Jen Walters stared at the two-gallon plastic jug of beer and wished she could get drunk. They'd tried. God knew they'd tried. The jug was one of those novelty advertising things meant to hang from the ceiling, in the shape of a stein the size of a small keg. The owner had graciously taken it down for her, cleaned it out and poured it full of enough beer to incapacitate an entire college fraternity for a week, but to her gamma-powered physique it gave her barely more than a buzz.

Oh, she could turn back into regular Jennifer.

Except her mousy alter ego was such a lightweight that even sniffing a cork made her vaguely dizzy, and what she really wanted right now was to get rip-roaringly drunk out of her green skull, pick up some handsome boy-toy and get home, ravish him, then wake up with a hangover that fit her mood.

They fired her.

Her!

Okay, so Titania had marched in through a wall during a court case. Sure, she was best friends with a known Skrull terrorist. Yes, she'd accidentally broken four company cars by hulking out in them (all for a good cause, honest!), and yeah, she had to admit that the whole John Jameson/Pug/skanky alternate universe double/SHRA and all the aftermath had been...bad for her career. And sure, she'd gone through five lawyer jobs at this point, been rejected for the district attorney's office, and been threatened by disbarment twice, but...

Great. She was depressed.

She'd signed the last annulment papers just a month ago. Due to being briefly on the run, the Osborn regime and not having an actual home for the better part of a year, the whole thing had been on hold, and when she finally got an address of her own, they had dropped down her mail slot like a little reminder of things she had tried hard to forget.

She never loved John. It was hard to realize the truth, that she had been manipulated by that arrogant, self-absorbed Titanian moron into a relationship with a man she considered a friend, and that the whole thing had left a good man devastated, herself feeling like a heel and a distinct lack of a dead Starfox.

Okay, she wouldn't kill him.

Just bash him over the head with a small ocean-liner or two.

Or three.

She sighed. She really, really wanted to get drunk. But the only bar in New York that served the kind of things that could get someone like her good and drunk had barred her for life because of that damn alternate universe skank who'd waltzed around and slept with anything that moved for months before discovered and extradited. So she had to come here, a fairly normal faux-Irish bar in the Village, a fairly average place where all the patrons were giving her nervous glances as she gulped down enough beer to kill a small rhino.

Rhino.

Thank God her double hadn't slept with that one as well. She'd never live it down.

The last dregs of beer ran down her throat and she frowned. Nope, still nothing. And she couldn't order another one. Her tolerance for alcohol might be infinite but her bladder sure as hell wasn't. In fact, she had to go. Like, right now.

She stood up, glancing at the bartender. "Ladies' room?"

He mutely pointed at a hallway down the main room, and she nodded her thanks. Being imposing definitely had its uses. No smarmy types trying to hit on her all the time. She smirked, and went to 'powder her nose'

Getting back to her seat she pondered the men in her life. Starting with her father. Sheriff Morris Walters, old-school badass, rugged cop, complete asshole. In the Kingdom of Morris, women were to be quiet, unassuming and humble, lest they incur the backhanded slap, the 20 lashes with a belt or the sneering comments.

He left his marks. The way mousy Jennifer sought out domineering, patriarchal types. Various boyfriends of the type Morris approved, but everyone else said she could do better than. Then...gamma rebirth.

Then came the way towering Jen sought out men who were the exact opposite. Strong, independent men who didn't mind a strong, independent woman, but also had a fear of commitment. And the few who did want to commit...

Wyatt.

John.

She blinked, eyes filling with tears.

Why was it that every time she found a man who was everything she wanted, she pushed them away? Or worse...never loved them to begin with.

Oh, John. I never meant to hurt you.

Goddamn Starfox.

"Hey! You are the She-Hulk, nyet?"

Slowly, Jen looked up, and up, and up...

It was a woman. Sort of. Vaguely female, at least. About six foot nine, straight dark brown hair in a bob, pimply, nut-brown fake-tan skin (of which she showed off way too much), and muscles that screamed out a history of artificial enhancement, and not the super-kind, either. Almost no chest to speak of, wearing cut-off red denim shorts that were decidedly unflattering, a skimpy red tank-top that revealed way too much acne, bad body odor and decidedly increased hair growth in embarrassing places. God, she did not want to see that ever again.

"And you are?"

"I am the woman who will be your doom!"

The accent was hilarious. Russian? Former Soviet republic, at the least.

"Don't tell me. You're looking for Moose and Squirrel."

In response, the steroid broiler yelled with incoherent rage and punched at the table, sending novelty beer stein, bowl of peanuts and ash tray flying as the solid plywood furniture split in half, easily.

Okay. So not just regular steroids, then. MGH?

She stood up, slowly, letting the freak realize her true height. Six foot nine was impressive, sure. Seven and a half, not including the hair, was much more so. "You really don't want to do this. Tiny."

The wall of the bar exploded outwards and a green shape smashed into a store across the street. The burglar alarm went off. as the window was smashed through along with the steel curtain behind it.

There was a brief lull, then the cause of said explosion strode out through the new doorway, into the street.

"Bow down before Crimson Tide!"

Buried under two feet of rubble and aching from where the glass was slowly being pushed out of her wounds by her healing factor, Jen had to giggle. "Oh, man. Worst choice of name ever."

A massive fist shot down into the rubble and managed to grab a handful of dark emerald hair. Being dragged up by the follicles was painful even for someone who could dropkick an elephant across the Grand Canyon.

"You laugh? Fool! I will be your DEATH!"

The giggles just refused to subside. "Hey, I always said PMS would kill me one of these days, little did I know..."

The Russian steroid freak frowned at her, confused. "What are you talking about?"

"Hey, I wonder if your natural weakness is maxi-pads." More giggles. Okay, the beer might be starting to kick in. A little.

"You are mocking me? Are you mad?"

Jen couldn't help herself. She laughed.

A punch broke her nose. Another jogged a tooth loose. Okay, the steroid lady was really strong. Time to end this. "Hey, Auntie Flo. A moron says what?"

The Russian frowned. "What?"

The first punch sent Steroid Lady right through the ceiling, into the storage area above and through the roof. When she landed, another punch sent her head-first into a garbage dumpster hard enough to pierce the sturdy steel plating. The Russian pulled herself loose, dizzy and covered in refuse.

"Had enough yet?"

'Crimson Tide' (and Jen had to suppress another giggle fit at the thought of that name) staggered to her feet a bit wobbly-legged Still hunched over the steroid broiler made another attempt, but was too groggy to do more than whiff aimlessly in Jen's general direction. She sighed. Fine, then.

"Well, I guess it's time to stopper the flow. Here, have a Tampax." She closed her fist and carefully bonked the Russian on the top of her head, not hard enough to seriously damage her but definitely strongly enough to knock her out for a few hours.

Once she was sure the woman was out cold she rifled through the pockets and pulled out a very empty wallet (which meant nothing in this era of Internet money transfers and PayPal accounts). Then she walked back to the bar, a bit unsteady on her feet herself.

"You got insurance?"

The bar owner gave her a sour glare. "Yeah, Damage Inc. Had to after Daredevil beat up half my clientèle last year."

"Good. Call the cops and tell them we have a," she glanced at the cards in the wallet, "Svetlana Luzchenko here, no passport, no American ID or driver's license so possible illegal, super-powered, probably MGH so they should bring a damper wagon."

The glare deepened. "Why should I do that?"

She smiled. "Because if you don't she'll be gunning for this bar and me the moment she wakes up. Your call. Me, I want to see if you have anything stronger than that beer I drank earlier."


The warm evening air blew gently as a lone red-and-blue shape danced gracefully among the skyscrapers high above the ground. Every now and then a mechanical zipping sound was heard and a fine strand of white web-like material shot through the air, at which point the shape would let go of the strand he was swinging on, grab hold of the new and start another deceptively slow-seeming graceful arc that sent him higher and faster than any car below.

Life sucks. Then you fry. Peter Parker sighed. It was a beautiful summer evening, he was selling ad-space on his Spidey site like nobody's business (he'd managed to find the rolls containing the old Rocket Racer and Big Wheel fights, which, while embarrassing, paid this month's rent) and Carly had told him in no unclear terms she just wanted to be friends.

Yep, the old Parker luck was sure having fun at his expense. If he was beaten up as Spider-Man, something good happened for Peter Parker. If Peter Parker got dumped or evicted, Spider-Man won the day. Or, everything went to pot for both sides of his life. You never knew.

He felt a need he hadn't felt since the day Gwen died. Since the day MJ left him at the altar.

I need a drink.

He wasn't a big drinker. Never had been. Light beer, tops, but more often just a soda or water. Part of this came from growing up with Uncle Ben and Aunt May, while Ben had an occasional beer May had never been much for alcohol, and so neither was Peter, mainly to keep from disappointing her.

But every now and then he drank. A beer, maybe two, tops, while watching the game on TV at Thanksgiving. Or, like when MJ dumped him, a lot of it.

He hadn't really been old enough when Gwen died.

Probably for the best, too. He had the feeling that if he drank as often as he would like he'd be an alcoholic by now. Chuckling, he pictured the AA meeting. 'Hi, my name is Spider-Man and I'm an alcoholic. I've been sober for three months now.' 'Hi, Spidey!' 'My sponsor is Tony Stark, and...'

Whoa. The street below was covered in rubble, three cop cars, an ambulance and a huge damper wagon, one of those special vehicles utilized by the Raft. Something was going on here.

He landed on top of the damper wagon, squatting right above the rear doors, and watched as they were bringing the ugliest man he'd ever seen...no, wait, that was a woman?

"Yikes. I think I just found the Rhino's long lost twin sister."

One of the cops gave a start, pulling a gun and aiming right at him. "Hold it right there, freak! You're still-"

"-a member of the Avengers, personal friend of both the old and the new Captain America and on a first-name basis with Thor. Osborn's in jail, buddy. Charges have been dropped. Also, check out spideybites dot com, for all your Spider-Man blooper needs."

Okay, he could have held back on the snark a little. And the gratuitous product placement was a bit much. But it felt kind of good to be able to say it. That, and every new subscriber was a dime in Peter Parker's bank account.

The cop frowned, but holstered the gun. "So what do you want?"

"Well, I was just checking if you needed an assist, but you seem to be doing just hunky-dory to me. I'll be off again, okay?" He was about to web-swing out when one of the other cops, a red-headed female, waved him down.

"Wait, Spidey. Don't mind Rivera over there, he's just cranky because he has to write a report on this." As he landed next to her she continued. "So we have a possible intoxicated superhuman here, not counting the angry illegal immigrant in the restrainer cuffs, and I sure as hell don't want a big fight on my hands. Especially since she's one of the good girls."

He scratched his neck, puzzled. "Who?"

"Heeee-eeeeyyy, Spidey. Spidey-spaniel-sputter-putter-man. Co-could you tell these wunnerful ossifers of the la-haw that I am not frung. Drufung. Drfunk. Drung. Something"

Oh, God. Why me?

"Hey, Jen. Uh...guys? I'll take it from here."

The cops surrounding the jade giantess glanced at each other, then finally shrugged, heading outside. He glanced around at the bar, which was very much near-empty apart from a sour-looking bartender.

A belch loud as a 1960's car engine starting interrupted his first thoughts ('What a dump!') and refocused his attention on the matter at hand. Oh yeah, she was drunk. As a skunk.

"C'mon! Ha-have a sheet. Seat. I'm bored, and drung, and low-honely. Bey! Bar guy! Give'im a beer or somethin'."

"Uh...I'm not so sure that's a good idea..."

A big green hand that was surprisingly dainty even being bigger than his own clamped down on his neck and forced him onto the wall-mounted bench right next to her. "Nonsense! Jus' the one, 'sall. One f'r the road."

He sighed. Well, he had been thinking of stopping at McGinty's near his apartment building, so... "Okay. Just the one."

"An' then he killed my girlfrien'."

"No!"

"Yeah. It was..." He stared morosely at his beer. "...bad."

She stared at him, a supportive hand on his shoulder. "Wow. I thought I had it bad."

He looked at her in surprise. "Me? No, no, I'm just peachy. 'M fine. You on th' other han'...I mean, at least I c'n hide who I am. I c'n keep most my loved ones safe from that kinda stuff happ'nin' 'gain. You...you're kinda hard t' miss."

"You sayin' I'm fat?"

"Nah, nah, no way. Y'r beautiful. Gorgeous. 'S the problem, see? You're, what, seven an' a half foot tall, bright green, and looks like a swimsuit model. Nobody gonna miss that."

She grinned. "Y'think I'm beautiful? Awww, thanks. Y'never said that before!"

He shrugged in response. His mask had been rolled up enough for him to drink, and even though they'd added pretzels to keep from drinking on an empty stomach, he was definitely gonna have to call it a day now. "Well, y'r kinda imposing. Y'know how guys react when someone hot walks up to'em? Now add her being twice as tall as him and you get guys who c'n barely for-formula-hate a thou-hought."

She leaned against his shoulder, snuggling into it like it was a pillow. "Thanks. You're not so bad y'rself. An' you got a cute butt."

He stared at the wall. "So where do women get that 'let's be friends'-bit from. Cos' it really hurts, y'know?"

"No clue. Never worked for me either."

He took another swig, and then set the bottle down. "So, maybe we should head on home. Yeah?"

No reply. Just a soft sniffling sound, and a gentle draft on his shoulder. He looked down. Yep. Fast asleep.

"Well, damn."

Web-swinging through New York with a drunken She-Hulk on your shoulder was difficult enough as it was without being mildly intoxicated yourself, but somehow he managed. About halfway through town he remembered he had no idea where she lived, though, so he stopped on a rooftop to try and get directions.

It took several attempts to get her awake enough to give an address, and then she was out cold again. Luckily he knew the whole city like the back of his gloves, so finding the place wasn't too hard. A cheap loft apartment on the Lower East Side, which was perfect, the skylight open to the night air, even better.

He gently deposited her on the huge queen-size bed that dominated the east wall of the apartment and pulled the covers up to her chin. She was adorable when sleeping. He watched her for a few seconds, then used the cover to wipe a little bit of drool from the corner of her mouth.

Before he left he took a last look at her apartment. Not much personal. An old photograph of a brown-haired teen girl, a big, burly-looking guy in sheriff's uniform, and a brown-haired woman who had a vague resemblance to the girl . The girl looked happy, the man looked cranky and the woman looked...afraid? He set it down.

There was a large kitchenette with a few piles of dirty dishes, a big flatscreen TV, a reproduction of the Andy Warhol Marylin prints, some flowers in need of watering, and an old group painting of the Avengers. Before Scarlet Witch almost destroyed the world.

Suddenly he felt like an intruder, a burglar rifling through somebody's life treasures, and he was about to jump out the window when a pair of strong, green arms wrapped around his chest from behind, a large, green face leaning on his shoulder, her cheek against his.

"Good days, that. Before life went weird."

He shrugged. Boy, she smelled good. Like jasmine. "I wouldn't know. When that stuff went down I was going through some really dark, weird stuff with a horrifying monster called Morlun. Almost killed me."

She snorted softly, snuggling closer. It occurred to him that the way she was leaning on him was a bit...intimate.

"Well, know what I do when life looks that bad?"

He almost didn't want to ask. But he did. "No...what?"

She pulled up his mask and kissed him.


Jen Walters woke up, slowly, her head throbbing like someone had put a jackhammer inside it and left it on the highest setting. Oh, God. What did she do last night?

She remembered feverish love-making, gentle hands caressing every inch of her, being serviced in a way few men ever thought of, then penetration that actually hurt a little like nothing had hurt since she was nineteen and losing her virginity to Jack Freedman in her college freshman law courses, then...

Then she remembered, vaguely, what she had been doing earlier. Fighting some Russian MGH freak, getting well and truly hammered on beer and medicinal alcohol provided by a crabby bartender, buying a drink for...oh. Oh, no. Him?

She glanced over, and saw a very masculine form sleeping on the bed besides her. He was lying with his head turned away, his back towards her. Muscular back. Lots of faint scars. Brown hair curly with dried sweat. A nice, manly smell of musk and sex and sweat and...very cheap deodorant. She smirked. Okay, he wasn't bad-looking, then. She'd always kind of assumed he was some hideous freak under that big big-eyed mask of his, but her faint recollection of what happened after they both got naked didn't suggest her screaming in horror or anything.

But she hated him. Didn't she? She'd never made a secret of how she thought he was really annoying, a wisecracking pest who never, ever shut up, even when he should. Sleeping with him was the last thing on her mind. Right?

Well, they do say that attraction always starts with arguments...

She blushed, strangling that treacherous thought in its cradle. No way. A one-time fling, that's what it was, and...okay, she did remember the sex being damned good (from what little she could recall she remembered thinking Tony freaking Stark could take lessons), and he was cute, what she could see of him, and that butt that looked so good in his tights sure looked even better out of them and God no she had to stop thinking about this. Like, right now.

What do I do, what do I do, what do I do...

He stirred, and turned slightly, and when his face became visible she felt herself go pale. Holy...she recognized this guy.

She'd had him on the witness stand once.

And on the floor, and the bed, and the kitchen counter, and-shut up!

"Peter...Parker?" Her voice was barely a whisper.

He was a photographer, working for the Daily Bugle back then. He'd been involved in a civil suit against Spider-Man, on the plaintiff's side. In fact, he was known for his Spider-Man pictures.

The corners of her mouth twitched. Okay, he'd been involved in his own trial? Testifying against himself? This was...oh, man. This was just weird. And kind of funny.

As weird as sleeping with him when you supposedly hate the guy?

She took a deep breath, looking around the room for her clothes. Panties, there. Bra, there. Question was, should she go for the costume or her every-day clothing? Well, she had no job to go back to, so...and she didn't feel like doing the heroine gig today. What she did feel like, deep down, when she finally admitted to it, was to put on a robe, pig out on ice cream and watch her FarScape DVD's. Seasons three and four, to be precise. The unhappy ones.

No, what you really want to do is crawl back in bed with the cute and super-strong brunette and-

She took a deep breath, banishing the thought from her mind even if it made her stomach feel warm and other parts damp. No, that would be a bad idea. One-night stand. Nothing more.

Peter Parker opened his eyes and realized he wasn't at home. Or wearing his mask. or wearing anything at all, really. Oh God. What did I do? What did I do? I can't - I shouldn't - no, no, no, no.

The bed smelled like jasmine. A woman's perfume. It also smelled like female musk and sweat and sex and...a faint whiff of old alcohol. Okay, he'd been offered a beer by a drunken She-Hulk, who, while she was a very impressive woman she also had a tendency to...what was the term for it again...oh yeah, hate his guts. One had become two. Then three. Then four. Then five. Then he lost count.

And now he was in a strange apartment in someone's bed (big bed), on the nightstand next to him on top of his mask was a lacy, white bra (big bra) and there draped over a chair on top of his left boot was a pair of lacy white thong panties (big thong panties). On the book shelf by the other side was a group painting of the old Avengers, before he joined as a full member way back.

Oh no.

"...hi."

She had ended up putting on just her raggedy, threadbare old tee, the one lacking sleeves and with the belly cut off (the one that fit like a bag on Jennifer and showed off way too much under-boob on Jen but was her only clean tee right now) and a pair of plain white boxers left by a boy-toy many years ago, and then her big robe that even though it was made for big-and-tall people still ended just above her knees. If she didn't know any better she'd think it was because she was trying to look casually sexy. Which was blatantly untrue and beneath any proper response.

Sure it is.

She waved a hand lamely at the kitchenette. "There's...there's coffee. If you want."

And then, how about another romp, big boy? Shut up shut up shut up!

He nodded. Damn, he was cute. He looked worn out, though. Not from the past night, no, this looked more like old worry lines. Wait, motormouth Spidey worrying? What would he worry about?

He told you a lot about what last night, remember? Oh, wait, you can't.

He scrambled around for his clothes. Boxers (ugh, tighty-whiteys), sleeveless tee. White socks. Then he padded over to the kitchen counter and grabbed a mug from the cupboard, poured and drank it black. Huh. She'd figured him for a milk-and-sugar sort of fellow. Just goes to show.

She had to bite her tongue when suddenly a memory flashed of her seated on top of the counter and him hammering into her, she'd been screaming and wrapping her legs around his waist and...

No, that way waited madness. And damp panties.

He peered at her from over the rim of the mug. Big, brown eyes. Hazel. He looked nervous.

"Look, I-"

"I just-"

They both stopped. Took a sip, or gulp.

"Good coffee."

"Yeah. Emma Frost sends me a batch every now and then." Take me now. Shut up!

Awkward.

"Cool."

God, could this get any more embarrassing? No, please don't answer that.

"So I-"

"It's not-"

"Sorry, you first."

"No, you first."

She tried to fixate away from that pretty face. Like his hands. Yes, that was safe. Harmless.

His hands moved like an expert pianist on her bare skin, one under her back, the other deftly manipulating her folds and oh oh oh OH so good so good-

She blinked. Okay, not his hands.

Where the hell did he learn that anyway?

He was staring. He blushed. He was cute even when he blushed.

But I don't go for cute! I go for big, strong, masculine, broad-shouldered. Guys like...like...Hercules. Okay, bad example. But he's like...slender. Like a dancer or something. Like Baryshnikov. Right.

Except I had a massive crush on Baryshnikov when I was seventeen and saw White Nights for the first time.

"Um, so...we, ah...last night."

"Yeah."

Scintillating conversation, there, Jen. Exciting!

He smiled nervously. "Um...so. Peter Parker. I think you grilled me in the hot seat once. Sorry about the deception."

Okay, that was not what she had thought he'd say.

"Yeah. I...sort of recognized you. Earlier this morning."

He nodded. "Of course you did. Why wouldn't you?"

He seemed to be talking more to himself than anything else, though. She resisted the urge to reach out and tousle his hair. It was cute hair, though.

His hair was like silk in her fingers as she gripped it tightly, lying on her back on the living room carpet and screaming in pure-

Right. No more of that.

"So..."

"So..."

They both looked at the other, and chuckled nervously.

"Um. I should...I should..."

Yes? Yes? You should what? Tear my robe off and remove what little I wear underneath with your teeth?

"...go. Um. I...I don't remember that much but...um..."

"You...you think this was a mistake?"

He paled. "No! No, no, no, no, no. No. Not a mistake. Maybe...I guess we both needed that. Well, that and we were kind of..."

Drunk. Okay, sure. It was a drunken mistake. Great. Just fine.

"Yeah. We were." Did her voice turn cold?

"Um. So...I suppose...maybe we should...stay friends? Maybe?"

"Yes." Okay, that was definitely frosty.

There were a few more nervous attempts at conversation. He tried joking, something self-deprecating, she didn't really listen. The little voice in the back of her mind was nagging at her, telling her all sorts of things she didn't like thinking about.

Then he was gone, leaving only an empty coffee mug behind. She took a deep, ragged breath and started up on the dishes.

Just a one night stand. Sure, he's cute, but he's not my type. Not at all. Just because what I remember of last night is hours of mind-blowing sex, just because he's kind of sweet-looking, just because we kind of connected with our sucky lives last evening even though I barely remember the details, just because...right. Nothing. Just friends. His idea.

She put the last plate in the drying stand, unplugged the sink and leaned against the counter. Another deep, ragged breath.

I bet he likes blonds. And redheads.

She frowned. Where the hell did that come from?


"...shall meet your doom! So speaketh Kang! The Conqueror!"

"Kang rhymes with 'spang', you know that, right?" Spider-Man dodged out of the way of an energy blast that would have turned him to ashes had it hit. The time-traveling world conqueror was getting annoyed. He had the benefit of centuries of advanced technology and devices letting him see the immediate future, and still this aggravating pest, this, this...bug, managed to dodge his every punch, every blast, every move. And how in the accursed name of the Askani witches had he managed to reverse the polarity on his temporal inducer? One moment he was turning the world slowly backwards through time, the next it snapped back to 2010 with a recoil that caused half the devices in his armor to burn out instantly.

"'Spang'? Have you gone ma-"

A disk-shaped, star-spangled object slammed into Kang the Conqueror's head from behind with a solid, melodic 'SPANG!'. The futuristic megalomaniac staggered, grasping his head in pain.

"Stand down, Kang! Your plans have been thwarted, your devices taken down. There's no where to-"

But as Captain America retrieved his mighty shield, the time-marauder pushed a button on his wrist, and in a flash of light and a tiny clap of thunder he was gone.

"...damn."

He was never one for parties. Never knew who to talk to. Even the parties thrown for him had been awkward affairs, from which he would escape as soon as possible.

But being an Avenger had its responsibilities. Like attending victory parties where everyone and anyone who had ever been an Avenger was invited. He thought he'd even seen D-Man, briefly, dressed in clean clothes for once, with a girl who claimed to be his nurse. The guy had mental issues, and Tony had fixed him up with proper insurance and health care in exchange for the homeless hero agreeing to be a spokesman for socialized healthcare. For a heartless (literally) capitalist, Tony sure liked leftist stuff.

But he barely knew any of them. Some of them had even tried to put him behind bars, a few of them more than once. Nobody here was his friend, not really. Captain...no, Steve, now, not Captain. Steve was off doing his own thing somewhere. The new Cap was not a friend. In fact, he felt kind of cold, and that wasn't a crack about the metal arm. Tony Stark was...well, after the whole Civil War mess they weren't as good friends as they had been. The guy had more issues than a daily newspaper. He grabbed a glass of non-alcoholic bubbly and went outside on the balcony.

It was a huge, extended happy family and he felt more isolated than ever before.

Oh, he'd joined up. You didn't say no to Steve Gosh-darn Rogers. It was for the good of all, helping save people, helping out, being treated a little better by law enforcement and getting a bit more of a reputation in the hero community...

...but he rarely felt as if he belonged. Maybe it was because he started out so young, had felt so alienated as a kid and had never really lost that sensation. He'd been an outcast through high school, alone and ignored in college, a loner when working for the Bugle, and a loner when being Spidey. With the only exceptions being working with Veronica, Johnny, Bobby or Felicia. And those times were rare indeed. Maybe because his luck tended to rub off on people. Team up with Spidey, lose your friends and family! There was a recruitment slogan he could use. Right along 'Vote Spidey! The other white meat'.

"Nice night."

He froze. He knew that voice. Deep, husky, coming from a point slightly above his head. Well, and behind him, but still. He relaxed. They were friends, right? "Yeah. Why aren't you in there partying? I think I saw Ben Grimm start up the karaoke machine."

She-Hulk...no, it was Jen. She preferred being called by her real name. ...leaned on the railing next to him, both elbows up front and her hands dangling free. She was wearing her costume, much like everyone else at the party (including his own self).

She looks better in her robe. He blushed, grateful that he was wearing the mask.

"Nah. When old blue-eyes start singing, cats in New Jersey start screaming. Besides, it's a beautiful night."

Not as beautiful as you. Shut up, Pete. You're being sappy and corny again.

Out loud, he said; "You can see the George Washington Bridge from here."

She followed his gaze toward the lit-up bridge, and nodded. She smiled. "Why, you a bridge nut or something? Bridges of Manhattan County?"

He shook his head. "The first woman I ever loved died there."

She froze, then turned to stare at him.

Oh, that was crap, Pete. Now she thinks you set her up for that. Dick move, man. Total dick move.

But instead she just kept looking at him, her face softening a bit. "Was it an accident?"

"No. Norman Osborn." Why on Earth am I telling her this?

She flinched. "So when you guys took him down in Oklahoma a few months back..."

"Yeah. It was a lot more personal for me than for any of them."

She put her hand over his. It was a bit bigger, but still feminine. Long, slender fingers, well-manicured fingernails. Just...on a larger scale. And green. And comfortably warm. "You loved her very much."

He nodded. "I kinda lost myself for a while after that. Almost killed him when I caught him, back then."

Her hand stayed where it was. "Why didn't you?"

He shrugged. "Because...because I've seen his true face. And I don't mean the hysterical, ranting and raving Goblin that got plastered all over the news when Tony unmasked him. The one everyone saw in Oklahoma. And not the manipulative assface businessman Norman Osborn either. No, I've seen what he hides beneath those two."

Leaning forward, but not removing his hand, he stared out at the waters and the bridge and the memories.

"He's insane. Not the typical supervillain insane, either. No, he's got a whole bundle of real, certifiable illnesses that he can't really control no matter what he tells hospital or prison boards. Paranoid schizophrenia. Delusional psychoses (note the plural). Hallucinatory dissociative paranoid episodes. A shrink I used to know actually diagnosed him for me once.

"But under all that is little Norman. A pathetic, selfish, narcissistic little boy who hides under his bully personalities to hurt anyone who says no to him. When the Goblin and Osborn are peeled away, all you get is this...blubbering manchild who has great capacity that he never uses."

He hadn't noticed how his voice had turned angry and sad, but all of a sudden she was holding him from behind much like...no, best not think about that time. Just friends.

Right.

But then they were kissing again, and she was pressing herself against him, and...she grinned into his mouth.

"So...not friends, huh."

He grinned right back, kissed her lips lightly, quickly. "Guess not."

"Wanna get out of here?"

"Oh yeah."


TBC