‘Peaceful’ wasn’t the first word that should come to someone’s mind after they’d been dropped into a dimensional rift, but as Peter fell, he felt that way for the first time in ages. Kingpin still menaced this universe, but not for long. He trusted Miles, and the act of trusting was like rediscovering a photograph from an old album, a picture of something he used to know and didn’t want to forget again.
Miles would be fine. His universe would be fine. Peter’s universe…would get there.
Colors whirled past in a blinding frenzy, smashing together and exploding apart. He braced himself against the hurtling sensation and once the pressure let up, starfished in blissful anticipation of falling onto the nice, soft mattress he’d left behind.
He landed flat on his back in dirt.
“OOMPH!” he wheezed, the air knocked out of his lungs.
What the hell? Had he missed his drop zone? He opened his eyes and saw stars, and they weren’t all dancing around his concussed head. Night sprawled overhead.
It felt like he’d broken his back again. He rolled over slowly, acutely aware of every bone creaking. By this point in his career his skeleton was probably as spider-webbed as his suit. Keep that in mind, Miles, and buy Icy-Hot in bulk.
Peter groaned and rubbed his back before looking around and seeing he’d landed in a vacant lot between two ratty apartment buildings. Junky cars stood propped on cinder blocks, looking like ghosts of the vehicles they’d been. Rusted folding chairs lay scattered about and a wary cat glowered at him from the top of a packing crate propped against the fence.
He didn’t recognize the lot, but that wasn’t his immediate concern.
Over the years his spider-sense had developed into something like a radio dial he could twiddle to the right frequency. It hissed at him now—as it had been doing ever since he’d landed on his ass in Miles’s universe.
He knew for an awful, depressing certainty he was not home.
“Great,” he said out loud, “another dimensional kidnapping.”
Could the others have ended up here on their way to their own universes? He hoped not. Their atoms didn’t take to dimension-hopping any better than his did.
Pushing his mask up to rub his head, he tried to unsnarl his memory of the last few minutes. There had been an especially huge flash when he’d dropped into the rift, but in the midst of the chaos it’d seemed right at home with all the other explosions. As boss battles went, it’d been a doozy.
“Hey!” hollered someone right above him, and Peter jumped. Directly above him a woman leaned out a window, her hair all in curlers, and glared at him. “No junkies here! I WILL call the cops!”
“I’m not a junkie, lady,” Peter told her, but he did not entirely fault her disbelieving snort. He was sprawled in a dirty lot, sporting days-old stubble and a lot of spandex. He staggered to his feet, rubbing his back and looking around. Was he actually home, and his spider-sense was just slow in coming down from its buzz?
Nice thought, but not likely. He sighed, deflated. Of course. Of course this would happen right when he’d retrieved his moxie after months of moping around Queens.
This was New York too, right? He looked around. It sure smelled like New York.
He glanced up, where the woman had not yet retreated from her window. “What neighborhood is this?” he called up.
“Woodside, and get the hell out of it,” she said before slamming her window shut.
Peter chanced the subway. Some good Samaritan had stuck a transit card with a few bucks left in a turnstile groove. At this time of night most of the Queens trains hurtled express past endless construction. Getting to Forest Hills from Woodside gave him some time to think, which he mostly squandered on dejection at having to do this all over again. Now that he was determined to reunite with MJ, another delay made him itch with impatience.
Was he never to go home?
He slouched in a corner, avoiding eye contact. That was easy enough; nobody was interested in acknowledging the man wearing a red-and-blue spandex costume, save for the tired wisecrack who’d muttered “You’re late for Halloween, Spidey,” at him in the station.
Bleary-eyed commuters sat with their eyes closed and heads tilted back. One woman yawned while cradling a small child in her lap. The little girl was fast asleep. Peter gazed at them a moment, struck by the simple security a child could find in their parent’s embrace.
MJ had trusted him to be that security for a child, but Peter had never given himself the chance. He wanted it back, wanted to tell MJ he had faith in her too, that he knew she had strength to spare. He would tell her.
Once he got to Forest Hills Peter trudged out of the car with the last stragglers. This stop was the end of the line, which suited his mood.
Forest Hills appeared more or less the same. There were changes, of course; this world was like looking at a ‘spot the difference’ puzzle where buildings wore different facades and scaffolding scarfed the wrong street corners. He wondered if his favorite diner was still open in this dimension as it had been in Miles’s. Worth trying, if he could scavenge a few bucks.
Much of it was identical and he navigated with certainty to a row of small houses that fenced in their tiny gardens with proprietary zeal. It was Christmas in this universe, too, and the houses warred for festive dominance with an enthusiasm so familiar it made Peter grin.
He walked up the dark street and stood before the house he’d known almost all his life. It had the same soothing gray-blue paint, the same well-maintained driveway, the same sense of patience and calm it always exuded. Its lawn was neatly trimmed with roses that would have been the prize of any county fair.
Aunt May had preferred peonies. Peter sighed even before he spotted the nameplate on the fence that read REDDING HOUSEHOLD.
No Aunt May here. He had only the wisecrack’s comment in the subway as evidence there was a Spider-Something in this reality at all.
However ready he hadn’t been for it at the time, seeing May emerge from the Parker house in Miles’s universe had proven a monumental comfort. Speaking to her again had reminded him what an anchor her presence had been for him, once. A second time… would have been nice.
This was the road to ruin, he knew; he couldn’t go looking to steal puzzle pieces from other universes to fit inelegantly into the holes that gaped in Peter’s own. Kingpin had never understood the true nature of consequence, whereas it had always been a bedrock to Spider-Man.
Peter exhaled and glanced up at the sky, hoping to see a glow on the horizon that would herald the break of dawn and with it, library hours.
He looked at his hand, flexing it this way and that. No glitching yet—that was good, right? Yet he still felt that pull, that insistent feeling he should be somewhere else. Maybe he should be grateful. It indicated he was still anchored to his home, that he was not as adrift as he’d once thought. Small blessings.
Number one priority was a disguise for his disguise. He needed a coat.
When he got to the library he was glad to see the boxes of free clothing this branch often left out by the recycling for anyone who care to go through them. He lucked out and the fresh batch had not yet been picked over, and he shopped around before retrieving a shabby but clean coat not unlike the one he’d left behind in Miles’s universe.
No one out in the misty morning took a second look at the spandex-clad man rummaging through the bins. God bless New York. Next he found a shirt and pants, and shucked them over his suit. One of the t-shirts he passed over sported a crudely-drawn Iron Man helmet that gave him pause.
By the time the library opened, dawn had stolen over the street and drawn out sleepy-eyed residents clutching coffee and bowing their heads against the chill, heading to the subway for their daily pilgrimage.
Peter couldn’t believe his luck. One of the pockets on his coat had unearthed a five dollar bill, either an oversight by its last owner or a present for the next. He gladly bought coffee and a danish from one of the breakfast stands set up to ensnare passing commuters. As always, the food bolstered his mood.
At last some library patrons startled filtering into the library. Peter casually followed them in, lingering behind one candidate checking out a book on their hurried way to the subway and memorizing the card number and pin they typed into the station. Then he sidled over to the computer lab and typed the card and pin numbers into one of the machines. It obligingly gave him access to the internet.
Spider-Man was his first search, after disabling cookies and any tracking software the library could use to monitor his activity. He spent a while reading the results, sandpapery chin in hand.
Next he typed in Peter Parker, Queens. He scrolled through some unlikely-looking candidates but seized on a link about the Midtown High academic decathlon team. “Like a friggin’ yellow brick road,” he said under his breath. Nerdy tendencies always led to Peter Parkers.
Up popped an image of several smiling students in yellow jackets, holding up a trophy. Peter’s own decathlon team had worn ugly suits and ties, to the disparagement of most of his classmates.
Beneath the photo read their names.
Peter looked at Peter. If he squinted, he could sort of see a resemblance? Or not. The kid was not so long in the face or leg. The Parker in Miles’s universe would have been identical to Peter himself—in better days—if not for the hair and eye colors, and he suspected the one in Gwen Stacy’s universe had been a carbon copy, judging by the way Gwen had looked at him sometimes as though she were seeing a ghost.
Flash Thompson stood there too. Peter grimaced at him.
Avengers was the next search, narrowed to Accords and branching into a series of more precise research on just who was sporting the spandex in this universe.
“Good grief,” he muttered incredulously some minutes later, “he’s an Avenger? An Avenger?”
Peter had rubbed shoulders with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes from time to time, but had never been a card-carrying member of the club and counted himself lucky for it. It looked like this universe’s resident superhero union had experienced its own implosion, he noted dryly, but had patched up a lot neater.
He scanned the roster, which waxed and waned from year to year. Peter's eyebrows shot clear into his hairline. Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, Thor, Bruce Banner, the Falcon, possibly Black Panther and Ant Man, Doctor Strange, Wanda Maximoff…
Geez…all the prototypes.
Did this throw a wrench in his hopes of swinging up to his counterpart in this universe and asking for help? Though Spider-Man’s identity was still under wraps, his Avengers membership gave Peter pause out of residual wariness.
Several hours passed as he browsed, and other library patrons came and went. A bored-looking retiree camped out at the monitor next to Peter’s cubicle and started playing an online RPG. To Peter’s amusement, it was a superhero game.
Wilson Fisk's name yielded some results. He more or less appeared to occupy a role similar to the ones from other universes. Were the beginnings of a particle collider prototype in the works already, or did it always take Spider-Man’s interference to get the ball rolling? He did not want to do anything to endanger the wife and son again, or drag this version’s Spider-Man into a fight he hadn’t started. The Spider-Kid here seemed too young to have picked a fight with Kingpin already. It was that confrontation that had topped the first domino in the series of events that had led to the particle collider’s use—and at least one Peter’s death.
But something had pulled him into this universe. He felt it nagging at his elbow, just out of reach. It was a gnawing sense that something in this universe wasn’t right, even beyond the simple fact that it wasn’t his.
This stuff made his head spin. Peter drummed his fingers on the keyboard and closed his eyes, feeling for the telltale tug of instinct that would point him north.
Fingers typed in one last search term: Particle Collider. Nothing much on that, though Kingpin hadn’t openly advertised it in any universe.
He aimlessly wandered through the results, clicking this link and that until a familiar face jumped out from the screen and froze him in the act of scrolling.
Liv Octavius smiled at him from a company photo, wearing a white lab coat and looking as benign as Miss Frizzle, ready to drive her magic school bus straight to hell.
Her picture decorated a short piece on the progress being made in the study of particle physics. “It’s going to open up the world,” she was quoted as saying, and Peter could hear the heretic fervor with which she must have said it.
“Sure, Liv, it’s gonna open up a whole bunch of worlds,” he muttered, but she knew that. Kingpin would—
Then his eyes fell on the logo stitched to the breast of her pristine coat, and his stomach dropped.
According to the article, Liv Octavius was head of the department of Exploratory Particle Physics for the Advancement of Human Understanding.
The title was grandiose and ostentatious—but then, Stark Industries had never lacked for flair.
Breaking into Stark Industries had never been high on Peter’s to-do list…