Chapter One: Promises
Peter Parker was terrible at keeping his word.
He had never considered himself to be a dishonest person before his recent transformation. His aunt and uncle had raised him to believe in following the Golden Rule - "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" - which had always seemed like good advice until now. The secretive nature of his parents, the mystery of their disappearance and deaths, and the shadowy nature of his father's work had led him to greatly value the truth. But it seemed that ever since gaining his powers, he had lost the ability to be honest with anyone in his life.
Promising his Uncle Ben he would pick up his aunt from work.
Promising his teachers that he would put extra time into studying to bring up his grades, which had been steadily declining since his uncle's death.
Promising his Aunt May that he would be careful every time he walked out the door to hunt down the city's criminals.
Promising Captain Stacy as he lay dying that he would stay away from Gwen.
It wasn't that he didn't have the best of intentions. He wanted nothing more than to be a responsible student, to keep his grades up, and- above all- to keep Gwen safe from harm. He wanted to be the successful, normal teenager his aunt and uncle had expected him to become.
But, as Uncle Ben had always chided him: The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Peter sat on his bed, staring down at the mask in his hands. Every night before he pulled the mask on, completing his suit, he wondered what his uncle would say if he knew what his nephew was up to every night. Peter smiled, imagining how that conversation would go. With his aunt, things had been easier- she understood without ever saying a word, though he was not sure how much longer that silent peace could last. But he could not delude himself into believing that Uncle Ben would have accepted this new extracurricular activity as well as she had. If he had the opportunity to sit down with his uncle and explain- really explain- who Spider-Man was and what he did, how would he react? Maybe he would be proud. Definitely concerned. Possibly a little angry. Especially once Peter told him everything. The truth about Spider-Man was not nearly so simple as everyone seemed to believe, though even that was plenty complicated.
Creating his alter-ego of Spider-Man had complicated his life in ways he could never have imagined. The endeavor took up so much more of his time and focus than he had originally planned. The sheer amount of time he spent reviewing police reports and news to plan his patrols, practicing with his new skills, and learning to sew his costume meant that he had little extra time for friends, his aunt, his studies, and sleep. But then there were the questions about his new life that bothered him. They kept him awake at night and haunted his dreams when he did get to sleep. There were no simple answers to most of the questions that plagued him.
Should he put his grade point average above the safety of a city that had somehow fallen under his protection? Was he supposed to sacrifice his future to protect a city that feared and hunted him? How could he ever explain things to Aunt May in a way she would understand? Was it even fair to ask her to? How long could he really keep things up at his current pace?
But there was one question that had a painfully simple answer. He could debate the morality and ethics of all the others all he wanted, but not this one. He could not fool himself, no matter how hard he tried. The problem was not so much in the solution but in the execution.
He had promised a dying man- a good man who had spent his life protecting others and his final moments helping Peter- that he would stay away from his daughter to keep her safe.
There were no loopholes, no false logic that could be exploited, and no weaknesses to be found. Peter knew that anyone close to him would be in danger so long as he continued to act as Spider-Man. When he had given Captain Stacy his word he had meant it. In that moment he had believed he could leave Gwen alone, regardless of how he felt about her, because if was the right thing to do. He had been prepared to make that sacrifice.
For one moment, he had allowed himself to believe that he might actually be a hero.
A hero is great because of the things he sacrifices, Peter had decided. Years of television and books had led him to believe that in order to be a great hero, one must be willing to sacrifice the most important things in life: a job, a relationship- perhaps even his own life. The good things that result from his heroism are merely the byproduct of great sacrifice. But Peter was no hero. His career as a masked vigilante had not started out of a noble desire to sacrifice his time and efforts to protect at city in desperate need of help. No matter how Gwen or Aunt May or the rest of New York thought of Spider-Man, Peter knew the truth. He could never forget the real reason he had created his crime-fighting persona.
He had intended himself as an instrument of vengeance, not justice.
Spider-Man had taken up his mask and taken on the criminal population of New York to find the man who had killed Uncle Ben after Peter had refused to get involved. In a way, Spider-Man had been created to fix the mistakes Peter Parker made: first, Uncle Ben's death, and then the creation of the Lizard. The rest of his so-called heroics that had so endeared him to some of the people of New York were distractions and by-products of his main goal. Others might consider him a hero, but Peter only ever saw his failure to avenge his uncle's death.
Now, in the wake of the catastrophe of Dr. Connors's experiment, he was beginning to embrace his role as a protector of the innocent. The night on the bridge when he had first encountered the Lizard and saved the little boy was the first time he had ever dared to consider the greater possibilities of his new identity. He had the ability to help others beyond himself and it had felt good.
But he wasn't the hero he had thought himself to be that night on the rooftop with George Stacy. Peter had done his best to obey Captain Stacy's final wishes. He had avoided Gwen at school. He chose not to attend the Captain's funeral. He even avoided her street when patrolling the city at night. But then she had come to see him and he had seen how sad she was. It went against every instinct in his body to disappoint her and to cause her greater pain. Seeing her had reminded him of the truth he had tried so desperately to ignore: that he could not bear to be parted from her like this.
After that, it was only a matter of time.
Peter glanced at the clock on his bedside table and decided that it was definitely late enough for him to set out for the night. If he left much later, he would be too late to make his first stop of the night. He didn't like leaving the house in his Spider-Man suit (thatwould be an encounter that would definitely end the silent understanding between him and his aunt), but it was getting late in the year- meaning much lower temperatures at night- and changing out of his street clothes into his suit on some rooftop hidden from the street below was a remarkably uncomfortable experience. Wearing it under his clothes was uncomfortable, and he generally only did that at night as he returned home from his patrol. He pulled the mask on over his head, grabbed his backpack and climbed out of his window. Leaving his house in costume was risky- if someone were to spot him, his secret identity would be revealed. But he was leaving late enough that the dark of night should be enough to keep him hidden from prying eyes.
He leapt out into the night, enjoying the rush of swinging over the ever-crowded streets of the city. It didn't matter how often he went out, he always experienced a rush of adrenaline as he flew over the streets. Swinging from web to web was more than just a mode of transportation to him. It reminded him of the first time he had picked up a skateboard and felt the rush of freedom and possibility. He turned, making his way away from his neighborhood to move uptown, toward Gwen's apartment building where he knew she was waiting for him.
Peter had missed her. He missed talking to her and sharing his secret with her. He missed walking beside her to class with their fingers interlocked. He missed the sound of her laughter and the smell of her shampoo and the feeling of her lips pressed against his. The pain of being separated from her was like a knife in his gut that twisted whenever he saw her. The fact that she had guessed his reasons for avoiding her did not make the situation easier for either of them. He knew Captain Stacy was right, but it did nothing except to augment his guilt at missing her so much.
And then, the dam broke. After weeks of agonizing silence and wrestling with his tortured conscience, he gave in. He whispered the truth in her ear during class: he could not keep his promise to her father.
After that, things had improved. They were both cautious, both frightened of crossing some invisible line between them that, deep down, Peter knew had already been crossed. Their relationship lacked the innocence and openness they had enjoyed before, but they were together again.
On Peter's part, it was selfish, pure and simple. Every second he was with her, he was asking her to risk her safety and defy her father's wishes. And she did. As much as he knew he could not bear to live apart from her, it seemed she felt the same. He kept asking her to put herself in danger and she kept answering yes.
Swinging from the neighboring building, Peter landed lightly on the fire escape outside Gwen's window as he did every night before heading out to patrol the streets. It was almost midnight and he knew she would be going to sleep soon. He tucked his backpack containing his street clothes behind a potted plant, his usual hiding place as he knocked quietly on her window. A moment later the blinds flew up to reveal Gwen, who was already in her nightgown. She smiled at seeing him and held a finger to her lips, reminding him to be quiet so as not to wake her mother or brothers. She pushed the window open and leaned out into the cool night air.
"Why, Spider-Man!" she exclaimed in a whisper with a false sense of surprise. "Fancy seeing you here! Whatever brings you to my neck of the city?"
"What?" he asked, rolling up his mask to reveal his face, playing along with their nightly game. "You were expecting a different masked vigilante outside your window tonight?"
She nodded seriously. "Yes, actually, I was. My othersuperhero boyfriend. Perhaps you've heard of him: Mosquito-Man."
Peter smiled goofily, shaking his head in mock disappointment. "Mosquito-Man? That's the best you've got? That's weak, Stacy."
"Hey, don't knock Mosquito-Man- or 'Mossey,' as I like to call him. His powerful buzz strikes fear into the hearts of criminals everywhere." She quirked the corner of her mouth into a half smile and rolled her eyes at her own ridiculous joke. "Where are you patrolling tonight?" she asked, shifting the conversation in a more serious direction. She asked the same question every night.
"Here and there." His standard reply. "Nowhere too dangerous," he assured her. "Unless, of course, I run into Mosquito-Man, in which case I sense there can be no peace between us.
She nodded, smiling more broadly now, and leaned forward to kiss his cheek. "Be safe," she reminded him, "and don't forget to finish your lab report before biology tomorrow."
"Yes, Miss Stacy," he said rolling his eyes. "Sweet dreams," he wished her, the corners of his eyes crinkling as he smiled at her again.
She smiled in return as she stepped back into her room and slid the window shut. She waved goodbye as she lowered the blinds and he saluted her in reply.
He pulled his mask back down over his face again and jumped from the fire escape, swinging away. His visits to Gwen's window had become a nightly occurrence since the resumption of their relationship. He liked the familiarity of it, even though he longed each night to kiss her as he had on the roof of her apartment building the night he had confessed his identity to her. But there had been little physical contact between them other than holding hands and the occasional kiss on the cheek. They both knew that they were actively defying her father's wishes by being together, and neither wanted to be the first to make a move to solidify that decision. Gwen always asked him where he was going when he set out for patrolling, but he never told her. He did his best to satisfy his guilty conscience that it was the normal, harmless teenage boy who had the relationship with Gwen, not Spider-Man. He tried to tell her as little as possible about his nocturnal activities to keep her as far removed as possible from that part of his life.
Of course, there was another reason for his secrecy that went beyond her personal safety: he did not want to admit to her or anyone else where it was he went every night. He imagined that she believed that he wandered the streets randomly at night, monitoring the city at large for crime. After all, he had never given her any reason to think otherwise. But his nightly excursions were not random. Each one was planned and carefully thought out with the aid of his trusty police scanner. His outings were strategized and researched with the sole intention of bringing him closer to achieving his ultimate goal.
He was looking for the blond man with the star tattoo on his hand.
Months of searching had brought him nothing. He had captured dozens of criminals all fitting the description of the man, but never the one. Stopping those criminals was what had initially gained him a reputation as a crime fighter. Defeating the Lizard and saving Dr. Connors from destroying himself two months prior had given him some satisfaction and had helped to assuage his need for justice, but the police sketch of the man who had murdered his uncle still hung over his computer and haunted him. In the past few weeks he had resumed his nightly patrols, now dedicated almost solely to scouring the city for him. Peter did not allow himself to consider the possibility that the man could have left New York, thereby escaping Spider-Man's reach. He had to be here. It was only a matter of time until he found him. He only had to be patient and keep searching.
What he would do with the man once he found him was a mystery even to himself. He had turned all the other men into the police immediately so that justice could be properly meted out. However, he considered this man to be different- the exception to the rule. Only Peter could properly punish this man for what he had done and the suffering he had caused. Peter could not imagine the sight would be a pleasant one. He did not waste much time thinking about it.
Of course, he had to find the man first. Then he could worry about the rest.
He sailed silently over the streets of New York, scouring the rougher areas for trouble and his prey. After hours of finding neither, Peter resolved himself to accept that it was to be an uneventful evening for Spider-Man and that he should return home to finish the biology lab report Gwen had reminded him of (which, in truth, he had not even begun to work on). A secret identity did not provide many excuses for his frequently exhausted appearance at school.
He stopped off at Gwen's window once more after having plundered some random resident's flower box for a pretty flower, which he left pressed under a waiting rock on her windowsill. Like his nightly visits to her as he headed into the city, this too had become a vital part of his nightly routine. As he returned home each night, he stopped off at Gwen's window to collect his backpack and to leave her a flower pressed under a rock left on her windowsill. That way, though she would have been asleep for hours, he could leave her a message to find each morning to let her know that, no matter what she might hear on the news as she ate breakfast that morning, he had returned safely the night before.
It was 4:00 AM and he was looking forward to a hot shower and a snack when the police radio crackled to life in his hand. The message was garbled, but he was learning to discern the meaning from the dispatcher's gravelly voice.
"… Subject is a white male… approximately thirty years of age… blond hair. Suspected of robbing a minimart on West 59th…"
Without thinking, Peter dropped his bag back onto the fire escape and swung off into the night, praying that he might have the good fortune to bean the cops to the area to look for the suspect, who loosely fit the description of his uncle's murderer. As always, he was overcome by a sense of deadly calm and determination. Fighting crime to protect others, stopping the Lizard from attacking the city- those were his responsibilities. Finding the man who had stolen his uncle's life- that was his destiny.
He travelled quickly, taking every shortcut he knew in order to reach the scene first. Rounding a corner, he found himself in an alley not far from the minimart that had been robbed. It was as good a place as any to begin his hunt for the robber. He scoured the area, doing his best to stay out of sight, but low enough to have a good view of the people on the street, frantically searching as the sounds of the sirens grew louder and louder. He was nearly shaking with anticipation.
Finally, nearly three blocks from the crime scene, Peter saw the suspect running down the sidewalk, ducking around the few pedestrians on the sidewalk, clutching a paper sack- presumably full of money from the robbery- in one hand and a gun in the other. As always when he faced finally confronting the tattooed man, he was immediately mentally transported back to the night his uncle had died. He imagined he could feel his uncle's blood slipping between his fingers, hear his own panicked voice calling for help as his uncle's attacker disappeared into the night. He felt the pain and rage as sharply now as he did that night. Banishing all rational thought from his mind, Spider-Man attacked.
Peter dropped down in front of the fleeing man, cutting off his escape route. The surprised man reared back on his heels and raised his arm to strike at him, exposing his wrist in the process: there was no star. It couldn't be him. Filled with anger and disappointment, Peter struck out ferociously, viciously knocking the man to the ground.
"Stop- stop, please!" the man wheezed, clutching the money to his chest and struggling to drag himself backwards away from Spider-Man with one arm.
"Now, I don't think that's yours- do you?" Peter quipped, taking a menacing step closer to the man.
"Just take the money- it ain't worth it!" the man cried, throwing the paper back at Peter, which flew open as it hit his chest, causing dozens of paper bills to explode out and fly wildly in the air around him.
Momentarily distracted by the man's sudden surrender, Peter cocked his head to the side and began: "Hey, buddy, I-"
The man snapped up from his cowering position, swinging his arm around to point the gun at Peter's chest, firing off three shots in quick succession before the gun clicked empty. Peter barely had time to react to the sudden attack, throwing himself to his left and twisting his torso out of the line of fire. He narrowly avoided the first two shots, but his senses alerted him half a moment early that he could not avoid them all. The third bullet tore into the flesh of his upper arm, leaving a deep graze as Peter's momentum kept him moving to the left. He landed lightly on his feet, staggering slightly as his left hand flew up to cover his wound. Hot blood thrumming in his ears, he approached the man, who was still crouched on the ground trying to fire the gun as though he expected more bullets to magically appear in the chamber.
Peter reached down with his left hand, snatching the man from the ground by his collar and lifted him up with one arm, allowing his feet to dangle several inches above the ground. With his right hand, and ignoring the screaming pain in his arm, Peter grabbed the gun and twisted it around the man's hand, listening to the satisfying snap of the bones in his fingers as the man cried out in pain. The gun slipped from his useless grip a moment later and Peter held it up to inspect it before tossing it to the ground a few feet away.
"I don't like guns," Peter said darkly, raising the man a few inches higher. He glanced over his shoulder at the quickly approaching flashing blue lights of the police. "Something tells me they aren't too wild about scum like you threatening people with them either."
"Screw you, kid," the man choked out, gritting his teeth together in pain.
Peter threw the man away from him like a rag doll, enjoying the crack of the man's head against the bricks more than he should have. He sent several globs of webbing after the man, fixing him in place until the police could cut him down.
"Right back at you," Peter muttered, turning his back on the robber. The sirens were deafening now- the police cars were less than fifty yards away. Peter glanced down at his shoulder which was bleeding freely, making him feel light-headed. It was going to be a long trip back home.
A/N: I will do my absolute best to update this story every week! Thanks so much for reading- please leave a review if you can!