Disclaimer: No one in this story is mine, including O'Shea who I got out of the novelization. Sigh.
A/N: SPOILERS! This takes place during and after the train scene in the second movie. Serious spoilers.
Four hours ago I was praying for my life, and now I'm dying of boredom, Donald O'Shea thought, disgusted. It figures.
O'Shea sipped at the bitter coffee the cops had handed out, after the paramedics had checked over all of the survivors. Aside from a few bumps and bruises, there were no injuries from what could have been one of the worst train wrecks in history. Silently, O'Shea lifted his coffee in salute to Spider-Man.
Everyone on board the train had been helped off. Firemen escorted them one and two at a time, as they stepped carefully from railroad tie to railroad tie along the narrow high track back to the station. Then the waiting began, waiting to get medical attention, waiting for the chance to call relatives or work, waiting for the wreckage to be cleared from the tracks and personal belongings to be recovered and sorted. The cops had asked the passengers to remain available, and now they were all herded into the tiny cafeteria at the station. No one else was there; the whole line had been shut down pending the investigation. The police sure were taking their own sweet time getting around to taking their statements.
Up in the corner of the cafeteria was a tiny television, which someone had tuned to the news. O'Shea was also waiting for the broadcast to let them know how Spider-Man had defeated Doc Ock. He refused to believe anything else was possible.
Two kids slumped exhausted in the hard cafeteria seats next to their parents. He was glad they'd finally tuckered themselves out. To begin with they'd been running and yelling all around the room, bugging everyone. Maybe they'd be asleep by the time the cops started asking questions. That would be good, because O'Shea suspected they were a weak spot. Looking around the cafeteria, he frowned. There was more than one weak spot. A man in a Yankees cap was talking excitedly on his cell phone, something about how many reporters were crowded around the station. The cops hadn't let them in to talk to the survivors yet, although O'Shea had spotted a camera crew down the tracks. Yeah, he said to himself, there's going to be a problem. And he had no idea what to do about it.
The news had gone on to the weather when a blue-uniformed cop reached up and shut it off. His partner walked in a leaned against a table by the door, with a clipboard in his hand. The first cop raised his hands and called out, "If I could have your attention!"
O'Shea shifted grumpily in his seat. About time.
"My name is Officer Tannenbaum, this is Officer Ritchie. We know you're all tired and ready to get home, so we've decided to make this quick and just take a general statement from you all. I'm going to ask Engineer O'Shea here to describe what happened on the train, and if you have any comments or additions, raise your hand, just like school, and we'll call on you." There were a few tired laughs but almost everyone looked bored and irritated.
O'Shea started in, trying to remember what had happened accurately. It had all happened so fast...
Donald O'Shea, the railroad engineer was standing at the controls of Number 125, daydreaming about his upcoming retirement, when he heard a rolling thud, and the car shuddered like giant children had suddenly started playing train. In some ways that wasn't too far from the truth—the super-powered residents of New York fought their battles across the city like bullies on the playground, smashing the fragile world around them like a brat stomping on a new toy. O'Shea was craning his neck, trying to see out and back along the train, when the windows of the car shattered, sending passengers screaming and ducking out of the way. A red-and-blue shape, flung into the train like a rag doll, swung around a pole. O'Shea, jaw dropping, barely had enough time to recognize Spider-Man before the hero brought his trajectory under control, leaped to the next pole, and headed back through the window.
Huh. Thought that guy quit. Two seconds later it hit him—Hold on, who's throwing him around? That octopus guy—O'Shea closed his eyes, grabbed the controls, and started praying. He opened them again when the controls abruptly yanked themselves out of his hands—What the—just in time to see them pushed all the way forward and then snapped off by a long, silvery tentacle that whipped back out the window as he watched, stunned. Another tentacle curved out from behind him, where it had destroyed the brake system before returning to the fight.
Backing away from the useless console, O'Shea heard the panicked people behind him shouting and falling as the train picked up speed, lurching from side to side. Heavy thuds echoed through the car and huge dents appeared randomly in the walls and ceiling as the car raced faster and faster. The 98th Street Station went by in a blur, but O'Shea caught a glimpse of startled faces as the train flew by. Holding on to a pole, O'Shea suddenly remembered that the 98th was the turning point for the route, because past it...the rails ended in mid-air, over the Central Train Yard. Must be fifty feet down, at least, he estimated grimly. We're dead.
Forcing his hand to unclench from the pole, O'Shea started making his way forward again, across a floor that was swaying and tipping like the deck of a ship at sea. Staggering, the engineer moved back into the control cabin, fell to his knees and got up again, aiming for the window opening on the front of the train. Peering out, he tried to see how far they were from the train yard. Even money we derail before we drop, he bet himself.
The train bucked and picked up more speed, as if a weight had been lifted. He clutched the window frame and eyed the end of the line, rushing closer. Suddenly, his vision was blocked as Spider-Man landed in front of the car, his back to the window. Guy's an idiot, why doesn't he get clear? He can jump away—there's no way out for us. A train was thousands of tons of metal set into motion, flying along its narrow tracks like inevitability. The safety slogan written in red letters on posters in every train station flashed across his mind. Because it's hard to stop a train. O'Shea knew it. Figuring out how far ahead of a station he needed to apply the brakes was part of his job. The faster you went, the longer you needed to slow down. They were going faster now than any train he'd ever driven and the end was close. Much too close to stop now, even if he could operate the brakes.
Spider-Man was standing solidly in the tiny space at the front of the speeding vehicle. O'Shea watched, fascinated, as he flung his arms out to the side, glistening grey strands shooting out to connect to the buildings on either side. No way that's going to work, he thought. Sure enough, the webs tore chunks out of the buildings without impacting the train's velocity at all.
"Any more great ideas?" O'Shea, grey hair flying in the wind, snapped at the vigilante. Dang jerk, we wouldn't be in this mess if it wasn't for him. Gotta get these creeps outta the city, don't know what Manhattan's coming to these days, I'm too old for this kind of thing..." He was so busy with his panicked internal rant that he missed the hero's reply. Then he saw the air fill with webs. Spider-Man was shooting web after web from his wrists to every surface in sight, holding the lines bunched in his hands as they strained taut. O'Shea watched with wide eyes as the man held on to the train and the webs, making a living barrier out of his own body.
Metal shrieked and warped under the pressure, and incredibly, miraculously, O'Shea felt the train slowing. The edge was still coming closer, but slower, slower...O'Shea was holding his breath, amazed, seeing the train folding itself around Spider-Man, waiting for the silvery lines to break or Spider-Man to let go. The edge was still closer, they were going to go over, it was too close—but at the very edge the last of the train's speed bled away and the web-lines bounced it gently back, like huge rubber bands.
Wow. It was all O'Shea could think, so he thought it twice. Wow. Then he realized that Spider-Man was crumpling forward, unbloodied but unconscious. Reaching out, he slid a hand over the web-patterns on his chest and hauled back. Heavy, for a little guy. He might not have been able to hold him, but the passengers were there too. Suddenly hands of all colors and sizes were pulling Spider-Man into the train, up over their heads, and lowering him to rest gently on the floor.
Pausing in his recital, O'Shea licked his lips. Here was the tough part. So far, there had only been a few interruptions, most people replying 'yes' when Officer Tannenbaum asked if this account was correct, a couple adding details about the fight. But the tough part was coming up.
O'Shea knew that everyone, on the train, had been sincere about keeping Spider-Man's description a secret—but since then a few had spent some time thinking about grabbing at their own fifteen minutes of fame. The Daily Bugle would publish an artist's sketch, the networks would pay for exclusive interviews. There were just too many people here, it was a guarantee that someone would talk. A secret known to one is a secret, a secret known to two is no longer a secret, a secret known to three is common knowledge, O'Shea thought sadly. Then he had an idea. His mind went back to the afternoon...
O'Shea looked down at the young man who had so courageously saved their lives. He realized that he was shaking, and raised a hand to damp eyes. Everyone was standing there, looking down at Spider-Man in shock as the idea that they were going to live sank in. As the immediate terror receded, O'Shea blinked. In the tabloid pictures, Spider-Man wore a full mask over his face. This guy's face was uncovered.
"He's just a kid," one passenger said wonderingly. "He's not any older than my son."
The other people on the train murmured and exclaimed, until the boy lying on the floor opened his eyes with a start. He squinted up at the ring of faces around him, then became aware that something was wrong. He sat up and touched his own face, his fear obvious.
No wonder the guy covers his mug, O'Shea chuckled to himself. Hope he doesn't play poker.
New Yorkers are stubborn, rude, suspicious people. They go to work in a city where the odds of getting mugged are only slightly higher than the odds of getting caught up in a titanic battle for the survival of the universe. They deal with megalomaniacs, dirty streets, and cab drivers. They know how to keep walking and mind their own business when something bad is happening. And sometimes, they can surprise you.
O'Shea watched with pride as his fellow New Yorkers promised Spider-Man their silence, helping him up, patting his shoulders and reassuring him that they would tell no one what they had seen. Two small children brought the young man the mask they had found, and everyone watched with a kind of awe as he slid it over his head, becoming once more the anonymous vigilante.
Seconds later, the train car was practically ripped in two as Doctor Octopus, grinning maniacally behind his sunglasses, came for Spider-Man. As the tentacles reached forward, the passengers closed ranks around the battered hero, defying the villain to come for him.
It did no good, of course. And Spidey's not the kind to hide behind anyone, O'Shea thought, as the vigilante stepped forward and was taken. His opinion of super heroes had turned one hundred and eighty degrees over the last few minutes, and besides...it was almost like Spider-Man had become their own special champion. To them alone he had a face. Even as he watched Doc Ock carry him off, O'Shea didn't doubt he'd win this fight. That boy didn't give up, no matter what the odds. You couldn't prove that more spectacularly than he had today. Stopping the train had been like spitting in the face of fate, and a guy who could do that could handle some lunatic with an arm problem. He looked over the mangled remains to where Ock had yanked Spider-Man out of sight. Give him hell, kid.
"So everybody pulled him into the train, and then we noticed that he wasn't wearing a mask," O'Shea stated, calmly. The passengers, whose attention had been wandering, snapped their eyes back to him in shock. An Asian girl carrying a backpack who'd been half-asleep said out loud, "You jerk!"
The guy in the Yankees cap—Johnson?—chimed in, "Yeah, that's right, we saw him!"
"Yes," said O'Shea loudly. "He's a black man, maybe thirty, thirty-five, with his hair in dreads." There was dead silence for a moment. Come on, come on, O'Shea held his breath.
"You gotta be kidding me," Johnson said. Yes! Go for it! thought O'Shea. "He's a white kid, college age maybe, brown hair."
O'Shea looked over at the man standing behind Johnson. They'd exchanged a few words earlier, and the guy had seemed pretty sharp—looked like he might be a lawyer. O'Shea tried to communicate with his eyes, Pick it up, pick it up.
"These men are both wrong, Officer," the lawyer-type said calmly. "The man appeared to be in his late twenties, dark-skinned and black haired. He had a strange tattoo over one eye—I think I could draw the design." Score.
Officer Tannenbaum looked back and forth between the three of them. "I see. Can anyone confirm the description...descriptions?"
More of the passengers were getting it now. The Asian student spoke up, "These racist creeps. They just don't want to admit he was oriental," she sniffed. "There's a lot of resentment against oriental over-achievers in this country." As the cops leaned in to whisper together, O'Shea caught her eye and she winked at him.
"No! Man, you gotta listen to me, he's a white kid, real young—" Johnson was yelling again, but the other passengers were drowning him out.
"He's an old guy, got this really ugly scar down his cheek—"
"He's got red hair and a broken nose, looks like a prizefighter maybe—"
"Come on, Spider-Man's a woman, just admit it—"
O'Shea wiped his mouth with his hand to hide a smile as the cops stopped even pretending to take notes. Even the little kids had woken up and caught on. One was jumping up and down and yelling that Spider-Man was an alien with green skin. His brother was tugging at Officer Ritchie's pants leg, trying to tell him that Spider-Man had eight eyes, "and that's why his mask has those big white eye holes, they let him see out, and his eyes are in circles, see, four on each side—"
Some of the passengers were giving plausible descriptions in serious voices, trying to convince the cops that their story was the true one. Some of the passengers were trying to top each other with bizarre ideas, everything from Spider-Man being the newest appearance of Elvis to him being a robot. A couple were giggling too hard to join in. Johnson was the only one still repeating the correct details—although O'Shea had to admit that an ordinary-looking college kid didn't sound all that believable either. If he had to pick, he'd have gone for the eight-eyes version.
In the end, with a lot of shouting, the officers got everyone calmed down. Officer Tannenbaum seemed personally offended by the passengers' nonsense. He turned to O'Shea and insisted that he go on with his statement, which O'Shea did, telling the plain truth about the rest of the story. As he told about the heroic efforts of the passengers on train 125 to stand between Spider-Man and his enemy, he let his eyes roam across the group in the cafeteria, trying to communicate his thanks. Many of them smiled at him, and he saw a few stand up straighter as he acknowledged their courage, on the train and off of it.
He knew that the people who walked out of here today would continue the game. Even the ones who tried to break their promise to Spider-Man would never be able to make anyone believe that what they were saying was true. No doubt, the papers and networks would publish the story and one or more of the descriptions. None of them would get it right—they never did, anyway—but this time, it would be to Spider-Man's benefit. They could give him that, as a way of saying thank you.
Days like this, thought O'Shea, I'm proud to be a New Yorker.