Peter was making adjustments to his webshooters while watching the video feed of Harry’s office. It was late in the day and Harry and Felicia were finally wrapping things up to leave. It had been a week since Peter had started investigating Harry. A week of nothing suspicious and constant stress. Then it all changed with a single question.
“Felicia…” Harry frowned at his computer. “Is there anyone still signed in for overtime at the labs?”
His secretary diligently tapped away at her tablet. “No, sir. Is there a problem?”
There was a too long pause from Harry. “No, nothing, just wondering.”
Felicia seemed to find that just as odd as Peter did, but given her position she didn’t question it. She continued with the end of day tasks, but Harry interrupted her.
“It’s been a long week. Why don’t you head out early? I can finish things. I want to work on this report a little longer.” Harry smiled at her.
Once more, Felicia seemed thrown by the comment. “Are you sure?”
“It’s fine. I promise.”
She paused a moment longer before saying, “You’ll remember to eat?”
Harry laughed. “I’m ordering something right now. I won’t keel over before morning. Don’t worry.”
She gave a small but professional smile in return. “Of course, sir.”
“Have a good night.”
“You as well.”
The moment Felicia left, Harry turned back to his computer. He did various things, and Peter wished he could see the screen. He turned to Wade, but he was already pulling up the video surveillance of the labs. Peter all but held his breath waiting for it to connect.
“What’s wrong?” Peter asked, afraid of the answer.
“Someone cut the video feed and wiped everything from the past two hours. It’s just a feed loop.”
Peter swallowed hard and turned back around. On the video, Harry quickly gathered a few things and rushed out of the office. He left behind his briefcase and laptop, carrying only his tablet with him. So he wasn’t leaving the building…
It wasn’t hard evidence that Harry was involved with what Peter was after, but it didn’t look good. Harry dealt with criminals on a daily basis, so there could be a vast number of reasons for his actions. Still, Peter felt sick.
“You don’t have to do this, you know,” Wade said, his voice soft. “I could make something up and hand it over to the Dream Team. They can take it from here.”
“No.” Peter took a deep breath and stood. “No matter how this turns out, if I didn’t do everything I possibly could… I would never forgive myself.”
“Then what next?”
“Next, I need to get into Harry’s office and get to that computer.” Peter walked over to grab his suit. “Can you get me in unseen?”
Wade scoffed. “Who do you think I am?”
Safe in the knowledge that Wade had set up a loop of his own on the cameras, Peter quietly let himself into Harry’s office. All he needed to do was get to the laptop and check to see what the last functions had been. Peter never thought that he’d hope to find evidence of Harry working with crime bosses, but he was. Anything would be better than the alternative.
Peter looked the room over, checking to see if there was anything else that might capture his appearance in the office, or any kind of security trigger. Harry had to be safe, so Peter had to be careful. Seeing nothing out of the ordinary, Peter padded over to the desk.
The laptop sat there, quiet and unassuming, but Peter’s nerves rose sky high just upon seeing it. He reached for it like it was something out of a horror movie. Maybe he should have sent Wade instead. Was Peter really capable of facing whatever he was going to see?
But no. If anyone was going to do this, it had to be Peter.
Taking a deep breath, he pulled the laptop to him and opened it, waiting as the screen blinked to life.
“Fancy meeting you here.”
Peter whirled around to face none other than last person he ever wanted to see again: Black Cat. She was leaning against the door frame, her body posed to draw the eye. Peter did his best to keep his eyes above her shoulders.
“Why are you here?” Peter moved into a more defensive stance, ready for any attack thrown his direction.
Black Cat smirked. “You haven’t looked me up already?”
“Then you know I’m a thief.”
Peter’s mind ran a mile a minute. Was she there for the computer as well? Was she working with Harry? Was she working for the crime lords that Mariah was with? Was Black Cat in Harry’s office to steal information for blackmail?
Black Cat laughed to herself as she casually strolled further into the office, keeping close to the wall. “You look so cute when you’re thinking hard.”
Peter scowled into his mask. “What are you here to steal?”
Lifting one clawed finger, she tapped something against the wall. There was a click and then a panel popped open. Peter watched in fascination as she pulled it away to reveal a safe. It must have been rarely used because Peter had yet to see it pop up on the videos he had reviewed.
“Who do you work for?” Peter asked.
“I work for myself. Always,” she purred. “Who do you work for? I can practically see strings attached to you, puppet.”
Peter unconsciously rolled his shoulders. Did it look like he was being controlled or manipulated? No. She must be messing with him. That was what she did. She distracted until she could attack.
“Why do you know Mariah?”
“You mean the one with the bounty on her head?” Black Cat shrugged. “Easy money.”
Peter balled up his fists. “That’s a lie. Mariah was working with you.”
“Is that so?” Black Cat seemed amused by Peter’s accusations and it left him feeling unsteady.
Had Mariah just tased Peter as an opportunity to run? Had Peter let them get away only for Mariah to end up dead? She was completely off the grid, but it was impossible to tell if she was in hiding or if she’d been killed.
“So you’re a murderer, too?” Peter ground his teeth as he said it.
“I’m just the delivery person.”
“That makes you complicit.”
“Says the man who was also kidnapping her and is now breaking into a wealthy man’s office. What’s wrong?” She stuck her lower lip out in a pout. “Did I kill your payday and now you’re scrambling for what you can find?”
“I’m not like you.”
“Oh? So you haven’t been taking under the table jobs from rich alphas?” The look on her face showed just how confident she was of that statement.
Peter’s stomach dropped to his feet. He’d been so certain about his ability to stay under the radar considering Wade so easily stole the spotlight. He hadn’t considered how much the underground community had begun to notice him. Peter had a reputation as a criminal. That was inevitable, perhaps, but it felt… terrible.
“Don’t fret,” Black Cat cooed. “We all have our vices. I won’t judge. We can take our respective items and leave, hmm?”
“You say that like I can trust you. It’s a little too coincidental that I’ve run into you twice, don’t you think?”
She laughed. “I could say the same of you.” She slid her legs further apart and dropped her center of gravity. “I should warn you, a cat isn’t so easy to catch.”
The tension in the air built, both of them waiting on the other to attack first. Peter wasn’t sure what to think. Was it all just coincidence or was Black Cat trying to trick him? Was she trying to trap Peter or was she trying to avoid getting captured for her crimes?
Most importantly, was Mariah still in danger?
“Where is Mariah?” Peter demanded.
“Why are you so concerned?” Black Cat returned.
Peter opened his mouth to respond, but he stopped when his Spidey sense went off. He focused on Black Cat, waiting to dodge the attack, but she wasn’t moving. It occurred to Peter too late that the warning wasn’t in regards to her.
The temperature in the room spiked abruptly, along with too bright light and a boom with enough force to knock them both off their feet. Peter’s heightened senses couldn’t handle how loud or bright the blast had been. He curled in on himself, clutching his head and shouting, but he couldn’t hear himself. Tears ran from his eyes as his vision tried to recover.
The smell of smoke filled his nose, but he couldn’t determine where it was coming from. His sense of orientation was completely compromised. If he hadn’t already been laying on the floor, he wouldn’t have been able to tell which way was up. All he could focus on was trying to convince his hands to not rip his mask off. That it wouldn’t help how deaf and blind he was.
Not to mention, it hurt. His ears throbbed with pain and it felt like needles were being slammed into his eyes. A headache built hard and fast in his skull. The world felt like it was spinning, and his stomach flipped in response. He swallowed back bile. The last thing he needed was to puke inside his mask.
Fuck. What now? The only explanation for what was happening was a flash grenade. Black Cat hadn’t had one — Peter had been focused on her when the grenade went off. It also would have benefited her in any way since she would have also been caught in the blast.
So it was someone else. Harry? Security detail? Shit. Were they in the room? Peter tried to focus on his spidey sense to see if there were any incoming attacks. He didn’t particularly feel anything. Was the flash grenade rigged? Had Black Cat triggered it when she opened the secret panel to the safe? Or was it rigged for anyone who entered the office?
Shit, shit, shit. Peter gritted his teeth and shouted in wordless frustration into the ear ringing silence around him. How long before he could stand up? Or hear? Or see? He was completely helpless and vulnerable.
It terrified him.
Peter pulled at the neck of his suit. It felt like he was suffocating. He wanted to pull the mask off so desperately, but he knew that he couldn’t. Anyone could be in the room. His identity would be discovered if he didn’t keep it together. Everyone that worked closely with Harry knew who Peter was.
Stay calm, damn it. Just breathe. In and out. In. Out. In. Out.
Time crawled by and Peter shook with useless adrenaline. He wanted to run. He wanted to fight. He could do neither. All he was capable of was just laying there and hoping he would recover faster.
At long last, he was able to open his eyes to something other than bright white nothingness. It looked like there was a dark filter on everything from the heavy afterimage of the flash, but at least he could see some of what was around him. The most prominent image was the light being cast from the papers in the shredding bin — they were on fire.
After some more rapid blinking, Peter was able to make out the general area of the room. He pulled himself up onto his hands and knees before reaching for the desk. Clinging to the sturdy frame for dear life, he managed to haul himself up into a mostly upright position.
Peter fumbled across the surface of the desk, but he never came in contact with the laptop. He stumbled around the side, leaning heavily against the wood to keep his balance. Maybe the blast had knocked it into the floor? But no. There was nothing there. It was gone.
He cursed, but it sounded like nothing more than a muffled echo inside his head. So for good measure he cursed louder and more eloquently.
Squinting around himself Peter looked for Black Cat, but she was missing. He could just barely see claw marks along the wall from where she must have used it to find her way out. Had she taken the computer? And if so, why?
Either way, Peter needed to get out sooner rather than later. He attempted to walk forward but stumbled. He went sprawling back to the floor with more creative cursing. Peter sucked in air, smelling more smoke and—
Boots came to a stop in front of Peter’s face and strong arms wrapped around his torso. The smell of alpha, leather, and gun oil surrounded Peter and he focused on it, reveling in the only sense he still had that wasn’t completely fucked over. Wade pulled Peter’s arm around his shoulders and took a solid hold of Peter’s waist.
With Wade’s help, they managed to make it out of the building and away without further incident. By the time they finally stopped in a dark alley to take a breather, Peter was mostly recovered. A low buzz still hung around in his ears, but at least he could see again. He leaned against the bricks of a building and tried to keep himself together.
It didn’t last long.
“Fuck!” Peter whirled around and threw a punch at the wall. Brick and plaster crumbled around his fist. Peter sucked in air as he tried to force himself to calm back down.
Wade stood by silently, waiting for Peter to let off steam. It took a while for Peter to get control over the need to lash out at his surroundings. He let his head drop forward to rest against the dirty wall in front of him.
“How did you know to come get me?” Peter asked, his voice sounding a lot calmer than he felt.
“The system pinged a motion sensor alarm that was independent of the mainframe. It was a remote signal. It didn’t alert security or send a message to the police, so I was worried about what it would trigger.”
A flash bomb was what it triggered. Peter cursed again for good measure.
“On the upside, the motion sensor was attached to a pen camera.” Wade pulled said camera from his glove. “We can look it over and see what it caught.”
That was at least one good thing. “Is the hit still out for Mariah Crawford?”
“So far as I know.”
“We need to check that as soon as possible.” Peter needed to know that she was alive. He really, really couldn’t handle it if she wasn’t.
Whatever was in Peter’s voice caused Wade not to argue for once. “It was some shit luck, Baby Boy. It’s not your fault things went sideways.”
Peter took a deep breath and pushed away from the wall. “Come on. We’ve got work to do.”
They watched the pen cam video together. Wade was able to hear the conversation between Peter and Black Cat, along with the oddly similar opinions the two had of each other. Hearing that back made even less sense to Peter than it had the first time.
The camera whited out and the sound crackled as the flash grenade overpowered the recording capabilities. The camera took a few seconds to adjust, and then Peter was watching himself writhe on the floor along with Black Cat. They had both been shut down by that grenade.
Then someone walked through the door and Peter stopped breathing. Harry was carrying a gun like he knew how to use it as he side stepped inside with fluid motions. He appraised the room in silence, walking closer to Peter and Black Cat, keeping the gun at the ready. However, he froze halfway to them and stared at them both for a long few moments while Black Cat dug her nails into the floor and Peter clawed at the edges of his mask.
At last Harry darted forward, closed the laptop with a snap, and then left with it. Black Cat clawed her way up the wall into a mostly upright position. She used that method to drag herself out the door while Peter tried to pull himself to his knees. There was nothing much else to see after that besides Peter’s useless flailing for the missing computer and Wade’s rescue.
What was even more confusing was that even after Harry had left, the police hadn’t been called. Perhaps Harry thought it was related to his illegal dealings and didn’t want the police involved. But Harry’s private security hadn’t been informed either. They discovered the office disaster on their own when the trash fire set off the sprinklers. Harry had been very brief in his response to the report sent to him
So why? Why had Harry left both of them behind? Why had he just grabbed what Peter wanted and left? Harry had the perfect opportunity to shoot them both, even if just to incapacitate them and claim it was self defense. There was no reason to leave them so that they could escape and return another day.
Harry’s actions made no sense. Nothing made any sense.
“Is there something I’m not seeing?” Peter asked, though to no one in particular.
“There has to be a puzzle piece we’re missing,” Wade agreed.
Peter scrubbed at his face before standing up and pacing the limited area of Wade’s apartment. “What about Mariah?”
“The hit is still active. I pinged it just in case, but there’s been no confirmation of completion. So at the very least, nobody has turned her over to Norman.”
“Do you think Black Cat would really turn her over?”
“Her track record would say no, but morals change a lot in the face of money.”
“I need to know about the deal she made,” Peter decided. “Whether she is or isn’t a puzzle piece will be easier to determine if we have that information.”
“To be honest, that might require us sneaking into their headquarters and looking at her physical file. There just isn’t anyone who knows about it or any digital copy of the agreement.”
Peter turned to make eye contact with Wade. “You ready to break into a place like that?”
Wade grinned. “You kidding me? It sounds like a blast. When do we leave?”
“No time like the present.”
Muscling one’s way into a criminal headquarters was a lot easier than it sounded when one was accompanied by Deadpool and his arsenal of weapons. In fact, Deadpool had simply walked in with a sash made of grenades and let everyone know that none of the pins needed to be pulled if everyone would just leave the building. Quite a few people took that option and booked it.
The ones that stayed were easily subdued with Peter’s webbing. Only a few people needed to get shot, and nobody needed to die. Wade made a valiant effort to not look disappointed about the lack of destruction. Peter found it a good thing on multiple levels. One, he didn’t want to kill anyone. Two, the less damage, the less of a grudge they’d hold against him for breaking in.
They had a general layout of the building, and Peter made his way to the office that contained the filing cabinets and banker boxes full of folders. It seemed like the best place to start looking for what he needed.
The door was locked and reinforced. Peter kicked it in without issue, leaving a large dent in the middle of it as it clung to the doorframe at an awkward angle. Someone was in the room, but spidey sense allowed Peter to dodge the bullet without problem. He webbed the shooter to the wall a moment later.
“Watch the door,” Peter ordered.
“On it!” Wade happily agreed. He seemed to get a rush out of situations like the one he was in. There was a manic energy hanging around him that he was barely containing. Perhaps months ago, seeing that would have bothered Peter. It didn’t so much anymore.
Peter walked over to the filing cabinets first, hoping there would be some kind of organization to them. He flicked through the files, getting an idea of how they were organized and then moved to the next drawer.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing in my building?!”
Peter glanced up at the man stuck to the wall. It belatedly occurred to Peter that the person was the one in charge. It made more sense now why the people in the hallway were reluctant to run when Wade and Peter approached them.
“I’m looking for information, not a fight.” Peter continued his search.
“And this is how you go about it?” the Don asked.
“You would just hand over what you know?”
“We could have made a deal,” the Don growled through his teeth.
“I’m not interested in deals.”
“Oh, I bet. You’ve got a reputation for taking whatever you want.”
Peter glanced up at the man for only a moment before going back to his search. That was the second time someone had mentioned his reputation. Was he really that well known? And what exactly were people saying about him?
“I’m just trying to keep someone alive.” Peter moved to the next cabinet and continued his search. Mariah had made her deal so long ago that her folder was likely in one of the boxes, but those would take more time to search through. Though her file might have been pulled since she was assigned to Osborn so recently.
“That’s butting into our business.”
“She’s your person, and you managed to put a bounty on her head.”
“You’re talkin’ about Mariah.”
Peter paused and looked over at the Don. “Do you know where she is?”
“Why? So you can turn her over for a payday?” The Don had that aura of confident authority about him, which looked a little funny considering he was stuck to the wall and immobile.
“I told you, I’m trying to keep her alive.”
“Sure. We’re all honest and upstanding citizens here with no need to lie.”
Peter’s impatience flared, but he managed to contain himself. There was no point in trying to get any information out of the man. Solid evidence would be more truthful and be a bigger benefit to what Peter needed to know about Mariah.
“You think I have a clean spreadsheet of where all my associates are?” the Don mocked.
“Why is Mariah working for you?” The question popped out of his mouth before he could stop it. He knew it was pointless to ask, but irritation was getting the best of him. It’d be nice if at least one thing could go his way. He slammed the drawer shut a little too hard and moved to the next cabinet.
“Why does anyone work for me? You need a favor, you make a deal.”
“And I’m sure none of those favors started with you threatening them first.”
“Like you got any room to talk.”
Peter frowned. He wasn’t like them. “Knowing why Mariah is working for you wouldn’t help me in tracking her down if all I wanted was the bounty.”
“Doesn’t help you keep her alive either.”
Peter gripped the handle of the next drawer hard enough that the metal creaked and bent. “It’s not just her life I’m trying to save.”
“You know what doesn’t work? Someone talking like a hero while acting like a villain. My helpful suggestion to you is that you should pick one.”
Peter’s fingers froze in mid-movement. That hit a lot closer to home than he cared for. Peter didn’t consider himself a villain, but he also didn’t consider himself a hero. What exactly did that make him? He fought against his need to be a hero all the time, and he enjoyed the mercenary work he had chosen to do with Wade.
Yet… There he was, still trying to save lives, still trying to make a difference. But he was breaking all the rules to do it.
What did that make him?
“Listen, I don’t appreciate being pulled into the middle of your little alpha dominance fest. How about you stop trying to drag others into it, too?”
Peter looked over at the Don for a long moment. “Is that what you think this is?”
“That’s what it always is with you alphas.”
The Don was a beta. Peter could smell it on him. That wasn’t unusual. When one couldn’t get ahead in life because all promotions went to an alpha, sometimes climbing the ranks in a more illegal manner seemed like a good option. In the underground gender didn’t make as much of a difference, as long as you had the right kind of reputation. Of course, this ended up with betas carrying the stigma of supposedly being more prone to criminal acts.
Yet another way alphas forced people into bad situations and then blamed them for it.
Pulling off his glove, Peter stalked over to the Don and gripped the man’s hair hard, letting his wrist sit close to the beta’s nose. The Don glared at Peter, keeping up his air of righteous indignation. He may have been stuck to a wall, but he refused to give up his fight. Peter could respect that.
“What do I smell like to you?” Peter asked.
It took a moment, but finally the Don’s eyes widened a little. He tried to subdue his reaction to the knowledge that Peter was an omega in order to keep what control he could over the situation. “You smell like you’ve got a lot of issues.”
“Would it bother you if omegas started dying en masse? Because it would bother me.”
The Don held eye contact, trying to determine what Peter was getting at. “How does that relate to Mariah’s bounty?”
“It relates to the Osborns. If she knows something, I need that information.”
“Look, all I needed was someone with enough medical knowledge to pass as a nurse. I wanted Norman dead. I was guaranteed she’d have the balls to do it. She didn’t. End of story. Some people just can’t kill when it comes down to it.”
“You don’t even remember why she was on retainer, do you?” Peter asked, incredulous.
“I run a big operation. You want me to remember the details of every person in it?”
Peter made a sharp sound of irritation and paced away, trembling as he tried to control his temper. He yanked his glove back on as his eyes flicked around the room and landed on the desk shoved in the corner. It was covered in a mess of paperwork. There was a stack of items in a wire basket labeled “to file” sitting on one corner. He walked over to it and looked through the folders.
Sure enough, Mariah Crawford was in there. Peter pulled it out with no small amount of relief and excitement. He opened it up to scan through the contents. The most recent documents were in reference to the paperwork they had faked with the nursing company. Someone working in HR with that company had entered Mariah into the system and then assigned her to Norman Osborn.
Flipping further back, Peter noticed that Mariah’s medical knowledge hadn’t come from nursing or medtech school. She was a research scientist and advanced in her field. Peter looked over the information in more detail but it showed no incident that would require help. No accusations of theft from colleagues or problems with her superiors.
Then why had she sought underground assistance?
Turning more pages brought up another name: Chelsea Crawford. There were pages of documentation and falsified records. The group had wiped Chelsea’s past and remade her as a decently educated beta. But that made no sense. They had her original birth certificate. She was born an omega and sister to Mariah. Even if they changed all of her legal information to beta, she would still obviously smell like an omega.
Peter stared at the copy of the ID they had made for her. She was thin and her eyes looked hollow and sad, her thin hair hanging limp to her shoulders. Mariah had given up a lot just to have on public record that her sister was a different gender. What exactly had happened?
It wasn’t the puzzle piece Peter was looking for. It was just another question in a series of them. Maybe he could track Chelsea down. Maybe he could pull the truth from her. Maybe… hopefully… it would finally lead to some answers.
Peter took pictures of everything in the file before neatly putting it all back and tossing it into the wire basket.
“We’ll be out of your hair now. Thank you for your cooperation.” Peter gave a lazy wave as he headed towards the door.
“Hey! You’re just going to leave me like this?!”
“Give it a few hours.”
Peter and Wade made their way back out of the building, the Don’s shouts of protest following them down the hallway.