The dream Peter had the previous night had given him enough information to realize what happened to him twenty years ago. That one dream opened the dam of his mind and the rest of his life memories fell into place, him becoming Spider-Man, his job as a photographer at the Bugle, and his marriage to Mary Jane.
On the day he had supposedly died, Spider-Man had
been out taking a swing around the block when his spider-sense started
tingling. He switched directions and followed it. He didn't
realize where it was taking him until he ended up home. There were
flames pouring out of the window of the apartment he shared with Mary Jane,
and she was supposed to be home by then. Panicked, he shot a web-line
and swung inside. Well, M.J. wasn't home. But the Green Goblin,
Spider-Man's arch nemesis, was. And he had a new toy. As Spider-Man
swung in the window, he heard the familiar sound of a dart being fired
and felt the needle pierce his ribs. His body went slack and he let
go of the line, falling backwards onto the floor with a thud. The
Green Goblin's grinning face hovering over him was the last thing he saw
before he lost consciousness.
Spider-Man woke up chained to a wall. He struggled as hard as he could, but the chains held.
"Have you read the papers this morning?" a voice asked him from the shadows. Norman Osborn, the owner of Oscorp and the Green Goblin's alter ego, stepped up and held a newspaper in front of Spider-Man's face. "Fire Claims One of the Bugle's Own," the headline read. "There's quite a touching editorial on page four. Also a few nice comments from your wife," he said, sweetly, pretending to be absorbed in the article.
Spider-Man glared. "I swear once I get my hands on you, I'm going to make you wish you could forget you ever knew me."
Osborn dropped the newspaper on a nearby table and said, "Really?" in a conversational tone. Then he picked up a large pipe and swung it into Spider-Man's stomach as hard as he could.
Spider-Man's breath went out in a gasp.
Osborn said coolly, "You're the only one who will be doing the forgetting around here." He let out a sharp laugh and said triumphantly, "You won't remember your own name once I'm through with you. And if you don't remember your own name, you can be anybody I want you to be," ending with a crafty smile. He slapped the pipe into the palm of his hand with a rhythmic motion. "How would you like to have Oscorp stamped across the top of your paycheck?"
"I like having The Daily Bugle stamped across the top of my check. It's a nicer looking logo."
Osborn smiled politely, and smacked him upside the
head with the pipe. Through the ringing in his ears, he heard Osborn
say, "I usually abhor using disciplinary action on one of my employees.
I'd much prefer just to terminate them. But for you, I'll make an
exception." Then he laughed that crazy Green Goblin laugh, and Spider-Man
knew he was never leaving that room again.
The humiliation went on for months and months, the torture, the experiments, stripping away memories, resistance, everything that made Peter himself and replacing it with cunning, ruthlessness, remorselessness, until one day Peter looked in the mirror and knew the reflection as Daniel and only Daniel. After that he was injected with chemicals, making him even faster, stronger and smarter than he already was. After that, he was sent out to perform "tasks" for Mr. Osborn. Every single one of them horrified Peter now.
He was given pills every few days, which he took without
complaint, although "without verbal complaint" and "without silent question"
were two entirely different things. He analyzed one of the pills
to satisfy his curiosity, and filed the list of compounds away in his brain
in case he needed it in the future. Unfortunately, the analysis destroyed
the pill. Asking for another was entirely out of the question, so
Daniel decided he would just have to do without. The missed pill
caused the worst pain he had ever experienced, even through all his training.
With the pain came the unsettling feeling that something was wrong, although
he couldn't understand what. But it was strong enough to know that
he should leave Oscorp as quickly as possible. And so he did.
And he worked freelance for payment ever since. Until he ran into
Batman, that is.
The doctors ran every test they could think of to prove that Peter was who he thought he was. Fingerprints, questions, the whole works. And Peter told them the truth, more or less. The doctors called the police and provided medical evidence to substantiate Peter's story. The woman, Gordon, Peter believed, told him that Osborn was out of her jurisdiction, but she would forward everything along to the New York police and make sure they followed up.
After the officers left, the doctor sitting with Peter sat back. "I'm going to release you."
It was one of the sweetest things Peter had ever heard. "Can I use your phone?" he asked.
The doctor pushed the office phone to him. "Knock yourself out."
I poured myself some orange juice and sat down at the table. It was Saturday morning, Mom wasn't up yet, and Matt was on a sugar high with no sign of peaking.
The phone rang. "Matt, turn that down for a sec!" I yelled, as I reached to answer it. "Hello?" I said. I could barely hear the guy on the other end. "Matt!!" I yelled again.
"Okay, jeez," he said. The sound dropped.
"I'm sorry. What was that again?" I said.
"I said, 'Is your mom there?'" the voice said.
"No, she's not up yet. You want to leave a message?" I said politely.
"Oh, boy. I was hoping I wouldn't have to put you on the spot," the voice said, letting out a long sigh. There was a long pause. "Just tell her that Peter Parker called, and that I'll call back," he said.
"Will do." I hung up and wrote the message down, finished my juice and went to the bathroom.
When I came back out, Mom was standing there in her bathrobe, shoving the message in my face. "What is this?!" she said.
Boy, did she sound mad. "Some guy called," I said, edging away. What was going on?
She was about to yell at me again, when the phone rang. "You wait right there, mister," she said, storming over to the phone to answer it. "What?!" She listened for a second, and her mouth dropped open. She slowly sat down in a kitchen chair. "I can't believe it," she whispered. Another long pause, with a few gasps here and there to liven things up a little. "Yes." She stared at me long and hard. "I'll talk to him."
I wasn't sure I liked the sound of that.
She listened for a few more minutes, and smiled. "You too, Tiger," she said, before hanging up. She stood up and came over to me. "We need to have a talk. Both of you," she said, looking at Matt. Mom sat down on the couch and turned off the TV. Matt perked up.
I sat down on the couch next to Mom. "Who is that guy?" I asked.
She swallowed. "My husband."
Mom laid it all out for us right there. She hadn't grown up in Gotham, and her maiden name wasn't Archer. Her real name had been Mary Jane Watson-Parker. She told us about Peter, about their jobs and how they met, about the arson fire in their apartment and how she thought Peter had died. She moved to Gotham and changed her name to keep whoever finished off her husband from coming after her. Then she met Dad and the rest was history.
She also gave us the quick history of what happened
to Peter after the fire. I knew she was talking about Daniel,
and my stomach tightened a little. But Mom wouldn't marry a complete
psycho, and if they're releasing him he must be okay. Right?
"So we're going to go meet him?" Matt asked.
"As soon as we get ready, we'll go and pick him up," Mom said.
Matt ran off to get dressed.
"He's staying here?" I asked.
"He doesn't have the money for a hotel," she said, looking at me quizzically.
Now I really hope he isn't a psycho. I went to my room to get dressed. I fished my pants out from under my bed and pulled them on. I still had a lot of questions. If she was in love with this guy Peter the whole time, where did that leave Dad? Maybe it's no wonder they got divorced. I heard a knock on the door.
"Yeah," I said, pulling on my shirt.
Mom came in and shut the door behind her. "There's a couple other things I want to discuss with you," she said.
"Like?" I said, sitting on the edge of my bed and pulling on my shoes.
"Like why I get the feeling you're upset with me."
I looked up at her. "Dad." I didn't have to say anything more.
She sat down on the edge of the bed next to me. "I wouldn't have married your father if I wasn't in love with him."
She sighed. "The reason we broke up had nothing to do with Peter's memory and everything to do with the fact that we both wanted different things out of life. Your father's dreams for the future included a stable career and picture perfect family. My role in that family was to be a stay at home mom." She looked down at her hands. "I thought at first that's what I wanted too. But the longer I stayed, the more I realized that wasn't who I was. I enjoyed working. I wanted a career. I thought I would be able to do both, but when told him I wanted to work part time while you and Matt were in school, he hit the roof."
I was in shock. She never told me any of this before.
"I thought we would be able to work it out; that our dreams weren't so incompatible. I was wrong, we had less in common than either one of us would have guessed. We did agree on one thing: that neither of us wanted you and your brother to grow up in a household where your father and I were constantly fighting. So…" she said softly, her voice trailing off. She took a deep breath and continued. "As I've told you before, it was a mutual decision, and one of the hardest things I've ever done, so I don't want you thinking either one of us was the bad guy." She gave me a soft smile. "Speaking of which, I would like to know the reason why you never told me that you're Batman."
"He told you," I groaned.
She snorted. "He didn't have to. You've seen one badly beaten superhero, you've seen them all." Then her voice softened. "I just wish you had trusted me enough to tell me."
"I didn't want you to worry. I mean, you've got so much on your mind already," I said, uncomfortably. Then I stopped and thought. "Wait a minute. What other superhero?"
What? Oh. What?! "You mean Peter's Spider-Man?" I squawked.
"Shh," she said, looking towards the doorway.
Right. Matt might be listening. "The only reason I'm telling you is that Peter gave me permission to do it. He seems to think it's only fair," Mom said.
"I can keep a secret," I said, standing up.
"Apparently so," she answered with a raised eyebrow,
guiding me out.
"So now he's living with you guys?" Max said over the bat-com.
"They are married, Max," I said back.
"Yeah, but isn't it weird? I mean, you've got a step-dad all of a sudden."
"I guess it is, kind of."
"Is he shway?"
"He's very shway. I actually have more in common with him than I did with Dad."
"Is that good?"
"It's too soon to tell." I settled on the side of a building to get a quick look around.
"Have you heard from Wayne at all?" Max asked.
"Nope. I'm kind of starting to get worried about him."
"He's a tough old guy. I'm sure he's fine. Besides, I kind of like having his job."
I smiled. The city kind of looked shway from up here. I never really stopped to notice before.
"Just hanging out?" a voice said from above me.
I jumped and looked up. Spider-Man was clinging to the wall right over my head. "What are you doing here?" I said, puzzled.
He shrugged. "Gotham's an open territory. But if you don't think you're up for a little friendly competition, I'll understand."
It sounded like a genuine offer to walk away from a step-dad worried about stealing the spotlight. It was also a dare from a seventeen-year-old taking his first swing around the block.
He held out his palm.
I studied it, doing my best to look in charge and thoughtful. I could use his help, even if we didn't want to work together. One thing about Gotham is that there are plenty of bad guys to go around. Besides, he needed this, to prove that he was still a good person, no matter what anyone had done to him. "You're on," I said, slapping his palm. Besides, I never could turn down a good dare.
"Thanks," Spider-Man said, swinging off.
"You know him?" Max asked.
"Kind of," I said with a grin.
"Boy, you are asking for trouble. Wayne's going to slag you good."
"Come on, Max, what could he possibly do? Like Spider-Man said, Gotham's an open territory. Besides, Wayne even said it himself. One man can't prevent all the bad things happening in this city. I'm thinking maybe two can."
"Hm. Just don't say I didn't warn you."
I wasn't worried. Actually, I could just picture the look on Bruce's face when he finds out. Maybe I should bring a camera. That'd be a real scrapbook moment. I smiled and took off into the night.
Paxton Powers was enjoying himself. He had made it away scot free to the Cayman islands, where it was just sun, girls, and margaritas. He hadn't seen a law enforcement officer the whole time he was there, and no one had tried to tap into his bank accounts. He lay on a beach chair, soaking up the sun. "Life can't get any better," he said to himself.
"Don't be so sure."
Paxton's eyes flicked up to the speaker in annoyance, and he turned pale despite his tan.
Bruce Wayne was standing over him with a superior
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