See previous parts for disclaimers etc.
Marcus L. Rowland
"The best parenting advice I've has so far came from Sue Storm," Jessica said over breakfast. "She said that you could be the best parent ever, and do all the right things, but that wasn't necessarily going to stop your kids from dressing up like frogs and fighting crime, so you might as well be supportive whatever they do."
"I'm more worried about stopping mine from chasing cars," said Nina. "Even if Strange was right that they won't be wolves full time, they're going to be werewolves from day one. I'm probably going to have to home school them, and watch them to make sure that they never bite anyone."
"That wouldn't be good. Is it really that infectious?"
"It's a bit like AIDS; it has to get into your blood stream, but I was told that that can include getting a little saliva into a cut or something. One time I was baby-sitting my niece and she skinned her knee, I was just about to kiss it better when I remembered. And I realised that she was way too old for that, and I probably wouldn't have even thought of doing it if I hadn't smelled the blood."
"How old was she?"
"She was nine then, so it wasn't a big deal for her, I passed it off as a joke, but I came so close… it's one of the reasons I moved to New York."
"Maybe there's a werewolf community somewhere," said Luke, helping himself to one of the croissants he'd brought to Jessica's apartment. "Then at least they could play with other kids."
"I've heard rumours that there's something like that in Tibet, but I really don't like the idea of living there. I'm a city girl, and I've never been good with languages."
"Ask Wong, Strange's servant. He's from Tibet."
"He is?" said Jessica.
"Yeah, he came over to the Avengers manor one time when they needed some information on the place. Don't recall Wong mentioning werewolves though."
Nina ate another strip of undercooked bacon in a few bites, then said "I think I need to see Strange. He obviously knows more about this than my doctor. How do I get an appointment?"
"I'll call him when we're finished," said Luke.
"There are at least five different subspecies of werewolf," said Stephen Strange. "All are virtually impossible to cure. You seem to be taking sensible steps to avoid harming or infecting others, but you need to work on self-control."
"Self-control?" asked Nina.
"Some lycanthropes can use meditation and magic to resist the effect of the full moon, or retain their intelligence and will if they change form."
"It sounds too good to be true," said Jessica.
"Unfortunately the techniques are far from foolproof, and the longer the werewolf resists giving way to his or her animal nature, the more violent the eventual reaction."
"That doesn't sound good," said Nina. "But where can I find out more about it?"
"You already know about the werewolf retreat in Tibet," said Strange, "they are the true masters. Did Wong give you the details?"
"Yes, but I didn't realise that they could resist the change, I thought that they just lived together to avoid hurting anyone else."
"That too, but they are primarily a teaching order. There are several werewolf packs elsewhere, most notably in Poland and New Mexico, but the peculiar circumstances of your pregnancy might cause a few problems. Werewolves generally mate for life; a single mother would be at a considerable disadvantage in the pack hierarchy."
"I never really thought about living in a pack. I'm more of a city girl."
"I appreciate that, but things are much more controllable in an isolated area."
"Okay." It was obvious that Nina was far from convinced.
"Was there anything else you wanted to know?"
"Well, I know what the doctors say about my pregnancy, I was hoping you could take a look to make sure that they've got it right."
"Very well. Mister Cage, if you can wait outside, Wong will get you some refreshments. Miss Jones, if you would be so kind as to act as chaperone…"
Several minutes passed with an odd mixture of standard diagnostic techniques and spell-casting. Eventually Strange said "As you know, you're expecting twins. Both will be lycanthropes, as you thought. They appear to be in good health. Do you want to know their sexes?"
"The hospital said two boys."
"And they are correct. So far as I can tell there will be no complications. Now, as to their infection…"
"I doubt that you'll see many signs of it before they're eating solid foods, but as I understand it they will want meat as soon as their teeth come in. Don't try to delay things by prolonging the weaning period, it will lead to illness. Beyond that, I would strongly suggest that you obtain the advice and support of other lycanthropes, they'll know far more about this that I do."
"Okay," said Nina, still unhappy at the thought of contact with other werewolves.
"Now, there is another matter…"
"There appear to be some foreign bodies in your bloodstream. Were you aware of this?"
"Sort of," said Nina. Jessica explained about the nanobots.
"Reprehensible," said Strange. "May I take a blood sample?"
He got a small syringe and took a tiny blood sample, mixed it with a little saline solution in a test tube, placed a drop on a slide, and deftly dropped on a cover slip, then put it onto a large leather-bound book and made an intricate gesture over it. A glowing image appeared in the air above the slide, pale straw-coloured fluid with disc-shaped cells, each about the size of a donut. In amongst them was something that looked like an octagonal crystal with an intricate tracery of lines inside it, a little larger than the cells. "This is what we're looking for. Let me see now…" He rummaged in a drawer and found a crystal on a chain and a metal rod, held it over the slide, and tapped the crystal. In the expanded image the crystalline object crumbled to jagged shards. "Hmm…" The cells around it started to clump together. "No. Too much chance of blood clots." He prepared another slide from the sample and tried again, this time with a crystalline rod. On the fourth attempt, rubbing the glass rod with a gold-embroidered cloth, the crystals in the blood changed colour without any other apparent effect. "That ought to do it. Let's just fast-forward a little…" He gestured again, and suddenly all of the cells were moving rapidly. The crystal stayed there, doing nothing, and was quickly engulfed by a large amorphous cell and vanished.
"Is that it?" asked Nina.
"I think so," said Strange. "I've made them a little more noticeable to your body's defences; the lycanthropic immune system should take care of the rest." He put the whole tube onto the book, repeated the spell, and said "let's leave it for a little while to make sure that there are no side-effects. If all is in order I'll apply the treatment to you. Meanwhile, shall we join Mister Cage?"
"What do you mean, the Feds shut you down?" barked J. Jonah Jameson.
"What it sounds like," said Ben Urich; "The old 'gang-bangers on PCP' story."
"And your take on it?"
"Could have been a mutant, or something weird like bigfoot. All I know is that the FBI were on the case, and that was what they were saying."
"So some agent tells you that, and you just accept it?"
"Remember Sunnydale? Remember how many reporters went missing there over the years? All with that explanation, and there's definitely a Sunnydale connection to this story, agents who were based there a couple of years before the town collapsed."
"And these agents told you it was gangs on PCP?"
"Actually," said Kat, "Jessica Jones told us that, but there was some sort of fight going on in the warehouse she took us to, and I saw the FBI's car parked outside."
"So it didn't come from the FBI directly? Why in the name of…." He turned to the intercom. "Get Parker in here!"
"I don't think Jessica knew what it meant," said Ben. "She seemed as surprised as Kat was."
"And I should care because…?"
"It shows she wasn't making it up."
"Or that she's a good liar!"
Peter Parker arrived a moment later "Yes, Mister Jameson?"
"Where the hell have you been?"
"I got here as fast as I could, Mr. Jameson."
"Well, next time make it faster. Urich, give him the goddamned address. Parker, get over there and find out what's been going on, get pictures, and don't let me see your face again until you do! Now, get out!"
"We'd better tell the FBI that the nanobots are gone," said Nina.
"I'm not so sure we should," said Luke, opening the car doors for Nina and Jessica, "it might be interesting to see who crawls out of the woodwork now you've stopped transmitting. Finn and Miller didn't seem to be in any hurry to get rid of the nanobots, maybe they were using them to track you."
"That's a cheery thought."
"The other thing we need to do is check your studio and apartment for bugs," said Jessica. "I didn't think of it yesterday. If they're monitoring you with nanobots they may have other ways of watching you."
Nina made a face. "I want my life back. Isn't there any way we can find out who's doing this?"
"That's the whole idea. I'll start to run a sweep as soon as we get inside. Don't say anything about it or react to what I'm doing until I say it's okay."
"I'll measure the window," said Luke, "then go pick up some glass to fix it, the noise I make doing that should cover whatever you want to do."
"Can you pick up some take-away too?" asked Jessica, "We spent most of the morning with Strange, I'm starting to feel hungry again."
"Good idea," said Nina. "Maybe some chilli?"
"Works for me, but make mine vegetarian this time."
As they parked the car Jessica sighed and said "Might have known Jameson wouldn't leave it alone."
"What's up?" said Luke.
"Peter Parker." She pointed across the road, where Parker was using a long lens to take pictures of the broken window. "He's a freelance photographer, does a lot of work for the Bugle."
"Seen him around," said Luke, "I'll talk to him." He got out of the car, crossed the road and started talking to Parker, and Jessica hustled Nina into the building while he was distracted, taking care to stay between Nina and the camera.
"Hey," said Luke, "Peter Parker, right? You the one stalking my client?" He made a fist.
"Mister Cage?" Parker said nervously.
"You stalking my client?" Luke repeated.
"No – Jameson said there was some sort of fight here, the FBI were involved, he wanted pictures."
"Not a fight, just a little misunderstanding involving my client. There's really nothing to see here, why don't you move along?"
"Nothing to see? With you here?"
"Did Jameson tell you what this is about?"
"The client is a pregnant woman. Someone tried to kidnap her; she was only rescued because Jessica happened to notice that something was going down. At this stage I can't see any good reason for her picture to be in the Bugle, or any details that might make it easier for a kidnapper to get close again. Am I making myself clear?"
"Jessica Drew was involved?"
"I can neither confirm nor deny." It wouldn't worry him if Parker went off on a wild goose chase.
"Okay… I wouldn't want anyone to get hurt. I'll leave it for now."
"Good. Want to erase the pictures you've taken?"
"All that they show is a broken window. I need to have something to show to Jameson."
"Okay, but make sure that there's nothing else. No faces."
Luke clapped a hand onto Parker's shoulder and squeezed until Parker winced, and said "Thanks, glad we could have this talk." He waited while Parker put his camera back into its case, then went into the warehouse and took the lift up to Nina's studio.
Outside Parker flexed his arm, and muttered; "Okay, no more pictures… but now I'm really curious. My spider-senses are tingling, sounds like a job for the amazing–"
"Are you all right, sonny?" A bag lady interrupted him, "you were monologueing a little loudly there."
"Sorry, just rehearsing," said Parker, hurrying off.
Behind him the bag lady started to rummage through a trash can, sifting through the garbage and discarding it again, most of her attention focused on the warehouse.
"Okay," said Luke, "I can't fix this, the frame's too badly damaged." He stepped away from the window. "Got something to cover it until it's fixed? Some plywood, maybe?"
"Sure, I use it for paintings." Nina rummaged through a stack of sheets and found one the right size, and Luke put it in place and pushed through some nails with an iron-hard finger.
"My Damage Control policy should cover proper repairs," said Jessica, "but we'll have to pay the first two hundred dollars."
"Two hundred?" said Luke, "I have to cover the first thousand if I make a claim."
"Maybe you make more claims? Break more expensive stuff?"
"I should be paying," said Nina.
"Don't tell Damage Control that," said Jessica. She got a piece of paper on which she'd scribbled "Camera and mike in the store room, mike in here, phone is tapped, go along with what I say," and showed it to them. Out loud she added "Don't worry; it'll be listed with our other expenses when I send you the bill. I'll get them to check the place for bugs too, I don't think that's very expensive."
"Do you think there are any?" Luke asked before Nina could react.
"It won't hurt to check. And if they can find anything we might be able to trace it back to whoever planted it."
"I guess," said Nina, looking puzzled.
"We'll go, I'll fly back and watch the place," wrote Jessica, "See if anyone comes to remove the bugs."
They discussed the repairs for a few minutes then pretended to decide to go to Nina's apartment and get food delivered there, rather than eating in.
"Won't they have bugged my apartment too?" Nina asked when they were in the car and Jessica had quickly scanned it and found no bugs.
"Maybe," said Jessica. "I was thinking it might be a good idea to hide Nina somewhere for a day or two while we sort this out."
"Avengers Manor, maybe?"
"Not a good idea," said Luke. "Sorry, Nina, I'm pretty sure they won't want me bringing a werewolf through the defences. Maybe Sue Storm? They have plenty of spare rooms."
"They own a big chunk of the clinic, it would be a conflict of interest. And Reed wouldn't give Nina any peace, he'd be trying to figure out how werewolves work."
"No," said Nina. "I'm not going to do that. You're forgetting, it's nearly the full moon, I can't stay with anyone who might get hurt. I don't want to hide anyway, I want my life back."
"Fuck, I was forgetting the moon," said Jessica. "All right, let's try to come up with another plan."
Jessica's phone rang, and she took the call. "Yeah?"
"Riley Finn here. Are you with Miss Ash?"
"Has she been anywhere near her studio?"
"We were just there twenty minutes ago. What's this about?"
"Was Miss Ash on her own for any extended period while you were there?"
"No, she was with us the whole time. What the fuck's going on?"
"You'd better come back," said Finn, "The superintendent just found a body there. His throat's been torn out."