A/N: Happy Holidays. :)

Chapter Twenty-Four

Final Lesson

"You," I croaked. "Sh-…Shire?"

Anubis's laugh rattled through my skull. Die screaming, Spider-Girl.

His shadow turned and glided away, out of sight.

No antidote. No cure. My fingers raked through twisted shards of steel as I clawed at the wall, slicing through my hands, but it didn't matter because I had to get up, I had to get up...

The remains of a robot slid out of nowhere and gouged into my legs. I stumbled and fell against the wall. My right hand hit metal and my left empty space. A corridor. I could get out of here, I could-

In an instant the charred walls and heaps of twisted metal were gone. I was in a Midtown High science classroom, with dingy green walls, black lab tables, sinks, cabinets full of dusty beakers. A teacher in a lab coat with a long black braid was writing on the board. "Now, class, remember what Doc Hiller said: It's a botanically-based neurotoxin that mimics cone shell venom. You've read about that, haven't you? So, if this neurotoxin inhibits the acetylcholine receptors in the nerves…"

She started writing faster. "And the voltage-dependent sodium channels in the brain…"

Another surge of pain slashed through me. I grabbed weakly at a table. My hand went through it like a ghost.

"…Leading eventually to complete paralysis of the heart and respiratory system…"

"Help," I gasped. My lungs were filling with acid. "Please…"

"…Keeping in mind that the toxin was injected directly into a carotid artery…"

Please…

The teacher lowered her marker and turned around. It was Elaine Garcia. "How long will it take Mayday to die?"

Gigantic fangs slid out of her mouth. Her eyes expanded into round black pools. Four long clawed arms exploded from her sides with sickening cracks.

Black Widow smiled. "Not long at all."

She lunged. I stumbled back and slammed into a cold wall. Black Widow and the classroom shimmered into nothing like a mirage. I was in a dimly lit hallway made of corrugated metal. Thunder rattled through the walls. My knees buckled and I fell, gagging, each heave an agony like claws dragged through my insides. Vomit splattered against the floor in front of me. It was black with blood.

Shadows grabbed my arms. Ladyhawk. Nacht. They were there, on either side of me, pulling me to my feet. I opened my mouth, tried to speak, but before I could get a word out gunshots roared. Nacht and Ladyhawk collapsed and evaporated as they hit the floor.

You did this, their voices whispered. You killed us.

"No," I gasped. I slammed my hand against the wall and heaved myself up. "No..."

A shadow, in front of me, light glinting off its armor. "Harry…" I heaved up my arm, tried to reach... "Help me…"

The voice that spoke wasn't Harry's. "Why?"

My arm fell. My grip on the wall slid and I crashed back to the floor. The shadow stepped closer, leaned over me. "Maybe he loves you," it whispered. "But as for me…"

He leaned closer. The shadows slid away from a face hideously twisted and warped, skin merged with a grinning goblin mask. "I'd rather watch you die."

I hauled myself up and stumbled away, gasping, sobbing. The corridor opened out over ocean waves, thrashing in a black storm of wind and rain, and beneath the surface drifted the wreck of a helicopter, its windshield shattered, blades bent and mangled. There were people inside, Mom, Dad, Benny, staring up at me through the water. Their faces began to dissolve, peeling away until they were nothing but gleaming skulls.

I reeled back and fell, screaming in horror, pain, both. My face hit cold metal. My legs were dead weights. I couldn't get up, couldn't breathe...couldn't...

Someone appeared in front of me, a figure with its hands on its hips, wearing a red and blue suit that flowed seamlessly into a mask whose only features were two huge, swept-back white eyepatches. It was me. Spider-Girl.

"So this is it?" she said. "You're just going to give up and die?"

I retched again. Black vomit bubbled out of my mouth. Blood pounded at my temples, so hard it felt like hammers smashing against my skull. My heart was beating too fast, sending poison surging through my veins, into my lungs and brain and...

She crossed her arms. "What, you think this hurts? What do you think it's going to feel like when the Goblin tortures your family to death? What do you think it's going to feel like for Harry when Hobgoblin takes him over?"

Agony fogged my mind. Anubis, Shire, no cure...

She snorted. "Yeah, and he was so sure you were paralyzed, remember? You're not dead yet, so get up!"

Red haze seeped across my vision. The only sound I could make was a croak.

She crouched down beside me, her voice dropping to a furious hiss. "Not dire enough for you? Then how about this: What do you think the Goblin's going to do once you and Dad are out of the way? Think about how many people are going to die because you were too selfish to keep going!"

The scream ripped from my lungs. "Shut up!"

"Then prove me wrong! Get up! Get up!"

"I…can't…"

"Yes, you can! So what if your legs don't work, you've still got arms! Use your webbing!"

Somehow my arm came up and my fingers bent. I felt the webbing connect, wrapped my fingers around the end and heaved hard enough to unravel my muscles. The floor disappeared from under me and crashed into the soles of my feet. I staggered forward, half blind, fell against a wall and to the floor. I couldn't move anymore, I couldn't...

"What are you doing?" she yelled. "You can't stop now! Get up! Move!"

"I can't…" My gasp became a moan. "Leave me alone…"

Her voice was cold. "Fine," she said. "I'll leave you alone."

"I..." Bile choked me. "I…tried…"

"Yeah. You tried." Scorn dripped from her voice. "And you failed."

She turned, began to walk away, and stopped. She looked over her shoulder. "Nice work, hero."

She vanished.

I smashed my palm against the wall and pulled with all the strength I had left. The metal sheeting ripped away, dragging sparking wires and beams with it. I stumbled and fell forward, through the gap in the wall and into another room. My legs gave way. The metal floor slammed into me. I felt my heart shuddering in my chest, each beat sending knives of pain through my body, but now it was slowing down and I couldn't breathe and I couldn't see...couldn't...I was...

I was...

I...

I...

...


A bolt of lightning roared through my chest. I choked and twisted and felt my head bang hard against the floor. Fingers dug into my arm. "Wake up! Mayday, wake up!"

A strange, sparking, sputtering noise crackled in my ears and into my brain. My arms and legs and even my eyes felt weak and watery. I felt for something, found a wall, and pulled myself up to sit against it. I squeezed my eyes shut until the tears dripped away, and opened them again.

"Andrea?"

She sat there, right in front of me, her hand wrapped around the rubber guard of a sparking live wire. The cord led to a gap in the wall. A piece of metal paneling lay on the floor next to it, the one I'd ripped out when I fell, and a tangle of twisting wires sat in a lump on the floor.

Andrea held up the wire. "I shocked you," she said. "It's like what they do on hospital shows."

I stared at her. Either I was delirious or completely insane, or Andrea had just saved my life.

Andrea stared back at me. "Seriously, you never watch House?"

I couldn't think of anything to say that made sense and gave up trying. I sat back against the wall, but even though I felt completely wrecked nothing actually hurt. I could dizzily remember the last time that had happened: it had shocked my powers back to life. I already healed faster than a normal person, so maybe this time the shock had jump-started the process. I guess.

Andrea was still talking. "What happened to you? You were like, dead! No pulse or anything!"

I gulped hard. "Why..." My voice failed. I tried again. "Wh-what are you doing here? Why aren't you with…"

Andrea looked at her hands. "They got them. Benny and the…" She gulped. "The guy. He said his name was Kurt."

My mouth went dry. "They…got them?"

She nodded, still staring at her hands. "We were running, and then these guys showed up. All in black, with these helmets and…and guns. Kurt told us to run and that he'd hold them off, and then one of the other guys was yelling something about taking them alive. And Benny…I tried to stop him but he ran straight at those guys. I think he was trying to help or something, but…"

The dread turned to terror. I fought to keep my voice steady. "What happened?"

"They grabbed Benny and they all went after Kurt. I didn't see what happened." Her voice sank to a whisper. " I ran."

She lowered her head. Her hair fell across her face and shadowed her eyes. "And then I found you and…"

I clenched my fists so hard that they shook. They took them alive. They were still alive, they had to be, they had to be...

Andrea's head snapped up and her eyes fixed on me. "Why is this happening?" she whispered. "Who's doing all of this?"

I took a deep breath. Things were too far gone now. There was nothing I could tell her but the complete truth. "It's the Green Goblin. My dad defeated him years ago and everyone thought he was dead, but he's back. And now he's going to kill my family and turn Harry into-"

"Harry?"

I nodded. "He's Harry's father."

There was a moment of complete silence.

Andrea swore.

"Yeah," I said.

"So…" Andrea massaged her temples. "So this is all some, like, really complicated family feud?"

I didn't have the energy to answer. Andrea dropped her hands and stared down at them. After a long moment she clenched her fists and looked up again. "So what do we do now?"

I stared at her blankly. Andrea crossed her arms. "If we're going to go take down, like, Darth Vader or whoever, don't you think we should get going?"

The word came out before I could stop it. "We?"

Andrea bit her lip and looked down, clenching and unclenching her fists. Her face tightened as she raised her head. "Yeah."

I couldn't think about that, or anything at all. My mind had gone numb, and all I did was climb to my feet, and all I said was, "Let's go."

I turned in a circle on the spot and saw another gray metal panel that was taller than me, pulled out and leaning against the wall. Behind it was what looked like a dark narrow hallway running parallel to the corridor.

Andrea pointed. "That's how I got here."

I stepped over the clump of wires, leaned out into the hallway and looked both ways, but all I saw was darkness. "How far does this go?"

Andrea shrugged. "No clue."

"Okay." I squeezed my eyes shut. They're alive, they're alive, don't panic or you'll never save them, just think, just think...

I opened them again. "It's got to go somewhere," I whispered. "And if we go this way, at least no one coming down the hall will see us. Um, I think."

"You think?"

"That's the best I can do right now, okay?" I took a deep breath. "And we've got to be quiet, so shut up!"

I stepped out into the corridor and waited, every muscle tense, but my spider-sense was silent. "Okay. Come on."

I turned left and started to walk; it was as good a direction as any. After a few seconds I heard Andrea clomping after me. "Wait a minute, they just let you run off and die?" she whispered. "What if someone comes looking for you?"

I edged around a corner. "If they think I'm already dead, then they're not going to be looking for me in a hurry." I hope, I added silently.

"Yeah, but how do you know? What if they're, like, really obsessive compulsive and don't want dead people lying around bleeding on stuff?"

"I don't know!" I hissed. "Now would you please shut up?"

I heard a snippy hmph but nothing else. We followed the corridor another few yards, and then she said, "So what's the plan, anyway?"

I stopped for a minute, but my spider-sense was still as silent as ever. "We find everyone and save them, and then we get out of here."

"Okay," Andrea said. "How?"

"Um..."

"You don't know?"

My spider-sense tingled. "Shhh!"

Andrea huffed. "Don't shhh me, I want to know what-"

"Shut up!" I flattened my hands against the wall. Faint footsteps vibrated through the metal, a lot of them. My spider-sense became a buzz. "We're close."

Andrea squinted at me. "How do you know?"

"My spider-sense."

"Your what -a-sense?"

I ignored her started to feel my way along the wall. Andrea followed me, at least making an attempt not to clatter on her ridiculously-high platforms. The wall led into shadows, but not so dark that I couldn't see. After twenty steps a hundred slanting specks of light dotted the opposite wall, streaming from the grill covering a wide vent.

Andrea poked me. "It's a vent."

"Thanks, some things I realize." I followed the hallway as quietly as I could, walking heel first, holding my breath. Flattened locks of my hair and the rags that were all that was left of my mask clung to my face with sweat. My mouth was still so dry that no matter how hard I swallowed it didn't make any difference.

They're alive, they're alive, they have to be alive...

The light coming from the grille was too bright to hide in. I gulped back another surge of panic, climbed up the wall, crawled around so that I was upside down with my head an inch above the grille. "Okay, I'm staying up here," I whispered, trying and failing to force the quaver out of my voice. "Stay out of the light and look in from the side, and don't let your hair swing out or..."

I turned my head and saw Andrea staring up at me with a weird look on her face. "That's like, really creepy."

"Shhh!" I lowered myself on my fingertips, just enough to peer out from under the top of the grille. On the other size of the wall the floor of the gigantic football-field-sized room we'd crossed already stretched out towards the towering solar panels. They glittered in the starlight, casting a strange bronze light over the walls.

Fear swelled in my throat, choking me. The Goblin stood in the shadow of the panels, flanked by two of the helmeted guards, wearing a new black suit and with his hair perfectly combed again. No blood streaked his face, and even the bruises were gone.

He nodded to someone out of sight. "Bring them out."

Two guards marched into view, dragging a limp figure with them. They dropped him in front of the Goblin and he landed hard on his hands and knees. The dark fur of his face was matted with even darker blood, and a thick metal collar encircled his neck. It was Nacht.

More guards appeared, dragging a kicking shape between them. "You can't do this!" he screamed. "You'll be sorry! My sister's gonna kick your-"

The guards flung Benny to the ground. Nacht reached out and grabbed his shoulder. For a split second both of them flickered, but then Nacht let go of Benny and collapsed onto his hands and knees, gasping.

"I wouldn't try teleporting with that on," the Goblin said. "You'll rip yourself in half."

Benny pushed himself up, glaring through his tears, and froze. "Mom," he yelled. "Mom!"

Two more guards hurried forward and stopped in front of the Goblin. Between them, dead white and disheveled, was Mom.

My joints locked. I couldn't breathe. No, no, please, no...

She raised her head and saw the Goblin. Her face went rigid. "You?" she whispered.

The Goblin smiled. "Hello, my dear."

The guards shoved my mother into line beside Benny. Andrea elbowed me. "What's wrong with you?" she hissed. "Do something!"

But I couldn't. A jackal-headed shadow slid across the wall as Anubis, Shire, whoever he was stepped into view, and another figure followed him, walking with stiff, robotic steps. The shadows peeled away from charred, dented armor, a bruised, blood-streaked face with lifeless eyes, a mask over something already dead.

"Ah," the Goblin said. "I believe you know my son?"

Anubis and Harry stopped, flanking the Goblin. He smiled. "You'll forgive me for using you as an educational example," he said, "but this is a very important moment. The prodigal son's returned to the fold." He raised his hands and cracked his knuckles with loud, deliberate snaps. "And he's about to learn a few tricks of the trade."

A gasp seethed between Mom's teeth. Nacht looked from the Goblin to Harry, bewildered, his face white beneath his fur.

The Goblin turned to Mom. "Pay attention, Harry," he called over his shoulder, without taking his eyes from her face. "Here's lesson one. When you have the upper hand, don't be afraid to use it. Strike a little fear." He smiled. "It's all part of the fun."

Harry's face shone with sweat. His eyes flickered from Mom to his father.

"Let's see who we have here," the Goblin said. He stalked down the line, past Mom and Benny. "The love of Parker's life, the precocious youngster…" He stopped at Nacht and crouched down in front of him. "And of course, our valiant little mutant. Kurt Wagner, habe ich Recht?"

Nacht spat at him. The Goblin shook his head and looked up at Mom. "I suppose I ought to let you know that your daughter's misguided rescue attempt was a failure. I'll give her this, though- it was a spectacular failure." He shook his head, a mocking smile playing over his lips. "What's the body count up to now, two out of four?"

Mom's voice was a gasp. "What?"

The Goblin ignored her and turned back to Nacht. "It's too bad Spider-Girl got to you before I did. I could use someone with your abilities."

"Kannst mich mal, Mistkerl," Nacht growled.

The Goblin snorted. "Wrong answer. Cliché, too."

He took something from the floor, straightened, and held out his hand. The beads of Nacht's rosary dangled from his fingertips.

"But you'll appreciate this," he whispered. "Your friend Spider-Girl just died of the same poison that should have killed you. You're only here now because she was there to save you."

Nacht snatched at the rosary and missed. The Goblin smirked and swung it back and forth like a pendulum, just out of reach. "Too bad you couldn't return the favor."

"Du lügst," Nacht rasped. "You…liar." He gasped a breath. "Liar!"

The Goblin swung the rosary up and caught it in his fist. Glass crunched. He turned his fist, opened his fingers, and let fragments of beads slide out of his hand onto the floor in front of Nacht's face.

Mom's shoulders heaved, her breath was ragged. She stared at the Goblin, slowly shaking her head. He raised an eyebrow. "You don't believe me?" He smiled. "That's right. Maybe I'm lying. But maybe I'm not." His smile widened. "It's hard to tell with me, isn't it?"

He leaned closer, far too close. "After all, your daughter could still be at home in Queens. Grieving for her family, but safe," he whispered. "Or maybe little May really did gasp out her last breath all alone, in agony, just a few minutes a—"

Mom smashed her fist into his face.

The Goblin reeled back. He slowly shook his head, sliding his jaw back and forth. "The years haven't changed you, Mary Jane."

He snapped his fingers. Anubis inclined his head ever so slightly. My spider-sense buzzed as a shadow dropped from the ceiling, twisted in midair, and landed in a crouch on the floor.

My heart stopped.

In the room below, crouching perfectly still at Anubis's side, was Spider-Man.

Benny's eyes were huge in his face. "D-Dad?"

"Peter?" Mom whispered.

Anubis's jackal head tilted again. Dad stood, and slowly, stiffly, came to stand beside Anubis.

"Wh-...what's he..." Andrea croaked. "What's he doing with them?"

The Goblin wheeled around, eyes alight with demonic glee. "Final lesson for today, Harry!" he shouted. "The only way to destroy your enemy is to destroy him entirely."

He whipped around to face Dad. "And what better way is there to destroy a devoted family man…" I could hear the smile in his voice. "Than to make him watch his family die?"

The Goblin held up his hand, frowning in mock concentration. "No, wait." He tapped his fingers against his chin. "There is a better way."

He dropped his hand, curled it into a fist. "Yes," he said. "The best way to destroy a devoted family man…"

His lips pulled back from his teeth in a horrible death's-head grin. "Would be to make him do it himself."

He jerked his head at Dad, at the jackal-headed specter beside him. "Kill them."