(If I owned anything, I wouldn't be posting on this site.)


Chapter 1: Impostor

Norman Osborn still couldn't get over the delicious irony of the situation, couldn't help savoring it, though he was careful to keep most of his attention on the window where his team's target was supposed to appear. He was being paid by the government to take down the person at the top of his hit list; how much richer could things possibly get? Still, if there was one thing Norman knew from personal experience, it was not to get cocky, no matter how perfect the setup seemed. No celebrating until his adversary was unconscious. Then… frankly, Norman fully intended to celebrate all over the idiot's masked face, orders or no orders.

And speaking of orders…

As was expected, they were hearing their target before they could see him. He was singing loudly, though it took a few seconds for him to get close enough for Norman to make out the words."….Sling us a web tonight! 'Cause we're all in the mood for a hero now, and there's evildoers to--" Abruptly, the singing stopped, and Norman tensed. Not a good sign. After a few seconds of complete silence, he looked over to see Moonstone roll her eyes, eliciting a rumbling chuckle from Venom. Norman scowled. Not that he didn't understand where they were coming from; this whole thing was getting ridiculous. How many times were they going to have to--

"Now let's see," came a dry voice from somewhere overhead, "Four… five….Oh, but Venom's with you. Nope, I'm sorry; I simply don't have enough candy for all of you. " Norman looked upward, leering his famous leer. No sign of the speaker, but that didn't really matter, anyway. "It's probably not in good taste, me making Halloween jokes, but the dude in the green mask trumps every costume I've ever seen. If you don't mind me asking, where exactly do you buy your clothes? I have to have all my sewing done by hand, so…"

"As always, we fail to understand how you can find yourself so amusing, Webs," snarled Venom, reaching out with a glistening black tentacle and pulling himself up into the rafters. The remaining Thunderbolts spread themselves out and waited, as per Norman's instructions.

"Woah!" cried the still-invisible quipster, "That was a complete sentence! Have you been taking classes online or something? I'm impressed!"

Norman's smile faded. As far as he knew, Venom had always spoken in complete sentences, so how did that work as a joke, exactly? After a few seconds he gave a mental shrug. "You've made some important people very upset, Spider-man," he said, his voice considerably more gleeful than he actually felt. Something about that joke had made him feel jittery. "Astonishingly stupid as always."

"That's me," came the distracted reply, "Oof! …Not cool. Did you not hear me say that I have to do my sewing by hand?" A second later, there was a crash overhead, and Norman hastily back-flipped to get out of the way as Venom came crashing back to the ground. Growling and covered with powdered cement, Venom got up and launched himself back into the rafters.

"I think I'm supposed to say something about coming quietly and saving yourself considerable suffering, " said Norman offhandedly, trying not to think about how much he wanted to get up there and help Venom put his nemesis in a body bag. Stick with the plan. The plan is good. Plus, if you kill him, no more beating up superheroes and getting paid for it. True enough. He gave Moonstone a slight nod, and she smiled darkly, then faded out of sight, reminding him vaguely of the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. "But in view of our history," he continued, "I'm just not going to bother pretending like I don't want to watch you get beaten to a bloody pulp."

"History?" called an honestly surprised, out of breath voice, "Are you one of those fruit loops on a 'Spider-man is my arch-nemesis ' trip? Honestly, just go talk to Craven the Hunter and ask him how that turns out. "

Norman frowned as that odd nervousness came back twofold. Spider-man didn't know who he was? How was that even… "The anniversary of your embarrassing little Gwen slip up was last week, wasn't it?" he asked, testing the waters. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his entire team flinch. Spidey did nasty things when people brought up Gwen, and that counted double when Norman did it, for obvious reasons.

"WHAT?" The expected rage, guilt, and grief were easy to hear, but what rang out clearest of all was utter shock. "I don't—How did—WHO THE HELL ARE YOU?"

Norman opened his mouth to reply, and then shut it again. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been at a loss for words, but the fact that Spider-man, whom he'd spent the last fifteen years trying to kill, recruit, or drive insane, had no idea who he was made him feel almost… insubstantial. But that was preposterous. He was Norman Osborn, and he was the Green Goblin. He was brilliant, and he was feared. "If you really don't know," he said, keeping his voice light with a colossal effort of will, "I think it's only fair that I let you figure things out for yourself."

"Right," said Spider-man tightly, anger bubbling just below the surface of his voice, "I'll come down there and ask you again as soon as I'm done with—" A loud crashing sound interrupted him, and several thick wooden beams plummeted to the ground. "JESUS, la—"

There was another loud crash, and Venom fell back to earth once again, but this time he landed feet first, and this time he had a certain Friendly Neighborhood Someone pinned underneath him. Norman gestured to Songbird. The woman hesitated. "My dear…" Norman said, his voice gently chiding but simultaneously menacing and cold. She was wasting time; any second now he was going to get up and… She was shaking her head, her eyes wide.

Norman followed her gaze, and blinked. "He's too short."

There was a cough from underneath Venom's bulk. "Well, you're too ugly, but you don't hear me—" Norman made an impatient sound in the back of his throat and threw one of his smaller pumpkin bombs, which released thick green gas around Venom's feet. "Complain…ing…"

Venom growled as he moved away from the limp body of his adversary. "Was that necessary? Just because we won't get knocked out—"

"Shut up," Norman snapped, "That was too easy. This isn't Spider-man."

Moonstone drifted back down gently as a feather, her expression smug to the extreme. "Well, that's unfortunate," she said.

"We could have told you that," growled Venom, "We knew since he arrived that he had never been bonded with us."

"And you didn't think of mentioning it?" Norman asked testily.

"We didn't think it mattered," Venom replied, shrugging. "He is Spider-man, or something very close; he has the same abilities, as far as we can tell."

"So what?" snarled Norman, "Chameleon can pull that much off."

"Chameleon would have gotten the height right," Venom said, his voice bored. "Are you going to throw a temper tantrum? We have other things we could be doing."

"He's just a kid," Songbird murmured, her eyes still on the motionless figure. "He's so skinny…"

"Maybe we could just turn him in and pretend like he's the real one," The Swordsman said thoughtfully, "I doubt that anyone would—"

"Until the real one shows up," Norman said harshly.

There was a long, uncomfortable silence, in which they all stared down at the slender kid in the Spider-man costume. "So…" Songbird began slowly, "What do we do?"

At that exact moment, there was some movement, almost a ripple in the air, and the kid they were all staring at vanished. There was no flash of light, nothing to suggest a trick; he was there one second, and the next he just… wasn't.

Before anyone could move or make a sound, another voice spoke. From the window. "Weird. I could've sworn I already came in here." They all spun around to see Spider-man crouched on the windowsill, but this one was obviously taller, and his muscles had more bulk. "You guys ever get de'ja vu?"