Chapter 9: Memento
"He's here, Mayday." Peter walked into the room she had been using here in the Tower these few days. Far too few, he thought sadly, wondering whether he would make it through these next few hours without losing it.
May straightened up from filling a backpack that Mary Jane had given her to use. "Just about ready." She began to zip it up.
"Wait – don't zip that up quite yet." Peter held out his right hand with a restraining gesture, and in his left he held out a wrapped package. "Since Dr. Strange said inorganic material wouldn't affect the transfer…"
As she took the present, May looked up with a questioning expression.
"You can open it now, if you like," Peter confirmed.
She smiled at him, winningly, heart-breakingly, and then tore into the gift. "Oh…" Her smile changed to surprise before settling in a small grin. "Thank you," she said, giving him a quick hug around the shoulders. They had decided to give her a framed photo of the three of them, as a memento of her stay. As she pulled back from the hug, she studied the picture again. Her fingers gently touched the glass and they subconsciously lingered on Aunt May's face. "I love it."
Mayday placed the photo carefully into the pack, rezipping it and hefting it on her back. The two of them went into the hallway, Peter closing the door behind her. In minutes, he was opening the door of the nursery for her as well.
"…and you're sure that he won't be harmed," Mary Jane was asking Dr. Strange as they entered.
"Absolutely sure, my dear lady. Ben's presence is necessary for the spell to work properly. But he should suffer no ill effects from the process," the sorcerer replied smoothly.
Most of the Parker family was displaying various stages of nervousness. Mayday bit her lip and rocked on her heels, glancing back and forth between Dr. Strange and Ben. Mary Jane fiercely clutched their baby boy, unwilling to place him in the cradle just yet. Aunt May stood quietly, wringing her hands ever so slightly. Jarvis, ever beside her, had a comforting arm around her shoulders. And as for Peter, the failed attempt to send Mayday home earlier had only increased his fear and worry for her.
Dr. Strange's commanding voice broke into Peter's thoughts. "Are you ready, Miss Parker?" he addressed the teenager.
"Almost." She walked quickly over to Aunt May, and wrapped her in a hug. "Now I have a face and personality to put with all those great stories. My dad doesn't know what he missed out on by keeping his own Aunt May in the dark all those years." Mayday gave her namesake a kiss on the cheek. "I hope you'll be there to take care of them many more years."
"I don't plan to go anywhere," May said warmly. "You stay safe, do you hear? Focus on your schoolwork, and have fun with your friends. And let some of those superhero friends of yours take care of the bad guys every once in a while." She shot a pointed look at Peter. He winced. May turned her attention back to the girl in front of her. "You are a fine young lady. Your parents should be very proud of you."
"Thank you, Aunt May," she said, giving the older lady another quick hug.
Mayday turned to Mary Jane next. She took one of her hands in her own. "I wish I could stay longer, so we could have more great talks. Maybe my mom and I will be able to do that someday."
Mary Jane handed Ben to Peter to hold, before responding. "You'd probably be surprised at what she would understand. Don't wait too long, honey. You never know how much time you have…" At those last words, her voice broke, and she pulled Mayday close. "It's so unfair to finally get our baby back only to lose her again. I just don't know if I can handle it…"
Mayday patted her head and soothed, "I know, I know…"
They silently held each other until Mary Jane was able to find words again. "You keep showing them what a girl can do, Mayday," she said, trying to lighten the tension they were all feeling.
"Hey, that's my main purpose in life," the young heroine teased back. She then looked to Peter. "I guess it's goodbye again…"
"I guess it is," he agreed sadly.
"I said it before, but this little guy couldn't have better parents than you two. I should know!" She rubbed a playful hand through Ben's hair. "And when… not if… when he gets his powers, promise you'll be supportive?"
"I guess if your parents could do it, we'll have to give it a try," he said with a grin.
She gave him another hug and stepped away from them. Turning to Dr. Strange, who had been waiting patiently during the goodbyes, she said, "Okay, now I'm ready."
"Very well." He turned toward Peter. "Would you please place Ben in his crib?"
Peter complied, and then put an arm around Mary Jane. She sank deeper into his embrace, clearly still anxious, still struggling to keep from breaking down.
"Now, young May, please take Ben's hand."
Peter could see as she slowly extended her hand, that she was still a little nervous. But as she placed the tiny hand in her own, her shoulders straightened, and she faced Dr. Strange with resolve.
The sorcerer began to speak quietly, using words of a language only known to himself. A bubble of light flowed from their clasped hands, growing quickly into a human-sized portal.
What they saw on the other side of the veil of light, no one could have expected. Peter found himself looking at a strange mirror image of Mary Jane, Ben, Dr. Strange and himself. The shocked faces on the other side reflected his own astonishment. He saw himself – older, bearded, graying – arms around a red-haired Mary Jane, who was holding an exact duplicate of little Ben. Mayday had been right. The years had clearly been kinder to her mother than her father. Mary Jane had stiffened beside him. The two stunning redheads were looking at each other with a mixture of wonder and fear, like long-lost twin sisters encountering each other for the first time. Aunt May had gasped at the sight – she hadn't been around his superhero life long enough for something like this to be commonplace. Ben squealed in delight at seeing himself in his mommy's arms. Only the two Dr. Stranges reacted with calm assurance. They nodded to each other in recognition.
Their counterparts on the other side suddenly recovered from their state of shock. Older Peter's mouth moved, forming the words, "May? Where are you?" But no sound could penetrate the opening.
"I'm coming, Dad…" she called. She turned back to Peter, Mary Jane and May. "I'll never forget you guys."
"And neither will we. Now, don't keep them waiting." He waved toward the gateway.
She nodded, and raised a hand in farewell. She then reached through the glowing light and grabbed the hand of the other Ben, who was reaching toward her eagerly. For a moment, she seemed poised between two worlds. The girl looked through to them one last time, and let go of her 'brother's' hand. The bubble dissolved in a cloud of sparkles.
Ben chortled and chased the sparkles with his chubby hands, completely unaware of the powerful magic of which he had just been a part. Mary Jane held him close, quietly sobbing. She and Peter stood there, very much needing to comfort each other long after the last sparkle disappeared.
"Oh, my God, May!" Mary Jane threw her arms around her daughter as she emerged from the portal of light and solidified. Her eyes were filled with tears of joy and relief. Peter was next in line, hugging her so tightly that it was good she had inherited his super-strength.
"Thank God, you're home!" he exclaimed. He pulled back to look into May's eyes. "Where was that? Who were those people? Were they… us?" he asked curiously.
"Yes… and no," she tried to explain. "I was pulled into an alternate universe by a spell that…"
"Doc Magus cast, right, we figured that out," he finished.
"Oh." She blinked twice, and went on. "Anyway, it was you, Dad, but younger." She turned to look at Mary Jane. "And you, Mom, also younger. But Ben was exactly the same. He seemed to be the one constant between the two universes." She reached silently out for her baby brother, and her mother handed him to her. "Did you miss me?" she cooed.
"It is very likely that Ben's presence in both dimensions triggered the spell," Dr. Strange broke in. "It is very fortunate that you were able to enlist my counterpart's help in returning."
"No kidding. He found me, actually. He said there was some sort of… what did he call it?... dissonance… between our two dimensions that could warp reality if I didn't return home soon." Her happy expression changed slightly as she added, "I was terrified that I'd never see you again."
"I will take my leave of you, now." said Dr. Strange. "I am glad to see you home safe, young lady."
"I am glad to be home, sir." May said, nodding in thanks. He raised his hands in a grand gesture, and disappeared.
"No one is more glad that you're home than us, honey." Mary Jane put an arm around her shoulders. "Did they take care of you . . . feed you?"
"Oh, yes, Mom, very well. 'Dad' got Tony Stark and Reed Richards to start working on getting me home immediately, and later took me to see the other Dr. Strange."
Peter cut in, surprised. "Reed and Dr. Strange I can understand. But Stark? But that would mean he knows…"
"Yes, Dad. Mr. Stark knew the identity of the other Peter. They were all living in Stark Tower – and he was part of the New Avengers team."
"New Avengers? Who else was on this team?" Peter wondered aloud.
"Well, let's see. Iron Man, Captain America, Spider-Woman, Wolverine, The Sentry… although I never actually saw him around… and some guy named Luke Cage."
"Power Man? Did he and Iron Fist have some sort of falling out? No, never mind…" Peter's mind was reeling. All of these people knew my identity in this other world? And my family is living among them? What a difference. He had often wondered what it would be like to really be part of a team, and not be such a loner. But he had always worried that it would be too dangerous for his family. I hope the other me can make it work…
Something else suddenly came to him… "And was that Aunt May I saw with them?"
His daughter smiled. "Yes, such a sweet old lady. You were right, she was a treasure. One of the best parts of my time there was getting to meet her."
Mary Jane spoke up next. "And she knew everything?" May nodded. Looking askance at Peter, she continued. "Your father was sure that his aunt would have a heart attack and die if she ever found out about him. It's good to know she was made of sterner stuff." She took Ben back from May and began to hustle her out of the room. "You must be exhausted from all of that mess! Are you hungry?"
Peter gestured toward her backpack. "May, let me take that for you. I'll put in your room and meet you girls in the kitchen."
"Sure, Dad." She shrugged it off of her shoulders and left the room with her mother. "And about Aunt May, Mom, you'll never guess who she was seeing…" her voice trailed off as they went down the hall.
Since the moment May had arrived, there had been a tickle in the back of Peter's mind… could it be…? He opened up the pack, searching for the source. He removed a framed picture of the other Peter, Mary Jane and May. Nice gesture, he thought. But that wasn't what was setting off his spider-sense. Deep within the pack, in a small zippered pocket, he found what he was looking for. A tiny spider-tracer attached to a folded note. He opened the note, and read:
If you found this note, then I guess we really are alternate versions of the same person. Mayday told me that she needs to use a transmitter to pick up the signal, so I figured the only person who would find the tracer would be you.
I want you to know how lucky you are. MJ and I lost our little baby May years ago, and I have never really recovered from it. You have a beautiful daughter. She is funny, bright and warm-hearted. Any father would be proud to claim her, so treat her like the special girl she is.
Over the last few days, I have wondered about the life you have – a normal job, a house, two kids. These things are all I dream about sometimes. But I know that life is not my life, at least for now. But I thank God every day for MJ and Aunt May, and now I have hope that I might someday be able to have that simpler life.
-- Your Friendly Neighborhood You-Know-Who
Peter folded the note back up, lost in thought. The sound of laughter from the kitchen broke his reverie, and he swallowed heavily. He placed the note in his pocket, grabbed the backpack, and went to join his family.
As Peter sat down at the breakfast table, Aunt May poured him a cup of coffee. "Good morning, dear. Did you sleep well?"
"I didn't sleep much, I'm afraid. I ended up going on a swing around the city, hoping to get my mind off of her. But it was pretty quiet, unfortunately…"
May patted him on the shoulder. "I'm sorry, dear. I know it's difficult."
Mary Jane came into the kitchen a few minutes later, carrying Ben. "Morning, May, Tiger. Did you come to bed at all last night?"
"I tried laying down a couple times, but… you know…"
"Yeah, Tiger, I do." They drank in silence for several minutes, each lost in thought. Even Ben seemed to understand the mood, and quietly sat in his highchair, drinking milk from his bottle.
Noiselessly, Jarvis appeared at his arm, bearing a silver tray. He discreetly cleared his throat. Everyone at the table looked up curiously. "Mr. Parker. Miss Mayday asked me to give this to you today." In the center of the tray was a small white envelope.
Peter picked it up off the tray. "I guess you're not the only one who slips secret notes to people," Mary Jane teased. "Go on, open it."
Mayday had written To Mom, Dad and Aunt May on the front. He opened it to find a note and two photos. He placed them on the table, to study later, but Mary Jane got to them first. As she and May looked interestedly at the photos, he read the note:
I asked Jarvis to help me with this, so don't give him a hard time. He's a sweetheart under all that professionalism. And pretty good with a digital camera!
I realized that with me leaving so soon, that you needed something to remember me by. Promise me you'll keep them someplace where you'll see them often.
Peter smiled inside. They were so alike, even being from different worlds… He passed the note on to MJ, and took the photos himself. One of them had a close-up shot of Mayday, smiling her impish smile, the auburn highlights in her brown hair catching the afternoon sun. The back of the photo read:
Mayday Parker, Sweet 16.
The second one was even more striking. There she was, in full costume, clinging to the wall. She was striking a pose meant just for the camera: one hand touching the wall, one hand with two fingers extended in the classic web-shooting gesture. He turned it over. On the back, she had written:
Hoo-Ha! From Your Spider-Girl
Peter opened his eyes just as the morning sun was beginning to come through the bedroom window. The light caught the edges of a group of picture frames placed on the dresser. The sunlight slowly moved across the polished surface, and as it touched each one, he reflected on all the people who had been dear to him over the years... Uncle Ben… Aunt May… Mary Jane… Gwen… Harry… Felicia… and finally, Mayday. He smiled, snuggled closer to his sleeping wife, and went back to sleep.
A/N: Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who read and reviewed this story. Of course, special thanks to Georgia Kennedy, Mark C and Jenn1 who influenced all sorts of details along the way.
And since this is the end, if you have been reading all along, but not reviewing, please do! I invite any and all comments… even flames (although I can't imagine you made it all the way to this chapter if you didn't at least like it somewhat). :)