Friends

By Darkstorm5000

xxx

In this exclusive brownstone neighborhood in Manhattan, two fights each of a different nature have seemingly come to a head over the past week.

The first being a battle over communal norms, and feelings from those long-inhabited residents about how the most recent arrivals here have violated those neighborly considerations by upsetting the previously quiet and tranquil balance of this area with their disruptive activities, a metaphorical battle which has been slowly brewing and building over the past several years.

And the second confrontation being of a far more direct and relatively unrelated showdown, which suddenly exploded into actual violence one night just several days ago.

Dubbed as the 'X-House' by its occupants and by those who had any manner of affiliation with the mutant-defense team known collectively as the X-Men, this modified living space had been renovated and expanded by encompassing what were previously several townhouses into a single spacious manor, which was the initial source of acrimony from this group's new neighbors here.

Originally conceived of by Professor Charles Xavier as a convenient abode for the graduates of his Institute in Bayville as they moved on to attend the prestigious and nearby Empire State University a number of years back, it had in the time since morphed into a full operations hub for one of his mutant X-teams, housing several members of the X-Men whether themselves college students or not, all in response to the super-powered activity in NYC that seemed to have also increased almost exponentially within that same amount of time.

Which, made the X-House itself a fairly worthy target by those opposed to them. And, helped to explain why it was under semi-regular razing, and was now once again reduced to its current, more dilapidated state.

Having drawn the attention and ire of the Von Strucker twins, Andrea and Andreas, who themselves have dedicated themselves in a tribute of vengeance against anyone associated in name, by blood, or both to Charles Xavier, Magneto, or Nick Fury, all in the name of their own father the Supreme Commander of HYDRA, had orchestrated an attack by luring Freedom Force and the X-Men into a battle here at this Manhattan home and headquarters.

Particularly doing so since the aforementioned SHIELD super-powered black ops squad had been so active from their very inception in an ongoing secret war that Fury had been waging against any operation associated directly, indirectly, or even influenced by his primary arch-nemesis Baron Strucker, and had only served to further incense Strucker's off-spring into this latest retaliation against Freedom Force, where they had used Freedom Force's loose association with the X-Men as part of a ploy to get their attention.

The result was this location erupting into a warzone with tremendous damage to the living structure from another destructive battle with the high-octane, energy-wielding duo calling themselves Fenris and their henchmen at the Manhattan X-Men's own front door.

Or, at least where the Yellow Team's front door used to be.

"Well guys, I'd say that's a wrap."

Were the words now being spoken by one Roberto DaCosta, as he and several of his friends and fellow X-Men all stood together outside of what had been their home here in Manhattan just minutes ago.

All as crews used equipment to place heavy barricades and signs around the property with the following message:

"Condemned-By Order of City of New York. Trespassers will be prosecuted."

The city having now barred these residents by fully closing the property off to them, pending adjudication of their own responding lawsuit for wrongful eviction, saying that a neighborhood petition wanting the X-Men to be forced to move from this residence under numerous public nuisance complaints even in this aged locale was a violation of equal housing protections, and by the city not allowing due process or repairs to be made to the expanded living space, instead in favor of expeditious demolition.

"Ah just got finished talking with Ororo and Scott. Our lawyers are havin' a fit after Ah told them that the city is ignoring the injunction we got and they went ahead and kicked us out. They're supposed to be in court with city officials this afternoon to see what's next?" Samuel Guthrie told the group, as he came back over to them holding his now disconnected mobile phone down by his side, which also had a direct comm-line in it to the Institute.

Which, the squad leader had been using to connect to a conference call with the Institute's Headmistress, Operational Director, and a couple of the lawyers from the high-priced firm working on their case.

"What's next is the city's got what they want." James Proudstar pointed out to them, as they stood across the street from their now former home.

"The lawyers think we have a strong case, sayin' the city can't just kick us out because we're involved in superhero activities and, in their words, consider us some kind of menace and immediate threat to public safety." Sam replied.

This last statement was a reference to the motion their lawyers were preparing to file to have the team's eviction eventually overturned, citing precedent in the case of The City of New York vs Reed Richards and Fantastic Inc. Which was successfully litigated in favor of its defendant regarding discrimination against the cosmically or otherwise-powered, and they believed they could use as a basis for their own case as well.

"In the meantime, we're out in the streets while we wait for our case to work its way through the courts." Bobby Drake added next.

"That's the way it seems." Angelica Jones acknowledged from close by.

"Scott is sending the X-Jet from Bayville to pick us up and bring us back there." Sam further informed them.

"Why don't we just walk back in there, get the Velocity-X, and fly the hell out of here ourselves? And, get all of our other crap they've got locked up in there now, while we're at it?" Tabitha Smith angrily inquired of the group, as she was always ready at a moment's notice to turn one of her mutant time-bombs loose, especially for her friends' benefit.

"Scott and Ororo don't want us to do anything right now that could put us in a negative light, which the city could take to a judge as evidence to strengthen their position and keep the eviction in place." Sam revealed.

"When we get back to the Institute, we can figure out what our next move should be?" Amara Aquilla now surmised.

"To be honest, I'd say this is the perfect opportunity to start over." Roberto now said in response.

"What do ye mean?" Rahne Sinclair now asked, standing next to Roberto.

"What do you guys think about heading down to South America, and help start up a new team down there? Scott and I even talked about it once." Roberto suggested to the team, "Maybe set up operations in Rio?"

It was something Scott had mentioned in passing once while discussing the X-Men and his long-term vision, saying that it would likely be necessary to have at least one team on every continent and major region around the world at some point.

"Ah'm always up for a new adventure." Sam was first to agree.

"I'm game." James next responded.

"Och, ye even need to ask?" Rahne smilingly told him, while continuing to hold hands with Roberto.

"You kidding? Rio, here we come baby, hope you're ready! WOO-HOO!" Tabitha loudly and excitedly proclaimed in her affirmation.

"And if that isn't exhilarating enough for you, I can show you what a real toga party looks like back home in Nova Roma." Amara added about her own relatively nearby homeland in Brazil, as Tabby came over to give Amara an affirmative embrace, locking hands with her around her waist.

"What about you guys?" Roberto now asked, as the group turned their focus on two individuals standing in this loose circle with them, while city crews continued their work yards away from them.

It was a question posed to the last members of their team, who had yet to respond to the suggestion of this potential new beginning that lay so far away.

"I don't think I'll be joining you guys." Angelica paused for a second before responding, as she had seriously considered the prospect, "My Dad is just now starting to warm up to the idea of me even being on the X-Men's active roster."

To further accentuate her point, Angelica smirked in jest and used her microwave energy powers to briefly light up one of her hands.

"Leaving the country to live half a world away will probably just cause him to sprout wings himself and come down there after us. Plus, I've still got over a semester left before I graduate." Angelica further added, as she declined an offer that under different circumstances she would've jumped at the chance to join her teammates on.

Now, another interlude in their conversation came up, as all eyes turned to Bobby Drake, the last of them to make his feelings known on this spur of the moment decision that would greatly alter the direction of their lives.

And it was a decision that was eagerly awaited the most by Angelica.

As the suspense reached a quarter of a minute, but seemed ten times longer to Angelica as each second that passed by seemed to make the possibility of Bobby taking off with the majority a greater likelihood, he at last delivered his response after shooting a contemplative glance back over at Angelica.

"Tropical humidity is hell on a chill guy like me. I'm going to hang back here in the Big Apple and let you guys soak up those extra rays." Bobby informed the group, "And help Scott get things back up and running here, after we have our day in court in front of Judge Judy."

Although, everyone immediately understood that it was the natural light and heat source standing right beside him that was the real impetus behind Bobby's decision, as he put his arm around Angelica's waist in a supportive embrace.

As the group smiled and a few nodded in their support of two of their own's decision to strike out on a different path from them, Rahne came over to give Angelica a heartfelt farewell hug, while Roberto gave Bobby a firm handshake and a "bro-hug" of his own to one of his closest friends, a friendship going back to their pre-teen days when they both first met after arriving together in Bayville.

Then they literally started off on their separate paths, as Roberto, Rahne, Sam, James, Amara, and Tabitha picked up their few belongings that they were able to hurriedly grab on their way out and now headed off down the block to await in their rendezvous spot for the X-Jet to arrive, on this Force's first steps in their new collective direction.

Meanwhile, to kick off their own first steps in their unanticipated independence, Bobby and Angelica decided to start this new life-path off by first heading up to a nearby cafe.

"Here you go." Bobby said a short time later, as he came and took a seat next to Angelica in a secluded booth towards the back of the establishment, as he handed her a heated cup that had been meticulously brewed and whipped to what she considered to be caffeinated perfection.

"Well, we have a lot of options out there, even down in our price range." Angelica responded, as she looked up and over at Bobby, before she slid her phone over on the table-top towards him, stopping it at a position almost halfway between them.

On it Angelica, who certainly prided herself on being the least procrastinating person her friends had ever met, both in her studies and in life in general, had already begun a search using several websites and apps just downloaded minutes ago to begin locating a new place for her and Bobby to call home.

"Looks like we've got a lot of ground to cover then?" Bobby told her, as he looked at the dotted map layout on the screen before him, while taking a sip from his own lid-covered iced-coffee beverage.

"Then let's not sit here frozen in place, or anything." Angelica cheerfully replied, making an oblique reference to her boyfriend's own mutant powers, as she gave him a quick kiss meant to put an equally as quick coda to this brief conversation, while giving him some additional motivation with her standing up first to leave their booth.

xxx

Several hours and several blocks walked later...

While this morning that had started with such a disruption to their lives that saw Bobby and Angelica forced to leave their home in a matter of minutes with the clothes on their backs and the precious few belongings that they had been able to hastily gather together and carry with them, it had led them and their friends onto a journey that seemed to hold exciting prospects for the next chapter in their lives.

But in this early dusk hour, that excitement had turned to frustration and a good amount of disappointment as this couple, instead of enthusiastically using their powers to dart from place to place, now trudged forward by foot to yet another potential rental destination. It was with far less optimism that they believed this next vacancy was going to be any different than the last dozen or so locales that they had visited so far today, a non-stop trek that had only been broken up by a quick stop off at a local food truck that they just happened to be passing by earlier in the afternoon.

Their present discouragement was mainly due to the fact that when they had found and agreed upon apartments that they both liked, those dreams of having reached the end of this quest were quickly dashed when the application and background process began, thanks to the revelation that these two had very strong ties to the Xavier Institute in Bayville by it being listed in the occupational and financial information section of their paperwork. Which, immediately spiked numerous red flags from insurance and damage risk profiles, along with general concerns from their prospective landlords or leasing coordinators not wanting to have their properties or careers demolished by renting to these mutant-affiliated tenants.

As this fairly dejected couple appeared resigned to going through the motions until they found good fortune or decided to ultimately give up on their search, an unusual happening less than a block away suddenly turned their attention to motions of another sort entirely.

"You see that?!" Bobby asked when the sight of a large robotic figure flew by overhead, in conjunction with what appeared to be a man crashing into a nearby building in this shipping district.

A man, who judging by the design and colors of his costume, looked to be none other than a Spider-Man!

"Seriously?" Angelica looked over at Bobby with a smile and single eyebrow raised in response to how he thought anyone could miss this sight from up above and off in the modest distance.

"I was just being rhetorical." Bobby good-naturedly replied, "Guess I don't need to tell you our next move, then?"

"Nope." Angelica once again simply said, as her smile lessened and a more serious expression came across her face, "Let's go for it!"

Both Angelica and Bobby took their bookbags with their scant belongings and quickly tossed them around the side of a nearby warehouse building. Then the pair just as rapidly powered themselves up, as their bodies were enveloped in microwave energy and solid ice.

Iceman and Firestar then took off with an expedience far more urgent than they had felt the need to show at any point thus far today.

The explosive duo hit this flying robotic monster simultaneously with their heat and ice powers, doing so with such tremendous force that they knocked it several blocks over into a faraway nonadjacent building.

"Get him outta here. I'll take care of...whatever that thing is." Iceman said, as he stood on his encircling iceslide several feet up in the air with her, and pointed down to rubble marking the impact point of where Spider-Man had presumably landed, before he swiftly slid away to make his personal introductions with the strange-looking origination of these events.

Meanwhile Firestar at first hesitated briefly, not wanting to leave her counterpart and partner in every way to face this flying mechanized monster that somewhat resembled a large scorpion all by himself. But, she just as quickly would fly down to land next to this pile of shattered masonry, using her microwave-enhanced strength to carefully move these large broken bricks until their assumption was confirmed and she indeed saw Spider-Man lying unconscious underneath.

Picking him up in her arms, Firestar enveloped them both in her protective energy-field before taking flight, burning a trail through the nighttime air as she headed for a safer place hopefully nearby.

xxx

A number of minutes had passed, all unknown to the masked hero known as Spider-Man as he was slow to regain consciousness, having absolutely no idea where he was at the moment. What he did recognize was the sensation that he was currently lying on a cold, hard concrete floor, with his head being cradled in the lap of someone obviously female judging by the unfamiliar scent of this person's perfume.

"Unnhh..." Were the first noises uttered by this now stirring figure, from inside of this unused distribution facility.

"Just take it easy. You got slammed down pretty hard out there." A voice also obviously female and just as likely belonging to the same whoever it was using her lower torso as a makeshift pillow for him, now said to Spider-Man.

Unable to fully focus his vision one hundred percent, Spider-Man looked upwards behind him to see the vague, upside down red-headed figure now caring for him. And in his current state of disorientation, he made the first assumption that came to mind.

"MJ...?"

"Um, not quite." Angelica replied with a slightly confused expression and a small laugh, realizing that despite being awake that Spider-Man was still very much out of it.

With that last statement, several more minutes of silence passed, with Spider-Man slowly becoming more cognizant of his surroundings and getting his bearings back.

By the time the sound and sensation of a heavy explosion could be heard and felt a number of blocks away, Spider-Man was aware enough to understand what the likely cause of it was, even if he wasn't yet sure of who had caused it?

And he could also now feel the sensation of open air against his face, as this consistently masked crusader reached up to feel and confirm that his face was now exposed to the world.

"I just pulled it up far enough to let you get some air. I wasn't sure how well you could breathe under that thing?" Angelica quickly assured Spider-Man, as she felt him tense up when he quickly reached up to feel that his mask had been adjusted, even though Angelica had been extremely mindful to roll it up only as far as was needed and only exposed his indistinguishable nostrils, mouth and chin area.

"You sure it just wasn't so you could steal an upside-down kiss from yours truly, while he was out cold?"

Now sensing that her words had indeed had a calming effect on him, as his posture seemed to relax against her once again, Angelica wasn't too surprised by what she had just heard from him, coming from a biting sense of humor that had become pretty much urban legend by now.

"No." Angelica replied to this insinuation about stolen kisses with a simple giggle, as she continued to slowly caress the side of Spider-Man's exposed face with one of her hands, his head still resting in her lap.

"Because it has happened before. I mean, it's like a total thing." Spider-Man now said with a slight and boasting smile himself, as he briefly looked back up behind him at this kind stranger who had shown such compassion to him in his moment of need.

"You keep talking like that, and you're gonna wind up with frostbite in every place the sun doesn't shine." Angelica now smirkingly intimated to him, her warning meant to be equal parts humor and candor on her part.

"Got'cha." Spider-Man said as he took Angelica at her word, and now sat up rubbing his head in an attempt to shake the last of the cobwebs loose.

Now fully aware of his surroundings, Spider-Man decided to do something he felt long past due.

"I'm Spider-Man, by the way." Spider-Man jestingly said, as he reached over to playfully shake Angelica's hand in formal introduction.

"Yeah, we kinda figured that out. I'm Angelica, but you can call me Firestar." Angelica replied, her hand still loosely grasped within this hero's, whom she had somewhat idolized for more than a few years now.

"Well, it's nice to meet you Angelica Firestar. Sorry it's under such crazy circumstances." Spider-Man almost apologetically said to her, as their minor physical contact now ended.

"We noticed. What was that all about anyways?" Angelica asked him, as the pair sat up on the warehouse floor facing one another.

"That was another..." Spider-Man started to explain, when a new thought came to mind and he immediately stopped. After a moment, he then spoke to Angelica again, as he now got up to his feet.

"We'd better get up and get a move on. Before it figures out where I'm at." Spider-Man said, now with a decidedly more anxious timbre, as he looked down at her, "I don't want you to get hurt because of me."

"Don't worry, I can handle myself." Angelica now tried to assure him, as she also stood back up and remained facing him from just a few feet away.

"No offense, but not against a Spider-Slayer. No matter how many krav maga sessions you've clocked and got under your belt." Spider-Man responded, hoping to persuade her willingly to leave this place as quickly as possible.

"Actually, I had more than just basic self-defense in mind." Angelica now tried to clarify. But remembering the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words, Angelica now felt that a visual demonstration would more convincingly make her case to Spider-Man.

So, she closed her eyes and consciously activated her mutant power, as the very air around her started to crackle and vaporize from the friction of now being at a near state of combustion.

"So how does that hit you?" Angelica now opened her eyes and playfully inquired of the costumed hero, who had by now fully pulled his mask back down over his face. All while Firestar stood there glowing bright like an earthbound comet.

"Not as hard as that Spider-Slayer did, thankfully. But now I see that Firestar wasn't just a family name." Spider-Man agreed, as he felt the heat emanating from her and was starting to get a better idea of how he wound up in this warehouse with this intriguing woman standing before him.

As Firestar powered back down again and their conversation suddenly hit a silent lull, a new entrant to this abandoned space was about to relay to them that their concerns about the robotic predator that they had been talking about was now a moot point.

"Here you guys are." Iceman said as he appeared on his ice-slide, which he had been using to travel around this warehouse block and search out where these two had wound up, before using the tracking feature built into their phones by the Institute to find Angelica, and now slid in through an unpaned window to join them.

"So you must be the other half of the "we" that she mentioned?" Spider-Man guessed, as he took a double-take at Iceman and immediately recognized the frosty hero.

It was from having seen this icy figure that stood out in a few photos featuring the X-Men, but also having seen him from a distance when they, plus the Avengers, a few of the other X-Men, and several other hastily assembled heroes had worked together not too long ago during Dr. Doom's latest attempted takeover of NYC.

"By the way, you're welcome." Iceman now sardonically said, as he had slid in right up to them still iced up from head to toe, and was also holding a battle-axe forged purely out of ice.

Once inside with them, Iceman proceeded to step off of his ice-slide and tossed what looked to be the mangled and shattered main processor from that slayer down onto the ground of the warehouse in front of them, his remark meant more so for Spider-Man.

Meanwhile, Angelica came over to Bobby as he himself was now powering down. Reaching up to place her hands and wrists carefully against the back of his neck, Angelica rewarded Bobby with a steamy kiss, proud of him for facing such danger on his own, and just as thrilled that he had returned to her in one piece seemingly unscathed.

That while their training had prepared these X-Men to the point where they could easily internalize the risk that they faced on a regular basis and not openly display their worries, it didn't mitigate the fact that in the backs of their mind they still understood the very real danger that they were placing themselves in when involved in these kinds of confrontations. And how one wrong move, one unforeseen occurrence, could spell injury or disaster.

Or worse.

"Well, that's enough to get me right back up to room temperature. And, with no powers needed either." Bobby happily told Angelica, as they stood closely holding on to one another.

"This is Bobby." Angelica smilingly said, as she turned back and made her formal introduction on his behalf to Spider-Man.

And Spidey now better understood Angelica's earlier warning to him about frostbite.

"Someone must really not like you." Bobby now said as he looked down at the broken component on the floor that he had brought back, "And have some major resources too."

"Yeah, a few guys actually, who have deep pockets and a huge mad-on for me." Spidey confirmed for them, "They've been building and sending these Spider-Slayers after me for years now."

"Just looked like a smaller, uglier Sentinel to me." Bobby replied about the cybernetic construct, as he looked back at Angelica. Which to him had looked like a robotic scorpion crossed with something out of one of those old 80's action flicks.

"Well, I hate to get knocked-out and run. But I have some place to be that actually doesn't involve me dealing with anymore robot overkill." Spider-Man whimsically said, as he prepared to take his leave. "But I do appreciate you two sticking your necks out on the line for me."

"Sure. But, let's just try not to make a habit out of it." Bobby replied, as they could actually relate to Spider-Man's predicament.

"Stay cool. Or, warm, if that works better for some of you." Spider-Man jestingly said, as he turned to make his exit.

"Bye, Spidey." Angelica now said, as she happily bid him farewell.

"See you around, Web-Head." Bobby added.

As he walked over and approached the broken factory window that Bobby had moments before entered through, Spider-Man paused just as he put a foot up on the window's ledge. From the corner of his concealed eye he happened to notice that Bobby and Angelica hadn't bothered to move a muscle to presumably also make their exit from this dreary place, seemingly content with just standing there in their cozy embrace.

"Hey, what gives? You two love snuggling up in dank warehouses, or something?" Spidey inquired, as he saw them still standing in place and had assumed that they would also want to get out of here before law enforcement or other curious parties showed up in the area.

"Snuggling up in here for the rest of the night might be our best option, at the moment." Angelica replied without thinking with her eyes closed and a sigh, lifting her head away from Bobby's chest as the couple turned back around in surprise, having thought that the web-slinger was already long gone by now.

"Why do you say that?" Spider-Man inquired, taking a couple of steps back into the warehouse's interior.

The pair then released from their embrace, but both hesitated to respond, reluctant to share the details of their current predicament with the world-famous hero, mostly out of a sense of pride. But seeing that Spider-Man was still standing there and perceiving that he was just as steadfast in getting an answer to his query, they eventually recounted their tale that had begun earlier in the day.

"Our team's house in Manhattan got declared a public disaster area this morning, after a fight with a couple of hyper-powered thugs who decided to use it for target-practice in their reality-makeover tryout video." Bobby explained, trying to inject a little humor into the situation to make it a little less unbearable.

"The city kicked us out with no warning, and we've been out looking for a new place all day." Angelica added, looking down, then back up at Spider-Man.

"We just happened to be passing through the neighborhood on our way to look at another place, when we saw you make your dramatic flyover." Bobby revealed.

"Not that it matters. As soon as they find out we're mutants or from 'mutie-town', they're just going to show 'the freaks' the door anyways." Angelica added, noting the seeming futility of their entire situation with a hint of negativity in her response.

And, for the first time, Angelica was contemplating what she now felt had become painfully obvious to them.

"Maybe we should just head back to Bayville too? Or, maybe I'll go spend some time back in New Jersey with my Dad? I'll just drop out and re-enroll next semester, hopefully the house'll be repaired and opened back up by then." Angelica said, this time with a tone of defeat.

Which Bobby could never recall in all of the years that he'd known her, ever hearing from Angelica.

"You're not dropping out." Bobby now told her, making his statement with a certitude that was rarely heard from him, with each of their current dispositions something of a role reversal for the couple.

"Well, what other choice do I have? I mean, let's face facts, we're just running into brick-wall after brick-wall thanks to who AND what we are. Plus, it's too far into the semester for me to try to get onto the dorm waiting list. I could use my powers to commute back and forth halfway across the state, and risk another incident with Homeland Security and DOMA (Department of Mutant Affairs)." Angelica said, revealing the truths she'd been denying internally all afternoon, before broaching another subject that she'd been reluctant to think about, "And what about you? About us?"

"Well, I'd been thinking of going back to get my CPA license at some point, so maybe now's as good a time as any? Plus, I can practice my igloo building skills in my spare time and we can camp out in Central Park or something." Bobby told her, which actually managed to bring a small laugh from and smile to Angelica, like his humorous remarks usually did.

But only temporarily.

As reality seemed to hit her harder than any villain they'd faced recently, Angelica's moment of levity rapidly disappeared under a tidal wave of stress that she'd been struggling to conceal over the past several days behind a veneer of optimistic cheerfulness. By now she was well past the point that she could pretend that things weren't as bad as they were, coming from the standpoint of someone whose own emotional well-being was predicated on stability and habit that she subconsciously felt had been lacking during most of her own childhood, due to her father's frequently fluctuating employment status. This past week's tumultuous turn of events, of having her life uprooted and turned completely upside down again, had thrown her stabilizing routine into utter chaos, and Angelica Jones had reached a threshold far beyond where she could easily process any of this anymore.

As a steady stream of tears and emotions started to roll down her face, Bobby immediately guided her over to a seat beside him on a nearby wooden crate.

"What's wrong, Angel?" Bobby asked, as she took a moment to try to calm herself first, before attempting a response.

"It's just...nothing's going the way I thought it would." Angelica sobbingly answered, then took another deep breath, before finally saying out loud what had been weighing so heavily on her mind, "I'm starting to think that maybe you should've taken off with the other guys earlier, and headed down to Brazil with them when you had the chance?"

With that revelation, Bobby just sat for a moment and looked over at this dispirited young woman who was completely pouring her heart out to him.

"I'm right where I wanna be, got it?" Bobby told her, as he placed two hands underneath each side of her face, so that he could look straight into Angelica's still teary eyes and make his unwavering declaration.

"I just don't want you to wind up resenting me or anything." Angelica further confessed through a frowned expression, as she placed her hands caressingly up over Bobby's.

"Now that's just crazy talk." Bobby assured her, now doing so with a comforting lateral hug, "Things're going to get better, I promise."

After a brief moment to further collect herself, Angelica then replied to Bobby's assertion.

"They certainly can't get any worse, huh?" Angelica now said, as she carefully wiped her eyes with the palms of her hands and a slight smile returned to her face.

"Now don't you go and jinx us, or anything." Bobby mockingly warned her, as he rubbed the small of her back.

"That's not my power." Angelica replied, her grin now even more noticeable thanks to Bobby's unknowing callback to a nickname from her past, as she put her head on his shoulder.

"Yeah, I know 'Hot-Stuff'." Bobby said, as he used his own and favorite nickname for his lady-love, before kissing Angelica's forehead.

Sensing that as therapeutic as their talk just now had been for Angelica, Bobby believed that what would do them both the most good right now would be a good night's rest.

"C'mon, let's go a find a room somewhere for tonight. We can start fresh again tomorrow, after you get out of class." Bobby now suggested, as Angelica's body language relayed that she was agreeable to exchanging their search for a new place to live, now for a search for a motel room for the night.

But just as they were about to stand up, the pair were met with a most unexpected statement, having been so wrapped up in their own emotional back and forth of the past few minutes that they had completely forgotten that there had been an audience of one taking this in the entire time.

Having unintentionally sparked this apparently much needed conversation between this loving couple, Spider-Man had stood and overheard their discussion, while simultaneously pondering a few things himself.

Not one to put too much stock into things like fate, even if he had met individuals who could easily convince him of its very real power, Spider-Man had been more intently thinking about what it meant to be a hero, what it truly meant? That for someone who understood better than most what it meant to wield power while balancing it against the weight of responsibility, he also knew that being a hero meant more than just putting on an eye-catching mask, or performing amazing, attention-grabbing feats high above a city skyline.

That at its core, being a hero meant doing the right thing and helping those in need, even if it was in ways that certainly hadn't been planned or considered until this very moment.

It was an internal debate that he had been having for the majority of the duration of Bobby and Angelica's conversation, a feeling deep down pushing him to take a leap of faith outside of his normal comfort zone. A potential action, which actually managed to scare this seemingly fearless hero a little.

Having fought so long to keep his true identity from becoming public knowledge, to the extent that it had cost him friendships and relationships in the past, his choice now was not one being made lightly. But was one that he knew deep-down was something that he would only be considering because the same voice inside that constantly reminded him about power and responsibility, was once again urging him forth.

"Guys, I have a room where you can stay, if you're interested?" Spider-Man suddenly offered to this couple, who had so unselfishly put their own problems aside to help him earlier this night.

With that offer now put out there, Bobby and Angelica at first did not provide any kind of a response at all. Mainly, due to the fact that this gesture was unexpectedly coming from this notoriously reclusive hero.

"I mean, it's not much. But, it is a place." Spider-Man added, as his words sunk in on all parties, himself included.

"We don't want to inconvenience you or anything. We'll figure something out." Angelica was finally and appreciatively able to tell him.

"It won't be an inconvenience. Me and my girlfriend were actually talking about renting it out. But we were worried about doing it, because of my secret." Spider-Man further explained.

Then Spider-Man paused to take a deep breath, before continuing.

"Speaking of which, if you are interested, do you two think you can keep a secret? I mean REALLY keep one?" Spider-Man now asked of the pair.

"What, are you a secret Taytay squad member, or something?" Bobby couldn't resist and playfully retorted.

Which, despite Spider-Man actually finding humor in his remark with an unseen grin now under his mask, had still earned Bobby a scolding response from the lone female in there with them.

"Bobby!" Angelica looked back at him in both a perturbed tone and expression, realizing herself just how much this anonymous hero was putting himself out there for their benefit, as she turned back to face him, "He's just messing with you, of course we can keep your secret."

Bobby then nodded in agreement with Angelica, both in acceptance of Spider-Man's offer and in vowing to also keep what they knew was his most guarded and confidential piece of personal information.

And following another brief hesitation, Spider-Man would reveal to them what he had been hiding from so many for most of his teen and adult life.

"So, here it is." Peter Parker now said to them, sans the concealiatory mask that he had just removed to unveil his hidden identity to them.

Once again, Bobby and Angelica's initial response was one of silence, as they looked at each other, then back at this man standing in front of them before speaking again.

"You act like we're supposed to know who you are?" Bobby now said, with a smug expression and jesting inflection.

All of this, a moment before the trio felt it was way past time for them to leave this unoccupied building.

"Squad up, and out." Bobby further bantered as they started to make their way towards one of the window exits, with Angelica leading the way while Peter paused to put his mask on before heading back outside.

"After you, 'Blank Space'." Spidey cordially said in response, as he let Bobby head out in front of him and was determined to be the one to get in a final verbal jab at his new acquaintance's expense.

xxx

Following a brief stop so that Angelica and Bobby could pick up their hastily stashed belongings in a nearby alleyway, and another quick stop in yet a different alleyway several blocks away so that Peter could change back into his civvies that had also been carefully hidden away, the trio then walked together towards the destination that Peter had offered to this couple currently in his company.

As they journeyed on and continued to converse, with all of them first revealing each other's full names and a little bit about themselves, Peter then took the opportunity to further explain to the couple that his aunt had recently moved away, relocating to Florida with a close friend in a retirement community down there and had left her house in the care of him and his now long-time girlfriend. Which is why they had been considering renting out one of the extra rooms, to help out with expenses.

And, after having experienced reactions ranging from reluctance to outright hostility today during their search for a new residence, the pair asked Peter whether his girlfriend was going to have a problem with the fact that they were mutants?

Peter quickly assured them that she was about five levels above open-minded when it came to those kinds of things. Plus, he jokingly added that she shared a bed with a guy who crawled up and down walls on a regular basis, and hadn't run away screaming yet.

"MJ, I'm home." Peter now called out, as he opened and walked through the front door of their home in this Queens neighborhood.

"I was starting to wonder where you were Tiger, if maybe you'd found a better..." Mary Jane Watson was in the middle of saying, as she had come into the small area that lay between their front door and the slightly worn interior staircase, and was in the midst of greeting Peter with what she considered to be a welcome-home most befitting a hero's return.

Which is when this shapely-built redhead instantly noticed just as she had wrapped her arms lovingly up around the back of Peter's neck and had given him a VERY passionate kiss that they also had an audience of two, who had been courteously waiting several feet away out on their exterior front porch.

"This is Bobby and Angelica. They're interested in renting the spare room upstairs." Peter informed her, as MJ took a moment to go from her intimate display of affection, to a state more properly suited in welcoming their two guests.

"Oh...hi, there." MJ now said to this other couple standing on their front stoop after regaining her composure.

After exchanging greetings with both Bobby and Angelica and then hospitably guiding them inside and into their living room, while Peter took Bobby and Angelica's bags into an adjoining room, these three remaining individuals all took a seat in there together.

"So, how do you two know Peter?" MJ now affably asked the pair, as Peter had left to prepare a few refreshments, while leaving his better half with an opportunity to get better acquainted with her potential new housemates.

"Well, we were minding our own business, when this guy decided to get into a fight with a spider-hunter right in front of us." Bobby half-jokingly revealed to her about the mostly true chain of events that lead to their introduction tonight, as he and Angelica sat side by side on the sofa in there and he gestured with a nod towards the room next to them.

"It was a Spider-Slayer, honey." Peter correctingly said aloud from out in their kitchen.

"Oh, you know him that way." MJ responded, as the pair saw her expression suddenly go from fairly laid back to a now far more pensive and concerned one.

"Bobby and Angelica helped me out of a tight spot. This newest slayer had a design upgrade, and was able to evade my spider-sense until the very last second." Peter further elaborated, as he came back in with the light refreshments for the group.

Upon hearing those words, MJ sat up and even more anxiously shifted one crossed-leg over from the other, doing so from the lounger love-seat across from their guests, all while closing her eyes and taking in a deep breath.

Her reaction didn't have to do with the fact that these relative strangers apparently knew about her boyfriend's masked alter-ego, but more so to do with the fact that someone had constructed more of those damned robotic monstrosities and had sent them after the man that she loved.

Again.

And both seeing and sensing the trepidation coming from her, Peter set the refreshment tray down on the coffee table before the group. He then took a seat right next to MJ on the smaller love seat section before delivering a quick and reassuring kiss to the side of her neck, meant to relay that he had made it back home to her and was now safe.

"I still can't believe you got taken down by one of those things." Bobby now remarked, breaking the momentary silence as he picked up one of the glasses so kindly offered to them.

"Taken down by one...? Before you guys showed up, I had just finished tangling with six of those things, when that newer model showed up and got the drop on me, pal." Peter explained to them, now internally wondering whether that hadn't been the ultimate intention all along behind this elaborate scheme concocted by their creators this time around?

Once her brief bout of worriment had passed and she was able to push those concerns to the back of her mind, MJ then opened her eyes and asked the next and obvious question that came to her after hearing Peter's statement.

"Do you guys have...'abilities' too?" MJ curiously inquired of the couple, her demeanor once again far more engaged in this conversation about their fight tonight.

Bobby and Angelica looked over at one another, then they silently stood up.

Angelica first put on a brief personal exhibition by holding her arms up and out to her sides, creating a tightly controlled and very low level energy-field around herself as her body became bright enough to still light up a small gymnasium.

Then just as Angelica quickly powered herself back down, Bobby proceeded to cover himself in a virtual suit of ice, and offered MJ a long-stemmed ice rose sculpture as a small gesture of what he could do.

Which, Peter playfully grabbed halfway in transit from Bobby's grasp; his own exceptional reflexes ensuring that he would be the one to present MJ with this frozen welcoming gift.

"Meet Fire and Ice, but with a -star and a -man tacked onto the end to trademark their two-person home appliance act." Peter now smirkingly referred to both of their codenames and their powers.

"Well, I guess that answers my question about your abilities." MJ said, blown away by the amazing display that she'd just witnessed.

This, while she mockingly smelled the frozen flower in her hand, before sitting it down in a nearby vase as it had already begun its conversion back to its room temperature state along with its creator. Then MJ asked the next question that would occur to most people to want inquire about, had they just been given such an up close and personal display of these two individuals' supernatural talents.

"How did you get them?"

While MJ expected to hear some fantastic tale involving rays from outer space, or some incredible story about a laboratory mishap, Bobby and Angelica prepared to reveal the rather mundane circumstances regarding the origin of their powers.

Well, one of them did.

"It all happened one day a looonngg time ago, when this giant mutant stork ran amuck and came by and slapped yours truly upside the head with the hugest iceberg you've EVER-" Bobby was creatively implying, and had actually managed to draw a noticeable laugh from MJ at this tall-tale being spun, right before his more serious-half felt it was time for her to step in once again.

"What he meant is we were born with them." Angelica smilingly said after also hearing Bobby's humorous remark, and now more mundanely and more accurately revealed to MJ, "We're mutants, and X-Men. Or, at least we were."

"Were?" MJ asked her, as she now realized where she had seen this other uniquely frozen individual next to Angelica before, whose icy appearance made him easily stand out in those various news reports over the years.

Particularly in a photo of him iced up alongside Captain America, during the assembled heroes fight to take back New York that was seen nationally and world-wide.

"Well, we were until we got evicted from our home with no notice by the city this morning, and got run out of the neighborhood." Angelica explained, "Then our team kinda split up after that."

"Can the city really do that to all of you?" MJ leaned forward and asked with genuine concern in her tone about the city's actions against them, which was somewhat of a surprise to hear coming from her to both Angelica and Bobby.

"Oh, you better believe they did us! They weren't going to waste an opportunity to shut our shit down real quick. And, had the nerve to say all of the destruction to our house caused by some maniacs who actually attacked us was still our fault." Bobby cynically added, "Which is crazy, when you think about all those alien and cross-dimensional invasions the Avengers and Fantastic Four have stopped, and have caused a hundred times the damage to the city. Maybe our problem is we thought too small? Instead of just wrecking our own home, maybe we should've been destroying entire neighborhoods in our fights too, then we would've at least had some union support from those guys in Damage Control."

Which, for the second time in the last few minutes had managed to draw a quite noticeable laugh from Mary Jane at Bobby's creative spin on a factual recount. And Peter took it as a positive sign that Bobby was able to get MJ to see a bit of humor in such a serious topic, which he wasn't sure that even he could've done?

"We used to think that things would start to get better when Graydon Creed was finally out of office. But it only seems like things have gotten worse for us instead?" Angelica now added, relaying the sentiments held by mutants living in Bayville, NYC, and beyond, "Which we learned the hard way trying to find a place today that wasn't a million miles away from ESU."

"ESU? Do you go there?" MJ now asked Angelica.

"Yeah, I'm actually pretty close to graduating." Angelica confirmed.

"I was in a study group once with one of your teammates, back when I was a student there." MJ revealed, "Her name was Rogue, do you know her?"

Which drew affirmative nods and smiles from both Bobby and Angelica.

"She was really nice." MJ further added.

"Your words..." Bobby sarcastically replied, which drew a sharp and familiar elbow-jab into one of his arms from his good-behavior monitor sitting right beside him.

"I mean, small world, isn't it?" Bobby now corrected himself, as he rubbed his arm and looked back over into Angelica's smirking face after delivering his retractory statement, confirming that his rescission was indeed satisfactory to her.

"Speaking of teammates, I'd say we made a pretty good team ourselves." Peter now interjected and said to them.

"Yeah, for all five seconds you were awake for it." Bobby ribbingly pointed out to him.

"That's only because I got sucker-punched, so cut me some slack will ya." Peter now argued in his defense.

"Then you admit it? I totally saved your butt." Bobby replied, having the time of his life getting to trade barbs with the person that most everyone in their world of superheroics considered to be the master of the one-liner.

"Sure, Brain-Freeze." Peter sarcastically retorted.

"Hey, Mr. "I-in-team", don't forget that I was there too. And, helped to get Spidey out of there." Angelica looked over and now said to Bobby, proving that despite her usually quieter and more reserved demeanor, that she was more than capable of matching witticisms with the best and the both of them.

"Yeah, and left me to play with twenty feet of mechanized crazy all by myself." Bobby replied, as he took this opportunity to unexpectedly steal a quick kiss from the side of Angelica's face.

"And here I always thought you were supposed to be the big, bad Iceman..." Angelica now playfully challenged him, reminding Bobby of one of her own favorite assertions about him, as she coquettishly ran a single finger down one side of his face.

While the group continued with their good-natured teasing of one another, MJ couldn't help but smile at what was being said between them, and even more at how Peter was interacting with this pair. That for someone who had been so isolated up to this point from everyone in his superhero life, she saw it as a good thing that he seemed so comfortable around Bobby and Angelica, whom she was also quickly coming to like as well.

Although she was usually the jovial one and actively involved in whatever lively conversation was taking place around her, MJ was content to sit back this time and silently observe this trio together, as she pulled her legs up close to her on the sofa. She was even more grateful to hear that this pair happened to show up in such a timely fashion to give Spider-Man a helping hand when he really needed it.

MJ also thought about the fact that Peter obviously trusted these two enough to reveal everything to them, and even though she fully trusted his instincts, there was still a small part of her that did have some reservations about this whole situation. That while there's truth behind the concept of strength in numbers, MJ just as easily understood how that principle could also swing both ways by making these three an even bigger collective target to those who would do them harm.

And it was that constant worry about harm befalling Peter every time he suits up and leaves to defend this city and its citizens that's always in the back of her mind, with MJ being the one left behind to ponder whether tonight was going to be the night where Peter doesn't come back to her? But, she does feel a little better now knowing that even as fully capable that Spider-Man's obviously proven himself to be over the years, he won't be out there alone and will at least have two friends with him helping to watch his back.

Amazing ones, at that...