time! He had no right keeping this from me, endangering you behind my back! You're my kid, Peter!"
"I would've been endangering myself anyway! He was just trying to help!"
"Phone," May snapped. Peter huffed defeatedly. Knowing he was Spider-Man clearly had zero affect on how May viewed their power dynamic.
"He won't be awake right now anyway," he murmured while handing it off. "He's in central Africa."
"Africa? I thought you guys were in California for that science con..." She stopped mid-sentence, scowling. "That was a lie too, wasn't it?"
Peter opened his mouth then closed it, shrinking further and further into himself like a turtle.
"Have you been in Africa this entire week?"
Um...SOS, his brain squeaked.He didn't have to say anything—his expression rang loud and clear. May scoffed in disbelief.
"You have got to be kidding me," she growled. Without hesitating, she opened his phone and jammed her thumb against Tony Stark's contact image.
"May, come on," Peter whined quietly, well aware there was no point in trying to stop her. He hadn't expected his relationship with Iron Man to be his aunt's biggest qualm with his secret superhero side gig. "If you're going to be mad at someone, please just be mad at me, okay?"
"Hush," May hissed. Then she looked up at him, her eyes softening, the lines in her forehead melting into her skin. "I'm not mad at you, Peter. In fact, I'm proud. Beyond proud. I mean, you're a superhero, for crying out loud. You've saved so many people—I've seen it. You saved me today. And I can understand why you kept this from me. You're fifteen years old and just trying your best, trying to do what you think is right." She laughed, but it came out more like a sob. "Ben...Ben would be over the moon."
Then her gaze fell to the phone, and the lines returned with a vengeance. "But Tony is a grown man. He knows how dangerous all this Avengers stuff is, and he didn't tell me. I'm sorry hon, but he's getting the ass-chewing he deserves."
Peter's skin burned with an odd concoction of emotions as his aunt held his phone up to her ear: a spoonful of dread, a dash of relief, a bucket-load of anticipated embarrassment, along with the tiniest pinch of triumph. He felt thrown back to his elementary school years, back to those abominable parent-teacher nights where he'd frantically chased his aunt around the cafeteria, begging her not to go off on the English teacher he'd been complaining about all semester. He listened to the line hum and hum until finally going to voicemail, and once Mr. Stark's outgoing message was over with, May sucked in a deep breath. Oh crap, he thought dismally. This was not going to fun.
"Tony? This is May Parker, Peter's aunt." Tony. Not Tony Stark, not Mr. Stark, no. Long gone were May's concerns for formality. "I just thought I'd make you aware of the fact that I found out Peter is Spider-Man today. I found out because a man broke into our apartment and tried to kill him." She switched the phone from her right ear to her left and gripped her arm at the elbow. "Oh, and I also found out that you've known he was Spider-Man since August, and that you thought it best to keep that information from me all this time. No, not just keep it from me—actively lie to me about it in order to take him on missions and put him in danger without my knowledge of any of it. While I thank you for watching out for him and guiding him through all of this insanity, you are an asshole for keeping me in the dark about my own kid's wellbeing."
Peter's whole face went pink. "May! M-Mr. Stark, please, I'm sorry—"
May turned away from Peter swiftly, cupping her hand around the mic. "A man was trying to kill him! That's how I found out! Not because you or any of your Avenger friends thought it might be nice to let me know about my own nephew's secret identity, but because he had to use his powers to protect himself and me from some psychopath. You are going to call me the minute you get this message, Tony, and then you are going to explain how you justified any part of this situation in that big, fat, egotistical head of yours. Capiche?"
If Peter had ever had a chance of getting Mr. Stark to write him a glowing recommendation letter for college or a future job or what have you, May had just squashed that chance flat. Now he really wished she had only been talking to one of his dumb teachers, and not his biggest idol in the entire world. The fire in his cheeks bled into his neck and ears as he hid his face with a groan.
"I'm texting you my number. Talk to you soon, or else. Bye." May practically slapped the end call button, then turned to Peter with her hands on her hips. "Now, if it's not too much to ask, I'm calling the police."
Peter was still dizzy from the first five sucker punches she'd dealt him; this was almost too much for his frenzied mind to handle. "May, no, please," he begged. "You can't get the police involved."
"We won't tell them you're Spider-Man; we'll just tell them a crazy man broke into our apartment and tried to kill us. They'll handle it from there."
When May started punching 911 into his cell, Peter hopped to his feet and grabbed her hands. "No, they won't. If you tip them off, and Kraven ends up killing any of them, that's on me. Worse, if Kraven finds out that we called the cops on him, he said he'll come after you and my friends. I'm not risking that. I can't."
Aunt May searched her nephew's decisive expression with a look of steady, saturated pain. "Peter, is this..." she began, shaking her head ever so slightly, "is this what you deal with all the time? Placing yourself at risk for my sake, your friends', everyone? Choosing every other person's life above your own?"
Peter could hear her heart beating rapidly, her breath hitching before every sharp inhale. He ran his tongue along the roof of mouth, grappling for the right words. Any words.
"Please," he said softly. He wrapped her body into a stiff hug. "You just...you have to trust me on this. I can beat him. I'm going to beat him. I promise you. I'll keep you and everyone else safe."
"But what about you?" May cried weakly, clutching him like he was going break into pieces if she didn't hold him together. "Who's going to keep you safe, Peter?"
Peter smiled into her shoulder. "Spider-Man will," he replied with a pained chuckle. "He's kept me safe for this long, hasn't he?"
A pause passed before May made a noise that sounded like a cross between a whimper and a snort. Peter didn't know what to make of it, so he rubbed her back to try to console her. It was only after she wiggled out of his arms and wiped at her eyes that he realized she wasn't weeping, but laughing. A small, breathy, high-pitched laugh. Peter frowned.
"May? Are you okay?"
"Yes, yes," she giggled, running the backs of her hands against her cheeks. "I'm sorry, it's just—when you said that, it made me remember something I saw on Facebook the other day. A video my friend shared of Spider-Man falling out of the sky and crashing into a newspaper stand." She covered her mouth to try to contain her laughter, but it kept bubbling up and seeping through. "Was that you?"
Peter cracked into a grin. "Oh...that. Somebody was filming when that happened? Ugh."
May laughed and shoved her glasses up the bridge of her nose. "And that definitely isn't the only video like that that I've seen. Wasn't there one where you tripped jumping off a fire escape and landed in a dumpster?"
"Please do not bring up the dumpster video," Peter groaned. "People keep making little remixes of it with dumb sound effects and songs, and I couldn't get the smell out of my costume for weeks."
May crossed her arms and cocked an eyebrow. "Doesn't really seem like Spider-Man's keeping you safe. Seems like he's just causing you trouble and making you internet famous."
Peter chuckled sheepishly, kneading at his elbow. "Maybe. But he keeps a lot of others safe."
There was something both soft and sharp flickering in the dark part of Aunt May's eyes. Something that made Peter guilty and proud at the same time. May scrunched up her face and blew air through her teeth as if something was inflicting her with physical pain, but she was trying her best be tough. Resilient. Brave.
"You're going to tell me everything," she finally said, breaking the suffocating tension holding both of them hostage, wagging her finger in her nephew's face. "Understand? And I mean everything. I want a full report before and after every mission, patrol, or any other superhero thing you do. If you're going out Spider-Manning, you tell me. If you get hurt, you tell me. No more secrets between us. Got it?"
Peter blinked stupidly, wrinkling his brow. "Wait," he said. "You're...okay with this? Letting me be Spider-Man?"
May rolled her eyes with a scoff. "If I told you you couldn't, you honestly think I'd expect you to listen?"
Peter hunched his shoulders and smiled coyly. "Good point."
"However," she continued, "I am setting some new ground rules. First off, no staying out past midnight."
Peter's jaw hung. "But—May—"
"Shush. You heard me. No Spider-Manning past midnight. I want you home and in bed no later than 12:15. You're a growing teenager who needs sleep."
"But what if I'm in the middle of fighting someone? Or what if someone's in serious trouble? I can't just leave—"
"Then you call me," May interrupted pointedly. "Let me know what's happening. Depending on the situation, I might let you stretch the curfew until the trouble is taken care of. Alright?"
Peter imagined himself tangled in the throes of battle, him and his enemy facing off in a dark New York alleyway, the two of them slinging punches and witty banter back and forth, pulses pounding, stakes raw, onlookers watching from the streets, mystified by the display of poise and power—
Only for Spider-Man to shatter the dramatic atmosphere by telephoning his aunt mid-fight. The thought of it alone was dreadfully hysterical.
"What about weekends?" he realized. "Can I stay out later then?"
"Buddy, you are pushing it," she said. Her voice was threatening but teasingly so. She sighed and pinched the skin between her eyebrows. "One, then, on weekends."
May's nostrils flared. "Peter Benjamin Parker, I swear—"
"Fine! Okay! One's great!" He squeezed her around the middle. "Thank you, oh kind and gracious Aunt May."
May chuckled and carded her finger through his hair, tugging gently at the little knots hiding within his sprig of curls. "You know I love you, Peter."
Peter pressed into her embrace. She smelled like cheap laundry detergent and coconut milk shampoo—the way she'd smelled since the first day she brought him home from his parents' funeral. "I know, May," he replied earnestly. "I love you, too. And thank you. For, y'know, understanding."
May kissed the top of his head and hugged her nephew with all the love in the universe. She had no idea what was ahead—was terrified to even think about what was in store for them now that she knew who he really was. But now, at least, they were in this together. She wished she could suspend herself in this moment until the end of time.
"One last thing," May said through another forehead kiss. "I'm installing that app in your phone that Ned's mom showed me. The Life360 thing that tracks you and tells me where you are."
Peter pushed away from her and gawked. "What? That creepy stalker app? But May—"
"Oh, don't 'but May' me, mister," she giggled, dragging him back into her arms. "You might be Spider-Man, but I'm Spider-Man's aunt. Which means I'll always get the final word on everything."
"You're cruel," Peter mumbled, but hugged her back anyway, smiling into her T-shirt.
Going from Wakandan freedom fighter back to New York City high school student in less than forty-eight hours was already enough to whiplash Peter into next week, crazy-psycho-Tarzan-man-breaking-into-their-apartment-and-trying-to-murder-him aside.
But having May know about Spider-Man only enhanced the bizarreness of it all. Peter chose not to go patrolling Sunday night, partially because he wanted to give both of them a day to absorb their new reality without having to immediately face it head-on, partially because he was still exhausted from the Africa-to-America jet lag, but mainly because the wounds Kraven had given him were still hurting pretty bad.
He healed quick, that wasn't a lie. But not that quick. He was badly missing Shuri's magic vibranium medicine already.
"Do I need to call the school and tell them you're back early?" May hollered from the kitchen, flipping an omelette in an iron skillet. Peter stretched and hiked his backpack up his shoulder, squinting against the morning sunshine bleeding through the living room window and poking at the bruises on his stomach. Mondays.
"Mr. Stark already called them," Peter yawned. He winced as May let out a groan.
"Oh, of course he did," she grumbled, salting the eggs aggressively. "Thank the freakin' heavens for Tony freaking Stark."
He prayed Mr. Stark was too busy to check his voicemail. Ever.
Peter didn't want to show it in front of May, but he was actually really freaked out about this Kraven guy. He'd never dealt with anything like him before. The fact that he knew who he was and could pounce from the shadows at any moment made his skin crawl. With the hunter on the prowl, everyone he cared about was in danger. How did he find out about him? Who else knew? And what the hell was with that outfit?
"He wants you to battle him? Why? When is this happening?"
Ned sat on Peter's feet while Peter did crunches, his face scrunched in pain. Normally, the Captain America Fitness Challenge was a breeze for him, but the lingering aches in his chest and belly were making the workout unusually difficult for Peter. He lied flat on his back for a short break, hugging his midsection sorely. The gymnasium reeked of musky rubber and poorly-masked body odor.
"I don't know," Peter panted. "There was a man in Africa I helped the Avengers defeat named Hunter, and this Kraven guy mentioned him while he was attacking me. I think Hunter might have sent him after me to get revenge."
"That is so awesome," Ned beamed. "I wish I was cool enough to have an arch nemesis."
Peter snorted. "No you don't. This whole situation sucks. He said he was going to give me a location and I had to go there to fight him. Like a freakin back-alley street rumble."
"Or a Pokémon gym leader," Ned suggested.
"Does that make me the Pokémon?"
"I guess. You are the one getting beat up."
Peter sat up with a huff, kneading underneath his collarbone. "And now, with May knowing..."
Ned wrinkled his nose. "Did she freak out?"
"Not as much as I expected her too. She was actually pretty cool about all of it, even after having a man break into our house and try to kill us." He winced when he touched a particularly painful sore spot near his second to last rib and let his hand fall at his side. "But she's super pissed at Mr. Stark for not telling her about me being Spider-Man."
"At least you don't have to be sneaky coming and going anymore. You can just throw on your suit, say 'hey, going out to save the city, be back in a bit,' and then she'd give you a snack or something and be all 'be safe, honey,' and then you'd jump out the window."
Peter chuckled stiffly. He imagined it would take a very long time before Spider-Man stuff became a normal staple of the Parker household. He scratched at a gum spot on the bottom of his shoe. "So, uh, how was homecoming? Did you manage to find a date?"
Ned lit up. "Only the most amazing woman at Midtown. Betty Brant! You know, Betty? Aw, man. She's beautiful, intelligent, sophisticated—you should've been there. We danced, ate cubed cheese, went swimming after, MJ pushed Flash into a pool—" He cut himself off abruptly, guilt smothering his smile. "I mean, it was fun, yeah. But it would've been more fun with you."
Peter tried to hide his gloominess behind a very unconvincing grin. "It's fine, Ned. I'm glad you had fun. I really wish I could've gone. Maybe...maybe next year." A sudden realization made him sweep his gaze across the gymnasium, and what remained of his pathetic attempt at a smile melted away entirely. Where was she? Didn't she have P.E. with them? Peter leaned toward his friend with a frown. "Hey Ned, have you seen Liz around? I haven't seen her today. She hasn't talked to me since I left last week, and I'm worried she might be mad at me."
Ned's eyes went wide with surprise. Then his face fell in the worst way possible. "You...you didn't hear?" he whispered.
Fear slithered up the walls of his throat. "What? Hear what?" Peter asked, his chest tightening. Ned gaped at him a few seconds longer before sitting back and twiddling his thumbs in his lap.
"Liz's dad was arrested," he said reluctantly. "He was in some gang or criminal organization that made weapons for bad guys. He's been doing it for years, allegedly, all behind his family's back."
"What?" Peter repeated. His brain did somersaults in attempt to process the information. Liz? Dad? Criminal? Arrested?
"She left last Wednesday," he continued, his voice growing smaller and smaller with every word. "She and her mom moved to Oregon."
Peter stared through Ned rather than at him. He felt his heart wilt inside his chest. "Oregon?" he said softly. "You mean she's...gone?"
After a small hesitation, Ned nodded his head. "They didn't want to be here. You know, for the trial."
Peter looked at the floor between his feet and tried to wrap his brain around all of this. The fake wood was dusty and smeared with shiny fingerprints. Liz Allen, the girl of his dreams, captain of the decathlon team, more beautiful than a mile of roses, the one person in the world who'd likely ever agree to going on a date with him, was gone. She'd moved away. And now, he'd probably never see her again. He didn't even get the chance to say goodbye.
"How, uh..." Peter finally stammered out, knotting up the bottom of his shirt. "How did they find out? About the dad?"
Ned squirmed and stared sideways. "I don't think I should tell you that."
Sighing, Ned pressed the heels of his hands into his temples. "Because," he said. "The guy who told the cops about him was...somebody you threw in jail." He cringed, glancing left and right, then leaned in closer, dropping his voice to a whisper. "Who Spider-Man threw in jail."
A sticky feeling dipped into Peter's belly. "How do you know that?"
"It was on TV last night. Apparently you caught a whole bunch of guys who used to work for him."
"When?" he asked, more to himself than to Ned. The last big baddie bust he'd scored since leaving for Wakanda was when he'd stopped those men who were attacking Liz. Had they been involved with her dad's organization? It had to have been one of them. But they were hurting his daughter! If he hadn't stopped them, who knows what they would've done to her. Why would they do such a thing? Ned had said they used to work for him. Perhaps Liz's dad had fired them or something, and targeting his daughter was their way of getting him back...?
Peter had done the right thing by stopping them. And if Liz's dad was a dangerous criminal, he deserved to be in jail. But that didn't change the fact that all of the pain Liz and her mom were going through—the shock, the horror, the broken relationships, the move—was partially his fault.
He didn't know what to think of it. All he knew was that his heart felt diced into bits.
Peter sunk back to the floor, gazing hollowly at the ceiling. "Shit," he breathed. He laid a palm over his eyes.
"Peter," Ned said suddenly, gasping his name rather than saying it. He gripped his friend's knee. "Peter, you're—you're bleeding."
It took a second to snap himself out of one layer of shock and register the next. Peter moved his hand away from his face, lifting his head off the ground. "What?" he said, his eyes following Ned's and dropping to his torso. A line of dark spots spanned the width of midsection, mottling his shirt where it laid just below his ribcage. The stains tinted the blue fabric a deep purple color and were growing by the second.
With frantic movements, Peter wrapped an arm around himself to hide it. "Shit," he hissed again, shooting looks around the gym to make sure no one else saw. All those stupid crunches must have reopened his knife wound.
"Are you okay?" Ned stuttered fearfully. "W-what should we do? Should we go to the nurse?"
"No," Peter said, nervous sweat breaking across his forehead, the warm stickiness wetting the length of his arm. At that moment, the class bell went off, echoing throughout the gymnasium and sending all the students rushing toward the locker rooms. "I'm fine. Just—block me, until we get to the bathroom. Please."
"O-okay," Ned replied. "Come on." He pulled Peter to his feet and guided him in the direction of the boys' locker room, doing his best to stand between his injured friend and any wandering eyes.
Once they entered the muggy, cramped realm of sweaty post-gym adolescents, Ned maneuvered through the hordes with Peter on his tail, offering uneasy smiles and polite 'excuse mes' to their classmates as they pushed past. Ned led Peter to his locker, and Peter snagged a sweater and a pair of jeans from the lump of clothes inside. "Thanks," he whispered to Ned. "I'll see you in Spanish."
"Are you sure—?" Ned began. But Peter was already making a beeline for the restroom. Ned watched him disappear behind the stall door with an anxious twinge in his chest.
Peter had formed a habit of changing in the bathroom after gym. It just made things easier—on top of all the other stuff he had to deal with as Spider-Man, he didn't need the stress that would come from people seeing him and questioning why he was always covered in bruises, why he had burn marks all over his back, why was he ripped all of a sudden after being a scrawny wimp his whole life, yada yada yada...
The stall was his safe space. Now more than ever. Peter stripped out of his bloody T-shirt and shorts and hung all of his clothes over the door while he went to work licking his wounds. Thankfully, the bleeding was already slowing down. He mopped in and around the cut with some toilet paper until his torso was clean, then flushed all the evidence down the toilet. He decided to wait until the locker room was cleared before getting dressed and heading to class; as long as he left before the second bell, he was good.
"Hey look! Free clothes!" a hauntingly familiar voice laughed. Peter glanced up right as his clothing disappeared over the top of the door, and a shock went up his spine. He made a wild, panicked grab for it, but missed by mere inches.
"H-hey! Flash!" Peter exclaimed, pawing over the top of the stall.
"Looks like they're mine now!" Flash cheered. "I think I'll make a generous donation to Goodwill. Return them to their proper home. That's where people like you get all your shit from, right Penis?"
A round of snickering rose from the locker room. Flash had an audience for this little charade.
"Flash, come on! Give them back!" He hated how squeaky and brittle his own voice sounded. How stupid he felt for once again being the victim of Flash's reigning bullying regime. How even after battling mercenaries and murderers and government kill squads, Flash still found a way to make him feel so weak and small.
"Welcome back, moron," Flash chuckled. "And no, I don't think I will. If you really want them, why don't you come out here and get 'em?"
Peter froze, looked down at himself, and cringed. His entire body was a horrible hodgepodge of black bruises, jagged cuts, and dried blood. Though it was no longer bleeding, the knife wound spanning the width of his torso was still raw, ugly, and red. Kraven's brass-knuckled punches had left deep gashes in his flesh; you could actually make out the individual tooth marks in his chest and tummy. Standing in just his underwear, the damage was gruesome and unmistakeable.
He could not be seen like this.
"How come you're always hiding in there?" Flash asked in a sing-song voice. "What are you so ashamed of? You got an extra bellybutton or something? Three tits?"
"Give me my clothes back!" Peter shouted. His face felt feverish all of a sudden and his throat felt tight.
"Holy shit, he must be repulsive." Flash flipped Peter's clothes over his shoulder with a nasally laugh. "No wonder Liz Allen moved away. She probably got one look at your ugly-ass body and decided to flee to the other side of continent the next day."
Peter clenched his jaw. Don't talk about her, he wanted to scream. His hands knotted into fists at his sides.
"Only you could screw it up that bad with a girl, Parker. That's what you get for attempting to date someone so hilariously out of your league."
Brrrrring! The harrowing chime of the second bell suddenly blared from overhead. Crap! He had to go, now. Peter banged on the door.
"You're going to make all of us late, Flash! Seriously! Just give me my damn clothes!"
Flash shrugged. "So? I have perfect attendance. I can afford to be late to one class." His tone dipped in delight. "You, on the other hand? I doubt you have many tardies left to spare."
Shit. Flash was right. Part of the deal Stark had made with his school in order to steal him away for a secret Avengers mission was that he wasn't allowed to miss or be tardy for the rest of the year. He had already blew all of his skips and then some for the semester; if he was late his first day back, he was done for.
"Tick-tock, Penis Parker," Flash sneered, spinning his clothes in his hand like a windmill. "Better make a decision."
Peter gritted his teeth and pressed his forehead against the stall wall. Tears burned in his eyes and threatened to spill down his cheeks. He hurt all over and he wanted to punch something. Why did he have to do this? Why couldn't Flash just leave him alone? What did he get out of messing with him? If only he knew...
He was screwed either way. He had to choose the lesser of two evils.
"Yo Penis," Flash said, picking up the shirt he'd accidentally flung to the floor and holding it like it was diseased. "Is this...blood?"
Clunk. Peter unlocked the door and marched out of the stall. His breathing was choked and shivery. His eyes were watery and red.
Three boys were left in the locker room. Flash and two guys he only somewhat recognized. They were small in stature but heavily set—maybe wrestlers. As soon as the trio saw him, all of their jaws dropped.
"Peter?" Flash stammered, scanning his beaten body up and down as he approached, his face growing more and more bewildered. "W-wha—why are you—dude, what the—?"
Peter snatched his clothes out his hands and shoved past him, sniffling into his forearm. He threw on the sweater and jeans, grabbed his backpack from his locker, and hurried into the atrium without another word, feeling their eyes burning into the back of his neck.
As he scrambled through the winding hallways of Midtown, reeling with anxiety, ill with dread, fighting to compose himself, Peter's phone buzzed in his hand. He only had a second to dry his eyes and glance down at the screen before dashing into class. A text from an unknown number.
Location coming by the end of the week. Prepare yourself Spider-Man. I am eager to face you.
For the first time in forever, Peter seriously considered calling Happy.
there are so many new marvel movies and characters coming im Shook. Hopefully we get a Spidey 3 announcement soon :) im so greedy lol. I'm pumped to continue this arc so stay tuned! Love ya'll!