all characters owned by Marvel Entertainment, no copyright infringement intended. This chapter takes place after Spider-Island and before Punisher #8.

Part One


By Norah Winters

The City of New York is unique in that never before has it been so likely that a guy who sneaks out on you in the middle of a date actually has a great excuse and isn't just trying to avoid being spotted by his wife. At least some of them. Some of the time. There are more superhumans, vigilantes, and mutants living in or around New York City than anywhere, any time, else in history; most of them men. And while they tend to date among their own, there are enough of them out there that the chances of that the guy you're seeing spends half of his time looking at the world from behind a mask is fairly likely.

Somewhere between one and ten to one in five women in New York is suspected to have been in a relationship with a meta at one time or another, although admittedly these numbers are probably skewed by Tony Stark and Johnny Storm. Some women, the so-called "cape chasers," even go out of their way to look for them. This, of course, has a serious risks, because you can't really tell what side of the law your man's running out there to fight on, and there's a lot more villains than heroes out there.

Norah Winters took a step away from her Macbook. She honestly wasn't planning it, but she was veering into some dark territory. Supercriminal spousal abuse? Women tortured and killed on suspicious of being wives or girlfriends of costumed vigilantes? Citilines was meant to be a light, fluff column to pay the rent and get her name across between serious news pieces... it was probably better to keep to the silly stories about desperate women standing on bridges all night in hopes that Speedball or whoever would show up to save them.

Anyway, Norah wasn't really in a position to judge. She had put herself in dangerous positions often enough in pursuit of a story; how was that any more responsible than deliberately pursuing suspicious men in hopes that they could be genuinely dangerous. Hell, she couldn't even legitimately look down on the men endangering themselves with the way she treated Randy... or Phil.


He was probably going to get killed following the Hobgoblin... he'd certainly shown up bruised and battered often enough... she was going to get him killed and she... loved him question mark?

She certainly realized she should love him, even if the reality of it was a bit more confusing. Phil was so sweet, so giving, and while Norah expected guys to be thrilled to be with her (kidding, sort of) Phil was often downright giddy. He was also a huge doofus, but so was Parker... although obviously Phil was going to come out short in that competition. And he could also be a crazed animal when she wanted him to be. Which was frequently. Even her stupid mom seemed to approve for once.

So... why was she going so slow? What was it about him that made her nervous?

Norah grimaced. She was supposed to be meeting Phil and his Uncle Ben for dinner tonight, maybe it was time to have a Very Serious Discussion.


High above the air, commuting to his next job, Phil Urich, alias the Hobgoblin, let his thoughts drift.

Lately the jobs Kingpin had for him was mostly glorified drudge work and scare tactics to keep the criminal empire running smoothly. This was problematic, Norah would only stay interested as long as the Hobgoblin was news or, at least, could lead to news. Oh, he could prove himself to her over time, he was sure of that, but she was a capricious girl, and might be distracted before he had the opportunity, he had to make sure Hobgoblin was always a big story. Unfortunately, that usually meant putting himself further into danger, playing the odds and risking exposure.

What he needed was something big. Something that would hold her over for a while. Something that would earn her the Pulitzer she deserved as much as he deserved her. If he could get her that, he knew she'd stay with him forever.

But he'd still have to do something to keep her interested in the meantime.


"No matter what I do tonight," Randy emphasized as he grumpily cast his eyes across the club, "don't let me hook up with any crazy blondes. Anything else, no crazy blondes."

"Could be worse," Harry pointed out, "your girlfriend could cheat on you with your father and get pregnant."

"There's always that," Randy concurred. "How about you, Pete? You doing okay?"

Peter nodded gruffly. This time out with his friends was hard-earned; Harry could only risk visiting the city for a day and even then he could only take some time away from Stanley safe in the knowledge that his infant son was under police (and also Avenger, though Harry wasn't aware of that) protection. Harry needed this guys' evening out, so did Randy... but Peter was really not in the mood compare wounds.

"Hey, I know what you're going through, buddy," Harry assured him, seeing his pain. "I really thought Carlie was the girl for you, too... but you gotta believe there's still someone for you and keep putting yourself out there."

Peter realized Harry was being completely sincere. He wondered if his friend remembered that he had said the same thing after MJ. And when he was having problems with Gwen. "Thanks."

"Yeah man," Randy added warmly, "we're all in this together."

Peter was smart enough to realize that his friends were really asking for his help dealing with their own lives and burdens, but he was still touched. These two guys were two of his best friends (probably very best male friends) in his civilian identity. He suddenly was really glad to be finally spending

some time with them.

Of course, that was the moment the special hidden frequency on his phone went off.

"Sorry guys," Peter said, pulling out his phone. "Gotta take this. Business."

Once he was certain he was out of anyone's earshot, Peter answered the call.

It was Captain America.

"Spider-Man, I need your help," Cap's crisp voice came through. "There's a former Soviet Superweapon loose upstate and you're the only Avenger available to back me up."

Peter pursed his lips. Helping Randy and Harry was important, but "power and responsibility..." He readied his excuses and walked back towards his friends.


From his spot high above the crowd and safely behind bullet-proof, one-way glass and bleeding edge security cameras, Phil Urich watched Peter Parker make his speedy exit. He wondered if Parker realized the club was a front for the Kingpin's operations. Probably not, he snickered, a guy like him wouldn't be willing to frequent such an establishment. Although he clearly looked uncomfortable enough being there, anyway.

For Phil, though, this visit was downright revelatory. He had been trying to find a way to get Spider-Man's attention since he first formulated The Plan and now it came to him. Parker was a known (at least to Norah and his Uncle Ben and therefore (with some lucky snooping) Phil himself) associate of Spider-Man's, and if a friend of Parker's was injured badly, Parker was certain to petition his friend Spidey to investigate.

And if that friend happened to be Norah's ex, so much the better.


Phil cursed inwardly, the time he spent putting his latest plan into action would be more than worth it once everything fell into place, but he couldn't exactly photograph it without giving away his secret identity and now he was half an hour late to pick Norah up with no good excuse and nothing to show for it. He couldn't even do a quick-change, they were meeting his Uncle Ben at the Burgundy Loaf, strictly jacket and tie.

As he struggled his way into a crisp new button-down shirt (bought with crisp new blood money), he comforted himself that at least he still had a 15 minute commute to think of an excuse for Norah.

"Urich! Open the damn door before I kick it in!" Norah shouted.

Phil briefly wondered what he'd done to deserve this, never once considering all the violence he'd done lately.

"Hold on, Norah," Phil stumbled, kicking his Hobgoblin suit under the bed. "I'm not dressed yet."

"Then you're going to this restaurant naked," she shouted, "it's nothing I'm uncomfortable sharing with the neighborhood!"

Phil had barely gotten the latch and the dead-bolt off before Norah kicked the door open, clearly not bluffing about breaking his door down. "You better have a good excuse for making me wait," she said shooting him a look of withering contempt.

Phil looked sheepishly down at his half-assembled outfit. "The truth is..."


"I never learned to tie a tie," Phil said, holding up the limp ends of his black silk tie.

"What?" Norah growled.

"I'm sorry," Phil said pathetically, "I bought a new tie so I could look good for you, but... I've been struggling with it this whole time."

"You can't tie a tie?" Norah said in disbelief.

Phil shook his head. "Uncle Ben was always willing to help me, but he was a lousy teacher. Always ended up tying them himself."

"God," Norah grunted in exasperation. "Watch me."

She pulled her own tie out of her vest and undid it. "Big end on the right, skinny end on the left, big end should be about six inches lower... no, lower," she said in frustration. "You're going to end up too short in the front."

Phil bumblingly followed her instructions. "Now big over little and through... keep it tight and the other way... no, the other way," she said as Phil's tie became an increasing jumble.

"How have you been a man for over two decades and never learned how to tie a tie?" Norah asked with mock incredulity.

And then a little Hobgoblin smile formed in Phil's mind. "Maybe it just took me a while to grow up," he said, grabbing hold of Norah's own tie and pulling her closer to him and kissing her hard.

For a while Norah continued to feign straightening Phil's tie as they kissed, but soon she, had to admit it was essentially ceremonial groping... which inevitably gave way to more traditional groping. As they slid slowly to Phil's floor, Norah realized they were going to miss dinner with Ben.

continued... if you want