Repost, as somehow the coding went haywire half way through the chapter. Grr. Review, please? Anybody?

They were late, again. Shit! A brief chuckle burst out of his sprinting dæmon, who taunted him, "You're lucky your Aunt can't hear your thoughts, Peter, or she'd wash your mouth out with soap!" Peter scowled at Azmina, but the cheetah kept on running, catching up to the bus much easier than he did. Her shift into a fruit-fly remained unnoticed by the bus-driver until she shifted again, this time to a near-windshield covering bald eagle. She chuckled as the bus driver swore and stepped on the brakes, giving Peter time to catch up. Why hadn't she tried that sooner?

The man glared as Peter and now hound-Azmina boarded, but didn't do anything else; he had been leaving the boy behind for years now. Peter resolutely walked towards the back of the bus, knowing he was unlikely to find a seat. Mary Jane looked at him wistfully from her spot firmly held in Flash Thompson's arms. Khalon hopped a ride on Azmina's back as a flea, so the pair could be close that way at least.

Her father had prevented anything else, raising holy hell when he found out Mary Jane had, to his mind, dumped Flash. He had tried to force her to go back and apologize to Flash the very next day. Mary Jane had refused. If her mother hadn't intervened, Mary Jane likely would have ended up in the hospital, despite Khalon's rush to get Ben and Peter Parker. He had been put in rehab twice since then, and his license taken away.

As it was, Mary Jane had ended up accepting the groveling Flash's apology the first week back sophomore year. Neither of the teens or the adult Parkers liked the situation much, but it was either that or Mary Jane went to live elsewhere, to escape her father. May and Ben had made it obvious that their home was open to her, but she didn't want to be a burden, or leave her mother all alone with her father.

Peter and Mary Jane were stuck conversing at night, all their daytime spent apart, their schedules still didn't overlap during the day. Even the evenings were apart unless they were both in bed, 'asleep', since Flash came by to take Mary Jane on dates so often. She hated being ruled by her father like she was, but felt like she had no choice.

At least she'd won one battle, Flash would never call her Mary Jane, only MJ, she had told him after what he did to her that he didn't have the right to use her full name. Somehow, she'd gotten him to agree… she never knew Peter and a dragon-Azmina were standing behind her at the time, reminding the quarterback that "Puny Parker" could be much, much more.

Peter picked himself up off the floor of the bus, where he had been pushed in the rush to get off for the field-trip. He was used to it, heck, he expected it. All that mattered was his camera hadn't broken. Azmina helped him up, and he was secretly pleased to find Mary Jane staring at the bus doors while she waited, making sure in her own way that he was unhurt.

This field-trip was going to be so cool, because it was to Columbia's Science Department, to their Special Research Lab! He and Azmina stopped to let a blind, hawk-dæmoned student and his dog-dæmoned friend rush by, "Slow down, Matt, you're going to walk into someone!" "Cool it, Foggy, I won't, now hurry up, we're going to be late!" Peter had to grin at their words, his guess had been correct. "Wonder if he can use his dæmon's eyes to see, that's how he can go so fast." He murmured to Azmina, shocked when the blind student added while still in earshot, "You know Saada lets me borrow her eyes when I need them." Peter stifled a laugh, well, that answers that.

Everyone and their dæmon were on their best behavior inside the facility. Except, as expected, Flash Thompson. Mary Jane managed to get away from him by being actually genuinely interested in what their guide was saying; Flash got taken aside by the teacher for a talking to when he ignored the woman in favor of bullying Peter and Harry.

Peter couldn't wipe the smile off his face as he absorbed all that was before him. Genetically modified spiders, first in the line of research into genetically modifying other animals to combine traits, it was like breeding dogs but with knowing pretty much exactly what you would get. Cool!

Mary Jane was just staring, enraptured at the caged spiders… one was jumping around like a jumping-bean, another was spinning web after more intricate web, they were all gorgeous, brightly colored, blue and red. Khalon merely laughed at her infatuation, pleased she was truly happy after so long pretending. It had been a long six months, since her hand was forced by her father. "At least we had the summer," he murmured to himself, a canine grin coming to his face when Azmina walked over to nudge him affectionately.

"Mind a picture, Mary Jane?" Peter's words mad her jump, somehow he'd managed to sneak up directly behind her, "For the newspaper?" His grin teased her, and she had to resist leaning up to kiss him, at least until a darting glance promised no one was watching. His cross-eyed look, complete with steamed glasses, made her laugh when she pulled back. It hadn't even been much of a kiss, at least by the standards of her secretly-read romance books. But it had felt nice anyway.

Peter hastily moved back to take her picture, a blush still reddening his cheeks adorably. Neither teen noticed the spider that had jumped as a stowaway onto his camera while they kissed, their dæmons equally oblivious to what was going to occur. Peter meticulously set up his shot, getting Mary Jane, the spider cages and the still currently hound-Khalon framed in it carefully. Click! Then a sharp, stabbing pain from his hand.

It shouldn't hurt to just take a photo, why did it? Azmina flashed to cockatiel to take a better look, her alarm and Peter's exclamation drawing Mary Jane closer, Flash Thompson or no Flash Thompson. He couldn't quite tell what made his hand hurt, until he looked closer… there were two dots of blood just welling to the air from his skin. A bite from something. I wonder if it was from one of the spiders? What'll it do to me? Probably nothing. His confidence in his lack of harm rose, and he quickly comforted his worried dæmon and startled best friend.

It wasn't until they were reboarding the bus that Peter started to think something might be wrong. He was suddenly queasy and shaky, with a raging headache… he wouldn't last the bus ride in his normal seat-or rather, his normal lack of a seat. Even with a seat, he might not have a chance. But he still needed to get to his "seat", so they could get moving.

"Parker!" A hand on his elbow stopped him as he walked, "there's room here, if you want to sit." He turned and stared unsure at the girl who had stopped him. She gave him a pointed look, "Seriously, sit down before you fall over, Parker. MJ would never forgive me if you get hurt when I could stop it. She's a bit overprotective of you." This finally caused him to grin and take the spot next to her. She shoved her crutches harder against the bus-side, allowing her to move over further and grant him the room to fully sit. Annemarie looked at him plainly, black hair falling into her eyes, only to be brushed aside. "She really is, Parker, like you're her younger brother or something." Azmina chuckled quietly to herself at the girl's proclamation, there was no way Mary Jane would kiss a brother like that!

Peter just gave a pain-filled smile to the girl. She was nice enough, extremely involved with theatre at school along with Mary Jane, and he knew one of the few Mary Jane considered a friend. Her theatre-group protected her from the teasing Peter received, she had been a particular favorite of some of the more popular girls during their middle school years, he had heard. "Thanks, Annemarie. How's the show going?" He gave himself an easy opening, the topic allowing his half-garbled responses to be construed correctly for the bus-ride back. But God, it hurt!

Peter blinked at the ceiling, trying to remember if he'd ever actually seen that crack before. He jumped at a sound, finding himself inexplicably attached to the ceiling he had been so assiduously studying just a moment before. How he got up there he had no idea. The pain that coursed through his entire body startled him, then faded abruptly. "Ow." Azmina's muffled exclamation of pain gave him pause as she slithered out from between his stomach and the ceiling, "Do everyone a favor and warn your dæmon next time you… attach yourself to the ceiling, won't you?" Her snake-form curled loosely around an inexplicably well muscled bicep. Sure, he'd had some muscle before, but not like this. From what Peter could see of his arms, it seemed as if he should be able to bench-press Flash Thompson! And the fact that he could actually see without his glasses!

A quick look ascertained that the swelling of the spider-bite's swelling was gone. He vaguely recalled stumbling off the bus and into the house, muttering something to Aunt May and Uncle Ben before toppling into bed. Now all he had to do was get back down to the bed. This could be interesting.

One ripped T-shirt, twenty minutes and a near-broken bed later, Peter was downstairs and dressed, grabbing his breakfast and lunch on the fly, before rushing out the door to catch the bus. The driver actually waited for him today! Whether it was because of Azmina's way of stopping him yesterday or because Mary Jane and Annemarie were both staring down the man, defying him to close the door and drive off, Peter couldn't care less. He got the bus without having to run for too long, his day was looking up!

Peter knew his luck had to be too good to last, and remarked that to Azmina. She merely snarled at him, "Keep dodging, oh wise one!" Undaunted, Peter followed her advice, moving out of the way of Flash's blows without even thinking about it. His back flip made Azmina stop her own fight to blink in astonishment. Well, that was different… and his punch was magnificent, perfect form, thumb on the outside, knuckles forward. She had to grin when the dæmon she was pinning went limp, and she heard Khalon's excited laugh. The pair should have learned from last year, really. Their own fault they didn't.

The tiger-dæmon had to admit the feelings she got from her human's victory kiss with Mary Jane more than made up for the time lost. If only the dæmons could keep Mary Jane seeing sense long enough for them to graduate, or something… with a shake of her heavy head, she forgot it all in the moment, happily wrapping herself back up in Khalon's sleekly furred form.