Peter sat in the quiet of the small town library, staring at the pages of the high school yearbook before him. Chelsea Crawford had been a popular and active person. An honor student who participated in many different clubs, she ended up with multiple photos throughout the book. The ID photo Peter had seen in her file was barely recognizable by comparison.
In high school, Chelsea had been happy, social, and ambitious. She was voted the friendliest person in her year and every picture of her showed her to be smiling and full of life. Her senior quote stated how much she wanted to become a teacher. There was even an interview segment to go with the picture they’d taken for her Friendliest Person title.
I know it’s a cliche for someone like me to aspire to be a teacher, but that’s exactly why I want to pursue it. I want to teach kids to follow their dreams and to never give up hope. The world is an amazing place full of adventures to be had. Everyone should have the opportunity to seek them out!
Reading that hurt, because beside the yearbook was a newspaper, two years old, showing Chelsea’s obituary. It didn’t state the cause of death, but they had her labeled as a beta. A lot had happened between Chelsea’s graduation and her death.
Digging around in the Crawfords’ hometown resulted in a few more bits of information. Chelsea had dropped out of college in her second year, after which all activity on her social media pages ceased. Before her death, Chelsea had been admitted to a care facility. It had taken some time, but Peter managed to discover that the cause of her admittance was sexual trauma and suicidal depression.
That lead Peter to looking up information concerning the time period when Chelsea had left school and moved back home. There was one campus article about how “the charges of the assault case had been dropped.” Though there were no further details to be found, Peter could make his guesses on what happened. It wasn’t all that unusual of an occurrence for small town omegas in big city colleges.
A party, a pushy alpha, a tipsy omega that thought it was all just friendly flirting. And in the end, the alpha had walked away without repercussions.
Why Mariah thought that changing Chelsea’s gender on paper would help was still beyond Peter. However, it gave Mariah motive. Watching her sister go from the happy and hopeful person she had been to the scared and hurt person she became would have affected Mariah.
So a bitter scientist with a dead omega sister that had ties to a crime syndicate? It was a good profile. The problem was, Mariah had no contact with Harry nor access to Oscorp as a whole. Her job only allowed her access to Norman’s penthouse. Peter had been inside Mariah’s home and there had been no personal lab setup.
If Mariah was behind the gas, how had she obtained the cartridges and where had she developed the formula? If she really was working with Black Cat, was there a lab somewhere else, funded by stolen money?
Black Cat also proved that she had access to the Oscorp building. So if they were working together, that could possibly give them all they needed. Access to the canisters, high grade chemicals, and the ability to support a hidden lab somewhere in the city.
Of course, Harry also fit that profile. He had killed the cameras for the labs, had his office rigged to protect his information, and had access to absolutely everything in Oscorp. In fact, his own assistant had pulled the canisters out on camera—
Peter stood up so fast that the chair under him clattered to the floor. An old man sitting in the corner turned to glare at and shush Peter.
Felicia! What did they know about her? They’d made up a profile on her, sure, and she had a clean record. But Peter had been tying everything she did to Harry. What if she wasn’t following Harry’s orders? What if Harry was suspicious of her and that was the cause of their discussion about the labs?
Everything that Harry could access, Felicia could too. She was known for having the authority to enter any room in the building unquestioned and issue directions. She made the work orders and the schedules. She could have given tasks out little at a time and created what she wanted without any lab personnel knowing what they were contributing to.
And most importantly, Felicia had put the canisters in her purse.
Stupid! Stupid, stupid, stupid! Why hadn’t he looked into that long ago? Why was it just now slapping him in the face? She hid so well behind Peter’s anxiety over Harry. His obsession with Mariah had all been to try and find a reason for Harry to not be behind it.
Felicia was doing everything under their noses and getting away with it.
Scrambling to close down and put away everything, Peter was running out of the library less than a minute later. He pulled out his phone and called Wade.
“I’ll be back in a few hours. Get me everything you can find on Felicia Hardy.”
In her junior year of college, Felicia Hardy had been raped by an alpha classmate. Unlike Chelsea, Felicia had refused to drop the charges or allow the perpetrator to go unpunished. She pursued the case through the courts and pulled backing from every victims’ advocacy group she could.
At the end of her crusade, she had been branded as someone trying to ruin an alpha’s name over a “single night’s mistake.” The alpha spent a laughably small amount of time in jail, and only served a year of probation. Later, his record had been expunged.
Felicia hadn’t stopped there. Attempts on the alpha’s life were recorded, including break-ins, attempted poisoning, and a car bomb. Though Felicia was a key witness, they were unable to link any of the crimes to her. In a strange twist of fate, the alpha died not long after from his own drunk driving incident.
After falling off the grid for some time, Felicia popped back up when she applied to be a personal assistant to Harry Osborn. Her resume had been impressive, but none of that work history could be 100% confirmed. Regardless, Felicia had excelled at her job so her past was never called into question.
There were a lot of curious things to be found in her background check as well. It was spotless, but also missing things that should have been there. Following that thread had lead to some interesting information: Felicia’s father was a very accomplished thief. When looking up his background, it stated that he was a widower with only one omega daughter in his immediate family.
Considering gender was caused by a lobe that developed during fetal growth and was woven into the basic chemical makeup of the body, changing genders should have been impossible. Yet, Peter had discovered two people in less than a week who had successfully hidden the gender they were born with.
The questions was, how? And were the two cases related?
So Peter staked out Felicia’s apartment to try and find out as much as he could about her. What he discovered was that her lights were on a timer and her TV was left on random channels for noise. Felicia was somehow sneaking out of the apartment without notice.
Thanks to Wade’s advice on how to successfully stalk a person’s movements (“I haven’t done it to you, Petey, I swear!”), it only took a few days for Peter to determine how she was leaving the apartment building. That was the day he discovered that Felicia Hardy and Black Cat were the same person.
Whether or not that caused things to make more sense or less sense was still up for debate. Felicia and Chelsea were unique cases with a surprising amount of similarities between them. Similarities that connected them both to Mariah. If there was anyone who would be able to mask an omega’s smell, it would be Mariah with her background in biochemical research.
Of course, that could lead to Mariah only helping Felicia pass herself off as a beta and nothing more. For now, all evidence was pointing to Black Cat being behind the whole incident. As an omega with a grudge against alphas and an unrelenting need to fight back in any way possible, she had the motive and means to pull it off.
Waiting patiently on an adjacent rooftop, Peter was in position to follow Black Cat to see where she went. His goal was not to engage. Unfortunately, Black Cat left her building with a small bag slung over her shoulder, just the right size to carry one of the canisters. She leaped off the roof of her building and started a fast pace across the city, looking like she had a destination in mind.
“Shit!” Peter jumped off the building he was on and used his webs to catch up to her. If she was prepared to drop another cannister, then Peter was out of time. As much as he would have liked to gather more information, he had to intervene.
Peter swung high so he could flip and land in front of her. She slid to a stop and squared off against him as he stood. Something hard and angry flashed across her face before it smoothed out into her usual coy smile. She cocked one hip as she looked him over.
“I get the feeling that you have a bit of an obsession with me,” she purred.
“What’s in the bag?”
She patted the bulk of the bag that hung by her hip. “Just a few things all ladies need to carry.”
Peter took a single step forward. “Show me what’s in the bag, Felicia.”
Her eyes narrowed. “It’s illegal to stalk people, you know.”
“It’s also illegal to poison people.”
Black Cat laughed. “Is that what you think I’m doing?”
“I won’t let you hurt any more innocent people.”
“Is that so? You seem to have a very good idea of what it is that you think I’m doing, but I promise you, I’m just your average thief. Petty crime isn’t really your concern, now is it?”
“Then you won’t mind showing me what’s in there.”
“I have no obligation to show you anything. How naughty of you.”
Peter clenched his fists. “Then I’ll take it by force.”
Black Cat’s body went still and the ever-present smile was wiped from her face. “That’s not going to work out for you.”
Since Peter always seemed to hesitate until something bad happened, he decided to attack first for a change. He lashed out, intending to get a hard enough kick to the ribs to knock the breath out of Felicia. To his surprise, she bent backwards and missed the kick completely. Throwing her body weight onto her hands, she took advantage of Peter’s second of instability after his attack and slammed her boot hard into his jaw.
Peter stumbled back, pain flashing through his face. Felicia wasted no time and started attacking with gusto. Peter’s spidey sense helped keep him ahead of most of it, but retaliating was difficult. He’d never encountered anyone as flexible and agile as Black Cat. It was like fighting water.
The only reason Peter was able to keep her from slashing him open with her claws was because of the training he’d done with Deadpool. Otherwise, she would have taken him down in the first few seconds. As it was, she was getting in enough hits to wear him down little by little. He needed to end it soon.
Catching one of her legs, he spun and dropped to one knee, attempting to sling her away from himself long enough to web her down. Perhaps it would have worked if she hadn’t managed to hook her claw into the band of one of his webshooters. His own strength yanked him forward and they toppled onto the rooftop in a tangle of limbs.
Being the contortionist she was, she wrapped her legs around his arms to keep him still before locking her own arms around his neck. She squeezed hard, intending to bruise his windpipe enough to keep him down. Peter sucked in a panicked breath as he lifted his hands up to fight her off, but the position of her legs kept him from reaching high enough.
He threw his super strength into it, forcibly moving her enough so his fingers could grip at her forearms. His face felt hot and under pressure already; she must have been cutting off blood flow. When he pulled her arms away enough to take in another breath of air, a wave of dizziness hit him from the head rush.
Realizing that his strength would eventually win the battle, she abruptly released the tension in her legs. That left Peter’s arm to jerk up with force, punching himself in the face. Between a super strength punch and her trying to sleeper hold him, Peter was temporarily stunned and left seeing stars.
The weight wrapped around him was gone in an instant and Peter was left gasping and coughing. By the time he rolled himself over and pushed up onto his knees, Black Cat was nowhere to be seen. He scrubbed at his watering eyes with the fabric of his mask.
“Damn it!” His voice was hoarse and his throat nowhere near enough recovered for him to be yelling. His exclamation ended in a coughing fit.
“Looks like we should work on your hand-to-hand combat,” Wade’s voice crackled in Peter’s ear from the comm unit.
Peter ignored that. “You got eyes on her?” he rasped.
“Yep! Following her now. We’re headed east. Catch up.”
Taking a deep breath, Peter staggered to his feet. “I’m coming.”
Knowing that the likelihood of being followed was high, Felicia backtracked and took strange routes as she worked to put distance between herself and Peter. Even without knowing that Deadpool was following her, she managed to slip out of Wade’s sight multiple times. Thankfully, they always found her again.
When she finally stopped, Peter had a clear view as she took the canister out of the bag. It was the exact prototype that had been found at the last scene. Strapped to the canister was a small device that was likely how it would be destroyed afterwards. Black Cat judged the area, determining the best place to drop the gas.
As he swung into view Peter shot the thing out of her hands, wrapping it up tight in multiple layers of webbing. She wasted no time in trying to go after it, but Wade appeared and aimed a gun at her. She stopped, unsure of her next move.
“I’ve got no qualms about shooting you,” Wade happily informed her.
Felicia gritted her teeth. “You have no idea what you’re doing.”
“I know exactly what we’re doing,” Peter said as he stepped forward to stand beside Wade. “We’re saving lives. You think I don’t know what that gas does?”
“You’re just concerned about protecting alphas.” Gone was the lilting and sultry tone of Felicia’s voice. It had been replaced with something hard, bitter, and angry. “Alphas are all anyone is concerned about. It doesn’t matter the trials that anyone else goes through as long as they’re being worshiped how they choose.”
“And you think all this is going to fix that?” Peter asked. “You’re hurting innocent people. Innocent omegas.”
“No. Not innocent. Compliant. They are all compliant in their own oppression. If they won’t do something to help themselves, or others, or the omegas of the future, then I will make them do it!”
“By forcing people to kill?”
“It isn’t a guarantee that anyone will die.” She acted like they were blowing things out of proportion and couldn’t see the good that she was trying to do.
“It’s a high possibility! You think there are no repercussions for that?” Peter knew exactly what it felt like to suddenly become aware of himself after having done something irreversible.
“Isn’t that the point? They had no control over their actions. If they are prosecuted, that should allow them their freedom. If not, how can it justify every other perpetrator that has walked free? How many alphas in rut have been pardoned for their actions?”
“These are people, Felicia! Individuals who will blame themselves for acts they never wanted to commit!”
“A necessary evil for a greater good.” She pulled her chin up, confident in the path she’d chosen, convinced that it was the best plan.
Peter saw himself in her, justifying morally questionable actions because the rest of the world was just as bad. He had gained a reputation for that. Had become the very person he’d tried years ago to put behind bars. Perhaps before he had experienced what it felt like to be affected by the gas, and before he’d been slapped in the face with his new reputation, he would have agreed with her.
“The whole world will be watching. Omegas will never be seen as guaranteed prey ever again.” The fire in her eyes was visible. It was obvious how personal her mission was to her.
“Are you sure about that?” Deadpool asked, his voice calm. “Omegas being the only ones affected can be twisted so that it was their ‘weak biology’ that made them susceptible.”
“The omegas will know that they can fight!” Felicia argued, her body trembling with emotion. “That they are capable of pushing back and winning!”
“No,” Peter argued. “They will only know that there is yet another thing out there that can control them and leave them in fear.” It bothered him deeply. He wanted omegas to fight back, he wanted change, but he couldn’t stand remembering all those people in the hospital — screaming, fighting, covered in blood.
Peter remembered seeing his arms soaked in red and Wade wheezing out his last breath. The thought of it made him sick. He hadn’t been in control and that haunted him. He wanted change, but not like that. Never like that.
“You are taking away their free will. You are taking away their choices,” Peter said. “Is that not just as bad as anything an alpha has done?”
Felicia flinched as if she’s been slapped. It hit close to home and Peter meant for it to. He dug into that wound deeper, relentless in his need to make her understand. “That gas overrides what an omega actually wants. It confuses everything around them. It’s a drug. There is no guarantee that they’ll go after the target you intend.”
Peter could see it, some teenage girl waking up to find herself surrounded by violence, told that she had brutally attacked someone. The reality of the drug wasn’t what it looked like on paper. Felicia had to understand that.
“What if they attack another omega?” Peter asked.
“They won’t.” Felicia took a deep breath and pushed her shoulders a little further back. “There needed to be a catalyst, something that made every omega in the area suspicious of every alpha they saw. I should thank you for that.” She looked over at Deadpool. “Your little display made the distrust between alphas and omegas the first thought on everyone’s minds.”
Peter was stunned. She was talking about the serial killer. The discussion was still a top story and everyone had an opinion on it, no matter what side they were on. It caused everyone in New York City to take a moment to assess the people around them.
But most of all, it had made sure that omegas saw alphas as a threat to their safety. The maternal aggression had an outlet already picked out before the gas was even introduced to exacerbate it.
Black Cat smirked as she watched them realize the significance of their actions. “How can you point fingers at me while knowing what you did? How are you any different?”
It was true. They had sought justice on their own and let the pieces fall where they may. There was no way to foresee such an outcome. How could they possibly assume that their attempts to save omegas from a serial killer would end up with omegas being affected by a rage inducing gas?
Of course, that was the point. Just because they couldn’t predict the outcome didn’t mean they shouldn’t have assumed that their actions would have no consequences. The media was in an uproar, people were at each other’s throats, the case was going in all different directions, and that had been the exact setup Felicia needed.
“No,” Felicia said. “You’re worse than me. You tried to tell the world that only another alpha could protect them from danger instead of learning to fight for themselves.”
Peter shook his head, trying to gather his thoughts. Felicia was doing exactly what the Avengers were. She was looking at the big picture without regard to the individuals. Even though Peter had focused only on single people worthy of punishment, it had still led to unexpected consequences.
It had still led to people getting hurt.
“There will always be consequences to our actions, big or small. We can’t assume that it’s okay to let someone fall through the cracks. We can’t say that collateral damage won’t produce yet another victim with a grudge against the world. This… This will only create more enemies.”
“You have no right to lecture me on moral obligation!”
“You’re right, I don’t. I’m not perfect, and I’m not pretending to be. All I can do is learn from my past mistakes. Sometimes, I can’t see them myself. So I’m here to tell you that you’re not seeing everything.”
“I’m the only person seeing everything!” Felicia aggressively pointed at the ball of webbing that contained the canister. “That is strength! That is teaching omegas to protect themselves!”
“No!” Peter’s breathing picked up as he remembered what it had felt like. “That is being a slave to chemicals! The only thing that contains is fear and pain!”
“Fear and pain comes from others!” Felicia’s eyes filled, but she blinked it away. “This is the road to making sure no omega feels powerless as they pray for help to come. This will be the path to creating their own safety!”
“It doesn’t work like that! The epinephrine spike alone—”
“This isn’t about the science of the moment, it’s about the results!”
“The results are not what you think they will be!”
“You can’t understand because you’re a—”
“A what?! An alpha? A beta?” Peter ripped off his mask, his chest heaving as he sucked in air to try to calm himself back down. Felicia fell quiet as recognition hit her.
He and Felicia shared a secret, and that secret required a lot more trust than righteous words and hidden identities could handle if they were ever going to understand one another. They were both omegas trying to claw their way out of the pit life had left them in. They were both bitter, angry, and ready to break all the rules to change their worlds. They were both trying to take care of others that were in the same bad situation.
They were each straddling the line between hero and villain, desperately trying not to lose their balance.
Wade tensed beside Peter, unsure of his plan of action as he knew how protective Peter normally was over his identity. Peter didn’t allow himself time to think about it and kept talking. “I know what that stuff does because I’ve been affected by it. It’s still affecting me. You don’t have enough data to know the long term effects on multiple different types of people.”
Felicia shook her head, still stunned at the idea of Peter being the one in the suit. “You have to know why I’m—”
“I do! I do know. I knew the minute I found out that it only affected omegas. I know why you’re doing this.” Peter put all of his emotions about it onto his face, willing Felicia to understand. “There have to be other ways. This… It feels like I was violated. Do you have any idea how many people I could have killed if Deadpool hadn’t stopped me?”
Felicia looked stricken. It was obvious that in her focused efforts to find a way to fix the world, she had hidden away from the moral dilemma of it and refused to consider the bigger ramifications of what might happen any omega supers were affected. Her desire to change the world was all hinged on her unfulfilled need for revenge.
It wasn’t like Peter didn’t understand that. He did. A little too well. The only thing that hadn’t led him down Felicia’s path was—
Was Uncle Ben.
“With great power comes great responsibility.” Peter spoke the words slowly, as if they were rusty and out of use. If he was being honest with himself, they were. He had shoved them to the dark corners of his mind the day he burned his suit.
For a long time he had thought that Uncle Ben had been wrong, that he was just an idealistic beta that didn’t understand how the world worked. If Peter had learned anything these past few months, it was that he still desperately needed Uncle Ben’s guidance. Everything was all messed up because Peter had been angry about how little power he had.
But it wasn’t true. Everyone had the power to change things, for better or worse, and Peter more so than others. Felicia as well. They were omegas capable of far more than most of their peers. They had to use that power to help, but most of all, they needed to remember that every single action had a consequence.
“I forgot to follow those words and everything went to hell. I’m a person now that I never wanted to be. If you keep on this path, you will be, too. We do have the power to change things, we’ve proven that, but we didn’t take responsibility for it.”
“This is not an impulse decision. We have researched and planned for years.”
“And yet you have no idea how out of control it has already become,” Peter said. “The Avengers are looking for the culprit. If SHIELD becomes involved, there will be no way out of this for you. You could end up in prison. You can’t do anything about the world from behind bars.”
Felicia seemed shocked that the Avengers were looking into the case. She likely didn’t think it would be on their radar, and perhaps it normally wouldn’t have been if Peter and Wade hadn’t been involved. Of course, that was the point. There was no way to determine how the dice would fall.
“We can still fix this,” Peter pleaded. “I can advocate for you. We can explain why this happened in the first place.”
“Why would you want to do anything for me?” Felicia asked, and as disbelieving as her voice sounded, it seemed she genuinely wanted to know if Peter meant it.
“Because I do understand your reason. With the help of the Avengers, we could finally do something significant. They’re up so high that they just don’t get what the world is really like, but we can change that. We could make a difference using their resources without anyone getting hurt.”
Felicia shook her head, a wavery smile tugging at her lips. “You act like that would work at all. Why would they even listen to us?”
“Because we’re not afraid to make them listen.”
She choked on a laugh before tilting her head back to look at the sky, taking in a deep breath of the cacophony of smells that made up NYC. “You almost make me want to believe you.”
“He’s good at that,” Deadpool quietly agreed, breaking his silence at last. “He makes you actually believe in the whole hero thing.”
Peter’s chest clenched. Knowing that Wade still saw Peter as a hero, that his recent actions had done nothing to undo that belief, meant a lot more than he thought it would. Hearing others refer to him as a villain had bothered him far more than he cared to admit.
“Sometimes our actions aren’t what we believed them to be at the time,” Peter said, referring to his own experiences. “That doesn’t mean we can’t change and adjust as we learn. There’s still time to fix this.”
And of course, Murphy’s Law had to assert itself at that moment. Peter’s phone vibrated and both Peter and Wade glanced at each other in concern. The only call allowed to go through was Tony. He pulled it out to verify.
Shit. He needed more time. He flicked his eyes up at Felicia and pressed his finger to his lips before answering. “Tony?”
“I’m just calling to let you know we have a lead and there’s always a possibility of things not going how we planned. Gas might be released at the following locations, so stay clear.” Peter paled as Tony named off the radius surrounding Oscorp and Harry’s apartment. “Keep your gas mask on hand.”
“Right…” Peter responded with numb lips.
Tony, being preoccupied, didn’t notice and simply ended the call. Peter’s breathing became harsh and fast as his mind spiraled out of control. Even if Peter could somehow prove Harry’s innocence, his criminal connections would come to light, if they hadn’t already. Harry didn’t deserve any of this, but what was there to do? What could he do?
“Hey!” Wade’s warm hand dropped on Peter’s shoulder. “What happened?”
Peter turned panicked eyes to Felicia. “They’re going after Harry.”
Felicia stopped breathing for a moment. “What?! Why?!”
“Because all evidence leads to him! I should know. I’ve been trying to prove him innocent since I recognized the canister.”
Felicia shook her head, looking horrified. “They can’t! Harry isn’t in this. He wasn’t involved in any of it. I’ve been doing everything I could to hide it from him.”
That was why she was in the office that day, Peter realized. Both he and Felicia had noticed that Harry was acting suspicious. Peter went to find out what he’d seen and Felicia was trying to hide it further. They were both trying to protect Harry and they’d both failed.
“We won’t make it in time,” Peter whispered. “And even if we did, they’re going to figure out his underground connections.”
“We will make it.” Felicia took two quick steps forward, her body already tensing with the need to move. “Harry has a private meeting with his father this evening. He should already be on his way there. We just have to get there first and make sure Norman takes the fall for everything else. He was the one that set up those deals in the first place.”
Peter met Felicia’s eyes and they came to a silent agreement. They had to protect Harry, and they’d do what was necessary to guarantee that.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Wade waved his hands in front of him, his gun flailing around in a way that made Peter uncomfortable. “We’re just gonna start trusting her? Because you both know her boss?”
“No, because she’s in love with Harry,” Peter said. Felicia made no comment, but one wasn’t needed. Anyone could see it on her face.
“Oh for the love of…” Wade stashed his gun away before digging in his pouch and throwing Felicia an ear bud. “Put that on and let’s hustle.”
Wasting no time they all took off through the buildings, heading for Norman Osborn.