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Dramatic Irony

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"I should never have signed her up for a dating website."

"Peter, come on. She's having fun."

Peter Parker (blond version), aged 23, scowled and crossed his arms over his chest. "I'm telling you, MJ, there's something off here."

"Is it that you've never seen her use the smartphone this much?" Mary Jane raised her eyebrows. "Or are you just not used to seeing her happy?"

Peter looked across the living room to where his Aunt May sat in an armchair, tapping away at her phone. She couldn't seem to stop smiling at the screen. Occasionally she would huff out a laugh, or clap her hand over her mouth like a teenager. It was true -- he hadn't seen her like this in a while. Since before Ben died, even, maybe.

"I guess you could be right," he said. "Still, if this guy turns out to be bad news..."

"May's a big girl, Peter. She can handle herself." MJ patted his arm. "Anyway, you want to go watch that weird YouTube video I was talking about?"

 

-

 

The YouTube video was pretty weird. The one they found the next day was weird too, and so were the videos and secondhand reports that kept cropping up for the next few weeks. All of them starred a similar character, a masked woman with four huge tentacles protruding from her back. The tentacles were used to run, jump, grab things, and sometimes attempt to strangle people.

There was a pattern to her movements; sightings tended to occur near laboratories, secret government facilities, and toxic waste dumps. So far the perp, who Peter had inventively dubbed Tentacles, had committed little more than some burglaries and two attempted assaults, plus the robbery of a case of "triple-shot" canned coffee drinks from a bodega. Nonetheless, the situation had him on edge, especially since -- no matter how he tried -- he couldn't seem to catch her in the act.

It distinctly did not help Peter's stress levels when Aunt May sat him and MJ down to announce that she was going on a date.

"To be clear, I am letting you know as a courtesy -- I am not asking your permission." May regarded Peter sternly. "And I know I can't stop you, but I would prefer it if you didn't follow me."

"What about from a distance?"

"For god's sake, Peter. How long has it been since the last time I got kidnapped?"

"Not that long," Peter gritted out, while MJ chimed in, "Three months."

"Three months. See? And the Vulture's back in jail again. It usually takes him about half a year to come up with a new escape plan. So I'd say I'm good for another three months."

"Look... I just don't like it, Aunt May."

"You're allowed to not like it. It's still happening." May softened. "Sweetheart, I'm up on all the internet safety stuff. We'll be in a public place. We've exchanged pictures -- I know what she looks like. If I get a bad feeling, I'll call you."

"Okay, I guess," Peter conceded, then: "Wait, she?"

 

-

 

Aunt May's date was called Liv. She was a physics professor in her early forties, which was kind of too young, but not too too young. May had messaged her first, not expecting a response. Liv liked hobby robotics, knitting, and tai chi, and she had a soft spot for cats and dumb science jokes. Half the things that had May laughing so much were image macros combining the last two. May had even, she confided in Peter, started making some of her own to send back. (She showed him some of them. He didn't really get them.)

Liv and May were meeting at Screamin Joe's House of Mugs at 11:00 AM on Saturday. "Then we'll see what happens," May said, and winked.

Additional footage of Tentacles distracted Peter from what he had come to realize was an inappropriately panicked response to the prospect of his aunt dating again at all, let alone dating a woman. Mary Jane seemed relieved when he threw himself into patrolling and analyzing the data they had so far. Neither mentioned "Liv" all afternoon.

When Saturday morning came, Peter pretended to be fine. He knew Aunt May could see through it, she knew he knew; whatever. He waited until after she'd left to grab his blandest, most innocuous civilian outfit and hit the road.

Screamin Joe's had opened a month ago, but the crowds were still a tad heavy. Peter slipped in through the back and found a table in a dark corner of the shop.

He saw May on the patio out front. He saw a bushy-haired woman with a scarf and coke-bottle glasses join her. The awkwardness was palpable as they exchanged greetings. After a few minutes of stilted conversation, though, a dam seemed to break, and they were soon laughing and smiling over their respective coffees. Troublingly, it looked like the other woman was flirting. She kept shooting May sly looks over the rim of her glasses and finding what Peter assumed were excuses to touch her arm or her hair. At one point she leaned over and started fixing May's collar.

"It's a crewneck," Peter said out loud. May, outside, actually giggled.

"Sir?" A disapproving barista stood at Peter's elbow, arms crossed over an apron emblazoned with the garish Screamin Joe logo. "Can I get you anything?"

Peter looked at the empty table, then at the barista's tapping foot.

"No, I'm fine. Uh, keep the change." He unearthed a faded dollar bill from his jeans pocket and let it flutter onto the tabletop under the barista's disinterested eye. "Thanks, bye now!"

It was hard not to sprint out the door, but May would definitely recognize him if he did, so Peter forced himself to take slow, even steps all the way to the sidewalk. He cast May and her date a glance he hoped wasn't suspicious. They were still giggling, jesus.

After a couple of blocks, he allowed himself to break into a run.

 

-

 

May got home around sunset, just after dinner.

"Did you have a nice time on your date?" asked MJ, looking up from her laptop. Peter froze in the middle of scrubbing a saucepan.

"I'm not one to kiss and tell," said May. "But, yes. We had a great time." She was practically beaming.

"That's great! Peter, isn't that great?"

"Yeah, great." Peter offered a weak smile. "I'm happy for you, Aunt May."

He waited until May had left the room to hiss to MJ, "I'm telling you, there's something odd about Liv. We've got to keep an eye on her."

"Okay, honey. You want to see this Vine? There's a really clear background shot of Tentacles for like two seconds."

 

-

 

Liv and May started going on regular dates. Peter and MJ spied on the first three.

"Shouldn't you be patrolling?" MJ asked, as they prepared to order appetizers at a Peruvian fusion restaurant. May and Liv were just a couple of booths away.

"Shh, I'm trying to eavesdrop." Peter slurped grimly at his Inca Kola and grenadine.

Liv took May to a musical. May took Liv to the Museum of Natural History. They got ice cream at Coney Island. They attended Shakespeare in the Park. Once Liv invited May to her apartment and they spent the whole day watching kung fu movies. They started having regular dates at the Peruvian fusion restaurant. It was above-board and mutual and exciting and romantic. It was sickening.

It was also really good for May. She was having fun, she was getting out of the house, she wasn't as worried and stressed as before. Her face lit up when she talked about Liv and their dates, but she seemed happier in other parts of life too.

They met Liv once. She was picking May up to go to a free afternoon concert in the park. MJ made small talk; Peter mostly stood and glowered. At last May came downstairs, looking fresh and energetic in an actual dress. A dress! Liv looked her over and her cheeks got pink.

"Er, looking good, hon."

"Thanks," said May. Her eyes were doing something when they met Liv's. Peter was not prepared to handle this.

"OkAY we'd better be going insIDE you ladies have a great evening," he said stiffly. "Nice to meet you. Liv."

"Yes, nice to meet you!" MJ rushed forward to shake Liv's hand.

"Likewise, Mary Jane, and," Liv's eyes bored into Peter's for a moment, "Peter."

She offered May her arm. "Shall we?"

"We shall," said May, tittering a bit as she accepted, and then they were off.

"Well, that could have gone better," said MJ.

Peter sighed. "Yeah, I know. I'm sorry. Do you want to go watch those new videos again?"

 

-

 

There were a lot of new videos to go through. Peter and MJ were reviewing security footage of Tentacles raiding an apartment complex when May returned from her date. 

"That tentacle monster again?" May commented, hanging up her purse and striding over to look. Suddenly she froze, as the camera view switched to Tentacles walking past someone's door to break in through a window.

"Oh god," said May. Her face was pale. "That's Liv's apartment."

Peter and MJ looked at each other. "You're sure?" Peter asked.

"I'm absolutely sure. We were just there. I have to warn her." May rose and made an abortive movement for the door.

"May, wait, let's think about this," said MJ. "Acting out of haste could put Liv in more danger -- not to mention you. Peter, what do you think?"

Peter nodded. "We've got to have a plan. People don't always react well to hearing they've been stalked by an octopus-themed supervillain."

"I'm supposed to have dinner with her tomorrow night." May sank back into her chair. "I can tell her then, and you can come with me."

"Okay," said Peter. "Let's hit the shed."

 

-

 

"What I'm trying to say is... Liv, I have something to tell you."

"What a coincidence! I have something to tell you too." A wide, shark-like grin split Liv's face.

"What?"

The table started shaking. May's chair was shaking. The floor was also shaking. And Liv was getting -- taller?

Liv's beaded peasant blouse and sensible skirt flew aside to reveal a black and green rubber catsuit that was, okay, hot, but also very concerning, because there were tentacles growing out of the back. Big, green, sucker-capped tentacles.

"Oh, shit," said Peter, from the ceiling.

 

-

 

Liv finally released May from her hold. May rolled onto the floor, then got to her feet, rubbing her arms and legs. She winced as she found a bruise.

"How long have you known about my connection to Spider-Man?" May asked.

"Just a couple of days." Liv brushed dust off her suit. The tentacles retracted.

"Great. And you thought the best way to reveal your identity was by destroying our favorite restaurant and abducting me in the middle of a date?" May's eyes flashed with anger. "What the hell, Liv?"

"I, uh, thought it would be romantic." Liv took off her goggles. She was beginning to look a little sheepish.

"Exactly what is romantic about betraying me and making me fear for my life?!"

"You're always talking about how you'd like to get away for a while--"

"Not like that!"

"Well, fine." Liv held up her hands in surrender. "Sue me for not being a mind-reader. Yet. I'm working on it."

May turned away, disgusted. "I can't believe I was worried about you. I thought I'd show up to your apartment and find you turned into fish food."

"Octopus aren't fish--"

"I. KNOW," May shouted.

There was a beat of seething silence.

"You're kind of hot when you're mad," said Liv.

"That is completely inappropriate, Liv. I cannot begin to describe how inappropriate that is."

"Really?" Liv advanced on May. "It's inappropriate? Even when we're alone in my secret underground lair, with you all vulnerable and at my mercy?" Light glinted off her glasses.

"At your mercy? Oh, please," May started, then gulped as Liv got closer. "Uh, what are you doing?"

"Nothing we haven't done before, right?"

"Oh my god," muttered May, but she didn't push Liv away when she grabbed her hips, or when she leaned in to kiss her.

"This is not happening again," May said breathlessly as they broke apart, tangling her fingers in Liv's hair. "Understand me? This is a one-time thing."

"Uh-huh." Liv slipped a hand up the back of May's shirt and bit her ear, smiling that shark-like smile when May gasped. She bent May gracefully to the floor and straddled her. "We'll see."

They didn't talk much more after that. Until Spider-Man arrived, that was. Although, thankfully, their clothes were back on by then.

 

-

 

"Well," said May briskly, "Let's count the positives. We're alive, we're together, no one got hurt, and I managed to swipe a couple of things from Li--Doctor Octopus's lab while she was distracted."

Peter grumbled something under his breath that sounded suspiciously like, "I'll bet she was distracted."

"What was that, Peter?"

"Nothing, Aunt May."

In the driver's seat, MJ seemed to have a hard time holding in her laughter.