Chapter 4: Aftermath

By Yumegari and LRH

"I just realized," she laughed, snorting ridiculously. "I left my bra in Doctor Octopus's lab!"

Jake's face twitched in confusion. "What are you talking about, Clair?"

She giggled uncontrollably, high on a wash of adrenaline. "I took it off to wear the arms, and I forgot. It's under his autoclave."

"Doctor Octopus." His voice was a study in skepticism.

"Yeah. He kidnapped me this morning," she said casually, taking a shaking breath. The hysteria was running its course. "Made me test my Zombie Juice on him, and it worked!" She opened her eyes, taking in his expression. "I sound pretty crazy, don't I?"

"That's one word for it," he said, nodding. "What have you been taking?"

That set her off laughing again. "It's shock, I think. I'm not on any drugs. I need to go to the police."

He still didn't seem to believe her, but he was worried enough to give her a ride on his bike to the nearest station, where a bored on-duty perked up instantly at the name Doctor Octavius. Within ten minutes, she was sitting in a room with the chief of police and a large mug of hot tea, telling him everything. Except, for some reason that she couldn't identify even to herself, where she had been held. She told them that she had been in too much of a panic going both ways to note directions, which was slightly more true than a lie.

They got all excited when she told them about his 'threat' to return if his condition reverted and started making plans for protective custody and witness protection, ignoring anything she had to say about the matter. But they let her go home, eventually, with an escort to check out her apartment first and an unmarked car watching the place from the street. They even retrieved her stuff from the university, so by the time night fell, she was sitting on her couch, watching TV with Jake and his room-mate, who had appointed themselves her body-guards for the night. A comfortable numbness had interceded between her and the hysteria, and she was content to watch the Simpsons and not think at all about her day.

She had gone. She had gone and the place had gotten terribly quiet. For just an instant, Octavius felt a bizarre stab of loneliness. But it passed quickly enough when he realized the quiet would be nicely conducive to sleep. And right now, after all that had happened, his neural structure being repaired, the fights, the strange emotional roller coaster, and the illness, all he wanted to do was sleep for a week. Then maybe ... oh, knock over a bank or something, just to keep his hand in. He pushed the actuator against the floor, thus standing, and made his way out of the room. He stopped when he noticed Spider-man groggily forcing himself into consciousness on his floor. He bent forward, his hands behind his back, and looked at his foe. Spider-man sat up and looked about, finally seeing Octavius standing before him.

"Ungh.." he said. "Doc... where is she?"

"Gone," Octavius replied, walking around his foe to the other end of the room. Something white caught his eye and he approached it. "Long gone. Probably at home by now for all I know."

"You just let her go? Just like that?"

"I made a promise," was the quiet reply. He found the white thing, which turned out to be ... a brassiere. Presumably Clair's. One actuator picked it up and held it out like a dead fish. "I'm sure you can find her. Her name is Clair Watson. And when you do find her, you can give her this." The actuator flipped the bra at Spider-man, who caught it unconsciously before realizing what it was. "Now if you'll excuse me, I need sleep."

Spider-man spluttered a response, but Octavius interrupted him. "Oh, please. I'll be out for a week after all this. You can apprehend me later, there's a good boy." With that, the doctor turned and left the room.

Spider-man stood in Otto Octavius' living room, a bra in his hand, and sputtered. A door closed, presumably signaling that Octavius had gone into the bedroom to sleep. He looked about the room. The hostage had gone home. The villain had gone to bed. This had to be the strangest hostage situation he'd ever encountered, bar none. After a moment, he shrugged and left, crawling up the wall and swinging his way back into town. He had a phone book to find.

Clair never did sleep. When the sun began to come up, she extricated herself from the tangle of blankets on the couch and went to look out the window, looking first at the unmarked car below her window and then down the street, to where the sun was rising over the spires of the university. Yesterday seemed impossibly distant, though her stiff neck would attest otherwise.

Spider-man slowly climbed down the building, hoping the officers in the unmarked car wouldn't be looking up. Then again, it wasn't as though Octavius wouldn't have had a similar method of getting there. He peeked through the window and saw a vaguely familiar girl staring back at him. He hoped it was her.

She looked up to see the familiar red and black mask. "Hello," she mouthed through the glass, not wanting to wake up her 'guards' who were sound asleep in front of her TV. She opened her window. "You got away. I'm glad."

"Oh, yeah, he put up a terrible fight, but I managed to get away," Spidey replied vaguely. He dug in his spandex for a moment. "I... uhh ... don't have any pockets and really, holding this in my hand the whole time would get in the way of my webs, y'know and ... well, here." He held out the bra to her. "He, uh, gave it to me to return to you."

She blushed, and took it quickly, wadding it up and throwing it into her room. "Thank you." She looked down at the car, where the driver could be seen through the sun roof, reading a newspaper.

"Okeedokee," Spider-man said after a moment. "Well, glad to see you're unharmed... and all that. I'd better be going." He started to crawl back up the wall.

"Did you really come just to give that back?" she asked, incredulous and embarrassed.

"Uhhh, yeah, actually," he said.

"Oh," she said, subsiding. "Okay then. Thank you."

"No problem" was Spidey's reply as he disappeared from the window and crawled back up the wall.
Clair shook her head as she closed the window and went back to the couch, kicking Jake and Bill awake. "Some body guards you are," she said, walking into the kitchen to grab a cereal bar. "Spider-Man just stopped by to bring my bra back and you slept through it."

"Eh?" mumbled Jake, rubbing sleep out of his eyes, half his hair sticking straight up. Bill was bald, so he fared better. "What are you talking about?"

"Spider-Man, here," she said around a mouthful of granola. "You, asleep."

"You are so lying this time," Jake protested, trying to smooth down his hair. "No way Spider-Man brought you your bra back."

"I wasn't lying about Octavius, was I?" she challenged. "I'm not lying about this. Now get up, get Bill up. Go home. I'll be fine here." She shooed them both out the door, locking all four deadbolts and the two chains behind them. For good measure, she locked the window, too. It had been too easy for the Spider-Man to find her: Octavius would surely have no more trouble.

A week passed, busy with interviews and a visit from some reporters from the Daily Bugle, but uneventful otherwise, and the police finally were convinced to let Clair go back to the University without an escort. It was raining heavily and she had to visit Dr. Mitchells' office, which was uptown, so she took the subway. She paid her fare and slid into a mostly empty car, taking the seat with the least amount of gum caked onto it and opening her notebook. She was still writing the informal version of her report about the first human test of the Zombie Juice, more formally called the Neuroregenesis Serum, or NRS for short. She chewed on her pen, trying to recall the precise order of events in that lab, and completely ignored the movement of passengers around her.

The subway train stopped a few more times, and a few passengers joined her in the car, one taking a seat next to her. She paid the other no heed until a strangely familiar deep voice muttered, "Simple electrical cord. The harness was bound with simple electrical cord, not conduit wire."

"Thanks," she muttered absently, correcting the mistake. Then she looked up, staring into space across the car while her brain removed itself from the pen in her hand and reconnected her ears and her memory. Then she swiveled her head sideways and up, staring straight into a pair of dark sunglasses.

"Hello, Clair," the familiar voice said coolly.

"Oh," she breathed. "Hello." She took a deep breath. "What, eh, what are you doing here?" She didn't see the actuators, but that didn't reassure her very much. He hadn't once attacked her while wearing them, after all.

"I came to find you," he said simply, looking out through the window opposite them. It didn't show much beyond their own reflections at the time, but he gazed at it nonetheless.

She looked around the car, but no one seemed to recognize him. Everyone was off in their own little world, staring out at the walls rushing past. "Why?" she asked quietly.

He still didn't look at her--or perhaps he was looking at her reflection. "There is much that you know. Perhaps... too much."

The car stopped, and two men got off. Clair stayed where she was. "I didn't even tell the police where your lab was, I swear. I'm not going to, either."

"I could simply relocate it, anyway," Octavius replied simply. "What concerns me are things that you know about me."

"I don't know anything about you that would matter," she insisted, hugging her notebook to her chest.

"Everything you know about me matters," he said quietly. "That's the problem."

She shrank in her seat. "You said you wouldn't touch me. You gave me your word."

"I did. I won't kill you."

"Then what do you want? I won't tell anyone, really. I'm not even using your name in the report. See, just Subject." She flipped it open for him to see, turning it around.

"That's a given. I'd be terribly disappointed if you'd used a name at all," he said. There was a small pause. "Your report doesn't concern me. What else would you plan to do with this information? I'm told exposes pay quite well... The ideal thing for one struggling to pay expenses."

"The Bugle offered me money for the story," she admitted. "They brought a photographer and everything. I told them that I'd think about it." She had been tempted. She was an intern, after all, which meant no time available for a paying job. Scholarships and grants only went so far.

"And?" Octavius asked. "What is your decision?" His voice dropped and he almost sounded as though he didn't want to hear the answer.

"I . . . uh, I want to," she admitted reluctantly, then hastened to explain. "I really need the money; I have rent and stuff to pay. But I won't do it, if you don't want me to."

He fell silent for a small while. Looking up at him, she could just see his eyes behind the bows of his sunglasses, lidded, the irises completely black, staring ahead in thought. "I don't," he said quietly. "I shall simply have to think of a way to prevent you revealing all that doesn't involve my harming you." He looked at her.

"I won't," she persisted. The train was still emptying, more people getting off at each stop, and no one getting in. It was her, Otto, and a scrawny man in a suit sleeping in the corner now. "I won't tell, alright? You don't need to do anything."

"You're afraid," he said. "You fear for the lives of those you love, don't you? I made no such oath not to harm them. And yet... I won't. I cannot. And I've yet to figure out why."

"There is that," she said quietly. "You won't just take my word for it?"

"Do you honestly think I've lived this long taking people's word for anything?"

"No," she agreed unhappily. "Probably not. So, what are you going to do? You trusted me to drill a hole in your head," she pointed out. "And I didn't kill you, or even leave you knocked out and run for it. You can't trust me with this?"

"Desperation can cause a man to trust a great many things and a great many people he wouldn't ordinarily trust," he replied, looking at her again.

"I even stood between you and Spider-Man, that first time when you were waking up. He offered me an easy way out, and I didn't take it." She examined his face for any sign that she was getting through to him.

"Why didn't you take it?" he asked, his voice barely audible. This really puzzled him, and worked against everything he knew of people, every experience he'd lived through of betrayal, of dishonesty. People could not be trusted, and yet....

"Because my patient trusted me," she said softly. "If the patient trusts you to make sure that he comes through, you make sure he comes through safely. And that means not letting him wake up under attack. 'I will use my power to help the sick to the best of my ability and judgment; I will keep them from harm and injustice. ...What I may see or hear in the course of treatment or even outside of the treatment in regard to the life of men, which on no account ought to be spread abroad, I will keep to myself, holding such things shameful to be spoken about.' In three months, I'll make that oath in front of my whole school. But I've already taken it. It is . . . precious to me."

He stared down at her for what seemed like a very long time, his eyes, barely visible behind the shades, searching hers. Desperately searching for some kind of inconsistency, some kind of evidence of deceit he could latch onto There was none. There was nothing that clouded or obfuscated that clear gaze. Clair. Clarity, clearness, purity. It was a name that suited her. He cleared his throat and looked away, his gaze finding nothing in particular at the other end of the subway car. "Yes. That's... that's good," he said, and cleared his throat again to rid it of the strange thickness it had developed.

"Do you believe me now?" she asked, calm once more.

There was another pause. "Yes," he said, almost inaudibly.

"Good." She closed her notebook again and tucked it into her bag as the train slowed for the next stop. "Take care of yourself, Doctor."

"You ... take care as well," he said, sounding almost surprised that he was saying this. He watched her as she prepared to leave.

The train stopped. She made to step off, and looked back at him. "I suppose I'll be seeing you again?"

He folded his hands in front of him. "Most probably," he replied inscrutably.

She nodded, a small smile tugging at her lips. "Just, knock next time. Lab windows are expensive."

A smiled tugged at the corner of his mouth. "I'll bear that in mind," he replied dryly.

She got off, and the door slid shut behind her as the train sped up and away. She watched it until it was out of sight, then turned and headed up the stairs, out into the daylight.

(Author's note: LRH here again. I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who read, and especially to everyone who reviewed and to ask you all to come back soon for the sequel. Yes, there is a sequel. Have a great day!)