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Chapter 5: For Shadow

May sat on the edge of her bed, digging her toes pointlessly into the carpet as she stared blankly into space. She could almost see the individual particles of dust drifting down in the dark. Her head felt fuzzy and tender, especially behind the eyes. She was too tired, a sick, shaky tired; it was the kind of tired that came with constant, wary alertness night, after night, after night. She knew that catching a half an hour of sleep here and there wasn't going to cut it for much longer, but what if she fell asleep and…

No. She forced herself to her feet and walked briskly over to Ben's crib. He was deeply asleep, his pale blue, bunny-patterned chest rising and falling softly. As she watched, he stirred fitfully, his tiny hands clenching into tight fists. Without consciously deciding to do so, May reached in to brush his cheek with the back of her index finger, which looked delicate and unnaturally white in the dark. His skin was so soft she could barely feel it. His little hands relaxed at the brief contact, and he sighed. He probably thought I was Mom, May thought offhandedly. Tears welled up traitorously at the stray thought, but only one got past her eyelashes; she brushed it away absently as she moved back to her bed, and then climbed under the covers. Leaning back into her pillow, she firmly closed her eyes.

It was too quiet. She was a city kid, but there was no constant hum of traffic, occasionally punctuated by a much closer car whirring past her house, no obnoxious drivers leaning on their horns, nothing. Except for the occasional rustle of leaves, it was utterly silent outside. Did she actually prefer the sounds of panic, of rioting, and the sharp smell of smoke to the more mellow sent of dust? She kind of thought she might.

Worse, she couldn't hear Ben. His breathing was close to soundless even when she was inches away; how was she supposed to know if he was still there? Even now… While she'd been thinking, pondering the eerie quiet, he could have…

Her eyes shot open as she exploded upward, kicking violently kicking at her comforter, which seemed to be clinging to her legs like an insidious tentacle, leaping out of bed, landing crouched next to the crib, and… As she straightened, she could see her little brother, still sleeping, a very slight, dreaming frown on his chubby face. She let out all of the air in her lungs in one, relieved 'whoosh', wishing that she could feel stupid for overreacting. Instead, she just felt lucky. He could have been gone, and she knew it.

She reached in and levered him up, quickly cradling him against her shoulder before he could wake; he made a soft, sleepy sound and snuggled against her before becoming still again. May thought that there was some reason why children under two weren't supposed to sleep in beds, but at that point she didn't much care what it was. Trying not to jostle him, she climbed carefully back into bed, and then used her free arm to pull the covers up over both of them. He moved a little more, pressing his cherubic lips together and wrinkling his little forehead in earnest. For a moment, May thought he would wake up and start to cry, but within seconds his face was tranquil again. Sighing, she buried her face in his fine, down-soft hair and let her eyes slide shut.

Her Spider-sense tingled unpleasantly at the back of her skull, and her poor, throbbing eyes opened automatically. A second later, a loud crash, probably breaking china, sounded from the kitchen, quickly followed by a not-quite human roar filled with confusion and anger. Ben stirred against her, making soft, whimpering sounds that escaladed to an all out wail within moments.

Her expression mutinous, May climbed back out of bed and stalked out of her room, then down the hallway. A tiny part of her brain timidly suggested caution; she viciously kicked it into the back of her mind and locked it up until further notice. "Okay," she yelled, her voice cracking with barely suppressed wrath, "Who's it gonna be this time? Magneto? Green Goblin? Zombie Deadpool? Symbiote infested Hulk? I don't even fucking care anymore. Let's just get—"

She came to a sudden stop at the entryway to the kitchen, looking around with eyes that seemed to buzz in their sockets. Except for a mug, which lay broken next to the sink, everything was as she'd left it. "This over with," she finished, her voice flat. She stared at the mug for a few seconds. It had been one of her mother's favorites, white and covered with Shakespearean insults in various fonts and sizes. From where she was standing, she could see a chunk of porcelain that, even in the dark, boldly proclaimed, 'Idol of idiot worshippers.'

Finally she turned around, glaring into the dark of the house. There wasn't any point in trying to turn on the lights; the power had been out for weeks. "Of course. That would be too easy, right? We have to go through the formalities. First, I have to wander around, being confused and frightened, saying, 'Hello?' and 'Is anyone there?'" She moved into the living room, making no effort to be quiet or stealthy. "And then you pop out, and I scream, and you kill me as slowly and messily as possible. Am I close so fa—" May froze, her breath hitching in her chest as she came to a sudden, sickening realization. She couldn't hear Ben. He had been crying, but she couldn't hear him.

She was spinning back toward her room before she really understood what that probably meant, and then sprinting because the ceiling was too low for jumps or leaps. She couldn't think. She was too ill to think. Her stomach was in knots. Her feet made no sound on the carpet, but the thunderous sound of her heartbeat pounded in her temples like some kind of terrible drum. The door to her room loomed closer and closer, but at the same time it seemed to be drifting away from her. Oh, no you don't, she mentally snarled at it as she reached out for the doorframe, gripped it, and used it to swing herself up, around, and into the room.

Ben let out a soft, contented little coo as she landed, and even as she got up and out of her crouch, she was reaching for him. Most of the sick, jittery feelings deserted her as she stretched out to touch his hair. God, what would I have done?

"Don't wake him up."

Her fingers flinched back from the child's head. There was someone right behind her, but her spider-sense hadn't seen fit to inform her of that little tidbit. Great. If it's even remotely possible that he can't be detected by your spider-sense, you should be extremely careful, she told herself, This is the type of thing that could get you kill-- "Gosh, I always make a point of obeying the orders of the random people who appear in my house in the middle of the night." It took her a second to realize that the smart-ass comment had come from her mouth. Autopilot, she thought wryly, Well, might as well finish up, now. "I would hate to be rude."

There was a pause, her eyes caught a slight shift in the darkness, and her spider-sense sang lightly. Okay, so it was working. "Mary Jane," he said. The inflection, or lack there of, in those words made May's skin prickle. It sounded dead, completely empty of emotion. There was another beat of silence, "Wait... No. Your hair… Your hair is wrong." The deadness was gone, replaced by confusion. "Who…"

There was something… off about that voice still, something less obvious that lack of emotion, but May couldn't put her finger on it. "May Parker," she said slowly, "Mary Jane Watson is my Mother."

"Moth—Parker?" The confusion was more pronounced now, along with the something wrong. She could have almost sworn that the voice had… bubbled.

"Yeah. Who the hell are you?" She waited for a split second, and then changed her mind. "Actually, you know what, scratch that. I don't care. Get out of my house, or I'll throw you out."

"I saw you come in," the voice said softly, too softly for her to be able to tell for certain if she'd been correct about it bubbling, but with a strange, fevered intensity, "How can you move like that? Who is your father?"

May bristled. "Alright. Throwing you out it is." She started toward the spot where she'd seen movement; the voice was too soft and strange to pinpoint.

"Stop! M-May." He stumbled slightly over her name. "I don't want—I never wanted—"

"Then get out," May growled. Her Spider-sense was still, so he wasn't dangerous, but she didn't care.

"Please, I have to know—"

"You came into my house unintentionally," said May, rage making her voice tremble. Her shaking hands clenched and unclenched eagerly. She was no longer certain she wanted him to leave; she wanted—no, needed—someone to beat on, and really had for a long time. Nonetheless, she continued. "That is the only reason I haven't flattened you. Get out."

"I have to know if Peter Parker was your father!" The voice's growing edge of desperation, tinged with terrible anger and sadness, also lent it more volume, enough for her to hear the slight gurgling clearly, as well as an odd, two toned quality.

"You have a symbiote bonded to you, don't you?" She asked, her voice suddenly and terribly quiet. She felt that she was in the center of a moment of perfect clarity and stillness; even the slight tremors in her muscles that came with too-little sleep were gone. She waited for an answer, but none came. That was answer enough. "And you said 'I', not 'we'."

"Please—"

"Which means," May continued, without any indication that she'd heard his interjection, "That I would probably be doing whichever Universe you come from a favor by getting rid of you."

"May, I am—I mean, I was P—" The air rippled, and he stopped talking. May blinked, and then slowly, reluctantly, let herself to relax.

There was a slight but horribly sudden jolt, almost like jerking awake out of a light sleep. Her eyes flinched shut, stung by a sudden excess of bright light. Even as they closed, she realized what this had to mean. "Oh, no." She forced them open again, forced them to adjust as she squinted around.

She was standing in the middle of a deserted street, one she knew. It could have been her world, but even without the sudden time change, she would have known it for what it was. "No." She looked around frantically, her heart fluttering wildly. Her searching eyes landed on a billboard. In large, yellow letters, it proclaimed, 'Human Registration—It's for your protection'. Hot, terrified tears spilled over her eyelashes before she realized they were there. "No!" she sobbed.

Horrible images flashed before her eyes, images of Ben trying to get out of bed, trying to find her, calling for her, crying, and then gradually growing weak… Slowly, she fell to her knees in the middle of the empty road, and then allowed herself to topple over completely. "Please!" she screamed to the pavement, "He's just a baby! I can't leave him… He doesn't…He'll die-- He can't… Oh God!" She couldn't manage any more words, or even coherent thoughts. Helpless misery washed over her in a wave, and she surrendered to it, crying for what seemed like decades, until her chest ached and welcome darkness swept in from the edges of her vision to take everything away.