"With Great Power: Hold On"
He knew it was her. It couldn't have been anyone else. He was afraid to let his wife know that despite being happier than he's ever been, Gwen Stacy still haunts his dreams. And why wouldn't she? In his entire career, there were always two glaring marks of failure on his record that he wouldn't let himself forget or forgive himself for. He's supposed to save people, not let them die. After all, he's Spider-Man.
More recently, the dreams of Gwen became more bizarre and frequent. When he usually dreamt of Gwen, it was mostly reminiscent of the great love they once shared. He'd remember the smell of her golden blonde hair, the sweet taste of her peach lip gloss when they kissed, and the incandescent way her eyes brought light into any room lit or dark.
However, nowadays he dreamt of the Brooklyn Bridge; of Norman Osborn and that fateful night replaying over and over again. Gwen's unconscious body fell to the cold, dark waters of oblivion when she was knocked over by the Green Goblin. Spider-Man shot out a web-line to snag her ankle. He thought he had saved her, but to the Goblin's sadistic, mocking delight and Peter's traumatic, instantaneous sorrow, it was not to be.
The triumphant cackle of the Goblin boomed like thunder while holding Gwen in his arms. Through tear-stained eyes, he saw Gwen open hers. Though luminescent and breath-taking in life, in death they turned black as the abyss of death itself. She then stood, as Ben and May Parker, sporting similar obsidian eyes, pointed accusatory fingers at the web-slinger.
"We died because of you." They chanted like a mantra.
"Because of your foolishness," said Ben.
"Because of your weakness," said May.
"Because of your lies," said Gwen.
"No…It was the burglar…Osborn…the sniper…" Peter tried to explain.
"You failed to act." Ben replied.
May immediately said, "You let me die instead of making a deal that would have saved my life."
Gwen followed by saying, "You let Osborn abduct me to the bridge. You let him knock me over."
"It's your fault," they muttered over and over again. MJ materialized behind him. As soon as Peter turned to see her, she grabbed him by the throat. Showing unnatural strength, he couldn't break free. Her eyes turned black like theirs and said, "My death will be your fault, too."
"No," Peter said, struggling to free himself from her grip. They continued their chant of "Your fault." "No!" Peter shouted, feeling Gwen, Ben and May's hands reach out and clawing for his flesh.
Peter awoke in a cold sweat, throwing the covers off. His shaky hand threw itself onto his face and he tried to wipe the beads of intense perspiration off. A white t-shirt clung tightly to his sweat-soaked chest. His heavy breathing kept him from hearing the sound of cooking in the kitchen. The sun was out and another day had begun.
He walked into the kitchen of the apartment he and MJ had been hiding out in. Every wall and both floor and ceiling were all marked by Doctor Strange's special incantations to prevent Mephisto or any demon from taking revenge upon him or Mary Jane for refusing the deal to save Aunt May.
His wife, redheaded and radiant, seemed exceptionally so today. The sunlight seemed to be hitting her at exactly the right angle to make her appear as if she glowed. Peter began a slow, sluggish trek to the bathroom when he heard the love of his life say, "Peter? You up?"
Pausing to respond, he said, "Yeah, honey. I'm up. Just going to the bathroom. I'll be there in a minute."
"Tiger," MJ said with a slight pout that make Peter sigh in adoration, "whatever happened to kissing an angel good morning?"
"Even angels don't want to be kissed with morning breath?" Peter replied, "I'll be just a second."
"Peter," MJ said, running toward her husband and pulling him to meet her gaze. Tenderly, she kissed his mouth and embraced him in a vice-grip like hug.
The web-slinger had never minded being passionately lip-locked by his wife. This kiss, however, seemed more special. It was more than a "good morning, beautiful" or even a "Is that a stinger in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?"
"Wow," Peter said when their lips finally parted, "What was that?"
"There's something you need to know," she said. Her heaving breast indicated to him that she was taking in slow deep breaths. He could watch her do that for days.
"It can't wait until I---"
"No, it can't. Peter…" she paused, drawing in a really deep breath.
"Honey," He said, holding her close to his strong and muscular body, "Whatever it is, I'm sure we can…." A violent, sharp pain sliced through his brain, his Spider-Sense forced him to grab MJ and bring her to the floor.
Before she could find out what was wrong, a metallic pincer penetrated the kitchen, destroying the breakfast she had been cooking. It then moved forward, destroying the rest of the apartment, while Peter and MJ were just under its reach. Looking out into the brand new bay window the pincer made, the Parkers saw a giant, metallic, gray spider, floating by rockets over the street below. Inside the monstrous robot there appeared to be a person piloting it.
"Oh my God," MJ said.
"I know, Damn Smythe and his Spider-Slayers," Peter replied.
"To Hell with that, it ruined the breakfast I was making for you! Go kick its ass!" MJ said with a stern tone and a face showing the wrath of a woman who'd seen her hard work annihilated by an insensitive prick
"God, I love you," Peter said, giving a peck on the cheek, before saying, "Go to the parking garage, get in disguise and I'll meet you down there." MJ nodded and ran toward the door. As she moved, one of the Spider-Slayer's legs shot out a grappling hook attached to a line of steel cable. Peter leaped forward and kicked the hook away, causing it to slam into the wall beside the door. "GO!" he shouted to MJ.
He ran along the steel cable combining his agility and ability to stick to surfaces. His Spider-Sense once again chimed into his head, causing him to leap out of instinct. The cable suddenly crackled with electricity, which would've electrocuted Peter had he remained on it any longer.
Peter twisted and flipped, avoiding a swipe from another of the pincers while in mid-air. He landed in a squat onto the back of the Spider-Slayer. Letting his stingers burst from his wrists, he punctured the glass of the cockpit and prepared to rip it off its hinges. His Spider-Sense alerted him to another danger but this time, he was too late to avoid it. The hull of the Spider-Slayer lit up with electricity, causing him to spasm and convulse. He slid off the Spider-Slayer and fell to the street.
With his vision blurry, but able to feel himself fall, Peter held out his wrist and shot out a web-line. Letting it alter his direction, he slammed into the brick surface and then crashed onto a car, folding in the roof. Getting to his feet, he saw the Spider-Slayer swooping down, ready to strafe his immediate area. With a groan, he leaped to the side, bringing his body toward the cockpit once more. Shattering the glass, he grabbed at the person inside and tore them free while the mechanical spider crashed into the car, causing both to explode.
Peter then attached himself to the building across the street from his apartment building. Holding the pilot, an older man with gray hair and a weathered face, he said, "I'm only going to ask once. Who are you working for?"
The man replied with, "United States government, you son of a bitch. They want you dead or alive. I'm pushing for dead." Suddenly, Peter felt a dart pierce his body at the neck, forcing him to let the attacker go. As they both fell to the busy sidewalk, the man began kicking at the web-slinger, forcing him to move out of instinct. "That's it, bug," he said with a grin, "fight. Make the toxin rush right on through your system."
Peter connected with a haymaker to the man's jaw. There was just enough force behind the blow to send the man flying onto the hood of a car. He stumbled through the street, trying to avoid passing cars until he saw a black four-door sedan stop and open its rear door. MJ, in a blonde wig and make up to darken her face and hands, said, "Peter! Get in!" He plopped onto the backseat and she drove off into the busy thoroughfare.
"Oh my God," she said reaching back to hold his hand, "Are you okay, tiger?"
"Dart…sniper…poison..." He muttered.
"Peter? PETER?" MJ shouted while darkness surrounded him.
Mary Jane struggled not to panic as her husband, the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, passed out due to what she assumed to be an assassin's dart full of poison. Going as fast as she can without drawing the attention of authorities, MJ pulled out an emergency cell phone and hit speed dial. After thirty seconds of nothing but ringing, she hung it up. From their refusal to answer, none of the New Avengers were available.
MJ reached into the glove compartment and pulled out a small purple gem. She held it toward the sun and said, "Come on, Strange. If you won't answer your voicemail, at least answer this."
Suddenly, a pale visage of the Sorcerer Supreme materialized in the passenger seat. With a yelp, she jerked the wheel, nearly clipping a row of parked cars. "Good morning, Mary Jane," said the apparition.
The sight of Doctor Strange as an ethereal being sent shivers down MJ's spine. She kept her eyes on the road while saying, "A good morning would be having breakfast and then some passionate alone time with my husband. Instead, I'm being chased through the streets by assassins with a Spider-Slayer and Peter's been drugged."
Doctor Strange looked behind him and said, "Spider-Slayer? I don't see any…" A second gray metallic arachnid suddenly dropped into the sight of the rear view mirror, causing the magic-wielder to pause then reply, "Ah. There it is."
"That can't be the same one, Peter destroyed it!" Mary Jane exclaimed.
"Nevertheless, you can't let it follow you to my home. Try to lose it as best as you can."
"Peter is dying! I can't waste time taking the scenic route with that thing on my ass! I just can't!"
"I shall alert the others to your situation. Do not worry, Mary Jane. You are not alone," said the Sorcerer Supreme before vanishing from the passenger seat.
With a grunt and a concerned glance at the backseat, MJ commented, "Sure as hell feels like it."
A laser beam passed by the driver's side, causing the car to screech on the road toward a bridge. Unable to risk being hit, she slammed her foot on the gas pedal, pulling away slowly from the floating mechanical monstrosity.
Mary Jane made it off the bridge and sharply turned the car into a narrow tunnel, hoping the Spider-Slayer couldn't follow. She then slammed on the brakes and got out of the vehicle. Pulling her unconscious husband from the car, she stepped back inside.
After putting on the parking brake, MJ tied a rope around the steering wheel and shoved a stick onto the gas pedal and wedged it against the seat. Reaching in through the window, she unlocked the parking brake, causing the car to jerk forward and onto the exit of the tunnel. The Spider-Slayer dropped down onto the exit, crushing the car and stomping on it with its pincers. Then it knocked the wreckage away from the main road, causing it to flip over multiple times.
Hoping the Spider-Slayer would leave, MJ's heart sank when it turned inward and retracted, causing it to fit into the tunnel and barrel toward them at an alarming speed. Lowering her head, she covered Peter's body with her own, shielding him with the hope that help would arrive soon.
A roar from above and the sound of metal slicing into metal gave her pause. The sensation of being lifted off of the ground caused her to open her eyes. Luke Cage's massive chest filled her vision while he carried her and Peter out of harm's way. Looking overhead, she saw Wolverine hacking and slashing his adamantium claws right through the hull of the Spider-Slayer, causing it to malfunction. While it skidded toward a stop, Ronin leaped onto the cockpit window. He broke apart the windshield, pulling out two men.
As Doctor Strange rendered them unconscious with a simple sleeping spell, he approached Mary Jane. "It is as I told you," he said with a reassuring smile, "You are not alone."
Wolverine walked over toward the still poisoned Spider-Man. "What's wrong with Parker?"
"He said he was poisoned," Mary Jane replied, "That one of the guys who attacked us shot him with a dart."
Doctor Strange said, "Gather around. Ronin, please bring our two captives, as well. We must make haste to my sanctorum. Linda will need to have a look at him."
With a crimson mist surrounding them, the New Avengers, along with Mary Jane and the two Spider-Slayer pilots disappeared into the ether.
Peter opened his eyes slowly, last remembering a cramped backseat in a car fleeing from government agents. Mary Jane was in her blonde disguise while the car sped away from the damaged apartment.
However, the sights beheld by the eyes of Peter Parker were absolutely different than what he expected. Lush green grass made damp the back of the t-shirt and boxers he slept in this morning. A waterfall twenty feet ahead bustled before him. Getting to his feet, he noticed that the sky alternated colors. Purple overpowered orange, fuchsia replaced orange, and turquoise took fuchsia's place.
As a myriad of color combinations floated overhead, a hand tapped Peter on the shoulder, startling him. But that should be near impossible; his spider-sense would've alerted him to any danger. Forcefully being spun around, a gorgeous blonde planted a soft, sensual kiss on Peter's lips. He pulled away to find out the reason why his spider-sense didn't go off. The sight of the woman made Peter's jaw drop almost completely from his skull.
"Gwen?" he said, staring in disbelief.
"Peter," she said with a smile that could've launched a million ships to face Helen of Troy's thousand, "It's about time you woke up. I've been waiting."
"Of course I have. You knew we'd meet again, didn't you, Peter?" Gwen inquired, her arms slung around his shoulders.
Peter, try as he might, couldn't quite free himself from her gaze and her embrace. "Yes," he replied, holding her tightly to him, "Yes, I did." She laughed happily as he swung her around in his arms. "So, where are we?" Peter said, looking around at the football-field sized land-mass he and Gwen stood upon.
Gwen took Peter's hand in hers and led him to the edge of the lake. She looked ahead at the waterfall and said, "We're at rest, Peter. We're at rest. No more supervillains, no more monsters, no more fighting. It's all over now, Peter."
Looking at the rocky slope leading to the top of the waterfall, the web-slinger tried to skip the walk by leaping along the ledges. He didn't get three feet in the air before hitting the ground again. After several more tries and failures, Peter finally began walking up the slope. He realized that without his powers, he would have to do things the hard way.
After reaching the top of the waterfall, Peter looked at Gwen, who was swimming underneath the surface of the lake. No doubt she waited for him to come on in. And with a shout-filled leap, he did so, plummeting fifty feet into the water. Amazingly enough, he didn't feel a thing; not the stinging sensation of the flesh slapping the water's surface, the tingling that the skin and nerves are supposed to feel seconds after hitting the lake, not even the temperature of the water.
As he opened his mouth, no bubbles came out, no air either. Gwen swam around him, effortlessly like a mermaid and twice as beautiful. In a past life, she must've lured hundreds of sailors to their willing, watery graves. She wrapped her arms and legs around Peter, kissing him once more. Maybe Gwen was right. Maybe it was paradise. As such, he returned her underwater affection.
Peter's unconscious body laid in a bed in Doctor Strange's sanctum sanctorum. The Sorcerer Supreme held his hands over Peter's temples and hummed a dialect long since lost to this world. Mary Jane sat at Peter's bed while Linda Carter, aka the Night Nurse, extracted a syringe holding a vial of blood. She then took it away to a lab hidden in the basement.
Mary Jane kissed her husband's lifeless hand, as if by some miracle, her love would be able to wake him from the drug-induced slumber the dart had forced him under. "Mary Jane," Wolverine said while he walked into the room. Blood dripped from the middle hole in his right glove where his claw comes out.
"Logan, what did they say?" she said, lowering a fierce gaze at the centuries old warrior mutant.
Wolverine sat down and let out a hefty sigh, "Those goons are working for the Goblin. They're a couple of former Cape-Killers that got discharged from the Initiative when they used excessive force in apprehending an unregistered superhuman. Let's just say one of them won't be getting on 'Dancing with the Stars' anytime soon."
Mary Jane clenched her fist tightly and swore under her breath. Damn you to Hell, Osborn, she thought to herself. Peter had kept her in the loop about what that psychotic bastard had been planning. Using his position in the government as a weapon to annihilate Peter once and for all; it was just like him to try and hit Peter from a position whereas to he couldn't be hit back.
"I have found Peter," Doctor Strange said, his eyes still closed. Mary Jane whipped around in anticipation.
"Found him? What do you mean?"
"Right before I left the Astral Plane, I sensed someone crossing into it, along with an ominous force following him."
Mary Jane let out a sharp gasp and said, "Oh my God…a force? You don't mean like---"
"I am not certain, but if he were to make a move on Peter, the Astral Plane would be his best chance."
Wolverine held up a hand in protest and said, "Now, hold on…Xavier and Jean always told me the Astral Plane was "psychics only" club. Last time I checked, Web-head's no more a telepath than I am."
Doctor Strange pointed at Wolverine, replying, "This is true. However, his Spider-Sense has always bordered the line between extrasensory awareness and precognition. So, it is feasible that in some sort of loophole, Peter's consciousness ended up there."
Mary Jane touched Strange on the shoulder and in a grip that made him wince, said to him in a very stern voice, "Stephen…you'd better get my husband back to this plane of existence now. Or else, the role of a colonoscopy camera will be played by the Eye of Agamotto!"
Doctor Strange sensed that the distraught wife was more than willing to make good on her threat. "I will need total privacy in order for me to be able to bring Peter back."
"Then you might want to hear about this now," Linda said, walking into the room, "The drug that Peter was hit with was an incredibly powerful sedative. However, there is another problem."
"And what problem is that?" Wolverine said with an arched brow and a sneer.
"The drug was crawling with nano-byte transmitters. They were probably meant to keep track of Peter's body in case someone managed to abscond with it during transport. Like Mrs. Watson-Parker here."
"That signal might already be making its way directly to Osborn's laptop as we speak," Wolverine said, "How fast can you make an antidote?"
Linda shook her head and replied, "It isn't a matter of making an antidote. The drug's easy enough to counteract, but the nano-bytes will have to be shut down so they can be extracted naturally through the urinary tract."
Mary Jane said, "Well, how do we do that?"
The Night Nurse pulled out a taser from her pocket and shocked Peter's unconscious body with it. "High voltage electrical shock usually does the trick. The rest is up to his bladder."
Doctor Strange placed his hands on Peter's head, chanting out in an unfamiliar tongue. Within seconds, Strange's body goes limp and collapses on the floor. MJ takes in a sharp gasp when Linda gave her a one-armed hug and said, "It's alright. Your husband's in good hands."
Peter rolled around on the grass with Gwen, giggling like a schoolboy making out with his crush under the gymnasium bleachers. All of a sudden, he felt a jolting sensation surge through him. "Peter?" Gwen said with a concerned look on his face, "What's wrong?"
"I don't know, but…I'm starting to feel like something's missing," he replied, looking around. The floating island looked like paradise. No need for breathing, no pain, no need for food or sleep. However, Peter looked away from Gwen and said, "I left MJ alone."
"Peter," Gwen commented, putting an arm around his shoulder, "MJ would want you to be at rest, wouldn't she? If she loved you, she wouldn't be so selfish and want you to remain in a world where all you know is suffering and misery."
Surprised at her words, Peter pulled away and said, "My life may not have been perfect, but full of suffering and misery?"
Gwen stepped close to Peter and said, "I've seen your dreams while you lie in bed with her. You dream of me, Peter. Do you know why that is? It's because deep down, I made you happier in the couple of years we dated than she has in your entire marriage. You won't let go of me. You can't. When you found out Norman had slept with me, you went ballistic. Why? Because it destroyed the perfect image you had of me? No, because you took it as if you were still in a relationship with me. What I did with Norman may have been wrong and out of character, but you've been having an affair with a ghost for years!"
Although he could feel no physical pain in this world, Peter winced at every word she spoke. It was all true; every single sentence. For God's sakes, without much thought at all, he jumped feet first into a passionate tropical paradise with Gwen Stacy. But if he was finally at rest, how could he go back?
Suddenly, a pale vision of Doctor Strange materialized in front of him and Gwen. She jumped back in shock while Peter tilted his head in puzzlement. "Peter, thank the Vishanti I found you," he said, though taking a look at Gwen Stacy, his face became flushed with horror.
Peter didn't like it when Doctor Strange was horrified. He said, "Uh, what's up, Doc?"
"By the all seeing Eye of A-GAK!" Gwen clutched Strange by the throat and began strangling him with one hand cutting off his chanting. Peter stood flabbergasted by the turn of events.
"Peter," she said, "He wants to take you back to a world that hates you, a life that spits on you, and a wife that resents you. Stay with me, and never go back to that horrible existence again."
Peter stepped forward while Strange choked out his protests. He looked at Gwen in the eyes and said, "You know I could never hurt Gwen Stacy." He took a step back and looked toward the gasping figure of Doctor Strange and then said, "So it's a good thing you're not."
Peter threw a hard right cross directly into "Gwen's" face, stunning her into releasing the magic-wielder. "By the all seeing Eye of Agamotto!" he managed to call out. With a bright flash, the beautiful, picturesque form of Gwen Stacy faded into nothing. In its place was an obese, purple skinned demon with horns on its head and a thong made of flesh.
"Strange! What the hell's going on?" Peter said. He was back-handed by the monster.
"Asmodeus," said the Sorcerer Supreme, "A foul beast of the netherworld and thrall of Mephisto."
"Stand aside, Strange!" yelled out the demon, "the mortal's soul belongs to my master!"
"The day I let a third rate brimstone-smelling lackey like you get the best of me, is the day I hang up my cape and magicks," Doctor Strange replied.
"Doc," Peter whispered, "Gotta work on the taunting."
Asmodeus flung fireballs at the sorcerer, only to have them reflected back at him. "My lord will have Parker's soul!"
"Not this or any other day, demon!" shouted Strange, firing a spell from his hands, causing Asmodeus to double over in pain. "Peter, we must flee the Astral Plane!" As Doctor Strange grabbed Peter, they levitated off of the ground. But Asmodeus clutched Peter by the ankle and jerked him back to the floating island. With a fireball blast, he sent Doctor Strange hurtling away. "NOOOOO!!!" shouted the Sorcerer Supreme.
"Prepare yourself, mortal," said Asmodeus, grabbing Peter by the shirt collar, "I'm going to make you watch as Norman Osborn makes love to Gwen Stacy over and over again."
"Like hell," Peter said, poking Asmodeus in both eyes and throwing the hardest haymaker he could, causing the demon to drop to a knee. Peter then slammed his knee into his opponent's face, knocking him back.
Asmodeus rose to his feet and tried once more to attack Peter. He was stopped by a sharp jab to his massive stomach. The monster incredulously asked, "How? You have no power here!"
"Astral Plane's the battlefield of the mind, tubs," Peter said, "Mind over matter. I don't mind, because you don't MATTER!" With a final uppercut, Peter propelled Asmodeus screaming off of the floating island.
Peter took a moment to collect himself and closed his eyes. Once he opened them, Gwen Stacy appeared once again. "Aw, no," Peter said, hoping it wasn't Asmodeus.
"It's alright, Peter. I came to tell you something important," she said, "You have a loving, beautiful wife who has something to tell you. Do not feel bad for me. I'm at peace now. Live your life, Peter. You must learn to forgive yourself of the past."
"I-I can't," Peter whispered with his eyes low and away.
Gwen pulled his chin back up, their eyes meeting. "You can. You must. You will. I love you, Peter. I want you to be happy. That's all I ever wanted. And I can tell, MJ truly makes you happy, as much as you make her happy."
The web-slinger smiled and within the blink of an eye Gwen vanished. Looking toward the sky above, he saw Doctor Strange coming near him from being repelled by the demon. "I'm impressed, Peter," he said. "I had no idea you had it in you."
"Neither did I," Peter replied, "now, let's go home, Doc."
Doctor Strange and Peter floated away from the paradise island floating in the Astral Plane. Peter looked at Doctor Strange and said, "If you ever tell MJ I made out with a demon, I'll…"
"Yes, yes, the role of a colonoscopy camera will be played by the Eye of Agamotto," replied the sorcerer.
Peter remarked, "Actually, I was going to go with, I'll take the wand of watoomb, beat you severely with it and THEN I'll have it play the part of the colonoscopy camera. But that works, too."
Mary Jane felt the hand of her husband tighten in hers. His eyes slowly opened enough to catch her beautiful green eyes and beautiful face. She smothered his face in kisses and tears of exuberant joy streamed down her cheeks. "Tiger," she said, "welcome back."
"Good to be back," he said with a weak wink, "Now what was it that you wanted to tell me?"
Mary Jane stepped back, stunned that he somehow knew. The reason she didn't want him to go to the bathroom. The reason why she cooked him that breakfast. "Peter," she said, more tears coming down her cheeks, "I'm pregnant."
An awakened Doctor Strange sat back in shock, while Wolverine took the web-head's right hand in his and shook it in congratulations. Peter wrapped his arms around the love of his life, his wife, and soon-to-be, the mother of his child.
Dorian Trapper a weathered older man and Tracy Salvano, a young and vital bald headed man sat handcuffed to a federal detainment vehicle. The van stopped at a lone helicopter pad in the middle of the highway. Both men were led out of the vehicle and held out until a chopper would rendezvous with them. They awaited transport toward a S.H.I.E.L.D. holding cell, by request from Tony Stark. As they stepped onto the helipad, the vehicle sped off into the night.
From a limousine fifty yards away, Norman Osborn grunted in frustration. He had hoped that these bungling morons would've been able to tag Spider-Man like the animal he is. But they ended up being captured by the Secret Avengers. There was always the chance that they pointed the finger at him. He couldn't risk anyone in Washington finding out about the hit, especially Tony Stark getting cold hard evidence to get them to suspect foul play.
With the press of a button on a remote control, the helipad, as well as Trapper and Salvano, disappeared in an explosive fireball. Norman tossed the remote onto the seat beside him and said, "Driver, let's get out of here."