Chapter 16: Epilogue: The End? Or Maybe the Beginning?

Dr. Crystal Burton, Precinct Coroner, hefted the body of Noreen Osborn, heiress, multi-billionaire, and supervillianess, onto the autopsy table. She seemed heavier than her actual weight.

Crystal carefully removed the Goblin mask, and then the green and purple suit, stretched tightly over bulging muscles. When the corpse was fully unclothed, Crystal stepped back, stunned.

CSI and NYPD had both told her that Noreen had died of a massive stab wound to the chest, completely impaled. But now there was no wound, no blood, no scar, no nothing. It was as if nothing ever happened. She looked perfectly healthy. Except, of course, the girl, called the greatest menace to the city of New York since Osama bin Laden himself, was dead.

And even that assumption turned out wrong. Noreen's eyes fluttered open, to Dr. Burton's horror. Noreen then sat up on the table, looking as alive, superhumanly strong, and criminally brilliant as she ever did.

"What in hell am I doing here?" she snarled.

The doctor stood over Austin. "Don't worry, your—er, condition—will be just between you and me. You're pretty roughed up, a lot of cuts, scrapes, and bruises, but nothing serious. You do need to make sure they don't get infected, though."

"What about my friends?" asked Austin, sitting up in his hospital bed. His tentacles were lazily draped over the side, leisurely examining the multitudes of get-well presents and card he'd received.

"Well, Rachelle Laufey has several first- and second-degree burns, May Parker has a broken leg and arm, and Magni Smith's jaw is broken in several places, but with care and time, they'll be okay. We wanted to treat Otto Octavius for burns and a broken rib, but he refused to let us touch him. But that's better than what happened to that Noreen Osborn girl. Someone impaled her all the way through with a very long knife. I don't know what the hell you guys were all involved in, but it must have been a doozy."

"Yeah, a doozy," Austin agreed. But he would be always haunted by Noreen's death. Always. She seemed like a normal, nice, girl that day on the college steps. What had driven her down that path?

Shortly after the doctor's exit, a doctor of a different kind wrenched the window open.

"Father?" Austin blinked. "Why didn't you stay at the hospital?"

"Hell, your girlfriend's father put me through worse," Otto replied. But there was something wrong about the way he breathed, though. Austin suspected a collapsed lung. "They'll take care of me. Can't stay long, but I just wanted to tell you something. You didn't make my mistakes. You didn't waste your life like I did. You did something good for the world. You're stronger than I ever will be, son, and I'm very proud of you."

Austin turned his head to reply, but his father was gone.

Meanwhile, in a room at another hospital, J. Jonah Jameson was interviewing Rachelle. "So, Rachelle, what were your impressions of New York City's worst criminals? Girl Goblin, Sparkler, Sandman, Hunter, Nightingale, Spider-girl, and Scarlet Spider—"

"Whoa. Wait a minute," snapped Rachelle. "Say what you want about the first five. But you are not saying anything about Scarlet. I happen to personally know him, and he's the nicest, kindest, most caring guy I will ever know, and he's not a criminal and nothing like his father. And you can put that right down in your little notebook right now."

"And Spider-girl—" Jameson began. "What are your impressions of that criminal menace, as someone who's just moved here from California?"

"Whoa. Now stop. I know Spider-girl too. She's a hero, and she saved my life. You'd do anything to sell papers, including slandering someone who doesn't deserve it at all. And I may be from California, but I think that 95 percent of the people here would agree with me!"

Jameson slunk away, looking extremely disappointed.

A green bird suit, with a ruffle of white around the neck and huge wings under the arms, sat rumpled in a trashcan in the alley. Philomela Toomes, of course, had thrown the suit away.

"A huge weight has just been lifted off my shoulders," Philomela was later to write. "I see now how the suit, and your choices, led to your death. And from meeting Austin Smith and seeing how he used his powers for a good purpose, I now know how a person is not always fated to follow the paths of their fathers. So I have made the decision not to keep the suit, and not to repeat your mistakes. I love you Daddy—from your Nightingale."

Philomela took the letter, and reached for the paper shredder on her dormitory desk. Then she broke her family's curse—hopefully forever.

May arrived at Austin's hospital room, using a crutch to support her broken leg.

"Can I ask you a question? I know you'll never bring it up, so I have to."

May dropped to one knee, pulling out a plain wedding band. "Austin Smith, I love you and we're only 20 years old, but we've been through so much together and I know I want to spend the rest of my life with you. I know we're going to have huge in-law problems, but Austin…will you marry me?"

The end…or the beginning?