This is set in the Raimi movies universe, not long after Spider-Man 3. Pairings you can expect: Peter-Harry, Peter-MJ, and Ursula-Peter.
It had been two months and three days since an epic superhero battle had broken out in New York, but most people had forgotten it by now. People tended to forget about these things pretty quickly; after all, they had people to look after and bills to pay and jobs to do, and you didn't have time to think about epic superhero battles every hour of your waking life. Not even if you knew most of the truth, which only a few people did.
"I'm writing a book," Ursula said.
Her father looked up, grunted, and went back to watching TV. After a few minutes, he walked over to her desk and stood over her.
"Because he lives next door to us," Ursula didn't say. What she said was, "I don't know."
Her father returned to the television and she continued to write. It was hard to make the thoughts come- for what she knew wasn't exactly ancient history, but still happening all around her. And indeed, a few minutes later Peter knocked on her door. She opened it; her father wasn't listening.
"There's gonna be a delivery later," Peter told Ursula. "Just so you know."
Ursula noticed his downcast eyes: she suspected what the delivery was but she didn't want to say. "Okay. You alright?"
Peter nodded, a very slight nod. And then opened up to her. "It's Harry's stuff, my friend Harry's. Turns out he left everything to me."
"Oh," said Ursula. And then, "Do you want...do you want me to help you sort it out?"
Peter looked at her. It was a look of strange adoration, and while she knew it was platonic, a look a brother might give to an younger sister, it made her heart flip over.
"Yes," Peter said. "I'd like that."
When MJ arrived, she gave Ursula a small smile- Ursula smiled back. But then, when MJ and Peter hugged, she shrank back and felt out of place. Until Peter touched her arm.
"This won't be easy, it really won't," he said. "I mean, for me and MJ. So thank you. Sincerely."
Ursula's arm quivered, although she didn't wish it to. "S'okay."
MJ gave her an uncertain look. "I..." she began, and then looked to Peter. Peter cleared his throat. "You never met Harry," he said, "but you read about him in the news, right?"
"Yeah," Ursula said. She had already offered her condolences, but she felt like she should do it again. "I'm sorry. I really am."
"A lot of what the papers said wasn't true," MJ spoke up quietly. Ursula looked at her and noted that she seemed to have aged about ten years since she'd last seen her. "He was our friend. And Spider-Man's friend."
Ursula just nodded. "Um," she said.
"We'd better get on with it," Peter said. He lifted one of the many boxes stacked in the hall, and a basketball bounced out and thudded its way down the stairs before coming to a stop against the door. MJ and Peter looked at each other: Ursula started down the stairs to retrieve it. When she returned, Peter and MJ had disappeared into Peter's room. She followed them and handed the ball back. Peter seemed lost in thought.
"We'll donate a lot of this stuff," he said. "To the children's shelter. I'll keep the photographs, the personal stuff..." He bounced the ball against the floor, and Ursula observed the way it stuck to his hand. "No-one else will want it. There was no-one, no aunts or uncles or anything..." It was almost like he was the only one in the room, talking to himself. "Only me. Only us." A bell rang downstairs. "S' the rest," he said vaguely. "I'll go get it." He left the room and the basketball rolled into a corner. There was silence for a few seconds, and then MJ spoke.
"How long have you known?"
"For two months," Ursula answered. "Since the whole Sandman thing."
"S'pose I should've guessed," she said sadly. "S'pose...you'd have to have known something was going on, living here."
"I didn't tell anyone," Ursula said. "Not even my dad."
"Thank you," MJ said. For a minute Ursula thought she was going to hug her, but she didn't. "Don't tell Peter you know. He'd only worry."
In the silence that followed, the two women heard Peter climbing upstairs with more boxes, and MJ went downstairs to help him. Ursula was left alone. She turned to the nearest box: it was full of paints, and paper, and a sketchbook. She moved the paints aside, but opened the sketchbook. She wasn't sure why she did such a thing. Her mind briefly flashed back to seventeen years ago, back in Russia, her father flinging her mother's books on a great bonfire in the garden, unread, unopened.
She examined the drawings, flicking through them quickly. There were landscapes, there were doodles...and there was Peter, crouched beneath a demon-like figure. She turned the page. There was Peter again, and again, and again. And there, on the second-last page, drawn with a shaking hand, he was naked-
She dropped the book like it was in flames. Peter and MJ came in. She shoved it behind the paints, trying to pretend she hadn't seen it- and it worked, the other two didn't seem to notice anything wrong.
"These are the last boxes," Peter said. He laid them gently on the floor. "Okay. This won't be fun. All Harry's personal stuff, we'll put to one side, I'll go over it later." And Ursula reddened, suddenly deeply aware of her terrible intrusion. "Clothes and books and things, they'll go to the shelter. Documents and clippings and stuff will- Ursula, are you okay?"
"Yeah," Ursula said. She felt terribly guilty. "I, um, I'm fine."
As Peter kept talking, MJ squeezed her hand. Ursula was touched by the gesture, but suspected she didn't deserve it. And then suddenly Peter was placing a box into her hands. "Here," he said. "I'm not sure what to do with all this. Electronics and stuff..." He took an iphone out. "Ursula, do you want this?"
"Oh...no." She stared at the floor. "I don't think it'd feel right."
"I don't think he'd have minded. And you could use a new one."
"Your old one is ancient," MJ said, before biting her lip, clearly suddenly worried she'd drawn attention to the Ditkovich's poverty. "I mean, um. Harry really wouldn't have minded."
But Ursula shook her head. Peter put the device down, and he reached for the sketchbook- and then the sound of sirens blared through the air. He stopped.
"I, um." He looked at MJ, and then at Ursula. "Um." Suddenly, he pulled his own cell phone from his pocket. "I just got a message," he said with false brightness. "My boss. I need to nip out for a few minutes- see what he wants- okay?"
"Okay," recited both women.
"I won't be long." He reached down to MJ, kissed her cheek, and hurried away. MJ and Ursula heard the door slam- and MJ just sighed.
"It's gotten worse since Harry died. For him and for me. His hero complex went way into overdrive, and I'm just scared."
Ursula nodded. "I'm sorry."
"You know everything that's gone on, don't you? About Harry. And what happened two months ago."
"Yeah," Ursula said. "I, um, I read the papers. All of them said, he came to save Spider-Man with his dad's stuff- and his dad was the Green Goblin- and he died at that building site, something killed him."
MJ pulled herself off the floor, and sat on the bed, and gestured for Ursula to sit next to her. "I'll tell you everything, if you swear not to tell anyone else."
MJ stared out of the window, possibly looking out for Peter, as she recounted the story. "It happened when we were in high school, when we were visiting this lab- they were doing experiments- anyway, that's not the important part. This spider they were experimenting on, it escaped and bit him and that's what happened, that's how he got his powers." Ursula suspected that that still wasn't the important part. "Peter lost his uncle when he was growing up, he lost so many people. And then there was Harry's father, he wasn't a nice guy to begin with- but then he started experimenting on himself for some reason, and went insane, and started killing people. He killed his company's competitors, tried to kill Peter's aunt, lots of horrible things. Peter stopped him, because that's what heroes do. And Harry didn't know what had happened, he just knew Spider-Man killed his dad. Except he didn't, he got himself killed. And then Harry found out who Peter really was, and he sort of went insane himself- until the bad things started to happen again. This guy- this guy I didn't know- he went to kill Peter, but Harry got in the way. Just like that."
Ursula nodded, slowly. MJ continued.
"There was the Sandman, too, but he's gone now. I don't know where he went, Peter doesn't either, but nothing more's been heard from him. The man who killed Harry- he died, but even now no-one's reported him missing, which says a lot I guess. And that's it really. That's the story."
Ursula swallowed. "I..." She wasn't sure what to say. "Thanks, for telling me."
"It's okay. But you can't tell Peter." She sighed. "And here we all are. Going through our dead friend's stuff. What an ending to the story, huh?"
Ursula nodded, for the final time. "Peter's not coming back for a while, is he?" she said.
"No. He's not."
"I..." The guilt was eating her up inside. "There's a bit of the story you might not know." She picked up the sketchbook and handed it to MJ. "It's not my business, I shouldn't have looked..." There was a crash from her father's room, god knew what he was doing, and she took that as a chance to disengage. "I oughta..." She ran.
Her father was sulking in his room, surrounded by piles of DVDs. "Shelf fell," he said, when she came in. "How are things going, with the dead friend?"
"I don't know."
"Aha, maybe now is your chance! With the boy. They are sad! They are on verge of breakup! You must swoop in, make yourself heard! That is how I met your mother."
Ursula shook her head at him. "They're not breaking up. They've just got stuff to deal with."
"Stuff! Always stuff with younger people. And him never having job, never having money, what do you and those other girls see in him..." But Ursula was tuning him out. She tuned him out for a good few minutes, until she thought she heard a thud, somewhere in the building- it had to be Peter coming back.
"I gotta go, Dad."
She wandered back to the other room, very slowly, even spending a minute checking the phone. She paused outside the door, making sure Peter was really there. He was, and he and MJ were whispering, and she didn't want to pry any more, she'd done enough, so she knocked-
"Come in," said MJ.
When she went in, Peter looked different- different, sad and lost. And he jumped up, on seeing her. "You shouldn't have looked at that thing," he said accusingly.
Ursula had simply never considered that one day, under some circumstances, Peter might be angry with her. She was struck dumb for just a second. "I-" she said. "I know. I'm sorry."
"She didn't mean to," MJ said, at the same time Peter said, "Wait, I'm not mad...I'm not mad at you. It's just, I feel the same, I feel like we invaded his privacy."
"I did," said Ursula.
"I'm sure one of us would've done," MJ said gently. "These are Peter's things now, after all, not Harry's."
"I didn't mean to yell," Peter said, even though he hadn't. "I just...I never knew. It's so stupid!" Ursula noted the book was next to him, and he had one hand on it, his thumb stroking it tenderly. She wondered if he even knew he was doing that. "There's other drawings in there, even- even worse- different ones." The discomfort in his voice was painful to hear. Peter's hand left the book and clutched MJ's hand instead.
"He loved me," Peter said. "He loved me in...in that way."
"Peter-" said MJ.
"I didn't know- this is a big deal and I didn't know. He's dead, and I didn't know!" Ursula shrunk into the background, knowing this wasn't her domain. MJ didn't shrink at all. "He was dying, and he didn't tell me. Why didn't he tell me?"
"Because it was more important to him that you were his friend," MJ said steadily. "Whatever he thought, whatever he felt, you were more important. Okay?"
"Okay," said Peter slowly.
"Right," said MJ. "We've still got work to do. Important work. Let's do it."
When night fell, Ursula left, but MJ stayed in the room with Peter. She gave Ursula a sisterly hug, told her not to worry about anything and closed the door- and from the other side, Ursula thought she heard the thump of someone jumping on the windowsill. And the thud of a window closing.
She retreated to her room- her father was asleep. She wanted to sleep too, she had a horrible uneasy feeling of being thrust into a world she wasn't ready for, that wasn't even hers. She was quiet, and she was passive, and things happened to her, she didn't make them happen. But she had opened the book. She had let something out...
When she fell asleep, she dreamed about her mother- except she didn't really, she dreamed of the template that was her mother. She'd never known her, after all. She imagined a kind, smiling woman one minute- and the next, a forlorn ghost. She saw her as a writer, and an artist, and a scientist and a superhero, knowing she wasn't really seeing her at all...
Then Peter showed up, as he often did. She'd seen him before in her dreams. (In fact, she usually saw him the same way she now knew Harry had.) She watched him as he walked towards her, the world shimmering and turning into a romantic Paris cafe, instead of a deathtrap New York apartment. Herself shimmering and turning into something else. But something was wrong, something was happening, she was waking up...
Something had happened, was still happening, something had fallen down. She thought for a second that it was the DVD shelf again, but it was loud and ongoing and near. Next door. Something was happening to her friends...
She stood up and ran, still in her nightdress, stumbling out of her room. The building's one fire alarm started to go off as she flung open Peter's door. Smoke poured out, and surrounded her, and she heard Peter shout, his voice high and desperate.
"Ursula! Get out of here!"
She stumbled backward, and started shouting for her dad. He didn't show, of course he didn't. Then Mary Jane screamed, and that was what made Ursula take a breath and run into the room, knowing even as she did so that she'd be too late. She was. The front window was smashed into pieces, and the back half of the room was on fire...
"Dad!" she screamed.
Mary Jane was lying next to the bed, blood in her hair. Ursula knelt down next to her, choking on the smoke, and desperately afraid.
"MJ, wake up!"
She didn't. Ursula shook her.
Someone clunked a hand on her shoulder and shoved her aside. It was her father, his face mad with panic- something she'd never seen on him before. He practically threw her towards the door.
"Go! Go, girl! Call the ambulance!"
She stumbled out to the phone. As she did, the smoke caught in her throat and a coughing fit started, so painful it made her eyes water. Peter does this every day, she realised in horror, and she reached for the phone, and it rang.
She picked it up, still coughing, and had to shout to hear her own voice. "Hello?"
"Ursula," came Peter's voice. How had he known she'd pick the phone up? "You must be scared. I know you're scared! But don't call the police, you can't trust anyone right now, understand?"
"What?" The smoke was dying down. "Peter?"
"Ursula, I'm-" There was a shout in the background. Was he beating someone up while still on the phone? "-I'm in trouble. Is MJ okay?"
She wanted to lie but she knew the price of that. "No, she's- she's hurt."
There was a crunch, on the other end of the phone. "It's going to be up to you and your father now," Peter shouted. "You have to help MJ, you need to get her somewhere where they'll ask no questions. Got it?"
"Yeah." The smoke alarm blipped off, although whether because the smoke had cleared or because the battery was dead she didn't know. "Peter, I gotta know where you are."
"I'm in the back of a truck," Peter said. "There was one guard, but there isn't anymore, I knocked him out. There were all these guys, trained guys, they had guns and explosives and they're obviously not concerned about who gets in the way of them. They must need me for something, because they took my computer too. The one where I write about science experiments and stuff. And there's Oscorp equipment in here...stuff from Harry's company, stuff I think his people were working on." His voice was a whisper. "Ursula, I need you to remember all this in case I don't come back."
"I'm going to try and get out of this truck, but I'm pretty sure the door's booby-trapped, and the guard is coming round. I'm going to try...I'm going to try so hard...but I'm only one guy."
"Peter, I know you're Spider-Man!"
"Oh thank God," said Peter. Then something cracked, and the line went dead.