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The Wind Follows

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          Peter Benjamin Parker was dead.

          He had been dead for over a year, but he had yet to stop moving. That was the way that Peter had been thinking of it ever since he had been changed, a truth that beat deep in his soul.

Peter Benjamin Parker was dead.

          Peter had tried to deny it when he was first changed, had tried to cling to his old life with everything in him. He’d continued taking photos for Mr. Jameson, trying to save money to go to college in that pipedream that was the future, and helping his Aunt in the breadline they ran. Then…Ellis happened, then his best friend was left in a state worse than death, and in the horror that followed…

          Someone changed.

           Peter had seen with his own eyes that awful twisting of flesh and the carnage that started afterwards. Peter had thrown himself against it without hesitation, utilizing his speed, his strength, and his webbing to try and take down the beast that had once been a woman, desperate and running. He had seen her change, seen her body sprout scales, seen the teeth that were long and hooked in a way that the Lizard’s had not been, her body more crocodilian than anything lizard…

          And she would have ripped the others to pieces if Peter had not acted. Peter had met her in violence, met her in ferocity, and the others were able to escape, running as fast as they could, screaming. Peter had ended the fight with his arm hanging limp, bloody tears through his torso, a broken nose, and a deep and abiding horror deep in his soul.

          Someone had been screaming her name, someone had known her, someone had loved her.

          In that one moment the entirety of what he was becoming, of what he would be slammed into him with all the force of a gunshot.

          For she had grabbed that man before he had been able to act and thrown him into a wall. Peter had heard the snap of his spine, heard the breath leave him to never enter again, and had known he was dead before he hit the ground. Too slow. He was too slow.

          He was still. Too. Slow.

          Peter hadn’t gone home that night and he hadn’t been back since. Peter had found Robbie, though, had found what remained of his best friend, and mourned until he was numb. He’d mourned his uncle, his friend, his aunt, the friends he had had, the people he couldn’t save! That woman, the man that had been close to her, the woman that he had found that that monster had destroyed. That beast that wore human skin and called himself Octavius. That called himself a savior of man.

          Peter had never hated someone more, outside of the Vulture. Not even the Goblin had gained as much hatred. Not for all of his rot, for all of his decay. The Goblin at least understood what he was and what he was doing. Octavius had seen himself as god, and Peter knew that the only gods that had any control anymore were the ones that thought nothing of them.

          Peter’s had forsaken him long ago.

          In the end, despite everything, Peter was still numb. There was nothing left in him.

          Or he had thought there was nothing left…

          Then he had met the Spiders.

          Finding them had been like finding home, all of them injecting into his heart a bit of life that he had thought he had lost. It had been painful, and confusing, and wonderful. Peter had been treated like…like a human again. Even with the people that called on him to help, the ones that left the notes in his web, they always treated him with an air of fear, as though waiting for him to turn.

          Peter was the one they went to when they were desperate. Peter was the one to go to when there was no hope. Though with Ellis, and the stories being told of what he had done, that had started to change.

          But Peter knew they would never stop seeing him as a monster.

          Yet them? The Spiders had accepted him with open arms, even…even after they knew everything. They knew everything. They had looked it in the face and resisted its sway. They had held him, almost trying to shield him from the thing that had his soul. And then there was Rio and Mr. Davis. A nurse and a copper, an interracial couple open in a way that Peter had never expected but found himself clinging to. There were so many things that Peter was seeing that he wanted. And they gave it all with such abandon… Food, a place to sleep…affection.

          They called him ‘Pete’ as though he was someone they loved, someone they cared about. As though he was worthy of that love, as though he wasn’t cursed, as though he wasn’t a danger.

          Peter didn’t recognize the thing that swelled in his chest at the thought, didn’t understand why it burned as bright as it did, why it sunk so deep and he couldn’t shake it away. Peter only knew that he wanted to be worthy of that. He wanted so badly to be the person that they thought he was. He wanted so badly to be that hero, to be the person that they saw.

          Peter wanted so badly to be a person again.

          Peter was dead.

          But Pete…Pete lived on in the hearts and the thoughts of seven people that thought the world of him.

          The portal that suddenly opened up in front of him startled him for a moment, but then Peni was there, Peni with her wide smile and her bright eyes, throwing the goober into his lap. Pete took it with a tip of his hat, immediately clipping it to his wrist as soon as her portal closed, removing the paper from the back of it with the same motion. He ran his fingers over the sleek metal, taking in the craftsmanship and noting the new features. He looked at the paper then and that warmth came back, that thing in his chest swelling up so much he thought he might choke on it.

          Peni and her SP//dr were drawn there, both of them holding what she had explained were peace signs, the both of them colored in a beautiful display of markers, the colors so bold, so cheerful. ‘I love you oniichan’ was written in a little bubble over the drawn Peni’s head, and he smoothed his fingers over the drawing in something bordering reverence. He carefully turned it over to read the back where the instructions were, sending little glances at the picture every so often.

          When he finally thought he had it figured, he carefully ran through the instructions, following them all to understand all of the functions and committing them to memory before closing up the paper and carefully putting it in his breast pocket. Pete finally closed his eyes and readjusted himself in his hammock, feeling the way the wind drifted him, before finally falling asleep.

          He had a lot of work to do in order to catch up on what he had missed, and Pete was still very tired.

 


 

 

          Pete hated the sewer.

          It was the one place where he never wanted to go, and the one place where everything seemed to force him to go. He’d met with Jameson as soon as he’d gotten the opportunity, meeting the man in his office after the curfew, pressed into the far corner. He’d always kept his distance, for Jameson’s comfort as well as his own. That feeling of being a ticking timebomb was never as strong than when he had to deal with other people.

          Jameson had updated him on the recent happenings with his usual brusque flair, pacing up and down the length of his office. It was one of the few times that Pete had actually chosen to meet with him in person, but after the few days he had had he needed a bit of familiarity. Jameson had no idea who he was, nor who he had been. The Nazi that had slit his throat had done more for him than the bastard would ever know.

          “I can’t stand it,” Jameson said, chomping down on his cigar, finally pausing in his movements to lean against the window. “Nazi bastards aren’t enough, now we’ve got rumors that those Klan chucklefucks are about to come knocking on our doors. As though we ain’t got enough problems! Harlem’s in a tizzy, Cage’s doing his best, but people are starting to get desperate and…well, you of all people would know what happens when people get desperate.” Jameson gave him a glance, and Pete gave a brief nod of his head. Jameson sighed. “Thing about it is, we don’t even know if they’re really coming up or if it’s just hearsay.”

          “It better be hearsay,” Pete said, Jameson giving a snort and a nod.

          “Preaching to the converted,” Jameson spread his hands out and gave him a bow of his head. “Though if it’s not we’ll have to get to it as it comes. For now…I’ve heard tell that there’s a rather unsavory practice that is currently occurring, and it’s happening in your favorite spot.” Pete let out a sigh that might have been a groan for as much as he expressed distaste, Jameson’s laughter echoing. “Yeah, well, here,” Jameson said, tossing something his way. Pete caught the lump that smelled like lemon and parsley, and snorted. “Soap for when it’s all over,” Jameson said with a grin that emphasized his mustache. “You can even clean your clothes with it.” 

          “Thanks,” Pete responded, tipping his hat to him and putting the lump of soap in a pocket.

          “Coppers aren’t being much help,” Jameson said. “Say they won’t act on hearsay, but I tell you, Spider, I’m just about sick of those fribbles. Think that they can get in anywhere with a buzzer, but they won’t go where they’re needed. Bust down Hoovervilles and kick out people living in the slums but won’t take care of the ones that need help or go where it might be inconvenient.” Jameson gave a quiet curse under his breath. “You masks might want to start keeping better tabs on each other, or at least filling me in on how to reach them when the only people I’ve got are those coppers.”

          Pete shook his head, before giving a slight shrug. “I’m no one’s keeper, and no one else is mine,” he said.

          Jameson gave a snort. “No kidding,” he said, taking a drag of his cigar. “Either way, you might need backup. From what I’m hearing it’s bad, and the thing they’re smuggling…well, I’d say pack more heat than usual. You might need it.” Jameson said, frowning up at him. “This one’s big, if what I’ve been hearing is true.”

          “What’s the cargo?” Pete asked.

          “People,” Jameson stated simply, blowing a ring of smoke. “Undesirable people,” Jameson snorted, his eyes dark.

          Pete tilted his head in question, and Jameson sighed.

          “I couldn’t understand him, I don’t know where he was from, but he didn’t speak much English.” Jameson answered, he frowned. “But once again, Spider, I don’t know for certain. This might be a wild goose chase, my source was…rather beat up when he was found, and his English was pretty broken, but I think it’s important that it’s looked into. He rose enough hell that one of the moles decided it was worth looking into. Told a few cops, tried to get hold of some masks…” Jameson laughed. “They act like they’ve got better things to do than climb into some sewers.”

          Pete gave a quiet agreement before starting to open the vent he was by.

          “Oh, wait, Spider,” Jameson called, and Pete turned, tilting his head in question. Jameson sighed, and walked over to him, beckoning him down with a tilt of his head. After a moment, Pete allowed himself to drop down before Jameson. The man would probably be taller than him without his boots, but as it was, they were pretty even, and Pete knew for a fact that he made Jameson uncomfortable, and so bowed his head. Jameson took a breath, before holding his hand out. Pete blinked, before taking it, and the two of them shook. “I’m glad you’re still alive.” Jameson said. “I was…well, I was more afraid than I thought I would be. Take care of yourself, Spider. You go places most can’t, and I don’t want to be the one to tell everyone you’ve finally been filled full of daylight.”

          “I’ll do my best,” Pete agreed with a nod of his head, and climbed back up the wall.

          This, naturally, led to the point where Pete entered the sewers empty handed. While Jameson talked about packing heat, the truth of it was a sewer was a dangerous place to fire a weapon. The last thing he wanted was to cause some kind of explosion in a place where there was no real way out. His bare hands and his webbing would do him well enough.

          The coppers weren’t entirely in the wrong for not wanting to go into a sewer, Pete thought to himself with disgust, carefully crawling his way along the ceiling, trying to avoid the drops that would fall. He knew there was no real hope for it, he’d just have to hope that soap was good. He also knew that a copper would have never entered a potential hostage situation without packing heat. Even if the other guys wouldn’t be able to either.

          Pete crawled until he thought his fingers would work their way through his gloves, until he was damp, and smelled, and no longer flinched when something bubbled to the surface below him. While asking for specifics would potentially help him, Pete was limited in who he could be around, and who wouldn’t just start screaming at the sight of him. Stories were told, but if you couldn’t speak English then they weren’t really all that helpful. There was the fact, too, that there were limited places where you could hide large objects, and Pete knew all of them, complete with a hierarchy of which were the most likely to be used.

          Why did they always go for the sewers?

          Pete did his best to not think of the fact that he was able to see in the dark just fine. Did his best to not consider the way that everything was revealed to him in pristine clarity without the aid of a flashlight. It would just increase the turning in his stomach, and that wasn’t something he could deal with just now.

          Eventually, Pete got lucky.

          A light down the end of one of the tunnels attracted his attention, and Pete crawled his way towards it carefully, doing his best to stay to the shadows and move slow.

          What he eventually came upon made him bare his teeth, that burning in his chest hot and fiery.

          Cages.

          They had stuck women and children in cages, a few men, but mostly women and children. The burning boiled in him, because Pete knew exactly what he had wandered into, and Pete pressed himself to the lip of the archway, looking out to see if there were any guards. After finally spotting ten of them, the men huddled together quietly and talking in hushed voices, Pete knew he had gotten lucky.

          In echoing voices that bounced and twisted, making it hard to understand, they were talking about moving shipment tonight.

          Pete crawled his way along the ceiling towards them, keeping himself low, when he realized something with horror.

          The idiots had brought guns.

          It seemed like they were smart enough to know that smoking was a bad idea, none of them had lit up, but they were carrying tommy guns and other pieces that Pete knew would cause one hell of an explosion if they were fired.

          Well. Seemed his job had just got a hell of a lot more complicated. Take out the guns, then take out the finks. Pete would have to hope his presence wouldn’t alert the captives and he could get close enough to take them quickly.

          Pete made his way carefully, crawling along, a black slip among black, carefully avoiding their flashlight beams that cut through the shadows with piercing white light, which were mostly angled at each other, a few scattered along the platform that the sewer crews would use to check gas levels, pressure, and other things, a few gauges near the cages for that exact purpose. When Pete was finally just overtop of them, he paused, waiting, and then moved without warning, firing shot after shot of webbing regardless of the sharp stings of pain from his spinnerets, tearing away guns, webbing hands to stop them from moving, covering faces, and finally he fell down amongst them. Pete fought the ones that tried to fight back, sending them to their knees and finally, the only sound came from the cages, where they had started crying and screaming.

          Pete carefully walked to them, finding the women holding the children close, the few men standing as close to the bars as they dared, trying to draw attention. Pete picked up a flashlight, rolling it towards the bars so they could grab it. When they finally pointed it at him, he waited for them to recognize him, if he was lucky. If he was lucky, they’d know what seeing him meant…

          For what felt like the first time in his life, for the third time in a row, Pete was lucky. As soon as that white light hit his form and illuminated him properly, casting his black shadow out behind him and instinctively making him tip his hat, he saw them visibly relax.

          The women started weeping in relief, their words dancing together, very few of them words he could understand, their hands reaching out to him through the bars. He walked forward and began carefully breaking the locks that held them, letting them out in waves. When they had finally all left the cages, Pete grabbed and dragged the guards over, throwing them in the cages he had just emptied and webbing them shut. He would have to come back later and interrogate them, but he would leave them a couple nights to get acquainted with the idea that they were locked in the sewers. He made sure they had no matches or other things that they could use to cause an explosion, and began handing out the flashlights to the ones he’d saved.

          He’d see how their captors liked being locked in the dark.

          Maintenance only came down on Fridays and today was a Tuesday. He had plenty of time to let them reflect.

          Pete looked to the ones he had saved and after a moment of hesitation decided that he’d fed well enough recently, he might as well use it. Pete created a platform for them out of his webbing, shoving it out into the sludge to make sure it would float, holding it steady. After careful maneuvering and directing, mainly through gesture, Pete tried to get some of the women and children to move on, but they all refused

          For a moment Pete was stymied, wondering why they were looking at him with fear in their eyes, all of them huddling together.

          The wind blew its way through the sewer behind him, bringing with it a smell of rain that for just a moment expunged the smell of sewage, and then he knew.

          Pete carefully untucked the bottom of his mask, watching as all of them started stiffening, their eyes widening, fear in their expressions. There were no attempts to fight back, no attempts to stop them, the whole of them simply huddling tighter together, clinging. They had realized that fighting against Pete wouldn’t be feasible, had realized that there was nothing that they could do if Pete decided to eat them now and not later, after he’d dragged them where he wanted… Pete finally pulled his mask up over his scarred mouth, and bared his teeth.

          They stared at the human-teeth with wide-eyed looks of horror, that soon turned to relief. The message was clear: I couldn’t eat you even if I wanted to.

          That established, Pete was able to get some of the women and children to climb on, all of them sitting in order to steady themselves. He moved the makeshift raft a little farther out, creating another before helping more to sit, and then finally one last one. This one he placed the men on, making sure that the lip of the webbing was just high enough they shouldn’t be covered in sludge. Pete didn’t want them walking in the sewage without protection, he didn’t want to be walking in the sewage without protection.

          Pete hopped to the ceiling after connecting the three rafts together, and webbed the frontmost one to his vest and began his long crawl to the access shafts, closing the tunnel behind him as he went with more webbing. No use having their crew come save them before he wanted it. It was more difficult than he thought it would be to tug them along. Their weight constantly pulled back on him, and while he usually wouldn’t be feeling it, and could lift much more than the ones behind him, his excessive webbing use had become taxing.

          Worse, Pete wasn’t about to stick that webbing into his mouth to recycle it. It was an expenditure that he couldn’t replace easily, and he was beginning to regret it.

          Finally, he made his way to the access shaft, shoving the manhole cover out of the way with a terrible grinding shriek, allowing moonlight to pool down onto the just released victims. They began cheering, singing, and Pete carefully guided them over to the ladder so they could climb out on their own. Pete hoisted out the ones that needed it, the men handing children up to him, which he easily placed on their feet outside of the sewer, women taking them in their arms and hushing them. Pete finally watched as the men climbed up, carefully watching to make sure none of them would fall.

          Eventually, the whole of them were safe, and Pete released his webbing, watching it float away with regret, before climbing up himself. All the while, the cheering and singing continued, and eventually it brought the attention that he had hoped it would. The church near the sewer line opened its doors, one of the priests taking a few steps out in curiosity, before Pete could see recognition spread in the way the figure took a step back in surprise, before running forward, calling out.

          Pete stayed just long enough to see the ones he had rescued turn to greet the running priest, a few of his cohorts running from the church building as well. They’d see that they got help, Pete couldn’t be responsible for them anymore, and with that thought he turned on his heel and ran in the opposite direction, leaping up onto the nearest building and running back towards the entrance he had originally used.

          Pete’s work, at least for now, was done. He’d utilized that church before, knew that they had a handle on what to do about the kinds of people that Pete dragged to them. The synagogues weren’t located in the safer parts of town, and the last thing that Pete wanted to do was drag them back into more danger. It was enough from him, and he knew that the priests would balk at the sight of him. The last thing he wanted to do was make it so they wouldn’t take the people he had just saved.

          There was the sound of sirens in the distance, but after a moment of thought, Pete turned his back. Those were for fire, and there wasn’t much Pete could do to help with that. The last time he had made an attempt the person he had been trying to save ran deeper into the fire to get away from him.

          There was nothing he could do, so Pete left it alone.

          Pete ran out into the blacks and whites and grays that made up his city, all long shadows and harsh contrasts, the moon a fat disc whose light was stark, and judged all underneath it. There were none of the warm lights that had been in Miles’ world, none of the advertisements to brighten the night and fight against the harsh glow. Pete basked in the familiarity, just as he bemoaned the loss. It wouldn’t matter in the end. They had chosen him, and Pete would keep with his promises.

          Pete ran and jumped across the buildings, refusing to utilize more webbing for fear that it would wipe him out faster, and there was something that he still had yet to grab.

          When he finally made his way to the entrance tunnel he had used, Pete collected the webbing that contained his coat with shaky fingers. Pete was exhausted, the strain getting here had put on his body immense, but he wasn’t willing to find a quiet corner where he could sleep just yet, not when he smelled the way he did. He had chosen this entrance in particular due to the proximity to the bathhouse close to Hell’s Kitchen. While usually he would avoid Hell’s Kitchen more than this, Pete was very much after that bathhouse, which closed earlier than most, and wouldn’t be frequented at this hour.

          Besides, it was just far enough away from Hell’s Kitchen that it wasn’t Daredevil’s territory, and that was good enough for him.

          Pete was too exhausted to want more.

          The bathhouse in this part of the city was a rundown thing, even after only being opened about five years before. Things got old quickly here. Things wore down, but Pete didn’t care. He climbed his way up the face of the building, carefully avoiding the places that crumbled, entering in through the windows at the top which were used to let steam escape. It gave him a chance to enter completely undetected, and better yet, the ability to make sure there truly was no one else within. Pete crawled along the ceiling, before pausing above the communal bath in the center, his eyes closed, spidersense reaching, his senses on high alert.

          Nothing.

          Pete dropped to his feet next to the bath, exiting the room and making his way to the rainbaths. Peter had called it a ‘shower,’ when Pete had used it, which had initially confused him, but it had worked the same. After a moment of hesitation, Pete moved to the one in the farthest corner. He could use the walls for a quick getaway, and that was definitely needed provided he was wrong about others wanting to use it. He dropped his webbing ball to the ground, and began stripping off his gloves, throwing them to the ground, before taking off his vest, allowing it to fall to the ground with a plop that made him shudder.

          Pete began pulling off the shirt he was wearing, when he heard it.

          Footsteps. It took him a longer moment than he wanted to admit to realize that they were in the room with him, but Pete leapt back and into that corner of the wall, giving him not only the high-ground, but the ability to see who was coming.

          Daredevil and, to Pete’s surprise, Luke Cage. Daredevil was wearing his usual costume, the devil-mask staring at him with sightless eyes, while Luke Cage was dressed in what Pete figured he had been wearing earlier that day. Luke Cage wasn’t a mask in the traditional sense, and while he was known widely in Harlem for what he did, outside of it there wasn’t as much talk. It was the strangest blend of anonymity and notoriety that Pete had ever come across. To know a man who could enter a room with his suspenders and bowtie and be immediately regarded as someone to pay attention to was a mean feat.

          Luke Cage and Daredevil both froze at the sight of him, Daredevil’s hands going for his clubs, and Pete held still, the three of them staring at each other for the longest time.

          “Do you think it still knows us?” Luke Cage asked, looking to Daredevil out of the corner of his eye.

          “You can address ‘it,’ if you want,” Pete said, dropping to his feet, watching the both of them as they squared their bodies towards him. “It might respond a bit better if you do.”

          “Fair enough, Spider,” Daredevil said, walking forward. “Apologies, but you can’t be too careful. I’m…sure you understand.”

          Pete found himself inclining his head, but made no other move towards or away from them.

          “Were you in the sewers, Spider?” Cage asked, making a face as he took a few steps forward and then halted at the smell that reached him.

          “Human trafficking,” Pete said in explanation, causing both Cage and Daredevil to stiffen. “They’re out, I left the ones who caught them in their own cages. Was thinking about letting them out Friday.”

          Cage gave a hollow laugh. “Sounds like a plan, Spider. I’d ask to be invited, but I don’t do sewers.”

          “No one should do sewers,” Pete agreed hollowly

          “That at least explains why it didn’t help,” Daredevil said quietly.

          “Help what?” Pete asked, a prickling sense of foreboding working it’s way up his spine.

          “The Klan showed it’s hand tonight,” Cage said, his expression dark. “They burned crosses at the Church of St. Mary, the Abyssinian Baptist Church, and St Patrick. There were also a few burnings of some Jewish synagogues, the Congregation Shearith Israel, Old Broadway, and the Magen David. They haven’t gotten to Harlem yet, but it’s only a matter of time.”

          The sirens… That must have been what they were about…that…

          “I had no idea,” Pete whispered. “I was…it took a long time, I couldn’t find…”

          “Easy, Spider,” Cage said, holding his hands up. “You were otherwise occupied, I understand. There wasn’t much you could have done anyway, they lit them up within seconds of each other. There wasn’t much we could have done.” The anger in his face at that statement was plain to see. It explained why neither of them smelled of smoke. It explained why there was no real sign of wear and tear on them. “It was timed, it was orchestrated, and we need to make sure that they can’t pull off something like that ever again.”

          Pete was quiet for a moment, fatigue making his thoughts slow, but he finally nodded. “Okay, but…how are we going to do that?”

          “I have it under good authority,” Cage started, taking a few steps forward, “that under all that getup, you are actually about as white as a ghost…” he looked down at his revealed hands, which Pete balled into fists. “And from what I’m seeing, they were right.” Cage frowned at him. “Now, I’m not sure whether you’re white through to the bone, passing, or just an albino negro, the point remains that you out of all of us, have more of a possibility of getting in there than us put together.”

          “You want me to act as a spy,” Pete said, standing straighter, a dangerous prickling starting at the back of his neck. “A Cursed, you want me to be a spy?” he re-emphasized, that burning in his chest falling into his stomach, making him queasy.

          “They don’t know what that is,” Daredevil said, waving away his concern. “They’ve got an idea, sure, but they keep themselves so affluent, and so stable that the only thing they’re likely to be desperate about is choosing what to eat for dinner.”

          “They don’t know about the wind and given their beliefs wouldn’t buy it if they did,” Cage spat. “You…well, all you’d need to do is turn on the charm as a native to New York… They’re looking for recruits, they’re not even being subtle about it, there’s a recruiter that’s making the rounds. All you gotta do is make a scene. I’m sure you can do that, can’t you? Do it around the right people and they’ll probably drag you right into their inner sanctum.”

          “You get there and you figure out who and where they’re targeting next, and pass on the information, figure out who the members are so we’ll put a stop to it,” Daredevil said, spreading his hands. “What do you say, Spider? I’m sure that you’re interested.”

          “Why not you?” Pete asked.

          “I’m catholic,” Daredevil responded. “I’m also blind, and that’s the main issue. They’d never go for me. I don’t have the ‘purity’ or the strength. You, though…” 

          “You got any serious physical deformities?” Cage asked.

          “I…” Pete hesitated, before rolling back his sleeves, revealing the spinnerets and his musculature. The bruises that ran down them were starting to come back, something that he couldn’t look at. Cage took a large step back.

          “Fuck, Spider, I knew you were a freak, but…” Cage hissed, looking at them.  “What are they?” Cage asked, the fact that he didn’t wear a mask allowing his full disgusted expression to be visible. Daredevil tilted his head slightly. 

          Pete pulled a strand of spider silk from his wrist, wrapping it around his fingers carefully, allowing Cage to see it, Daredevil taking his own step back as what was happening registered in whatever odd way he perceived the world, letting them take in the tensile nature of it, and then released the strand from his wrist. Cage stared in horror as he lifted it up so they could really appreciate the silk completely, turning it this way and that so it stood out against his white skin. Pete contemplated eating it for a moment, wondering if his hands had been spared the brunt of it, but after a moment of contemplation decided it wasn’t worth it. He dropped it to the ground easily.

          “Spinnerets,” Pete answered. “I wouldn’t recommend touching it. It sticks to anything that’s not me.”

          “Fuck, that’s disgusting…” Cage whispered.

          “I eat it to recycle it,” Pete said, grinning at him with those bared teeth. Pete knew he was going to do what they were telling him. He knew that he was going to work as a spy. He knew that he would go where he was hated and reviled and he would stand before the Klan itself and lie through his teeth about his hatred of negroes, and Catholics, and immigrants, and his own people… And in that one moment, Pete hated them for forcing him into it. He hated them for putting this burden on his shoulders.

          He watched as Daredevil’s exposed skin turned slightly ashen and that grin curled.

          “I’ll do it,” Pete said, finally, resigning himself to the fact.

          “You will?” Cage asked, shaking the disgust away. “You’ll be our mole?”

          “Yes,” Pete agreed, nodding. “You said it yourself, there’s not much else. I’m assuming Tony Stark can’t do it because of position…”

          “He’ll be our financer,” Daredevil grinned. “He’s going to set you up, Spider, get you all nice and ready to sidle up to these top-cats. But you’re right on the fact that there’s not much else. I’m not about to send a regular human that’s against them into their midst, but you…”

          “I’m expendable,” Pete said.

          “Exactly,” Cage agreed, his expression heavy. “You don’t have attachments, no one to miss you when you’re gone, and if the worst does happen…well, that’s one last person we have to worry about turning and ripping up the neighborhood.”

          Pete laughed. “Fair point,” he agreed, giving a slight nod. “Well, gentlemen, is our business concluded so far?”

          “No,” Daredevil denied. “You’re going to get clean, and then we’re going to head to Tony Stark. We need to get on this as soon as we can.” 

          “I can follow…” Pete started.

          “Nah, Spider…” Cage said, grinning at him. “For this first half, we go together. We’ll give you your privacy. Come on,” he jerked his head at Daredevil, who followed, the two of them standing at the only exit to the room, their backs to him.

          Pete stood there for a moment, staring at their backs, and finally turned away, moving into the shower he had claimed as his own. His heart was pounding in his chest, heavy, heavy… He turned the rainbath on with a deliberate crank, not even bothering to remove his clothes and letting the water pour on him. The grime washed off slowly, the water seeping into his clothing heavily. His leather vest was helpful in protecting him from most of the liquid, as was his mask, both of them being made of high-quality material, but not his pants, nor his shirt. Finally, once they were all wet, he started stripping and cleaning each article of clothing as he went, that lemon-parsley soap scrubbing down everything.

          Pete had only been with the other Spiders for a week at the most. Had only known of their existence for a week… Pete had not realized just how much he had grown used to the way they spoke to him and of him, just how much he would… Pete didn’t know. He didn’t know. The fire in his chest made him sick. Though maybe that was just what was on his clothes.

          It wasn’t like they were wrong…

          By the time Pete had managed to scrub himself and his clothes off to the point where he no longer smelled sewage, the water had long since turned frigid. The others waited patiently, and he could hear them talking amongst themselves. The thought of drying off was almost laughable given what he was about to change into, and he knew that even utilizing Rio’s gifts to him would be useless, given the fact that he would have to put them on underneath his sodden clothes.

          Pete wrung out some of the excess water, being careful not to twist too hard in order to not tear his things, before pulling them back on. They were damp, but they at least weren’t sodden, and at least he and his clothes didn’t smell. He walked out of the rainbath and to his coat which was still balled in webbing. After a moment of hesitation, he pulled the webbing open and caught the coat before it hit the ground.

          “Clean, Spider?” Cage called.

          “As I’ll get,” Pete responded, shaking his coat out and slinging it around his shoulders like a cape. He put his hat on, and walked up to meet the two of them standing there. Daredevil leaned close and gave an experimental sniff, Pete raising an eyebrow at him behind the mask.

          “That’ll work,” Daredevil said with a nod, even as Cage was frowning at him.

          “That all you have to wear, Spider?” he asked.

          “Not exactly able to go to the tailors,” Pete responded.

          Cage made a slight face. “No, I guess not. Well, let’s get moving. The longer we put this off the worse it may get.”

          “You ready to run, Spider?” Daredevil asked, grinning at him.

          Pete took a breath, fighting against the feeling of damp, fighting against the feeling of fatigue, and finally compartmentalizing them both deep inside.

          “Uh-uh,” Cage denied, shaking his head. “You two might be crazy enough to go running around New York, but that’s not how this is going to go.” Cage led the way out of the bathhouse and into the street, Daredevil and Pete following after him. Cage took them a little way away from the bathhouse and into a back alley where a car was waiting. The front passenger door swung open, an unfamiliar man leaning out with a grin on his face. He was missing a tooth and his hat was crooked, but he smiled like the richest man in the world.

          “Welcome to the shitshow,” he said, “destination Tony Stark.” Then he took a good look at Pete. For a long moment they stared, the wind rose, and his nose wrinkled. “It’s not coming in my car.”

          “I’ll ride on top,” Pete shrugged, and climbed onto the roof of the BMW with a lazy sort of grace.

          “Fucking crazy thing,” the driver hissed, but Cage entered without comment, opening the backdoor for Daredevil, who slipped inside.

          The car lurched to a start, rolling out of the alley and onto the street. There were no other cars at this hour, until they got closer to Manhattan. Pete lowered himself close to the car roof, allowing the coat to make it look like he was more baggage than anything. The sound of people laughing and talking rang in his ears. The light in this area of the city was the only real challenge to the night sky, shining skyscrapers illuminated, strips of lights shining on the sidewalks, sending the people walking along these streets into sharp relief. Dames pulled on their fellas with mischievous grace, laughing, leaning into them.

          Three churches and three synagogues up in smoke, and they didn’t give a fuck. Display things like him like a fucking trophy. These people…

          These people.

          Pete leapt off of the car when they made it to Stark Tower, Pete looking up at the mammoth building with a grin on his face. They were heading directly into the building of the man who was the pinnacle of this kind of lifestyle. What a fucking joke. The sour taste in his mouth didn’t leave even as they walked into the building, with its long lines and sloping angles, a monstrous monument to art deco, with three chandeliers lighting the interior. Pete kept his head down, even though there was no one waiting in the lobby, framed on either side by Cage and Daredevil.

          Pete didn’t attempt to pay much attention to the way Daredevil looked in the middle of this place, but he couldn’t help but notice. The lack of sleeves, the gloves, the double D on his chest in combination with the devil mask… Pete ducked his head down. He doubted he looked less out of place. The only one that truly seemed to fit was Cage, and he continued their walk to the elevator.

          They entered, Pete immediately backing to the far corner and waiting as the elevator made its way to the top floor. The other two didn’t pay him any attention.

          The doors slid open, revealing the man himself with his back to them. The room was a wide-open thing with a large desk, a few comfortable chairs, a wall of windows that made Pete feel exposed even though they were one of the highest buildings in the area, and…

          An entire bar filled with still-illegal alcohol.

          Tony Stark turned to face them, sipping a martini, and then gave a wide grin.

          “Gentlemen, hello! I see we have our mole… Well, let’s get to it.”

Chapter Text

            Pete had read Tony Stark’s stories in Marvels. How could he not have? The places he went, the things that he did… There had been something odd in that something he knew was unattainable and yet…somehow the way his stories were told, it almost seemed reachable. Far off places away from the ramshackle lean-to that his family had lived in before his parents were bumped off by the coppers for organizing a peaceful strike, were brought right to him, something tangible in his stories and the places he visited, the amazing things he had seen.

            Marvels had been something he clung to, something he devoured before they were inevitably burnt for warmth.

            Then they moved out of the Hooverville after his parents died, the life insurance money that no one had expected sending them out of homelessness, out of poverty, and into a house. Pete often suspected that the fact that neither his aunt nor his uncle had known about the life insurance was the only reason they had gotten the money. It had been a sizeable sum, and there were enough people that had started trying to claim life insurance that there was a possibility they would have been seen as attempting to murder his parents on purpose. The fact that the coppers had been the ones to kill them could have been swept under the rug easily.

            Pete was honestly still surprised they hadn’t tried to make a patsy out of them. Pete still remembered the time the coppers were talking about making him a patsy for Ben Urich’s murder when he had called it in… Regardless, the money had been enough for them to make their own breadline. Enough for them to live comfortably in a way that Pete had never dreamed. Even after all of that change, all of that upheaval, the magazines were still something that he clung to as a bit of familiarity. Reading and re-reading them until they fell apart, because even though he was no longer on the street, there was still so much to worry about…

            Now he was standing in front of the man they were written about… And Pete had never been quite as disappointed.

            Tony Stark grinned like any socialite he had ever seen, wide and empty, tipping his martini in their direction and emptying it in a single gulp. He put the empty glass back on the bar and walked towards them clapping his hands together once and pressing his fingers together thoughtfully. Manicured fingernails, immaculate white shirt with platinum cufflinks, suspenders, a tie that had been strategically undone and thrown across his shoulders, and even that damn goatee, perfectly trimmed…

            Presentation. A hollow suit.

            “Gentlemen,” Stark called out, smiling at them. “Hello, hello, and who is…” he paused, taking a look at Pete, who had been mostly dried out on the drive over here, the wind drying him out and leaving him in clothes that were at least passably laundered. “Oh…” Stark said, and the grin suddenly became…sharp. “Oh-ho, well. Look at you…” Stark circled him thoughtfully, a finger pressed to his lips, Cage and Daredevil both moving out of the way.

            “You’re Cursed,” Stark said, pointing at him with that finger, something morbidly fascinated in the gleam in his eye. “Well, well, now this is interesting. I’ve never seen one of you alive. Or…human-like.” He frowned, looking him up and down. “You still talk?”

            “It still talks,” Cage said dismissively. “It’s also got a basic sense of morality at least. Saved some poor people from a fate of human trafficking.” Cage’s mouth curled. “I hate that shit.”

            “Agreed, agreed…” Stark said idly, still circling Pete as though he was some sort of vulture circling a corpse. “Tell me, you’re the Spider, aren’t you? That’s what you’re known as?"

            “Yes,” Pete agreed, his hands balled into fists.

            “Ah-ha, you do talk,” Stark crowed, looking delighted. “Tell me, I hear that you can stick to walls and have…some form of webbing, from what I understand. Can I see it?”

            Pete frowned, before giving a slight mental shrug. He flipped backwards, sticking to the wall with his head facing towards the floor, and scuttled backwards up onto the ceiling, the three men giving surprised and almost disgusted exclamations, backing away from him. Pete pressed his wrist to the ceiling and slowly lowered himself down in front of Stark with the webbing from his wrist. He tilted his head at him, watching as Stark looked from him to his webbing, and then to the ceiling. After a beat Stark laughed.

            “Amazing! Truly amazing,” he smiled, “I have to say, it would be a real treat to examine your corpse…”

            Pete closed his eyes against the burning bitterness in his chest, the bubbling of something deep within, and flipped to his feet. The wind blew, and Pete saw it peering in through the glass windows. It stared at them, stared at the ones that were before him, and then turned its attention back to Pete. Well, it seemed to ask, do you want to make a deal?

            Pete stared at them, stared at it, and then found that he didn’t give a shit.

            “But that’s later,” Stark hummed, drawing Pete’s attention back to the three men. “I’ll have to tell Jarvis to remind me to buy it should anything happen… But you’re our mole, then. Smart,” he said, nodding to the other two. “Well.” He clapped his hands. “How about you take that mask off and we start taking a look at what we’re dealing with? The sooner we can work on getting you kitted out to rub shoulders with these bastards the sooner we can make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

            Pete determined immediately that he would never take his mask off for this man. Pete didn’t owe Stark his identity. He didn’t owe him his soul. He didn’t owe him the pain that would come should he make that deal; didn’t owe him the piece of humanity he would lose… He didn’t owe him shit, and with all that in mind Pete said quite simply: “No.”

            “…What?” Stark blinked, looking surprised.

            “I’m not taking off my mask,” Pete said simply. “Not for you. Not for you,” he said, looking at Daredevil, “not for you,” he finished, looking to Cage, and there was a heat in his voice. “I don’t owe you my identity. I don’t owe you who I was.”

            “If this is about your family, you have my word that…”

            “You want my corpse, Stark,” Pete hissed. “You can figure out who I was then. I don’t owe you a damn thing. I’m here because I hate the Klan. I’m not here for you, I’m not here for you, and I’m not here for you. I might be here because of what some of you represent,” Pete lowered his head slightly towards Stark, knowing that it caused his goggles to flash white. “But I don’t owe any of you a damn thing. You want another Mole? You want to know their identity? Fine. You can go to Frank. Castle.” The other men took slight steps back, their expressions darkening at the mention of Castle, and Pete allowed himself a secret smile. “If that doesn’t appeal to you, then frankly, I’m what you got, and you can call me Spider.”

            There was a silence that followed, before Stark grinned at him, leaning back slightly. “I like you.” Stark said brightly. “Alright, fair enough. Spider it is. Of course, you realize that you can’t keep your face hidden from the Klan…”

            Pete tilted his head slightly. “Out of state southerners and a bunch of racist fuckheads that are too focused on their own bullshit to pay attention to the ones that are actually Cursed? I’m pretty sure that I won’t have to worry about that. I didn’t run in their circles before and I sure as fuck don’t now.”

            “So, you’ll be a complete unknown to them, good,” Stark agreed, nodding. “Alright… We will still have to get you fitted for clothes, a fake identity, and I’m assuming a fake address. I can’t imagine that any landlord would let you in…”

            “You’re right,” Pete answered. “They wouldn’t…” The room that was considered his was holed up in an ‘uninhabited’ building, condemned, but in an out of the way street that wouldn’t be considered for a repair, at least not yet. Naturally all sorts of dregs of humanity holed up in its rotten halls. Pete’s office was just one of them. The others knew to leave his area be, and no one who entered for his office was accosted.

            Pete had seen to that. Nevertheless, living there was out of the question. While fear was good for keeping them away from him, too much of it made men violent, and Pete wasn’t about to start something up. Besides, he couldn’t stand the thought of being pinned in one location like that.

            “Right, right…well, that’s not much of an issue. I have a gentleman that will set you up with the identity and the fake address… What name are you thinking? The surname has to be something…oh, Williams, or Jameson. Those are generic enough.”

            “Not Smith?” Daredevil asked.

            “That’s too generic,” Stark explained, holding a finger up. “I suppose a surname like Mathews or something like that might work. Miller? Moore? I’m stuck on M’s right now, I don’t know, do any of them sound like they would work, and you could remember?” 

            “Williams,” Pete said after a moment of hesitation. He had known a Williams that was an absolute racist asshole, it would work. There was an immediate connotation in his brain, so it would be something he could use, and that was always important when delving into something like this.

            Stark stroked his goatee in thought, frowning slightly. “Williams works, alright. First name, first name… Mark? Can you remember Mark Williams? I knew someone named Mark; he was an asshole. I figure you wouldn’t have an issue with that given where you’re going to be using it.”

            “Sure,” Pete responded, shrugging. He wasn’t planning on giving any of them the right to use his given name anyway, not even a fake one. “Sounds good to me.”

            “Alright, Mark Williams it is, I’ll get your address settled in the morning, but for now…” Stark ushered him towards the door to his office, and Pete followed his instructions, watching it out of the corner of his eye as it scuttled along the windows, peering in. “We have to get you attired properly…” the door opened, and Pete saw two men, one of them standing with his arms crossed, leaning against the far wall, muttonchops prominent on his face. He looked vaguely threatening, what with his crossed arms and the way he was eyeing the other man in the room.

            This one was a tall, dapper sort of gentleman, a thin handlebar mustache on his own upper lip, looking a bit out of sorts. He was holding a measuring tape and a briefcase. The realization that he was meant to take Pete’s measurements hit him then and he almost retreated, until the man took a good look at him. For a moment he was still, and then he dropped the tape and the briefcase, letting out a dismayed sound.

            “Relax, Schmidt,” Stark grinned. “He’s alright, he won’t bite. He doesn’t have the teeth for it.”

            “Blazes, Tony, why are you bringing that here?” the man with the impressive muttonchops asked then, standing straight.

            “Because he, my good friend, is our Mole. And a good one, I’d assume, given the amount of time he’s been able to keep both off the grid and away from the Hunters. He’s the Spider.” Stark said, holding his hands out in his direction as though showing off a prize trophy or item. “I’m sure you’ve both heard of him, right? The one that’s been going around saving people and not eating them whole?”

            To Pete’s surprise, Schmidt seemed to relax completely, actively picking up the tape, though the other man still looked distinctly on edge.

            “Ah, yes,” Schmidt said, a thick German accent coloring his voice, which caused Pete’s attention to flash to him with a great deal more edge. “Yes, I am aware of the Spider.” He looked at Pete then directly, looking a good deal more relaxed than before. “You saved my sister recently,” he said, which cause Pete to narrow his eyes in confusion, and settled his flaring suspicion. There was only one German dame that Pete had saved ‘recently’ and she had come from shul. “She told me about you, but…forgive me, I was not able to stop my initial reaction upon the sight of you… You…you are Cursed.”

            “I am,” Pete agreed. “How is your sister?” he asked.

            “Fine, very good. She…well, she told me about you, but I’m afraid, I…forgot her description of you initially. Are you the one that we will be fitting today?”

            “Yes,” Pete confirmed with a slight nod of his head.

            “Very good,” he repeated, with a nod, “we’ll see you’re adequately dressed,” he said, grinning. “It’ll be worth it to see those Schweinhunde running back to where they came, and back under their rocks.” There was a fierce anger there, and Pete was gratified to hear it. Daredevil and Cage were looking at each other, and the man gave a slightly grim, very ugly smile. “I am a recent immigrant from Germany,” he said. “My family is Jewish,” he said.

            “Ah, shit…” Cage whispered under his breath.

            “Sorry for the insinuation…” Daredevil said.

            “Quite alright,” Schmidt responded tightly, holding his measuring tape in a white-knuckled grip for a moment, before relaxing it. “Now, if that is taken care of, please, remove your overcoat and come here. We will get you fitted properly.” Schmidt’s smile gentled slightly.

            Pete hesitated, before giving a slight shrug and taking it off. He held it close to his chest, though, realizing that there was nowhere to put it. Stark took it from him easily, but there was a slight frown on his face at the look of him. Pete didn’t say anything, just walked towards Schmidt, who flicked his measuring tape slightly between his hands, lengthening his grip with the movement.

            Schmidt didn’t comment on the state of his clothes, nor the fact that it was obvious the pants were too long on him, or the fact that his vest was the only thing to fit him properly. Schmidt made him toe off his boots, and take off his vest, which further emphasized how long the pants were on him, as well as the bagginess of his shirt.

            “Arms up, bitte,” he said, Pete following instructions as the measuring tape went around his chest. Schmidt called the measurement out, the man whose name he still didn’t know marking it down with a scowl.

            “I shouldn’t have to take down your measurements,” he grumbled.

            “Write them down,” Schmidt commanded, looking to the man with the sharpest look Pete had ever seen. He paused, and then wrote it down. Schmidt didn’t acknowledge his moment of victory, simply looked thoughtful for a moment, before lowering the tape down around his waist, telling him to relax, Pete did so, letting his arms fall to his sides. They watched as the measuring tape cinched up to his waist, pulling in on the shirt he was wearing and leading to a quiet curse as just how thin he actually was became readily understood.

            For a moment, Pete felt terribly, unspeakably exposed.

            “Death’s head on a mop stick…” the unknown man hissed, and then Pete just felt pissed. “What’s the story, morning glory?” he asked, “You can’t satiate yourself with human flesh and thus you can’t eat?”

            “It’s the Great Depression,” Pete said idly. “I’m not sure if you’ve noticed given where you live, but the vast majority of people don’t exactly have much to make ends meet.”

            “True enough,” Stark stated, frowning. “Don’t be like that Jarvis, he’s our Mole and we ought to do our best to make him comfortable. That said, there’s no help for it now, I don’t think. Can extra padding be used?”

            “I can introduce it, yes,” Schmidt agreed, “should it be truly needed.” He hesitated for a moment before bringing the tape up around Pete’s neck. Pete held himself extremely still, for a moment images flashing through his mind of the Nazi that sliced his throat open, the pain, the blood… And then Schmidt removed the tape with a hiss. “It would likely be needed. The shoulders hide the ill health quite well.” He measured his bicep, followed by the length of his arm, both numbers being called out to Jarvis, who looked distinctly displeased. The shoulders, which apparently hid the true thinness of him, followed the eventual length of the coat that would go over his shirt, from the top of his collar to below the seat of his pants.

            Pete was not all that comfortable with the hands on him. Schmidt’s touch was impersonal and brusque, he measured quickly and accurately, called the number, and moved on. But there was still a great deal of physical contact from someone that he didn’t know. The worst thing about it was the associations he had with the touch. The Nazi was the worst of it, but it was nevertheless something that held a great deal of memories, and very few of them were good.

            Pete hadn’t had a lot of physical contact. You would spoil a child with too much contact. The Spiders had been the most tactile that Pete had ever encountered, and he couldn’t decide whether it was an era thing or a multiverse thing. Maybe physical touch became more common as a sign of affection as people learned more. Whatever the cause, it had been the most, and it still caused him a certain amount of unease. The measuring, however brusque and impersonal it may be, was just more nails across the chalkboard of his soul. 

            Schmidt moved to measure his legs from the outseam, drawing Pete’s attention back sharply. Schmidt clucked his tongue and muttered something that Pete didn’t quite catch in German, giving out the measurement. “Last measurement,” Schmidt stated, straightening slightly. “The U, between the legs.”

            Pete had a moment of confusion before the tape was pinched to the lip of the back of his pants and brought down between his legs to be pinched up at the other side at the same height. Pete had a moment where he froze, and then Schmidt gave the measurement and backed away. After Pete seemed to settle, he measured around his cuffs, wrists and ankles.

            “All done,” Schmidt stated, snapping his tape measure, and placing it into his briefcase, taking the clipboard that Jarvis had been using to take his measurements into his hand and putting it into the case as well. “I will have an acceptable wardrobe created shortly. It will be padded slightly in certain areas like the waist, but otherwise he is in decent enough shape. As stated, the shoulders certainly help create the illusion of health. Now, gentlemen, I must be on my way.”

            “Thank you so much, Schmidt, I’ll have your payment sorted quickly,” Stark said, clapping him on the shoulder.

            “If you were not a billionaire I would do it for free,” Schmidt stated with a frown. “These Klan bastards need to be run out. It goes to a good cause.”

            Stark laughed. “Well, in that case, I’ll give you extra.” He clapped him again and Schmidt made his exit. Stark turned to face Pete then, frowning slightly. “Well, for now, I think that’s all I need from you. I’ll have your documents put together… We’ll get everything else situated later, I think. For now, it’s a lot of paperwork and waiting for those suits to get finished. We’ll work on the rest of the grooming later. Nails, hair…” Stark ticked off. “Have to make it look like you have money.”

            “Naturally,” Pete said dryly.

            Stark smiled hollowly. “Well then, gents, I think we’re settled for a while. We will get things running in two days. Are you able to meet back here?”

            “Yes,” came the general agreement, all of them turning their attention towards the billionaire.

            “Are we sure we can trust it to show up?” Jarvis asked, and Pete looked at him out of the corner of his goggles.

            “If you can’t, I suggest finding a new Mole,” was all Pete said, and Jarvis gave a snort of amusement. Pete put his boots back on, fixing the extra length of his trousers, as well as pulling his vest on with a sharp motion. Stark held his overcoat out and Pete took it, slinging it on before moving to the large balcony doors. It waited, always watching, but Pete ignored it with a concentrated ease. The men watched him with their heads tilted as Pete swung the doors open, and promptly dove out of the window.

            The loud shout of alarm was music to his ears, and he flipped, sending a shot of webbing to the building and pulling himself close enough to get his feet attached. He rolled with his landing, the new complete stickiness utilized to his benefit to redistribute his momentum, holding his hat to his head. Pete continued the rest of the way down at a run, not willing to get in anymore enclosed spaces with those men, and not wanting to sacrifice what bit of freedom he could cling to.

            Exhaustion was fleeting. Pete would run until he dropped, and then he would crawl.

            Schmidt exited the building right around the time that Pete made it to the bottom by dropping right in front of him, giving a loud and horrified exclamation, the word a guttural German phrase that Pete didn’t know, but could assume was a curse. Pete pressed into the shadows that he knew he would blend perfectly with as Schmidt put a hand to his chest, breathing deep, before glaring in his general direction.

            “Are you attempting to give me a heart attack, Spider? Because should you do so you will get no new clothes,” Schmidt tilted his chin up, and Pete felt his mouth curve up slightly.

            “Sorry,” he said. “Your exit was in line with mine.”

            “This is fine, this is fine,” he waved off, still looking a bit winded. “To be quite honest I was going to wait for you. I wished to see if you would be willing to visit my sister and myself for dinner. You would be welcome in our house, so you do not have to worry about…ah, gazes.”

            Pete hesitated, thinking about the prospect of a warm meal with people from his own world that didn’t despise him…

            “I’m afraid I’m going to be borrowing him,” Cage’s voice came, causing both Pete and Schmidt to turn to look at the approaching man, who looked a bit rumpled. The idea that Cage had run out of the room and into the elevator to get to him amused Pete mildly, which stopped his tongue from the angry retort it wanted to deliver. “I’ve got a few things I need to be discussing with him.” He paused, and then turned to Schmidt further. “You and your sister are always welcome in Harlem. I don’t know if you’ve heard yet, but our circles keep very close. If you need better rates, that’s the place to go.”

            Schmidt made a soft sound, blinking in mild surprise, before giving him a warm smile. “I had heard, yes, but we were given our place by Stark. He was…impressed by our work in fashion. We have a studio that we are working out of already. But we will definitely keep your offer in mind.” He hesitated, looking to Pete and finally gave a slight sigh. “The offer, Spider, still stands. Merely look for the Schmidt Tailor’s in Manhattan. It is impossible to miss.”

            “Got it,” Pete said, “but before you go, I have one request for what you make…”

            “Yes, Spider? What is it?”

            “Lots of pockets, please. Even if you have to hide them inside the jacket lining, I need pockets.”

            Schmidt grinned, “Certainly,” he gave a nod, and then walked into the drive where a taxi was waiting.

            Cage put his hands in his pockets and frowned at Pete then, his demeanor noticeably clouding, “Well, Spider, come on.” He led him over to the car they had ridden in earlier, Pete noticing that another cab had been called, likely for Daredevil when he arrived, which was an amusing thought, and Cage opened the door. The man with a missing tooth and a crooked hat peered out at them, and frowned.

            “He’s still not…”

            “Yes, he is, Heath, and you’re going to let him in now, or I’m going to tell that girl of yours that you’ve been getting back on the sauce.”

            “Aw, dammit, Luke, it ain’t that big of a deal.”

            “It absolutely is, and I’m tired of being the only one looking out for you, so I might tell her anyway,” Cage responded, frowning. “Either way, he’s riding with us.”

            “Fine, get in the back, keep your hands where I can see ‘em,” Heath said, and Pete did so, Cage sitting down next to him as soon as Pete entered, shutting the door.

            “Thank you,” Cage said, before turning his attention to him. “Well, ‘Williams’ we’ve got a bit of work to do before I think that you’re in any way ready to infiltrate this hate group.”

            “What hate group?” Heath asked.

            “He’s our Mole into the KKK,” Cage explained.

            “Well, fuck, if you had said that a bit earlier, I might have let him in. You all trust him enough to let him be the one going in?” Heath asked, looking at him over his shoulder as the car started up and he began putting it in gear.

            “I do,” Cage agreed. “He’s the one that saved our people from Ellis.”

            Heath sucked on his teeth, sending another look at Pete, his soot-gray eyes sharp. “When they said it was a Cursed that saved them, I didn’t believe it. Not when there was a Cursed that Changed with them and broke that poor man’s back.” Heath returned his attention to the road, before asking a question that made Pete’s head dip. “Why didn’t you Change?” he asked, his voice almost accusatory.

            “Something I was wondering too,” Cage added, looking at him directly, taking the hat off of his head as he did so. “You’ve been around since before Ellis, which puts you at, at the very least, a year of being what you are. How are you still as human as you are? What makes you more capable of staying human than a woman that just wanted to escape her tormenters?”

            “Or for that matter an eight-year-old boy?” Heath asked, spitting out of his rolled-down window, those eyes once again darkening as they focused on him in the rearview. “Why are you so different?”

            Pete thought for a moment about telling them the truth, about telling them that unlike all these others that they mentioned, and they knew, Pete hadn’t reached out for anything. Pete hadn’t called on any gods or any higher power to save him. Pete had long ago realized that if he wanted anything, he would have to rely on himself.

            Truthfully, he wasn’t sure what made him different, if that was even the answer. Perhaps some others hadn’t reached as well, maybe there were some like him that were just losing their humanity piece by piece… Whatever the answer was, the fact remained that Pete was uncertain. There was no denying, however, that Pete very much understood their scorn. Pete understood why they would hate him for that very thing that made him so unpredictable and made him feel so unstable.

             He understood. But Pete was tired.

            “Nothing,” Pete finally said, his head lowering. “Absolutely nothing.”

            “Well,” Cage said softly. “When you do finally turn…I hope it’s with the Klan and not with us."

            “Agreed.” Pete lowered his head and said nothing more.

            The ride was quiet the rest of the way to Harlem, and Pete had the strongest sense of déjà vu. Cage hadn’t been lying when he stated that their circles were close. Not just the Jews, but the others that were targeted as well. They circled together often, groups of Jews integrated through Harlem to the point where a lot of restaurants that weren’t run by Jews had started offering kosher, and similarly the Jewish communities had started offering modified soul food. The token of appreciation had been reacted to with a great deal of laughter and smiles.

            They were in this together, it was too dangerous to go at it alone, what with how strong the hate groups were getting, and while they were never completely integrated, there was still a civility, and an understanding that they wouldn’t get anywhere else.

            Pete had been in Harlem frequently with his aunt and uncle, and he had once been a well-known face there, with friends all over the district. They rubbed elbows consistently and were let in places whites weren’t, and similarly they shared their cultures in the way that they could, respect given on both sides that was long earned. While the Bowery was technically home, Harlem had really made him feel welcome. It was a sense of belonging that Pete had missed.

            Pete sometimes wondered if he had been mourned when he went missing and was presumed dead. Then he always shook the thought from his mind and decided that he didn’t want to know. 

             Heath finally let them out in front of one of the most popular clubs in the district, one that he had frequented with Robbie, and Pete found the only thing he felt was numb. The thing about this club that had appealed to them back when they still went, was the fact that only people that were invited or otherwise well-known could enter. This was reinforced twice as hard if a curfew was in effect. That was the thing about curfews. It could bring communities together, but it was pretty hard if you were a stranger. Cage held the door open for him, and Pete entered first, Cage following after.

            The curfew was definitely still in effect he noted, taking in the patrons and seeing only people he knew, if only in passing, as well as the few new faces that had been introduced within the past year. The Lizard’s transformation and subsequent reign of destruction was still too close for normal people, the people that weren’t in the glitzy high-rises, separated by money and luxury. This, as always, was one of those places where people banded together in order to spend the long hours of the curfew amongst others and not alone. There wasn’t any music, attention being drawn in that manner was often considered to be too dangerous, but nonetheless people were laughing, and eating, and… Oh, yeah. That was definitely giggle juice…

            Everything stopped as soon as Pete and Cage entered the room. People stood, men moving to stand in front of the women and children, all of them staring at Pete with fear.

            “Easy, fellas,” Cage called out, holding his hands up. “This is our Mole. He’s the one that’s going to infiltrate the Klan.” He paused. “And I know a good few of you recognize him. The Spider’s still spinning its web, ladies and gents. We might as well help it along.”

            There was a long silence that grew between them before a laugh started from the back.

            “Hey Spider,” the man who laughed called, grinning wide, silver-rimmed glasses catching the light. Pete knew him. That was Lenny, he knew him from before he changed. He had wondered… Pete shook the thought from his mind.

            “Yo,” Pete acknowledged before the silence grew too long, tilting his head.

            “When you turn, destroy a few Klan members for me,” he said, grinning wide.

            “You shred it, wheat,” Pete said and there was a sudden sense of relief.

            “Alright…” the man behind the counter said, Lucky Baldwin, frowning deeply, watching him with weary eyes. “It’s allowed in here for now, but I want it be known that the minute it turns, I want it dead.”

            “We’ll be out of your way, and it’s not changing now,” Cage said, waving him off. “Come on,” he indicated a shadowy corner where no one else was sitting and Pete followed him. The two of them sat down and a waiter soon came up. The man was familiar in a vague sort of way, not one of the regulars therefore, and Pete found himself staring out of the corner of his eye for a moment until it struck him.

            The man had been on Ellis.

            “What can I get you gentlemen?” he asked.

            “Best hooch you got, and have the cook make something special. We’ve got business to talk and you can’t do that without food,” Cage said, lacing his fingers together.

            “Got it,” the man said, before looking at Pete. “You saved my life,” he said, his mouth in a thin line. “I don’t know if you remember me, but I was on Ellis.”

            “I remember you,” Pete corrected, his voice tired.

            “Hard to forget what happened, huh?” he asked, his fingers clenching into fists. “You know, I been wondering why you happened to show up. If you’re spying on the Klan, that means you’re white, right? Why’d you get involved? No one else bothered…”

            “That’s enough Marcus,” Cage said, voice tired. “We can debate the reasons until we’re ashy in the face, but now’s not the time.”

            Marcus frowned at them, before finally huffing. He turned on his heel and left.

            “The waiters are usually a little better than that,” Cage finally acknowledged after the silence stretched.

            “He’s entitled to his skepticism.”

            “Then you understand why I feel it now,” Cage stated. “I didn’t want a white man to infiltrate the Klan. Honestly, I would rather burn the whole lot of them down and not worry about figuring out who all is in it and for what reasons, but they talked me into it. You see, they brought up the fact that we don’t know who all’s in it. We don’t know who they might call up at a moment’s notice, what politician scrawls zeroes into their checkbook, what copper they’ve got on their payroll…” He frowned. “I was the one that talked them into you. I know you aren’t a part of it. You’ve done enough for us that it’s become increasingly obvious, and I remember when you helped me with Diamondback. I know what you did for us on Ellis.”

            “What’s your point?” Pete asked, leaning forward.

            “I talked them into you, but I tell you right now, if this is out of some goddamn white guilt, I want you out of this immediately,” Cage hissed. “I don’t need you deciding half-way through that you’re going to blow the entire thing by charging in half-cocked without a plan. I don’t need you getting stupid because you can’t keep your damn hero complex out of the damn equation.”

            Pete blinked, feeling a grin pull at his mouth, before finally losing himself in a laugh that he hadn’t expected. Ugly and bitter and something he had to physically bite back, it made Cage narrow his eyes, his fists clenching, and Pete waved it off. “I’m sorry,” Pete said. “I’ve just never had someone call it a hero complex.”

            “What would you call it?” Cage asked, letting himself relax.

            “A complete disregard for my own life,” Pete shrugged. “But alright, Cage, I’ll keep out of my own way.”

            “Good. Now, we’re going to be working on your backstory, your reason for hating us. Obviously, the Klan has a lot of things they hate, particularly now… This new batch spitting on everyone from the Jews to the Catholic to the Negro. Hell, I’ve even heard tell that they’ve been beating their own women when they get the opportunity. Some poor dame got beaten for adultery after she divorced her first husband and remarried.” Cage frowned, his expression dark. “So, Spider, with that in mind, what makes you hate us?”

            Pete blinked, before tilting his head back. “Hypothetically in this situation…?”

            “Of course, hypothetically,” Cage said, rolling his eyes. “I know you don’t suffer from their delusions, but you have to have a reason to hate us if they’re going to buy you.”

            Pete hesitated, tilting his head slightly, and then proceeded to spit out one of the filthiest slurs he knew, following it up with a quiet rant that made Cage balk, and then grin, and finally laugh.

            “Alright, alright, you’ve got the talk down, how on earth…? Was one of your relatives a racist fuck?”

            “I had a…friend…” Pete started softly, “they wouldn’t let him in places, and because I…well, I’m white,” lies, “I was able to draw attention easy enough. Not only could I get them to completely miss the fact that he had been in and was taking pictures, because once one of them starts ranting the rest start in on it and often lose track of anything else, he’d also have the ability to take a few snapshots of the guests. That was one of the less common methods. It depended on where we were at. If there was a sign on the wall, you best believe that we used that method.”

            “Using yourself as a smokescreen, that’s pretty clever, did you both come up with it?”

            “I’d noticed the way people had started to react to that kind of talk, so I suggested it, he agreed, and we worked together from there,” Pete responded tiredly .

            “I gotta say…” Cage trailed off as he leaned back on his chair, smiling slightly. “Alright, so you’re used to partnering then. Did he tell you what to say?”

            “We had a list of things that were acceptable and what made him laugh, versus things that made him want to punch me in the face on principle,” Pete responded.

            “Perfect,” Cage grinned. “Alright. Well, you’ve got the talk down, can you walk the walk?”

            “Can I hurt someone?” Pete asked.

            “Oh yeah, Spider…can you beat a poor wretch?” Cage asked, leaning forward. “Can you spit on an old Jewish grandma, can you beat a little negro boy that just wants to sell you a paper, can you…”

            “No,” Pete answered. “Not…not without some orchestration, some understanding.”

            “Well then, you’re in luck,” Cage said, spreading his hands. “Because here, we’re going to work on that orchestration. We’ll get them thinking you’re the biggest racist fuck in this little corner of New York. And we’re also going to get you settled with a backstory so airtight that they won’t have any idea.”

            “Sounds like a plan,” Pete shrugged, leaning forward slightly to put his crossed arms on the table. Cage grinned at him.

            “Hey, gents,” Cage called out. Pete blinked in slight surprise as they all turned to him, various sounds of consideration being made. “Got any volunteers to help this man prove he’s a racist son-of-a-bitch to a bunch of Klan fucks?”

            The laughter that followed was surprising, as was the number of people that approached. The number of people he knew. The whiskey was brought shortly after, as well as food, though when Pete looked at what they placed in front of him he realized the meat was raw. Pete hadn’t yet found himself struck with the need to eat raw meat, and worse, he was afraid that his body wouldn’t handle it should he try and eat it. The realization that he likely wasn’t going to be able to eat anything after all was swept up in a flurry of organization and planning.

            By the time the night was through, Pete had a working backstory, a slew of volunteers that were willing to listen for his voice and react appropriately, and a new list of things that he was able to say to the congregated minorities around him.

            He also hadn’t eaten a single thing and when they finally figuratively signed off on their agreement, Pete left, knowing that there was nothing else for it, and in the hubbub, he hadn’t been able to ask for anything more. Hadn’t wanted to ask for anything more or different. Though really, he wondered if that hadn’t been the point. Pete wouldn’t take off his mask all the way, why not give him something he couldn’t actually eat. By the end of it, the only thing in his belly was whiskey, and Pete found that while it was supposed to keep him warm, the only thing he felt was cold, and that slight lightheadedness that hummed in his skull.

            Pete found a small corner far away from Harlem, curling up tight in his web-hammock, trying to fall asleep, trying to ignore the pain of not eating that he had somehow forgotten in just those few short days of being with people that actually cared about him… But he was too tired for that. For once, Pete was exhausted deep into his soul, and the thought of going to the Spiders was painful. Before he could manage to go to sleep, there was a buzzing on his wrist. Pete blinked, before looking at the goober in realization. He slowly uncurled enough to open it and found a text from Miles. After a moment, looking down around him to make sure no one was near that would see, Pete opened the image file.

            And found he couldn’t breathe.

            The picture Miles had taken was of a…he thought Miles had called them ‘tags,’ and it was a wonderful mishmash of colors and shapes. He didn’t know exactly what it was that he was seeing, but he honestly didn’t care. The shapes blurred and ran together in a series of interlocking patterns that drew his eye from one end to the other. It was beautiful, it was…

            Pete blinked heavy eyes, realizing as he did so that they likely wouldn’t open again for a while, and he fell asleep without answering, something warm filling his chest that for once, didn’t feel like burning. When he finally woke up, it was to screaming. Pete ran to find the location of the screaming, leaping and twisting over gaps between buildings, looking into alleys and in streets, trying to find the cause.

            When he finally did it was to the sight of a man kneeling in the middle of the street, his hands pressed to his forehead. His voice held the thick accent of an Irishman and when Pete finally got close enough to see what had been done, Pete felt sick to his stomach.

            The Klan was getting braver. They were attacking people in broad daylight.

            And Pete hadn’t even seen anyone that had done it. By the time that they had managed to get the man to stop screaming long enough to get him to a doctor, Pete was more certain than ever that he was going to do this, and he was going to do this well. Stark and the rest be damned, he wasn’t about to let the Klan get away with this.


 

            Pete stood before Stark’s tower with a foreboding deep in his soul and a throb of something angry deep in his chest. It had been two days of ever-increasing escalation and Pete was tired. He’d been running all over New York trying to see what he could do. There wasn’t much. He hadn’t been properly established yet, and he was holding to the promise he had made to not run in half-cocked without a plan. The familiar burn of his spinnerets was back, complete with the tension that came when he flexed his wrists, bruises running down the length of his arms.

            For a moment he thought of Porker and wondering if he had any advice for him, and then he shoved it back.

            Tonight, was about final prep work, and then Pete would finally be able to do what he had been waiting for. Pete entered the building to find Luke Cage and a man that he knew was Matthew Murdock. Daredevil was out of the suit, and that was enough to get him to straighten his own back. Pete wasn’t wearing his mask. He’d come with a thick scarf that covered the lower half of his face, and more importantly, his old glasses, that he had modified into sunglasses that would hide his eyes. The hat on his head helped further complete the anonymity, and while he knew that he would have to remove it so his hair could be cut, he assumed Stark would have someone ready for that, for now at least it could stay.

            If they were surprised to see a bit of his skin neither of them said anything, they just followed him to the elevator, both of them behind and to either side of him. The elevator ride up was quiet, and when the door finally opened he was surprised to find someone he recognized and hadn’t expected standing with the rest. Schmidt was standing with what looked like a small wardrobe of clothing next to him, while Charles Richards had what looked like an entire bag full of haircutting supplies.

            He always had been over-prepared.

            “Hello, Williams,” Stark grinned, clapping his hands together, calling him the fake name they had agreed to. Pete was relieved he stuck to the surname. “We have your first couple of weeks’ worth of clothing, and this gentleman here, Richards, will be cutting your hair if it needs it.”

            Pete hesitated, before finally taking the hat off with a slight shrug. “It needs it,” he said, and Charles made a dismayed sound that would have made Pete laugh in another life.

            “With me,” he said, gesturing for Pete to follow. Pete did, following him all the way over to the bathroom, which was bigger than his entire room when he had lived in the Bowery. Charles sat him down on the toilet, covered his shoulders with a towel and after a bit of hesitation, Pete unwrapped his scarf, keeping the glasses on. While there might be some connections with his jawline, the scars were very much something he had gained later. No one that knew him before would expect them, and even with Charles, who Pete had known before he had turned, he doubted that the connection would be made.

            Sure enough, Charles didn’t say a damn thing in recognition, just cut his hair carefully, having him wet it in the sink first. There was none of the back and forth that Pete had grown so used to with him. The man had been like another uncle or a much older brother, Pete had never been certain, and the silence between them sat heavily on his shoulders in a way that Pete had never felt. Pete didn’t ask him about his family, about little Rosie who would be turning four this year, about his wife Becky…

            “The hell did you do this to your hair?” Charles finally asked him, “I didn’t think the whole cursed thing came with a bad haircut, so what the hell did you do?”

            “Cut it with a knife,” Pete answered. Charles made a dismayed sound.

            “Why would you go and do that for?” Charles asked, taking a step back to glare at him properly, his own tightly curled hair perfectly trimmed.

            “Keep it out of my face,” Pete answered, shrugging. “It’s not like I have money to pay a barber, and it’s also not like anyone was going to see it.”

            Charles hesitated, frowning, before finally huffing out a quiet curse. “Well, until you’re through with this operation you’re going to come to me. My barbershop is in Harlem, if you need it cut again before this is over…you’re welcome there.”

            “Thank you,” Pete said softly.

            “Yeah, well, you’re a key part of this operation and I’m going to do my part to make sure it goes well,” Charles glared. “This isn’t out of any favors to you, you understand?”

            Pete closed his eyes, finally feeling that pull from his lips twisting into the ugly smile he truly couldn’t help. “I understand perfectly,” he said.

            Charles tilted his head up slightly, looking down his broad nose at him and finally give a huff. “Alright, just so we’re clear.”

            Charles finished cutting his hair and Pete wrapped the scarf back around the lower half of his face after Charles brushed off his shoulders of the excess hair. Pete caught a glance of his reflection in the mirror as they passed, and he had to say it was a definite improvement. Schmidt had laid out an outfit for him when they got back, and Stark was holding his new birth certificate as well as what looked like various series of dates and numbers with various words next to them, a job identification card and a social security number. Pete took the birth certificate first, reading ‘Mark Williams, Date of Birth: 8/13/1900’ and almost laughed. He bit it down and kept looking it over, memorizing where it said he was born, and carefully adding it to the folder that Stark handed over.

            “Do you have anywhere you can keep those safe?” Stark asked.

            “I do,” he agreed, nodding his head.

            “Good,” Stark nodded, “while I don’t know if they’ll be necessary, it’s probably best for you to have them. I have a few character witnesses here if you need them, too. They’re forged, naturally, but you shouldn’t have an issue with that.”

            Pete stuck them in the folder, too, and finally turned to Schmidt.

            “Alright,” Schmidt started, “your first few outfits have been finished completely, I have a couple that I am still working on. I don’t believe you need to worry about having them all at once, and perhaps you will be so successful you won’t need them at all. We will hope for the best.” He held them out to him. “Your scarf will match, if you wish to keep it on, as will your hat. I went with mostly black; I think that will be the best shade for you considering I don’t know how often you can launder anything, and your complexion…it may be best to highlight that.”

            “Ace,” Pete agreed brightly enough, taking the…the suit that Schmidt handed him. It was a suit, and Pete had never owned one before, had never thought he would. He bet that he would have to give it back after this was all over, but for now…well, for now it was his. He left to get changed.

            Pete had forgotten what it was like to have clothes that actually fit him. While they had moved out of the Hooverville, they were still careful to save where they could, and buying clothes second-hand or otherwise was still a common enough practice that Pete hadn’t had very many clothes that fit them. While sewing was a common practice, Pete had often been so busy that he hadn’t had time to adjust anything, and eventually wound up not caring. His entire family had often been so busy that there just wasn’t time to adjust everything, so this…

            Pete looked at the closed door, and after a moment of hesitation, unwrapped the scarf, and removed the glasses, before standing in front of the full-length mirror that Stark had in his bathroom for whatever reason. Vanity, perhaps, whatever the reason, it was on the back of the door, and he stared at it for the longest time. His reflection stared back, and Pete examined the man in the mirror closely. The lack of glasses, the cuts on his face, the way he carried himself…

            No one from Pete’s old life would recognize him. Pete didn’t even recognize himself. Pete wrapped the scarf around his face again regardless, replacing the sunglasses and his hat, before carefully wrapping his spidersuit in webbing after folding it up neatly. He would stick it somewhere out of the way before he got settled, eventually doing the same with the new folder that contained his information as soon as it was no longer needed. The pockets that were in his coat would be able to give him a place to hold what was necessary, Schmidt had definitely delivered on that front, plenty of secret pockets within both the coat and the pants.

            When he finally left the bathroom, they all turned to look at him, giving sharp little exclamations of praise for Schmidt’s work, and the way everything came together.

            “Alright, you have your backstory?” Stark asked.

            “Yes,” Pete agreed.

            “Okay. I think that’s it then,” Stark said, turning to the others. “Final words?”

            “Don’t fuck this up, Spider,” Cage rumbled low.

            “They’re in Westchester,” Murdoch said, his voice stiff. “You’ll find the recruiter by Bailey’s. His name’s Sylvester Wright. It shouldn’t take much,” Murdoch tilted his head slightly. “They really believe everyone thinks the way they do.”

            “There’s a cab in the drive, it’ll take you there,” Stark said.

            “Report back as soon as you can. Stark’s given you a list of codewords to use on phones if you get an opportunity, as well as our numbers. We’re the only ones you can report to specifically unless given other permission,” Cage said. “Is all of this clear?”

            “Crystal,” Pete agreed with a nod.

            “Good. Good luck.”

            Pete left with a nod of his head after carefully wrapping the other clothes in webbing, keeping them in their tissue paper packaging in order to keep them as dust free as possible. His webbing was both waterproof and worked very well as a preservative, so they should be fine. He took the cab that was waiting for him with no small measure of trepidation, telling the cabbie to let him out before he got to Bailey’s so he could hide the webbing-wrapped clothing parcels, and carefully organized his documents.

            When he was finally finished, he unwrapped his scarf and walked into Westchester, keeping his back straight, his gait a long thing that he had practiced with Robbie. It ate up distance quickly, and better yet, gave him the look of a man that thought he owned the place. Bailey’s wasn’t hard to spot, nor was the man that stood outside of it, a platinum-haired individual that couldn’t have been much older than Pete was pretending to be, giving the people around him a look of complete condescension.

            Pete smirked to himself, and deliberately knocked into one of the people walking by him. He immediately cussed him out, and proceeded to make the biggest deal out of it that he could. The man that had caught his attention laughed at one of his finer points and walked up to him with a very similar stride, a grin on his face.

            “They really are good for nothing, aren’t they?” he said, watching the man that Pete had bumped into as he backed away.

            Pete scoffed, and made a comment that caused the man he now knew was Sylvester to laugh, turning a grinning face his way.

            “Say, friend…you seem like a fine sort… Do you think I could buy you a drink? I know where…ah, they haven’t quite managed to cut off the flow, if you know what I mean…”

            “Why not?” Pete agreed, and followed the man into the city, starting up a dialogue that his aunt would have washed his mouth out for, and his uncle would have been so disappointed by.

            Phase one had been set in motion. It was only a matter of time.  

 

Chapter Text

            Pete had never been more out of place. Even with a large pocketbook in his back pocket from Stark which held more money than Pete had ever seen currently burning holes through it, the place Wright had taken him made him feel unmistakably like a phony. It wasn’t even that Pete didn’t have experience blending in places he shouldn’t have; Pete absolutely had gone undercover before. He was a private detective, sometimes that was a part of his job, and he could do it well. Pete had hidden in plain sight and been able to not just get all of the information he needed, but more. Pete knew what he was doing, he knew how not to say too much, how to imply the fact that he held onto more knowledge than he was giving and draw the other person into giving more information than they realized. He was good at it, even, but this…

            Pete hadn’t been able to do something like this since the wind increased, since it had begun to smell more like rain wherever he went as too much of his humanity was taken, but here… This was Manhattan, this was wide open balcony doors and rich fellas and their dames cozying up to them, no care for anything.

            The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

            Pete had to deliberately keep himself from reacting at the prices on the menu, keep himself polite, and try and avoid having his Bowery accent slip through too much. There was no money in the Bowery, and even though Stark’s background had included a lucky break and an escape from the Bowery, there would be no way a self-made man would keep hold of his roots. Regardless, everything that Pete was rebelled against everything around him.

            Wright, on the other hand was perfectly at home in his surroundings. He talked to the waiters, laughed at conversations, traded jokes, and, luckily enough for Pete, liked to talk. He liked to talk a lot. He talked about everything from the state of the country due to immigration, to ‘those damn Jews’ and those… Pete had to take a sip of his scotch to cover up the way his nose wanted to wrinkle. The drink had been ordered for him, and Pete was careful about it. He wasn’t exactly a lightweight, but he had been lowering in tolerance lately, and the last thing he wanted was to get slippery with his words. It probably had something to do with his lack of weight.

            It was amazing what could change in a year. Pete still remembered that first drink he had gotten with Ben Urich at the Black Cat, Felicia… Pete found his head lowering, slightly, and he went to take a sip of his drink again, only for Wright to elbow him gently.

            “What’s got you so glum, chum?” he asked, raising an eyebrow at him, eyes paler than his own reflecting real concern. “You ain’t said much, your scotch not up to taste?”

            “It’s fine,” Pete responded, feeling vaguely nauseated at the sight of that concern reflected at him from someone he knew would hate him if he knew… “I was just…lost in thought for a second.” His eyes danced to the couples across from him, watching them dance together, his mouth turning down at the corners.

            “Dame trouble?” Wright asked, following his gaze. Pete allowed himself to nod, grimacing as though the thought pained him. “Ah, yeah, that’d do it,” Wright sighed. “Women…can’t live with them, but you can’t live without them…” he gave a slight shrug.

            “She was attacked,” Pete said, his voice soft. “I couldn’t save her.”

            Wright’s entire countenance changed, and he turned to look at Pete with wide eyes. “I’m sorry,” he said. “That’s a lot different…some negro?”

            Pete felt like he had swallowed razors, but allowed himself to nod, ducking his head down, knowing it would lead credence to his want to join the Klan, and also win him sympathy points. Both of which were very important. He just wished it wasn’t off the back of what actually happened… The problem was, though, if he didn’t keep it mostly accurate there would be no way to sell it.

            The thing about lies, the best kind of lies at least, was they always held a grain of truth in them, and Pete knew that he would be doing a lot of lying, and he had to make it count.

            The comment that Wright made afterwards made Pete take another sip of his drink to bite back the retort that he wanted to make, instead allowing his head to dip in what could be easily interpreted as a nod. Wright hummed sympathetically and clasped his shoulder.

            “You know, Williams…there are organizations out there that are doing their best for the common people,” Wright said softly. “Organizations that can see the…harm that these groups are doing to America, and to freedom. These…monsters that are showing up, Williams, you know that there was an increase of over 75% in their appearance once immigration started becoming more common? And there’s been such a…”

            Pete did his best to appear interested, kept his gaze locked on Wright, nodding at all the right times, but the longer he talked the more Pete wanted to strangle him. Wright was right about the immigration increase, but the thing he wasn’t taking into account was the Great Depression hit at almost the exact same time. A bubble had been produced that had popped, it had nothing to do with the immigrants, or anything else that he was saying.

            Most of the immigrants that came had been desperate, that was true, but they had seen America as an escape, as an opportunity. They had been willing to make it work. The stock market collapse, everything that followed, that was the true key. That was the start of the desperation and the true ticket that had allowed the gods to get more of a hold, had brought them into their current crisis. ‘Immigration,’ Pete had to take another drink.

            Pete looked at his half-empty glass and realized that he might be in trouble if this was the way the conversation would continue. He needed food or something to balance the alcohol in his system. Idly, Pete wondered how Mr. Davis would react to him drinking. That was illegal on two fronts, age, and prohibition.

            Though, his birth certificate said he was thirty-three. It was only half illegal. 

            “It all sounds pretty keen,” he said when Wright finished, the man looking at him with a wide smile, his hand on Pete’s shoulder as though it was meant to be there.

            “What if I told you you could be a part of it?” Wright asked with the air of a salesman about to make his final pitch. Pete turned interested eyes his way, raising a singular eyebrow.

            “I’d say that you had to be joshing,” Pete responded.

            “No, not at all…in fact, I’d be quite willing to vouch for you,” Wright said, grinning. “You see…we’re recruiting people into our little organization, and you might be the perfect one to bring into the fold. What, with your background…you know better than most exactly how…”

            Pete took a deep breath, listening to him, giving periodic nods, allowing his expression to brighten periodically, until finally he gave him a grin. “Well, damn. Are you sure that you’d be willing to vouch for me? You barely even know me…”

            “Well, Williams, I think that I’m a very good judge of character,” Wright said, smiling at him. “I can tell who’s passing, and I can tell right away when someone doesn’t…fit, and you, my friend, absolutely do fit.” Pete knocked back the rest of his drink. “You also seem like a fine sort of man. You want to make your country better; you want to keep your family safe, and you want to keep what happened to your dame from happening to anyone else. All of those, in my book, are perfectly good reasons to take you in. We’ll need a birth certificate and a character witness, of course, but that’s easily taken care of.”

            Pete took a breath, and then finally shrugged. “Well then, Wright…I think I’d be happy to join you.”

            “Sylvester,” Wright said, taking his hand in his and shaking it. “Welcome to the Klan.”

 


 

 

            Pete wasn’t expecting for the initiation to be as frightening, and yet somehow laughable as it was

            Fifty men stood in front of him, all of them clad in the white hooded garb of the Klan, a burning cross before them, and a stone alter to the side. Surprisingly enough, their ‘ritual’ took place, not in the sewer he had been dreading, but nonetheless underground. Unused subway tunnels, ones that they were using to work on connecting the city together, but nonetheless unfinished. The distant rumbling of the subway was heard periodically, but the most important thing was that burning cross, and that stone alter.

            It had been two days of getting slowly closer, presenting character references and reporting back to Stark and co, before finally he had been accepted fully, and here he stood at the alter of something he hated, about to kneel and claim his position. There were more of them behind him, but Pete had been the one they had chosen to be knighted.

            He’d been right about the sympathy points.

            Wright had spread his sob story around, and it had gained a lot of traction, bringing him further into the fold that he needed to fall into. It wasn’t enough to make him one of the elite, but it was enough to lend him an ear, and that’s what he needed. The closer he got to the elite group, the easier it would be to figure out who all was involved with the organization and how to stop them.

            Regardless, Pete found himself kneeling before that alter, bowing his head as the Grand Wizard of the Klan spoke, his face veiled, and hadn’t that name been a treat to figure out. Pete hadn’t known how to react when he heard some of the titles that they were given. Grand Dragon, Grand Cyclops… Pete had nearly spat his drink, which would have been a major problem. Either way, the names were ridiculous, this ritual was ridiculous, and if it wasn’t for the fact that he knew that they had the power and the hate to be able to truly affect the world around him…

            And worse, his spidersense wouldn’t stop screaming. It was never-ending, a low drone that rose to a fever pitch and then waned again, a powerful dread welling up within him, along with the knowledge that he would have a splitting headache as soon as he left, if not sooner. These people, if they knew what and who he was, would all want him dead. He knew that with every fiber of his being. But his spidersense wouldn’t shut up about it anyway

            Pete closed his eyes, feeling as the naked sword was placed on his shoulder, the flat of the blade and not the edge. It made his spidersense scream, he idly thought he might be sick, or pass out, he hoped that it would be seen as reverence and not the absolute horror and disgust that it actually was, the fear echoing through his mind splitting his head in two. It rested there as the Grand Wizard uttered his final blessing, and then Pete was encouraged to stand.

            “Welcome, Knights of the Klan!” the Grand Wizard bellowed, holding his arms up, and the new recruits cheered, Pete allowing his own voice to cry out. He bowed and took the signature robes as they were offered. He tasted bile.

            The only thing that Pete hoped was this whole thing would be done with quickly.


 

 

            Pete’s first report was as impersonal as possible. Due to the fact that they all left at once he was forced to follow the main crowd, acting as though he was heading home. The robes were in a bag that he kept underneath his jacket, and Pete wanted to burn them. He wanted to burn them like they burned that cross, like they burned shuls, like they burned chapels, like they burned people.

            He hated them, he hated them, he hated them.

            Regardless, he stopped to make a phone call in a booth, carefully inserting his change and calling direct to Cage. Cage picked up on the third ring, knowing that Pete was going to be accepted into their fold and therefore staying near the phone.

            “Hello, Cole?” Pete asked, using the agreed upon fake name they had decided on.

            “Speaking, that you Williams?” Cage asked.

            “It is, it is,” Pete answered, twirling the phone chord in his fingers.

            “Well, how’d the interview go?” Cage asked.

            “Swell,” Pete answered, “thank you for setting that up, it really went very well. I definitely got the job.”

            “I’m damn proud of you, that was a hard thing to get into,” Cage said.

            “Yeah,” Pete agreed, sighing. “It was a lucky break.”

            “Well, you’ve got it, man, that’s all that matters. Will me and the girls be seeing you later?”

            “No, sorry, Cole, but I can’t. I appreciate all that you’ve done for me, but I have some things to attend to. Say hi to the wife and kids for me,” Pete said.

            “I will,” Cage responded. “Goodbye.”

            “Goodbye,” Pete hung up, sighing, and took a step out of the booth. The man in front of him made him take a step back, his spidersense screaming once again, buzzing in his temples. It wouldn’t shut up!

            Pete was so tired

            “Hello,” the unknown man said, grinning, and Pete recognized him as one of the new recruits. The only ones that hadn’t been hooded had been the recruits, and that had been one hell of a kick in the teeth. Pete didn’t care about the small fry and neither did anyone else, but the leaders, the organizers? The Dragons and the Wizards, that was what he would have to destroy, and he still found the thought amusing. 

            This, however, was not at all funny.

            “Hello,” Pete returned, watching him warily. “Can I help you?”

            After a while the man didn’t respond, so Pete finally turned and began walking in the opposite direction. As he walked, though, he was keenly aware of the fact that the man was following him. Pete hesitated, and then began winding his way through the pedestrian traffic in a way that should hopefully shake him. As he went, he did his best to attract attention to the fact that he was being followed, knowing that something was likely to happen, and he needed witnesses to the fact that something was wrong. His spidersense was still screaming, and Pete was very uneasy.

            Finally, he came to the conclusion that the man wouldn’t be leaving him alone anytime soon. Pete immediately began doubling back and walking in a way that would get the man to lose him. He had no desire to be cornered by him, and he was pretty sure that either way he sliced it, getting caught would be bad news. When his spidersense no longer screamed at him, Pete allowed himself to take to the rooftops, knowing that if he had done so any earlier the jig might have been up, but now the only thing he wanted to do was run.

            Pete had never been a part of an organization where the members tried to menace other members, and he didn’t particularly like it. Pete knew that he would have to do his best to keep his distance if he could but given that he would be in the same rank and caste as him, Pete thought it would be rather difficult.

            So, maybe he needed to stop it before it became a real threat.

             Not even a day later and Pete found himself in the inopportune but expected position of being cornered by the exact same man that he had been trying to avoid. He hadn’t quite come up with a plan to deal with him, which was unfortunate, but he could deal with it now.

            To top off an already odd day, and this he had not expected at all, the other men that he was in the same caste with had noted the odd man’s ire and had actively been trying to warn Pete about him. This was the thing that Pete was mainly frightened by, the fact that to a man, the whole of them had been…remarkably decent to him. They seemed…nice, in a way that made him want to vomit, showing honest concern about one of their new members, and informing him that someone had a grudge.

The way they talked about the supposed ‘others’ however, revealed just how truly awful they actually were.

            They’d also been going about introducing themselves to him, talking about the meetings that they would be in, and just…genuinely being concerned about his welfare. Everything about this made Pete uncomfortable and want to take a long shower afterwards.

            Regardless, their constant warnings hadn’t kept him from getting cornered, but to be fair, Pete had been after it. He wanted a fight that he understood, he wanted a person that hated him in the way that they were supposed to, that wouldn’t ask him to meet for lunch after the meeting was over even as Pete’s spidersense buzzed in his skull in warning. 

            So, here Pete stood, cornered in one of the more disused subway tunnels, watching a man that walked towards him with heavy feet, swaying slightly in a way that suggested heavy liquor had been involved in his bravery.

            “You were the one they selected to be knighted,” the man said, his lips pursed slightly when he finally stood before him. The man was taller than him by a solid half-foot, staring down at him with blazing eyes that were bloodshot and above all, mean

            “You’re going to talk about this here?” Pete asked quietly, looking at the entrance to the little tunnel they were in, checking for passing members of the Klan. 

            “Why do you care?” the man asked, his eyes narrowing. “Are you ashamed?”

            “No, you daft idiot,” Pete found himself biting out before he could help it. “They chose me because I know the recruiter personally, and because they know my circumstances… It has nothing to do with shame.” He leveled a glare at the man who just casually raised an eyebrow, a slight grin on his face. The man leaned closer, and he smelled of whiskey, and his steely grey eyes were bright, his wax-paper skin a pale that rivaled Pete’s own, glossy white hair sleeked back on his head.

            “I think you’re ashamed,” he whispered in Pete’s ear, and Pete jerked back. “Why else wouldn’t you accept any invites to go with the others? Why else would you have looked like you wanted to vomit when they rested the sword on your shoulder?”

            “You’re full of shit,” Pete hissed, raising himself up to his full height and trying to look intimidating to a man who dwarfed him in almost every way. “You’re also drunk, you need to go home to whatever hovel you call yours and sleep it off. I think the one who’s really ashamed,” Pete whispered, “is you, considering you couldn’t even be here sober. You wonder why they chose me to represent our group? It’s because they have people like you to compete with me.”

            “You watch your mouth,” he hissed, taking a step towards Pete in warning.

            Pete took a step back, holding his hands up. “Look, I have to go, there’s a few things that I need to take care of. I’ll see you at the next meeting,” he mumbled, and turned. In retrospect, this was a dumb move, but Pete was tired, and the ringing in his skull had turned into a definite headache by this point, agony pulsing behind his eyes. He just wanted to go home.

            In the end, Pete had only taken a couple of steps before his spidersense screamed even more sharply than it had, but by then it was too late. A fire burned in his lower-back, and Pete stumbled, before falling to the ground and kicking up and back, catching the man in the groin and causing him to fall to his knees.

            The man made an awful sound, cradling his bits, and looking a bit as though he might throw up.

            “You son of a bitch!” he screamed out, and lurched towards him, his hands and gaze firmly locked on the knife that was still in Pete. Pete kicked back again in a sweep that ground the knife deeper, causing him to let out a soft sound of pain, even as his boot cracked into the side of the man’s head and sent him bouncing off the concrete ground head-first. He didn’t move again.

            Pete hesitated, agony searing through him. Finally, he reached back, trying to find the knife handle, only to find that it was wedged in that perfect spot that made it not only difficult to pull it out, but dangerous. If he pulled at the wrong angle it could seriously mess him up. Not to mention the fact that every time he tried it burned, and Pete found himself just about ready to throw up because of pain.

            Pete didn’t want to go to the Klan for help, but there was a knife in his back, and he was bleeding, and soon he’d be bleeding out… He needed help, he needed…

            Rio…

            Pete opened his goober and began hunting for her name. When he found it, he pressed the button to select her, and typed a quick message, fighting the black spots in his eyes.

Pete: Are you busy?

Rio: No, not at all! I got done with my shift for the day and I’m enjoying a little break at home. How are you doing?

Pete: I need help.

Rio: Come now

            Pete turned his goober to the proper channel, pressed twice, and fell through the portal. He hoped that the man wouldn’t be found, they had been in such a far off tunnel and people had been leaving, so it was likely… He knew that there was a patrol, but it was later, and there would be a narrow window where he might be able to come up with a story to explain the man, and the knife. 

            Pete finally tumbled into Rio’s living room, Rio letting out a shocked gasp at the sight of him, particularly as Pete allowed a groan to leave his lips at the feeling of that knife digging deeper.

            “Pete!” she cried out. She’d already gathered her first aid kit, and was busy pulling gloves on. “Okay, I need you to lie on your stomach,” she instructed. Pete did so carefully, feeling the pull of the knife in his back, his breathing shallow. “What happened?” she asked softly as she got everything that she needed ready. Pete was pretty sure she would have to cut his shirt open… It was a pity, Pete thought idly, he’d liked this shirt. He was glad that he wasn’t wearing his robes. He was glad that he hadn’t been wearing his overcoat, he might be able to hide it, create defensive wounds across his arms…

            “Pete,” Rio said louder, breaking him out of his musings, and Pete made a thoughtful noise. “What happened?” she asked, and Pete found that he couldn’t answer.

            Suddenly, the realization of what he was doing ran through him. Suddenly, he realized he was in the home of an interracial couple, and he had been knighted by the Klan. Suddenly…the thought of telling her what he was doing filled him with something so strong he couldn’t speak, and what wound up happening was he passed out.

            When Pete came to there was no knife in his back and he’d been properly bandaged. The shirt had been ripped open and laid next to him, but that would be something he could hide. He’d dropped the jacket to the side when the man had cornered him, so it was something he could just put over his clothes. He was momentarily embarrassed at the fact that Rio had seen him half-naked, but it was hardly the first time, and it was obviously necessary in order for her to properly bandage the wound. Pete slowly pushed himself to his knees, feeling the burn of the stitches, but realizing as he twisted that he would be able to handle it pretty well. He’d had worse, and he could tell that Rio had done a good job.

            “How long was I out?” Pete asked, and Rio jumped, her hands coming out to him.

            “Pete, you have to lie down, you’re going to pull your stitches, you…”

            “I have to go,” Pete denied, shaking his head. “Rio, I’m so sorry, I…I hate to run, but I have to go…” Rio caught his hand and turned his attention to her, her hand coming up to cradle his jaw.

            “Pete, please,” she said, her eyes so desperate, so hurt. “Pete, you have to stay, you have to…you have to recover, you were stabbed. It was so lucky, you were so lucky, nothing critical was pierced, but you…”

            “I can’t,” Pete denied, taking her hand in his and squeezing it, taking it away from his face. “Rio, I’m so sorry, I can’t. But thank you, thank you so much, I thought I was going to die, but I have to go. It’s literally a matter of life and death, and I might be in even more trouble if I can’t get there in time…”

            Rio fought past her hold on him and cupped his face in her hands. “Pete,” she said, her voice firm. “If nothing else, please let me feed you. I don’t know how long it’s been since you had a full meal, but you need one. I can see it in your eyes. I just spent ten minutes making sure you were properly stitched up and you wouldn’t bleed out. Please, Pete, just give me ten more minutes to feed you.”

            Pete hesitated, before finally giving a harsh nod. It would keep, he could…it would keep. Rio took him into the kitchen and sat him down at the table, going to the fridge and coming back with an assortment of what took him a moment to realize were pizzas.

            “We had a pizza party last night before Miles went back to school for the last day of the week,” Rio explained. “He had forgotten something at home and came back last evening, so we figured we might as well make a night of it. You…you don’t keep kosher, correct?”

            “I don’t,” Pete agreed heavily. He took the boxes from her and spent some time eating through the leftovers, losing himself in the sudden ability to eat. He didn’t bother heating them, and he didn’t really care. It had been too long, and Pete was too tired to really care about how warm or not warm it was. They tasted good, and they were filling, and that was all that really mattered.

            When he finished, he was on the edge of uncomfortably full, but that was an edge he scraped up against often. The hard fact of it was, Pete wasn’t used to being full. He wasn’t used to getting anywhere close to enough to eat. Anytime he did it was uncomfortable, but Pete didn’t have the capacity to care.

            Rio came back, and Pete hadn’t even noticed her leave, but she came back holding his shirt, which he realized she had sewn together. The blood had also been washed out, and the shirt was damp, but clean. It was perfect. It meant he now had options. He carefully lifted his arms, and she pulled it onto him gently, recognizing the request for help, as Pete didn’t think he could lift his arms much higher. He ached. Pete slowly pushed himself upright, and Rio took that moment to hug him.

            It was a gentle hug, but firm, encircling him in such a way that he felt grounded, almost encased, but able to pull away if he needed to. Pete found himself holding her back without really thinking about it, and finally Rio backed away, holding his arms gently in her hands.

            “Okay, Pete,” she said. “Good luck, please…be careful with those stitches. I cleaned it very well so it shouldn’t get infected, but you have to be careful. Please, if it starts to burn or…anything, come back to me, okay?”

           Pete nodded. “I will, thank you…” Pete said, and backed out of her grip, but took a moment to squeeze her hands in his, before grabbing the knife and then opening a portal back to his world and tumbling back into the subway. Pete hesitated for a moment, trying to swallow back the bile he wanted to spit at the sudden wrench in pain, though the lack of anything wet or overly hot coming from his wound meant it likely had just pulled.

            Pete took several deep breaths, looking at the dead body before him, before moving over to his jacket he had dropped and carefully, as gingerly as he could, he slid it on.

            Once it was in place Pete looked at the knife, and with a grim frown, slashed it across his forearms. The sting of pain and the warmth of blood leaking out followed, and Pete dropped the knife, even as he bowed over the body, defensive blood splatter. Pete always wore gloves, there were no prints of his on the knife, and Rio had worn gloves as well. He took the knife and wrapped the man’s hand around it carefully, before moving himself into position where it looked like he had just managed to kick him back and away. The blood on the unknown man’s temple was still leaking, the subways warm enough that it wouldn’t congeal for a while yet.

            Pete finished positioning everything just in time. He could hear the approaching guard, and he finally allowed the headache to really penetrate his skull, finally allowed himself to wallow in the pain he was in. Pete started trembling, throwing his arms up, over his face, feeling the wet hot blood trickle onto his face, and he gave a couple grunts and gasps of pain, hearing the approaching feet run faster. He kicked the ground in a way that simulated a body falling, the echoes helping to shift the sound, even as he cried out again.

            “Help!” Pete called out. “Help, please!” his voice cracked, convincingly, sounding like he had been shouting for longer than he had, and finally two men wearing the robes of the Klan rushed in. They took in what supposedly happened, and immediately ran to Pete, calling out in recognition.

            “Williams, Williams!” one of them called, reaching out. They dropped next to him, carefully taking his arms in their hands, avoiding where he had been cut, and pulling them gently away from his face, hushing him. The concern they were treating him with was almost enough to make him actually vomit.

            “Son of a bitch,” the other said, looking at the man that Pete had killed. “Fuck! It’s Mike… I knew we shouldn’t have invited him. We shouldn’t have brought him into the Klan, he was too unstable. Dammit…” he hissed, and then turned back to Pete. Pete allowed the other man to cut away his sleeves in order to bare his forearms, revealing the cuts that Pete had made, the ones that looked very distinctively like defensive wounds. “Come on,” he said, and helped the other man pull him upright. “Up you get, Williams…I’m so fucking sorry. We should have been paying more attention to him,” he said. “We’ll get you help, Williams, it’s alright.”

            “I killed him,” Pete moaned, trying to make his voice suitably broken up, cracking it. “I killed him, I just…I kicked his legs out from under him,” he managed, “he came at me with a knife, and I thought I was going to die…”

            “It’s alright, Williams,” the man to his left hushed. “You’re okay, you won’t be in trouble. We’ll get everything sorted out. You were acting in self-defense, no one blames you. No one will know, it’s okay. We’ve got a deal with the police, we’ll be able to sweep it under the rug, and everything will be fine.”

            Pete gave a terrible little sound, the other hushing him.

            “It’s okay,” the one to his right said. “It’s always a shock after you kill the first one, but it gets easier after that. You didn’t do anything wrong, Williams, you acted just as you should have. We knew that he was coming at you sideways, but we didn’t realize it would lead to this. Fucker was jealous, he couldn’t take the fact that we chose someone else to get symbolically knighted for the rest of you. We know what happened with your dame, we know what it means to you to be here, of course we chose you. You represent everything that we’re about. As for Mike, well, don’t worry. We’ll deal with it. We knew he had your number; I just didn’t think it was that big of a number. All we have to do is bandage you up, and then Mathews here will help you get home, you won’t have to worry about a damn thing. We take care of our own, Williams, it’s okay.”

            Pete hated them more in that moment than he ever had. How dare they be so kind to him. How dare they treat him like he was one of them. How dare they use their power to sweep things under the rug. How dare they, how dare they, how dare they. It made Pete sick. It made him want to scrub himself until he was raw, he’d never felt filthier, even after crawling through the sewers. Pete allowed himself to be led through the tunnels, various members of the Klan offering shock and horror, and sympathy, enough sympathy to make him choke on it, enough sympathy to make him tremble, the man on his right telling them to get rid of Mike’s body. They’d deal with Williams.

            Pete was sat down in their medical bunk, the Klan doctor carefully bandaging his wounds after taking off his jacket. None of them noticed his shirt, and when they eventually brought him a change of clothes, they turned their backs out of proper 1930s etiquette, allowing Pete to change without revealing his bandages, and the stab wound on his back. Pete hissed in pain as he slid it on, but it didn’t matter. Neither did pulling the jacket on so it hid his true thinness. It was important, so he did it. He also took his old clothes with him, holding them with a type of reverence that insinuated the fact that they were dear to him. None of them questioned it.

            They knew his supposed history.

            When Pete was finished, the man that had been on his left took him up from the tunnels. The word had apparently been spread that ‘Williams’ had been attacked, because he was treated to all manner of well-wishes and apologies. No one could believe it had happened, they all wished him a speedy recovery, and apologized for not paying more attention to Mike.

            Pete hated all of them.

            When he finally was able to collapse in the temporary headquarters that Stark had provided, Pete crashed, and he crashed hard. He didn’t bother removing the scarf he had rewrapped around his face, not even to make it so it wouldn’t tighten should he roll in his sleep. The place was bugged and he wasn’t willing to let it be seen.


 

            Pete didn’t wake up until the dead of night, and that was to a fist being brought down towards his head. Pete jerked himself out of bed, rolling out of it, feeling the harsh tug and immediate wet heat of torn stitches, bringing his arms over his head and ignoring it in order to get into a proper position to fight. His toes scraped across the ground, allowing himself to slide until he stuck in place, his fingers pressing down onto the ground once he was sure he had enough distance.

            He looked up to see Luke Cage staring at him, both fists held up, and a look of profound anger on his face.

            “What the fuck, Spider?” he hissed at him, and Pete pressed himself down to the ground lower, his mind reeling. He didn’t understand what was happening. Why was he here? Didn’t Cage know that his very presence would throw the entire thing off course? Didn’t he know that he would expose him?

            “Why are you here?” Pete asked, thoroughly confused, pulling the scarf further into position, loosening its hold on his neck. “You’ll blow my cover; you have to go!”

            “Not until you explain to me why you…” Cage hesitated then, and Pete watched as his eyes widened, and then his expression changed in a way so subtle Pete couldn’t read it. “What the fuck happened to you?” he asked. Pete then came to the realization that there was a slowly growing puddle of black trickling down underneath him.

            “Fuck,” Pete hissed. He immediately started taking off his shirt, revealing not just the bandages around his arms, but the bandages on his back. For a moment he was terrified at the fact that Cage would realize they weren’t proper white, but then he realized that they would likely be so saturated with black it wouldn’t matter. “Oh, fuck…” he repeated, falling to his knees in the puddle as his vision peppered with black spots.

            He couldn’t black out; he couldn’t black out.

            “Christ! What the fuck happened?” Cage asked, immediately moving around to his back so he could see what the blood was coming from, and then running off into the bathroom.

            Pete hadn’t bothered to look through the house to see what was in it. He had been aware of the fact that it had been heavily bugged by Stark and he didn’t really think of the place as his. He hadn’t even really slept in it, even though he had his name on the deed temporarily. The knowledge that it was something that he would have to give back and something that was only given to him in order to keep a proper eye on him had ruined any possibility for him to enjoy it.

            Apparently, however, Stark had included an extensive first aid kit, as when Cage ran back into the room, he was carrying the 1930s equivalent of Rio’s kit. He dropped it on the ground, taking a towel and throwing it on the ground before kneeling on it, keeping the blood off his pants, which was a smart thing to do when no one had the money to keep buying new clothes. Another towel was pressed onto Pete’s back and he gave a pained hiss. The sound of the window opening drew his attention, and he almost threw webbing at it, but the one sneaking in was Daredevil.

            Fuck it.

Cage already blew his cover, might as well make it go up in a fucking fireball while they were at it. Why not bring Tony Stark into the mix? Hell, why not bring in the whole fucking neighborhood? Let them see the newest inductee into the KKK being helped by a fucking blind catholic and a negro. Pete was sure that would go over swimmingly.

            “What happened?” Daredevil asked. “What’s going on?"

            “The fucker’s bleeding, he got…shot or stabbed, or…”

            “Stabbed,” Pete said. “Some…fucking bastard named Mike decided that the fact that they chose me to knight as a stand-in due to the fact I spread some goddamn sob story about my dame getting killed was a damn disgrace,” as Pete spoke he found that he couldn’t stop, the words trickling off his tongue like bile. He was so angry, he was so angry, and he was so tired, and there was blood pouring out of him.

            Pete was so tired of bleeding.

            “Also decided that he needed to fucking corner me and then stab me in the back,” he continued. “Tried to call me a traitor, but everyone else there thinks I’m the best fucking thing since…shit, I don’t know, what the fuck does the Klan think is fantastic? Fucking…fucking…” there were things that were popping into his brain, things he saw on the newspapers, things he heard them laughing about when he walked among them, but he wouldn’t say, things he couldn’t say. “I don’t know, and I don’t want to know, but they think I’m the best thing ever, and they were all extremely down to get me help. One of them took me home, and so fucking help me, if either of you ruin this perfect opportunity I’ve been handed, you’ve got no one to blame but yourselves.”

            Pete was aware in a far corner of his mind that wasn’t busy wrapped up in the burning pain, and his own ire, that he had lost way too much blood. It was probably why he wouldn’t shut up. His back was on fire, even as he felt it as the skin was being pulled closer together, and restitched, but not by Cage.

            Pete was afraid for one instant that he would die again, that this would be like the Nazi who slit his throat. He remembered how that felt. He remembered the way blood poured down his front, he warm stickiness that gushed from him, the way he choked and gurgled on it, the pain, the fear

            And as much as Pete tried to forget it, he remembered the warmth as the Spider God that was attached to him through blood and soul and curse cradled him in the void, breathed life back into him, and sealed his throat. He felt it then, the warmth on his back, the pervasive feeling of something stopping the bleeding, sealing the wound, refusing to let him die.

            Not yet, it said. Not yet.

            We’re having too much fun.

            Pete had still lost a lot of blood, his head was still light, and he had two people in ‘his’ house that shouldn’t be there, but he wouldn’t die. Not yet.

            It hadn’t taken enough from him yet.

            Pete felt the hands on him leave very suddenly, the two of them backing away from him quickly, and Pete realized he should get up, should say something, but the words had bled out with his blood and he no longer had anything to say. Finally, Pete forced himself upright, backing away from them.

            Their expressions were unreadable as they stared towards or at him. They probably didn’t want to be helping him. Probably couldn’t stand having his filthy blood on them. He couldn’t think of a reason, or anything to say, and frankly he didn’t want to waste time on it. The way they were looking at him made him feel too ashamed. Too inhuman, like an animal that was just waiting for the chance to attack, rather than wounded and utterly exhausted.

            Pete knew he wasn’t human anymore. He knew it. He knew that he was a ticking time bomb. But he had never been more aware of it than in that moment.

            “Get the fuck out,” he finally hissed, and, completely uncaring of the fact that blood would be seeping across the bedding, collapsed into the bed. Pete was past giving a fuck. The only thing he wanted was sleep. Cage and Daredevil both sent each other a silent glance, but before Pete could reinforce his command, he was dead asleep.

            Pete woke once again a day later, also at night, to the feeling of a buzzing on his wrist. Pete groaned heavily, pushing himself up on his arms slightly, feeling distinctly groggy. He was sticky, and the bedding was covered in blood, but Pete didn’t much care. He moved to press the button to activate the goober, only for the low rumbling of his spidersense to start. The sudden realization that he was either visible to a bug or being watched hit him then, and he changed his movement to a check of the bandages on his arms.

            Pete pulled them down slightly, revealing what would likely be the newest members of his scar collection, but the wounds would be sealed by now. He pulled the bandages off, and began to sit up properly, his head still light, but not at all as terrible as he had been feeling.

            Pete stood slowly, carefully balancing himself and doing his best to not collapse, only to spot Cage and Daredevil both shifting from the place they had been sitting against the far wall. The radio was on low, he finally heard, and Pete came to realize that they had been waiting for him to wake up. He wondered how they would have avoided being spotted or otherwise noticed by now, but then he remembered that Stark had provided a housekeeper that would handle any visitors when Pete couldn’t. As it was, Pete was too exhausted to worry, and gave a brief groan.        

            “I’m fucking tired of you,” he said, glaring at them. “You come in trying to put a hole through my fucking head, why? The shit made you decide that you had to come into my bedroom and try and punch my daylights out? Why are you even here? Don’t you know what’s going to happen if they find you?”

            “…You missed two check-ins,” Cage said, his voice heavy, frowning at him. “You’re white, you’re in a den of filth, I don’t trust you as far as I can throw you, and you missed two check-ins. All that combined paints a pretty damnable picture, Spider,” Cage said, frowning down at him as he stood up and walked over to him. “You had a visitor from the Klan come to your house with you, but you didn’t have him enter the door, we weren’t able to hear him with any of our bugs, and you sent him on his way. No one saw the bandaging… It was all pretty fucking suspicious. Though I admit I had the wrong idea.”

            Pete was quiet for a moment, before finally huffing out a sigh and waving a hand. “Alright. I get it. Are you satisfied now?”

            “Not really,” Cage frowned. “I’d prefer it that our spy didn’t get stabbed.”

            “What happened to your arms?” Daredevil asked.

            “I cut them,” Pete answered easily. “I had to make it look defensive. If they came into a quiet corner to find a dead body and just me without injury, I don’t think it would have gone over well. He stabbed me in the back. I didn’t see the knife, and I wasn’t expecting it. Fucker missed,” Pete tapped over his heart in explanation.

            Their expressions were dark and heavy at the explanation, but Peter had expected that. Pete knew that they had seen his back heal before them, had seen the flesh knit together after the Spider God did its work. Pete also knew what they were thinking:

            Eventually they were going to have to kill him. If Pete couldn’t do it, and if his Spider family couldn’t do it, it would fall on them. How do you kill someone who can heal near instantaneously?

            “My question is how was your back bandaged?” Daredevil asked, covering up his distress markedly well. “From what I could tell, it wasn’t in an easy place to reach. You tore your stitches.”

            Pete didn’t understand how Daredevil ‘saw’ the world, but he figured Cage had given him a rundown of what had happened. Either way, it made him a bit uncomfortable. Particularly when those sightless eyes stared at him out of that mask.

            “I thought you said you don’t have allies, Spider,” Cage pressed.

            “I don’t have allies that are in the position to feed me,” Pete returned, glaring. “And I won’t give them up to you. They don’t deserve having you fuckers knocking on their door because you get a wild hair up your ass to interrogate them.”

            “Alright,” Daredevil said, spreading his hands. “We won’t push you to reveal your allies. But we’re watching you, remember that.”

            There was a long silence as Pete stared at both of them, taking in the wariness rolling off of them, and just feeling exhausted.

            “I’m going to shower,” Pete said finally, giving up on any possibility to get them to realize that he really was on their side, at least now. They were too wary, he’d put them too on edge. Cage gave a vaguely agreeing hum, and Pete turned on his heel, collected the necessary change of clothes, and walked into the bathroom.

            He had a feeling that as soon as he was done, they’d be gone. He almost hoped they’d be.

            After removing the bandages around his wrists and taking in the way his wounds had sealed, he frowned slightly. Pete was pretty sure that normal humans didn’t heal that quickly, which meant he might have to do something about that.

            All Pete knew was that he was not coming out of this unscarred.

            Pete cranked the water in the rainbath as hot as it would go, stripped the rest of the way, and proceeded to clean himself as well as he could.

            Pete wasn’t worried about the stab wound on his back. He knew that it had been healed. After Pete had cleaned himself and dressed, throwing the scarf back around his face he took a few steps outside, only to find that Cage was waiting there for him. Pete braced himself, before turning to look at him.

            “Spider,” he greeted.

            “Cage,” Pete responded, sitting down across from him.

            “I’m sorry,” Cage said suddenly, Pete blinking at him in surprise. “About earlier. I should have waited. I will still be watching you, but that was uncalled for.” Pete was silent for a moment, before giving a small nod. He wanted him to leave… Cage finally gave a slight nod in return, standing up. “Well, Spider. That’s all I wanted to say. I understand that you likely want some time to detox and…well, provided you do.”

            “Dynamite,” Pete finally said tiredly.

            “What?”

            “I’ve seen people bring knives and guns, and even tommy guns against those monsters, but speaking as someone that has killed a fair few, you want dynamite,” Pete continued, his voice monotone. “If they have a hard-exterior shell in particular. Spiders are known to have an exoskeleton…meaning all the gooey bits are inside. They’re also hydraulically powered, meaning instead of using muscles it’s a fluid that they use for movement. You breach that exoskeleton anywhere and they’re likely to explode or deflate. Just…food for thought.”

            Cage stared at him with wide eyes, before finally giving him a little grin. “I’ll be damned,” he hummed, and gave him a little nod. “Alright, Spider. I’ll remember that.”

            “Before you go,” Pete started, frowning. “How many days would it take to heal something like this for a regular human?” he asked, holding his arms up. Cage stared at the cuts for a moment with a slight frown before finally giving a brief thoughtful hum.

            “Ten to fourteen days,” he said. “Why?”

            “I have to keep them open for that long,” Pete answered. Cage stared at him, that look on his face that was a mixture of horror and unease. Pete understood, in a way. He was strong, unusually fast, had silk, could climb on walls, and healed faster than most could blink. He was dangerous now. What would he be like later? As it was, Pete had given him all the reassurance that he could, and he stayed silent. It was up to Cage what he did with the information. Cage finally gave a brief nod, and moved towards the window, climbing out and onto the roofs in order to escape notice that way.

            Pete went downstairs then, turning on lights as he went, not wanting to be in the dark. When he finally reached the kitchen, Pete was momentarily baffled to find that instead of the ice box that he had expected, there was one of the fancy refrigerators placed there. Pete stared at it for a minute, before finally going over to open it. The disappointment he felt was so strong Pete recognized it as an actual feeling.

            Condiments. The entire thing was filled with condiments, and a loaf of bread that looked stale.

            Who the fuck shopped like this? Who put bread in the fridge, for that matter, and why the hell would he have so many condiments but nothing to put it on? Was…was Stark expecting him to bring back his own meat? The fuck was he thinking? That Pete brought back his victims and spun them in webs and slowly drained them dry? Stark hadn’t given him permission to use the funds he had been given on food, and so Pete had been hesitant about doing so. He didn’t know if he would be expected to pay it back or not, and worse, Pete had no desire to use the money from someone that wanted his corpse

            For all Pete knew Stark might expect using his money to constitute as paying Pete for it. After a moment of hesitation, he grabbed the bag of bread and a few of the condiments and began making what had to be the saddest layered sandwich in history.

            The fact of the matter was, though, Pete couldn’t afford to be picky, and he ate the mess of flavors without real care. He only ate a quarter of the loaf, realizing that if he ate more than that it wouldn’t last as long, but due to the amount of blood he had lost he couldn’t afford to eat less. Particularly due to the fact that he was about to reopen his wounds. After he was finished he wiped off the table, replaced all the condiments he had been using, and headed back upstairs towards the first aid kit.

            Pete sighed, pulling a knife out of where he hid it in his cuff, before taking his first aid kit into the bathroom and putting it on the counter. He disinfected the knife with actual alcohol for once, being careful to make sure that it was truly clean. Keeping his cuts light and steady, he ran through the stitches and into the flesh, being careful not to go too deep for fear of slicing through the glands in his arms in charge of producing his webbing…just deep enough that it would need stitches and put nothing else in danger. Not even of bleeding out.

            When that was finished, Pete began stitching his way up his arms, using the technique he had shown Miles to thread the needle, and feeling a brief pang at the thought of him. The thought of his fellow spiders rose something deep in his chest up to the surface, and he found himself suddenly overcome with something so painful for a moment he couldn’t breathe.

            Pete leaned against the sink, gripping it tightly, staring into the bloody water he had filled the sink with in order to wash the blood out easier, trying to suck in a few breaths. He hurt, he hurt, he just, he wanted to see them… Yet, at the same time, the thought of going to see them while he was doing this, while he was a part of that group choked him, and Pete found himself kneeling before the sink, gripping the porcelain so tight he was afraid he would shatter it. Pete wasn’t sure how long he kneeled there, but he finally forced himself onto his feet, continued his stitches, and then drained the sink with a series of brusque detached movements.

            Pete rewrapped his wounds with a combination of teeth and the opposing hand, went into his room, and performed a quick change of bedclothes before he finally collapsed on the bed, realizing more than anything else, that he no longer wanted to be conscious. He didn’t even want to run out as the Spider, everything hurt too much. As Pete’s eyes drifted shut, he tried to think of what excuse he would give the Klan tomorrow, if he even needed to. He figured at some point they would send someone to check on him, regardless of the housekeeper’s stern warnings to leave him be to heal.

            Before he had quite managed to fall asleep, Pete remembered that his goober had buzzed earlier, which had been what woke him up to begin with. Pete contemplated climbing out the window to see what the message had been, but after a moment of hesitation decided that that might alert the bugs, which would be an issue. After further thought, Pete began turning in the bed on the excuse of trying to get comfortable, his finger pressed to the goober’s menu option to see when his spidersense relaxed. After a brief period of time where he tossed and turned back and forth, Pete’s spidersense relaxed and he pressed the button to view the message.

            To Pete’s surprise, the sender was Mr. Davis.

Mr. Davis: Hello, Pete…I hear you gave my wife quite a scare. I hope that you’re doing much better and that you’re well on your way to healing, if not healed already. I heard you had been interested in our television, so I’m including some of the manual information, as well as a blueprint Miles helped me find. I thought you might find it interesting.

            Pete scrolled down to view the documents, a feeling he didn’t know bubbling up within him as he stared at the way that everything connected, at what they contained. He was filled with an urge to take one apart and see how it all fit together. It was fascinating. For just a moment all thoughts of what he was doing fell away, and Pete lost himself in trailing his eyes across those blueprints, studying everything with a critical, if not untrained eye. Pete had never seen anything like it, and the fact that Mr. Davis had… Pete’s thoughts trailed off as exhaustion pulled him under, once again failing to respond with the thanks that he meant.

            That Pete still couldn’t voice…

            Pete fell asleep dreaming of circuits and wires and a desire deep in his soul to see his family again.

Chapter Text

          Pete woke up with a shot, nearly jumping out of his skin, leaping up to press against the ceiling, flattening himself against it.

          Pete was confused, mildly delirious, and then he realized that it was the doorbell that had woken him when it was rung again. Pete had forgotten what that sounded like. They hadn’t gotten many guests, even when Pete had lived in a house, so it had completely slipped his mind. After a moment where Pete tried to reorient himself to what had happened and where he was, Pete dropped from the ceiling, straightened his clothes slightly to try and make it look like he hadn’t been sleeping in them, and then immediately walked down the stairs. Pete held himself carefully, doing his best to not let his arms swing too much, or otherwise pull the skin.

          Pete’s wounds were raw, but he had cleaned the knife before he cut, and he was pretty sure that it wasn’t due to infection.

          Pete made it to the door to find Sylvester Wright standing there when he peered through the window to the side of the white-painted front door. After a moment of hesitation just behind the door where Wright couldn’t see him, he took a deep breath, he swung the door open and smiled at him in a way that was probably as tired as he felt.  

          “Wright, hello,” Pete greeted.

          “Sylvester, Williams, Sylvester, please, I’m sorry for the earliness of the hour, but I simply had to see you… May I come in?” Wright looked him up and down and his eyebrows pinched together slightly in concern. “I have to say you look done in, so if you would prefer… I’ll say, too, that scarf…”

          “No, no, it’s fine,” Pete assured, stepping back, even as he told himself he’d never call him Sylvester. “Please come in, make yourself at home. Pardon my appearance, I’d been sleeping still. I lost quite a bit of blood and it’s been slow healing. Also, hence the scarf, it’s just been so frightfully cold it’s been a good way to minimize it.”

          “I perfectly understand, that’s quite alright,” Wright assured immediately, his eyebrows pinching together. Pete gestured towards the sitting room and Wright led the way, before taking a seat in the overstuffed armchair by the fireplace, Pete sitting on its twin across from him.

          Pete hadn’t even known there was a fireplace.

          “Can I get you something?” Pete asked, only to remember the sorry state of the refrigerator and wince. “Actually, I’m sorry, I haven’t managed to do any grocery shopping and I don’t have anything that I can offer you. I haven’t wanted to leave the house.”

          “Oh, I absolutely understand, there’s no worry, I…” Wright took a breath, his expression turning deeply apologetic. “I’m here to apologize,” Wright said. “I heard what happened to you because of Mike. I came to offer my sincerest condolences.”

          Pete moved his arms in a way that drew attention to the bandages wrapped around them, Wright’s gaze tracking the movements with a very upset frown. Pete was delighted. If Wright was upset, then he felt guilty. If he felt guilty, Pete could think of several ways to try and play off of that. Maybe this day wouldn’t go so poorly after all.

          “It’s alright,” Pete said. “Though if I had known that would happen, I don’t know if I would have accepted the invitation to be knighted for the group.” He was careful to add a bit of a smile, as well as a touch of levity to his voice to make sure that Wright understood he was joking, and sure enough Wright laughed, smiling at him.

“Yes, I can see how that would be something that wouldn’t be very appreciated. I’m…sorry it happened to you, Williams,” he said, sobering. “I wouldn’t have let you be knighted for the group, either,” his voice was completely serious, and it made Pete uncomfortable. “We do not wish any harm upon our members at any time. Which reminds me, I came to tell you that if you have any trouble at all with any of the new recruits, with anyone really, I need you to come to me. I’m your recruiter, after all, and I am in charge of your safety for the first few weeks before everything is properly settled, and you graduate into becoming a Cyclops.” His eyes were piercing, his mouth in a fine line. “I understand that a lot of our rituals may seem daunting, or even strange, but I swear they’re there for a purpose. Even the names we utilize, as odd as they are, have the benefit of being odd. It’s hard to take a group seriously when they’re led by someone calling themselves the Grand Wizard after all, and that are following all the strange rituals that we do.”

          Pete was momentarily stricken. It had been hard not to laugh once he heard the names, but he hadn’t expected that to be used as a shield. It felt like a punch to the gut, but Pete was quick to take his shock and immediately say, “I hadn’t even thought of that. That’s clever.”

          “Yes, well,” Wright smiled, obviously preening. “We are of course helmed by the best and the brightest.”

          “I see that,” Pete agreed with a nod.

          “Now, you mentioned that you hadn’t been able to go for groceries, which is completely understood, would you like for me to bring you something?” Wright asked, looking at them. “I had been meaning to get here yesterday, but your housekeeper is a very fierce woman and wouldn’t let me in. She deserves a raise, I believe,” Wright said, smiling. “Though if she didn’t even do your shopping…”

          “She does her job well,” Pete denied, shaking his head. “However, I don’t pay her for the groceries, and I wasn’t in any state to let her know that I was low before she left for home. I tend to do my shopping myself, I’m a bit picky with what I choose, and she knows this.” He hesitated, contemplating whether or not he would accept the offer, weighing the possibility of food with the time spent in the other’s company, as well as the lack of bugs should they go elsewhere. “I…I think I might take you up on that, if you don’t mind,” Pete said. “I can pay you, if you would…

          “No, absolutely not,” Wright said, standing up. “This was our fault, a serious breach in etiquette, so this will be part of the way it is repaid. I’ll be back shortly.”

          “I’ll walk you out,” Pete said, standing as well, and leading the man to the door. Wright smiled at him widely, before giving him a slight nod, and finally leaving.

          Pete closed the door behind him, ignoring the ache of his arms, and finally returning to the sitting room. He sat down heavily. For a moment he was silent, unmoving, his thoughts a whirlwind, before his gaze slowly drifted over towards the fireplace.

Idly, he wondered if Stark had given him matches…

          As soon as the thought hit him, he dismissed it, Pete finally standing up to see the rest of the kitchen. He at least better figure out where the plates and glasses were before Wright got back. It would be very suspicious if he didn’t know where everything was in his own damn house.

          After a thorough search which turned up everything that Pete thought would be needed, there was a knock on the door. Pete walked over to let Wright in, revealing the man holding two armfuls of grocery bags, a wide grin on his mouth. Pete almost instinctively reached out to help, only to wince as his arms extended.

          “No, no!” Wright said, ducking away. “None of that, you’re going to let me put everything away, and you’re going to sit down and rest.” Pete begrudgingly led the other man into the kitchen, sitting at the chair and watching as Wright began putting things away. He laughed aloud at the sight of what was in Pete’s fridge and gave a brief smile his way. “I see what you mean about being down to nothing. You’ll see that I have brought you plenty of options.”

          Pete watched as Wright loaded the fridge with various vegetables, fruits, eggs, milk, and…oh. Oh.

          That was pork. That was bacon.

          Pete recognized disgust.

          He recognized the slow creeping horror that ran up his spine as Wright took the bacon and put it on the counter, as well as four eggs, and turned around as he finally loaded the last of the fridge with a wide smile on his face. Pete searched for an excuse to not eat the meat, an intolerance, an allergy, but he couldn’t think of anything aside from a commandment and a pig named Peter Porker that had helped him learn what was happening, had told him he was alright for recycling his webbing in the way his body wanted, and who had stood up for him.

          Pete thought he would be sick.

          Something must have been visible on his face, because Wright hesitated.

          “What’s wrong, Williams?” Wright asked, taking in his expression.

          “I…” Pete hesitated, thrashing around for an excuse, and finally, he cleared his throat. “I actually don’t really like the smell of bacon,” Pete managed. “It fills the whole house, you know, and it doesn’t come out for a while.” It was something he had noticed. Robbie and his family had eaten bacon, though they had never done it in front of Pete, nor had they made any attempts to tell him he was crazy for not eating it, but Pete had always known when they made it. He also recognized it in the restaurants he went into in Harlem, the ones that weren’t specifically tailored to a kosher standard, which had been fine. Pete had never minded; Pete had only minded when others had attempted to force it on him. He hoped, dearly, so dearly… Wright appeared briefly surprised, before he smiled.

          “Ah, that’s alright,” Wright said. “I’ll be taking it with me, then, there’s no issue at all.” He put the bacon back in the fridge but wrapped it in the brown paper bag for transportation. “Is beef okay? Steak and eggs?” he asked, pulling out another paper-wrapped meat.

          “Yes,” Pete agreed. “Yes, that’s…that’s fine.”

          “Good! That sounds better anyway, if you ask me. Where are your pans?”

          Pete indicated the proper drawer and also the butter that Stark had also provided. Condiments and butter and bread… What an odd combination. Maybe he really had been expecting Pete to get takeout?

          Wright began working away at the stove then, turning on the gas and lighting it with the…matches. Pete bit his nail as he waited, trying to avoid picking at the calloused scars on the tips of the fingers on his left hand. Pete had been trying so hard to avoid doing that. Trying to avoid the temptation to light a match and let it burn all the way down until the sting drove all thoughts from his head…

          Made him forget that he wasn’t human, forget that he was hated, forget that he was a monster, a ticking timebomb with a god attached to him that wouldn’t let him die…

          Pete didn’t want to die, but he would never be thankful.

          “So, as you may have guessed, I am also here to give you the rundown on what it is that’s been happening in the Klan since you missed a day of meetings,” Wright said, turning his head towards him as he carefully flipped the steaks. “It’s understandable, of course, so don’t take this as meaning I am trying to shame you because you missed the meeting, not at all… But I do think it’s best to keep you informed.” Wright sent a glance his way, before turning back to the frying pan. “It’s a pity that it happened so quickly, these first couple weeks are critical in training.”

          “I’m sorry for any issue I may…”

          “No, no! No apologies are necessary,” Wright waved off. “You certainly didn’t cut yourself.” Pete had to work at keeping a straight face. “We’ll think of something.” He cracked the eggs next to the steaks in the pan after they were a nice seared brown. “Oh, I’m sorry,” he said, “I forgot to ask how you liked your eggs, I prefer mine over easy is that alright?”

          “It’s fine,” Pete agreed.

          “Good, good…” Wright said, smiling. He hummed thoughtfully, before looking around for the plates, Pete indicated where they were and Wright gave a brief thanks, before plating everything. He sat down across from Pete, handing him his breakfast after bringing out the milk, and pouring two glasses, bringing the silverware a moment later. “So, to the Klan,” he said, holding his glass up, and Pete allowed himself to clink his glass to Wright’s.

         “To the Klan,” Pete agreed, and after carefully feeling out with his senses, pulled his scarf down, and began working his way through the steak.

          The only thing Pete was grateful for was the fact that the man obviously had no idea how to cook a decent steak. The egg was nice, however, and he put it on top of the steak itself, trying to add a bit of extra flavor. All the while, his spidersense buzzed in the back of his skull, a constant warning that grew more painful by the minutes. Pete closed his eyes against it, trying to get it to settle.

          Pete was very aware of the fact that he was in danger, he absolutely didn’t need it reminding him at every single second.

          “Are you alright, Williams?” Wright asked, and Pete snapped his eyes open.

          “I’m so sorry,” Pete apologized, “I seem to be gaining a bit of a headache,” very true, “I think I might still be a bit tired.” Not as true.

          “Oh, that’s quite alright,” Wright said immediately, holding his hands up. “I assure you that I will be out of your hair very soon. Though that does answer one of my questions.” He sighed. “Do you think you are well enough for a rundown of what has been happening?”

          Pete had to pretend to think about it, forcing himself to not let the ‘yes’ on the tip of his tongue blurt out in a way that would be construed as odd, or too eager. Instead he put down his fork, and looked to his lap, pretending to do a quick mental stock. “Yes,” Pete finally said. “I think I’m well enough for that.”

          “Excellent,” Wright sighed. “Well, let’s begin.”


          Pete was drained.

          The meeting had been brief, probably no more than thirty minutes in total, but it had discussed things that made him want to puke and had made it very difficult to continue his breakfast. Pete had been successful at making it seem as though his reluctance to eat was due to a bad headache, but by the end of it, Wright had been telling him to not go to the meeting tomorrow as well. He’d promised to give him more minutes, which was the good thing, but Pete was afraid that Wright would attempt to become friends with him.

          Pete would really rather die.

          Wright had let himself out, apologizing profusely for taking so much of his time, but Pete hadn’t been able to make himself move yet. The dishes still needed to be done, Wright had left them for the housekeeper to do, but Pete wasn’t sure if or when she would arrive. There was a possibility that she wouldn’t interact with Pete at all.

          Stark had to have told her who she would be dealing with, after all. He couldn’t imagine letting someone into a situation with something like him blind.

          After a long moment, Pete finally dragged himself upright, leaning against the table. He needed to do something. The urge to be out and about chaffed at his skin, ate at his soul. He needed to surround himself with other people, with the city, with something… Pete was afraid, though, that if he went now it might look suspicious. He needed to talk to the others and get permission to move from this place, to let them know what he was doing.

          The obvious answer came to him then, and Pete began looking for a potential bug.

          Tony Stark had to be watching, he struck Pete as the sort that wouldn’t let something like this go under his notice, and so Pete began letting that skin-crawling feeling of being watched guide him to the corner of the room, and in particular a light fixture. Pete stared at it for a good long while, tilting his head this way and that, trying to see what exactly about it was setting his sense off, but then decided he didn’t care all that much. The feeling of being watched didn’t turn into a buzzing danger, so he figured that the Klan hadn’t managed to bug his house and it was simply Tony, so he gave a brief acknowledging nod.

          “I’m going to head out as the Spider,” he said. “I need to work out some aggression. If I have to deal with anymore Klan without it, I might wind up breaking someone’s neck.”

          After that word of warning, Pete wandered to the stairs, before suddenly a ringing was heard. Pete blinked, for a moment confused as to what the sound was, and then on a second ring he realized it was a phone. Pete turned, looking around for the source, his head tilting, and began trying to find the phone. Pete followed the sound to the second room on the second story, entering it at first to find nothing, and then he noticed that it was coming from the walls. After a moment of hesitation Pete moved towards the panel where it seemed to be the loudest and carefully pushed at it. To his surprise, the wall moved with his shove, spinning to reveal a ringing telephone. After a moment of hesitation where he stared in shock Pete took the headset from the cradle, bringing it to his ear.

          “Hello?” Pete asked, not even bothering with asking who was calling, or giving his name. It somehow seemed irrelevant.

          “Williams, hel~lo.” Pete had never been more annoyed at Stark’s voice over the line, nor also less surprised, but he took a breath, breathing the irritation in, and trying to let it out. “That was quite a little show in the kitchen there, you did really well. Though I have to ask: how did you know where the bug was?”

          “It wasn’t visible,” Pete said, sighing the words out. “But I can sense when I’m being observed.”

          “Well, well…that’s an interesting trick, it’d be interesting to see how exactly that’s performed, but so long as you keep using it for things like that, then I suppose that’s fine…” Stark said, humming. “But in line with what you were proposing to do in order to burn off some excess aggression…”

          “Is this secure…?” Pete asked, a trickle of foreboding working its way down his spine.

          “What?” Stark asked, surprise in his voice. “Oh! Yes, yes, this is quite secure, this phone has a direct link to me. You don’t have to worry about anything being intercepted. We’re quite safe. However, we have been talking and we have decided that instead of regular phone communications, we will be expecting a more…personal report. You will report to us every two days. If you cannot make it in person, a call will do, but please make sure that you alert someone at least. After the last time it has become obvious that…well, we need to be a bit more careful.”

          “Alright,” Pete said. “Where am I meant to meet you?”

          “Up to you, Harlem, Hell’s Kitchen, or my own personal tower,” Stark answered, his voice singsong and obviously amused. “The only thing that matters is you report to one of us.” Stark paused. “I understand that sometimes you may be injured, so we will not react negatively if you miss a call immediately. You’ve…gained a bit of credibility as someone that hates the Klan. Not many are willing to tear open their own arms in order to keep up appearances.”

          “It needs to be done.”

          “…Yes, well. Nonetheless.”

          “Do I need to give a report tonight?”

          “No, I think we can safely call your report given yesterday. I also had a front row seat to this one. I can safely say that it was definitely…enlightening.”

          Pete felt a trickle of foreboding slide its way down the length of his spine. “In what way?” Pete found himself asking before he could stop himself.

          “Oh, not about where your loyalties lie, I understand…well, you have to lie. You’re a spy, I get it. The other two might not trust you, but I’m quite certain you’re trustworthy.”

          “Why is that?” Pete asked.

          “The others might be intimidated by what it means that you can heal yourself without issue,” Stark said, his voice filled with a bravado that Pete could practically taste. “But I know that if the time comes, I can more than handle anything you dish out. It allows me a certain…distance from the things you do that aren’t exactly…mmm, human?”

          “I see…”

          “Yes,” Stark hummed. “I’m not afraid of you, so I’m able to see what you do with a bit of…clarity. You’re deliberately carving yourself up in order to stay on their list. That’s not exactly what I would call traitorous.”

          “I appreciate your understanding,” Pete allowed himself to say hesitantly. “I’ll do my best to make sure that I keep up to your expectations.”

          “Good,” Stark agreed brightly. “Now, you have an excellent time. Punch some Nazis for me, or some Klan if you feel like it. One of us will see you tomorrow.”

          “Understood.”

          “Have a good one, Spider,” Stark laughed and hung up.

          Pete thought he had never been more condescended to in his entire life. Pete hung up finally and took a step back from the phone, taking a few deep breaths in order to ground himself, and stop that buzzing irritation in the back of his skull. After he finally no longer felt like finding Stark and showing him exactly what he had to be afraid of, Pete went to his room and found his costume, taking it into the bathroom with him, the only place he had felt that there wasn’t anyone watching his every move. Carefully stripping out of his clothes he put on his Spider uniform, brushing down the vest and adjusting his hat in the mirror out of novelty more than anything else. It had been a while since he actually got to look at himself in costume, and he did think he had done a good job.

          There was evidence of past scrapes, of course, patch jobs that ranged in size from an inch to running across the length of his forehead, but they were minimal. Pete had worked very hard on keeping them hidden. Finally, he sighed, reflexively sticking his hat to his head, and leaving the bathroom. He went to the window and threw it open, pausing, feeling the rush of air from outside, that first warm breath of spring finally breaking through. After a moment to see if he would be noticed, to see if anyone was watching, Pete leapt onto the roof, and out into the night.

          The tugging on his wrists was ignored.

          Pete didn’t know how long he had jumped and swung through the city, lost somewhere in the repetitiveness of the motion, but he somehow found himself overlooking his ‘office.’ After a moment of hesitation, he decided to see what had been left for him. Pete jumped to the sill and pressed there for a moment, looking in the window and trying to see if anyone was inside. Deciding there wasn’t, Pete shoved the window open and made his way into the room.

          The large web in the center had been one of his first constructs, and it was massive. It had also, at least Pete thought, been partly responsible for him falling two stories after starving himself of webbing. Pete had considered consuming it multiple times, but after having seen how many slips of paper would appear in his web, he’d always reconsidered. There were so many it was almost ridiculous at times, more than he could really keep track of.

          The city was big, and desperation was bigger.

          Pete stepped through the strands easily before getting to the center and climbing up the webbing to the top right corner. As he climbed, he read, and the ones he thought he could help with immediately were plucked from the threads delicately.

          A missing person there, a request for protection there… Some of them were asks that Pete would never be able to fulfill, asking for food, or money, but Pete had learned that some people had started using his web as something to grant wishes. There was a rumor going around that if you braved the Spiders’ web and were able to place a wish in its confines, and it was taken, your wish would be granted. Something about the possibility of danger and the fact that the Spider would eat whatever it found trying to place a piece paper.

          Pete found those pieces of paper caused the worst type of burning in his soul, the kind that ate through him and made him feel powerless. It hurt in a way that he wasn’t used to, and he hated it. Pete wished he could do something for them but knew it was a fruitless venture.

          The sound of the door creaking startled him out of his thoughts, and Pete went Very. Still.

          The little girl that walked into his room couldn’t have been more than six, she was clutching a piece of paper in one bony fist, her gray skin ashen, and her eyes bright with sickness, her dress a stained patchwork that Pete recognized as coming from a potato sack. She was barefoot, her small feet leaving black footprints behind her. Pete’s own feet ached with familiarity.

          Pete pressed closer to the wall, trying to avoid attracting her attention, only to have those gray eyes rise to meet him, the light from the outside catching off of his goggles and reflecting it back to her.  

          Pete silently cursed, watching as the young girl stiffened, taking a single step back, her mouth falling open as though to scream, and he pressed himself tighter to the wall, holding his hands out so she could see he had nothing in them. In a way, that was almost hollow reassurance, Pete could pull her limb from limb as easily as he could shoot her, but he’d sooner cut off his own arms. As Pete watched she seemed to gather her courage, balling her hands into tighter fists and gritting her teeth, before she marched towards him, one bare foot in front of the other.

          “Please,” she said, her voice a bright peal in this place of silence. “Please, can you…can you help me? I need…I need to find my papa, I don’t… I don’t know where to look, and I can’t…” she trailed off, her lower lip quivering, and those eyes were bright with something else then. Pete instinctively clambered down the webbing, only to freeze when she took a step back, gasping in fright. Pete waited until she once again balled her fists and straightened up fully, holding up her slip of paper. Pete carefully reached out and plucked it from her fingers, careful to not touch her. She pulled her hand back as though she had been burned, watching him with wide and fearful eyes.

          Pete kept himself at her level, slowly opening the paper so he could see what had been written there. In a messy scrawl, probably done with the last nub of a pencil if Pete could read those scratches right around the graphite: ‘Plese hlp find my papa.’

          “Where was your papa last?” Pete asked, keeping his voice low and slow, trying not to unnerve her. “Do you know what he was doing?

          “Working,” she said, keeping her little back squared, staring at him right in the goggles. “He works at the…at the…” she hesitated, obviously thinking, “docks!”

          “Do you know which dock?” Pete asked, and after a long moment she shook her head, sending her dingy curls flying. “How long has he been gone?”

          “Two days,” she said, holding up the necessary fingers to show him, and that pit that had been steadily growing in his stomach grew deeper. “Mama doesn’t know where he is.”

          Pete leaned back on his heels. “Where is your mama?”

          “She went to the cops.” Her voice was a quiet thing, the way she said ‘cops’ spoken like a slur. “Papa said cops don’t work, you have to go to someone else. I’ve seen you… They say that you’re helping us.”

          Pete was quiet for a moment. “Do you live around here?”

          She pointed in the direction of the nearest apartment buildings that were still inhabited, and Pete felt a rush of relief. She hadn’t come from Harlem then, that was good. Though perhaps her family should move there, Pete wasn’t sure how safe it was on the outskirts, away from the safety that could be found in numbers. He might have to see about doing something about that…maybe Cage would be willing to help. Though Pete suspected the reason they were living where they were had to do with her father’s work. While there were docks off Harlem, they didn’t pay as well, and that money wasn’t much anyway…

          If Pete could find him, then it wouldn’t matter, but first he had a little girl to return to her mother.

          “I promise I’ll look for your papa, but I have questions to ask your mama, first,” Pete started, and stood up.

          She took a step back, her eyes widening in fright. “Are you going to eat me now?” she asked, her voice so quiet, and Pete felt a bit as though he had been punched, the air leaving his lungs in a sharp exhalation.

          “No,” he finally managed. “I’m going to take you home.” He reached out towards her carefully.        

          “I thought you ate the people you caught here,” she whispered, her eyes so wide.

          “No,” Pete disagreed, feeling that familiar burning in his chest, an aching in his throat. “I don’t eat people, least of all little girls.”

          “Are you sure?” she asked, and to Pete’s surprise, she put her hands on her hips.

          “Cross my heart,” Pete said, doing so instinctively as it had helped him with other children in the past.

          “My mama lied to me,” she whispered, and Pete had to bite back what felt like a laugh.

          “I’m sorry about that,” Pete said, “but I promise I won’t eat you. Will you come with me now?”

          She hesitated, before giving a slight nod. “Okay.”

          “Thank you, what’s your name?”

          “Milly!” she said, a bright chirp with an equally bright smile. “And you’re the Spider.”

          “Yes,” Pete said, placing a hand on his heart and giving her a slight bow. “At your service, now please, let me take you home…” he held his hand out, and after a moment she reached out, taking his hand. He pulled her into a piggyback, waited until she was squeezing him tightly, and went back to the open window. After a moment he climbed out, perching on the sill once again, before leaping into the open air. He shot a web, swinging over towards the apartment she had indicated, the little girl letting out a loud whoop of surprise that soon turned to something like delight. He kept her stuck to him, the last thing he wanted was for Milly to fall to her death below.

          When they finally reached the apartment she guided him to, it was in a quiet uproar. It was still too close to the attack to cause the curfew to lower, but there was a woman standing before the entrance, her face in her hands, that obvious malnutrition look to her, looking around frantically. Her hair was straightened and pulled tight to her skull, heavy with product. The dress she was wearing was mended, but well pressed, the hat on her head plain but fashionably tacked on, and as Pete looked her over habitually, he decided that she had likely been trying to talk to the coppers. The pressure to look whiter was always higher when dealing with them if you were going to get anything from them. There were others with her, all of them looking for the girl that Pete had found, Pete thought, given the way that they were looking low, and as he got closer, he could hear them yelling her name.

          They were a motley bunch, mostly negro, though there were a few that he was uncertain of, a wild mix of accents, but the vast majority were speaking in the brusque, vowel-filled singsong of Brooklyn. The vast majority of them were decently dressed, and all of them wearing shoes, giving Pete the idea that Milly had simply marched out of her door at the earliest opportunity, sneaking by her mother in her desperation to find someone that could help. Pete wasn’t sure how he felt about that realization. He wasn’t sure what on earth they could have said that would have driven her to him, given the tales that he knew that the other children told, and her understanding that he had been going to eat her.

          Milly must have been absolutely scared out of her mind in order for her to seek him out. For the first time, Pete had a moment to be grateful that her first reaction was not to make a Deal, but instead to go to him.

          Pete flipped to land on a lamppost above them, sticking a web strand to Milly’s back, and telling her to tuck as tight as she could.

          Milly followed instructions, calling out for her mama as she was lowered down. The cries of relief were stifled at the sight of him, all of them freezing, taking steps back, fright visible on all their faces.

          “Mama, he didn’t eat me! You lied!” Milly cried out, and her mama ran up to her, taking her up in her arms, too sick with relief to care about the web on her back. She spun Milly around, Pete releasing his webbing before it could tangle the both of them.

          “Your husband,” Pete said, drawing her attention. “I’m sorry to interrupt, ma’am, but time is critical. Your husband, where did you last see him, what’s his name, do you have a picture? What did the coppers say?”

          The woman straightened, wiping her eyes carefully, before looking up at him, still holding her daughter to her chest. Milly pressed her face against her mama’s neck, all of the tension that Pete had caused her leaking from her body.

          “My husband’s name is Errol,” she said, and her accent wasn’t the singsong of Brooklyn but the subtler nasal of Queens. “I…I showed this picture to the police.” She held it up, and Pete carefully webbed it from her fingers, bringing it close so he could see it. She had flinched at the initial shot of webbing, but he could tell from her face she was grateful he hadn’t gotten close. “They told me that my husband was probably in a drunk tank somewhere, or with…” she shot a look to Milly and flashed him a significant look. Pete straightened to let her know he got it. “My husband would never, he…” she sniffed, a tear running down her face, smudging the kohl around her eye. “He would never. He went to Carl’s sometimes, but he’d always call me first. He loves me.”

          “I believe you. I’ll do my best to find him.”

          “You found them on Ellis,” she said, her eyes so wide, so wet, and that burning in his chest was suddenly sharper, deeper, the thing that he was trying to avoid thinking about brought front and center. The way the rest of them stared up at him, the ones that had gathered around the mother and child that were missing a husband and father, protective, assuring, they all spoke of that night, too. Pete found his head lowering, for once not trying to catalogue all the faces that looked up at him.

          He hoped that it wouldn’t come back to bite him.

          “I’ll do my best,” he repeated. “It might not be safe to be here anymore. The Klan is moving in. If you can manage, it might be good to move to Harlem. There’s more safety in numbers.”

          “Unless they set us all ablaze,” another man spat out, and his voice was that Brooklyn singsong yet again, anger visible in his expression, his hair hidden by an oversized hat.

          “They won’t,” Pete said easily, lowering his voice, grating it over the vowels. “Consider it the answer to a wish.” Pete watched the shock on their faces, the realization, and then he leapt, swinging to the rooftops, and continuing his way to the pier on foot. He’d swung too much and he didn’t want to use up all his reserves that he’d built up due to breakfast. Running was monotonous and repetitive, jumping from place to place an almost meditation, something that got rid of the thought.

           Pete hesitated for a moment overlooking the pier, watching the men work, listening to the chatter.

          Heightened senses were sometimes a boon, and this was definitely one of those times. As he listened, Pete became steadily aware that Errol was not the only man that had gone missing. A good portion of the dock workers were talking about the fact that a few of them had gone missing, at least five. There was worry in their voices, a few of them obviously aware of what had gone on with the Klan recently. Something that surprised Pete was the number of white men that were offering to walk their colleagues’ home, ones that would be otherwise targeted, be they Jew, Negro, Catholic, Asian, or Irish.

          Pete wondered how many were genuine.

          Pete hummed thoughtfully, looking for someone to interrogate further, apart from the rest, and finally locked eyes with a man standing a short distance away, having a smoke break. Pete tilted his head, considering, taking in the wiry build and the way that he kept flashing his eyes from one side to the other, a pinched and wary look on his face, and finally began working his way to him, jumping from light to light, and building to building, before waiting, crouched right above him on the building he was leaning on. Pete took a breath, and finally fell forward, pressing his hand against the other’s mouth before he could scream, pressing him against the wall, and catching his cigarette with his other hand.

          The man’s black eyes were wide as could be, his breath frantic and warm against his palm, even through his glove, his fingers scrabbling at the wall, trying to run, or trying to scream, beads of sweat welling up on his face. Pete held his cigarette out to him. The man hesitated, looking from him to the cigarette, and then back, and finally took it from him in trembling fingers. Once his hand was free, Pete pulled the photograph out of his pocket carefully, holding it out to the man. The recognition and realization in his face was obvious then, and Pete felt him relax, taking deeper, but much slower breaths, and finally he gave a brief nod. Pete let go carefully.

          “God, Spider…” the man breathed out, his voice trembling, fear visible in his expression. “You scared the Devil out of me, I…” he took a breath, running his hands over his face carefully, and his accent was the rapid-fire brusqueness of Manhattan, and Pete was once again mildly amazed at the way the Great Depression had forced so many people away from their homes in search of a job. The man finally brought the cigarette to his mouth and took a long, desperate drag. Fortifying, probably.

          Pete watched, waited, and finally, when he was sure that the man was calm enough not to scream,

          “Do you know what happened to the missing men?” Pete asked.

          “They all went to Carl’s,” he said, taking off his hat and running a hand through his tightly curled hair, staring at Pete with wide eyes all the while, as though if he blinked Pete would attack. “Group of them, four people, three of them don’t live in the area but they’re good friends…came for the money, it’s a good paying job if you can get in…”

          “No one’s heard from them since?”

          “No,” he answered, shaking his head. “We asked around, no one’s seen anything.”

          “Do you suspect anyone of having a grudge?”

          “Against them? No, they’re good family men, no one begrudged them anything.”

          “Did you get any new workers?”

          The man went silent in a way that was telltale. Pete tilted his head at him.

          “They’re all white,” the man hissed, fear in his voice. “They’re all white and I think they’re coming to get us, Lord help me… We can’t go anywhere else. There’s not enough room, and I… I need this job. My baby needs me to have this job, and I can’t…”

          “We’re working on it.”

          “You’re going to find them, right? Like you did the people on Ellis?”

          Pete once again closed his eyes against the word, his head bowing. “I’m going to do what I can.”

          “Alright,” he said. “Alright. Please…”

          Pete was gone before he could finish. He couldn’t stand it anymore, couldn’t let that word enter his brain.

          Pete made his way to Carl’s with the single-minded detachment of someone doing their best to not think of anything at all. It wasn’t working. Pete remembered that day and revisited it often in his nightmares, seeing that along with the spiders. He remembered the knives, the frightened faces, the desperation… Pete remembered the holes punched through skulls, the blank faces, the constant tears…the knowledge that they’d never be right again.

          Pete had never wanted to kill another man more than him. The Vulture wasn’t a man, and neither was the Goblin. But that man had destroyed good people, ripped them from Pete’s life in a way that he had never encountered, people that he could see, he could touch, he could even talk to, but would never be the same again. Would never recognize him again, would never recognize their families, their wives, their husbands, their children

          Pete had tried to give his soul for them, tried to bring them back to coherence, but it hadn’t accepted, instead laughing at him, mocking him… Pete had come back to himself and immediately thrown up, and hadn’t been able to stop, his body trembling, weak, and finally he found himself lying in a pool of his own vomit, unable to move.

          The one thing that Pete regretted more than anything was the fact that he hadn’t killed Octavius.

          If he ever got the chance to, Pete would…correct the oversight.

          Pete closed his eyes against the memories, bottling them up tight, and finally alighted by Carl’s on a nearby streetlight.

          Carl’s was a diner that doubled as a speakeasy if you knew the code and knew the proper place, the way to knock. Pete had done his best to make sure that he was well aware of all of the codes, and all of the spots after the first regrettable attempt. Some of them deserved a royal welcome with a Chicago typewriter and a hidden wide grin, but Carl’s was a family bar, and it wouldn’t do to shoot up a locale in a way that might harm an innocent child.

          Pete made his way over to the cellar that he knew concealed the speakeasy of Carl’s and rapped on it in the stop-start pattern he had memorized. The door swung open a few beats later, an exceedingly lanky Irish woman with violently white hair up in a bun answering the door. Her face turned a very dark gray at the sight of him, before she lifted up the pistol that she had hidden behind the doorframe, bringing it to bear almost faster than he could blink, but Pete held up his picture, showing the man he was looking for. Her eyes widened with recognition, losing the sharp intensity that they had had a moment before as they focused on that picture, and then back to him, back to the picture, and finally…

          “Come in, hurry, they’re watching,” she hissed, Irish brogue very heavy on her tongue, and Pete did so. He kept his distance from her, scuttling to the ceiling to perch in the corner, overlooking the open floorplan of Carl’s basement.

          There was a vat in the corner of the room, disguised as the boiler for the rest of the floor above. Pete could hear the bubbling within, though, he knew what it was. There were a few chairs and tables, the brewery something utilized mainly by close friends, or family. It wasn’t anything like the Black Cat, or some of the others he had seen, the clientele predominantly as hated as the Irish that ran it. The woman watched him with leery eyes, but she didn’t raise her pistol again, though it never left her hand.

          The Irish woman was part of the disguise of this place, dressed in the uniform of a waitress, all she needed to tell the coppers that might think to raid the place is that she was on her break. It was a simple set up, but Pete had seen how effective it was. Aside from that, the woman was a crack shot.

          Pete had seen that, too.

          “I’m looking for Errol, and the other men that were taken two days ago,” Pete said. “Do you know what happened to them?”

          The woman released a heavy puff of air, raising a long limb to brush off some of the hair that had fallen into her face from her bun. “I didn’t see it happen,” she denied, shaking her head. “I heard a call, a shout, what sounded like a gunshot, and then I heard no more. By the time I made it to the upper landing, they had gone, dragged off, I’d wager. I found a hat,” she indicated it placed on the bedraggled coatrack by the door, “but that was it. There was blood on the brim.”

          That did not bode well at all.

          “Has his wife, Lois, sent you?” she asked, eyeing him.

          “His daughter, but yes,” Pete agreed, filing away the name. “I need to find them quickly. Did you hear anything else?”

          “The only reason I heard what I did is that there was a lull in activity above,” she denied, shaking her head, and sure enough the sound of families laughing and eating above their heads was obvious, Carl’s lucky enough to be close enough to the richer localities that it could stay in business, and even thrive, even with the bias. Pete wondered how long it would last. Regardless, the sound would drown out much of the sounds from outside, particularly for the ones that didn’t have his enhanced senses.

          “Did they have anyone that hated them?” Pete asked, “anyone that would have counted them as their enemies?”

          The woman scoffed, rolling her eyes heavily. “You should know the ones that see us as an enemy,” she said, her eyes dark as they focused on him. “It’s no secret that the ones that took their jobs were white.” The woman laughed; the sound jagged. “They look at me and call me something else, when I’m fairer than they,” she spat. “That said, I’d rather be on this side than theirs,” her eyes were fiery, her mouth in a fine line. “Are you working on sending them back where they came from?”

          “Sending them back to hell,” Pete returned, and the woman barked another laugh, this one amused.

          “I’m down with that, Spider,” she said, her eyes darkly pensive. “Did you know that I left a note in your web one?” she asked, and she had put the gun down.

          Pete tilted his head at her, prompting. “Many do,” he said, adding that soft nudge.

          She laughed, “they do,” she agreed, frowning at him. “I asked for security. For my husband to come home safe every night. For my children to grow up happy.” Her eyes bored into his goggles, seeking out his own. “So far it’s all come true. I don’t know whether or not your web actually grants wishes, but I appreciate it enough that I won’t threaten you if you come here again. If you need a drink at any time, come back to me, and I’ll give you something. Food as well, it wouldn’t do to have you deciding to feast on human flesh when I could give you something better.” Her chin raised up. “Now get out of here before I fetch my broom and shoo you out,” she threatened, and Pete was suddenly struck with a jolt of amusement, as well as baffled gratefulness, “I told you all I know.”

          Pete was willing to let that be the last word, and crawled back out of the basement, heading up the wall and to the roof. He hadn’t smelled blood, and Carl’s basement was empty enough that there would have been signs of a struggle from where he was.

          Pete stood on the edge of the roof, thinking, but the more that he considered the more frustrated he got.

          Pete was pretty sure that he knew where he could get answers. He also knew that it was the last place he wanted to go, particularly now. The Klan would know that he was meant to be on leave. They would know that he was hurt, and they would not be expecting for him to be back for another day at the least. For him to suddenly appear before any of them would be immediately suspicious, and worse, might blow his cover entirely, particularly if he came back to ask about a few negros.

          Pete closed his eyes, trying to plan how he could ask questions and not draw suspicions, but perhaps… Perhaps the thing to do was to draw those suspicions.

          Pete had noticed a certain amount of smug satisfaction that resonated from the Klan members. There was no other way they could look at every other race and claim that they were better than everyone else. It was likely, therefore, that they would be extremely easily baited, and if there was one thing that Pete knew how to do, it was bait people. Perhaps…he ought to pay the doctor a visit.

          Maybe he could come across someone that knew something interesting.


        

          Pete entered Klan territory wearing his robes over his uniform, minus the trench coat of course. While the rest of his uniform could easily pass as daywear, the trench coat on top of everything else was just enough to get people to start paying more notice.

          A few of the goons had even started making reference to it when they talked about him.

          Instead, Pete had worn an overcoat overtop of it. It was slightly warm, but it was better than being cold, and Pete was frequently cold. It also would make it something that wasn’t as immediately noticeable. Pete made his way to the doctor, planning on letting his stitches get a once over so if anyone noticed, or asked, he’d have an alibi. He’d discreetly popped a couple of them, already having informed his temporary housekeeper from a very safe distance that he’d done it attempting to move the desk in order to get something he had dropped. He’d discussed it with her, and they’d agreed that an important document like his will, or a letter from his supposedly lost lover would both rank high enough that it would make sense why he had attempted to retrieve it. He thought he’d go with the letter, drive that angle home more.

          His housekeeper was a rather sturdy woman, the kind that while she did not want to be near him, was quite willing to talk to him from a safe distance, and had even volunteered for the position, which was something that Pete had been surprised by. Pete was less surprised when he learned that she had a son that Pete had saved and so felt a bit as though she owed him. Her name was Ruth, and she was quite apologetic for the fact that she hadn’t thought to look to see if there had been a need for groceries. Pete had told her it was no issue, and Ruth had accepted that quietly.

          Pete had rather liked her. He didn’t think that it was mutual, but that was fine,

          Pete worked his way through the underground, his head down, and his hands around his wrists. There was blood rising up through the gauze he’d wrapped around it, which was good. He was lucky that the Klan doctor was a lot closer than the one that was by his house.

          When he eventually arrived, the doctor cussed him out vigorously, telling him that he needed to take better care, and that he understood his attachment, but it had been a stupid decision. Pete agreed, and allowed the man to dress the wounds, wrapping fresh gauze around the stitches after he reclosed them.

          “Now, Williams, you absolutely must take more care of yourself!”

          “I’m sorry,” he said, ducking his head, allowing himself to display that necessary bit of regret.

          “Ah, it’s alright,” the man finally said, sighing, running a hand over his balding scalp, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his sharp nose. “Just be more careful. You can’t afford to keep hurting yourself like this, the scar will be bad enough as it is, there is no reason to keep making it worse.”

          “You’re right,” Pete agreed. “I’ll avoid any heavy lifting from now on.”

          “Good, now get out of here, I have to run inventory,” he said, waving him on.

          “Yes, sir,” Pete said, and left. As Pete walked out, he kept an eye out for the one man that Pete had paid the most attention to in the new recruits. He’d had that look about him, a kind of feral edge that was easy to exploit, and Pete had overheard that he was going to be assigned to security, likely for his size and the breadth of his shoulder.

          Finally, Pete spotted him, and carefully began approaching him. The man caught his eye, and a grin spread across his face, though there was still that edge. This was a man that wanted to advance through the ranks.

          This was a man that would be stupid enough to try any tactic to get ahead, and Pete was about to give him one.

          “Williams,” the man said, his voice deep, holding the Brooklyn singsong. “Nice to see you, I heard what happened to you, I’m sorry. That’s rotten luck. It was my job to make sure you wouldn’t come to harm and I failed you."

          “That’s alright, though I’m afraid to admit I can’t seem to recall your name,” Pete said, once again bringing his own fake accent into play.

          “Richards,” Richards introduced, smiling at him, “you likely wouldn’t have heard it. The only reason I know you is because we were drilled on our negligence due to what happened to you. Were you hear for a checkup?”

          “Well, that seems rather unpleasant, I’m sorry to be any trouble, and yes. I wound up bungling my stitches earlier,” Pete held up his wrists to show the fresh bandaging, Richards visibly gentling at the sight of the white gauze, his shoulders relaxing. “I had to come and get it fixed before it got worse, and you’re closer than the doctor. But I really am sorry to be any trouble to you, particularly so early…”

          “No, no,” Richards denied, and the smile had warmed rather significantly, sighing heavily. “I’m sorry to hear about your stitches, though I’m glad that you were able to get here before it got worse…” “In the end, it really is us who owe you an apology…”

          “Well,” Pete hummed. “If you insist on apologizing, the least you could do is buy me a drink…” he raised a teasing eyebrow, twisting his lips into a grin.

          Richards laughed, before giving him his own grin, and clapping a hand on his shoulder. “I’ll take you up on that,” Richards said. Pete let Richards lead the way, walking next to him as the man took him deeper into the city, their robes removed before they left the underground. Pete smoothed out his overcoat, checking the pockets for his mask and the goggles to make sure they were still hidden. Richards hailed them a cab, Pete mildly surprised due to the number of speakeasies that were secreted around them, but Richards had a look on his face that drove Pete to simply take a seat without question.

          Pete had to force himself to relax when Richards’ asked the cabbie to take them to Sylvia’s in Harlem. Richards seemed to catch Pete’s surprise, grinning at him with relish. “It’s good to know the enemy, don’t you think, Williams?” he asked him, amusement in his voice.

          “I would suppose,” Pete agreed, an eyebrow rising. “But is it safe?”

          Richards laughed, “those” term-that-Pete-didn’t-care-to-pay-attention-to, “don’t know a damn thing. I’ve been eating amongst them for years and they haven’t said a damn thing. It’s good to be amongst them so you can learn how to talk like them. Schmooze a little, get close…and then do what you can to remind them that they’re where they need to be. Right under our heel.” Richards laughed and Pete had to force himself to laugh with him. Richards didn’t seem to notice, and Pete was grateful.

          When they finally pulled up to Sylvia’s Pete had to keep his expression level. This was another location that he had frequented with Robbie, his older friend helping show him the ropes of the district and introducing him to all of his friends, making Pete feel comfortable. Sylvia’s had been one of their favorites, and he knew the owners personally. For once, Pete wasn’t sure whether he hoped for no recognition or recognition on their faces. He wasn’t sure which would hurt more.

          Sylvia’s was primarily a soul food joint, but one with that extra ‘if you knew where to look’ adage attached to it. Pete made sure to sit with his back to the rest of the room, knowing that he would have to remove his scarf in order to eat, or drink what Richards’ ordered for him. They ordered, but before their drinks arrived, Pete got up with an excuse to use the facilities, Richards waving him away with a laugh.

          Pete readjusted his scarf and walked back to the restroom and…the kitchen adjacent to it. Pete hesitated, feeling his sense roll as he was watched, and then edged off as it faded, and slipped into the kitchen.

          He was unsurprised when Tim, the busboy that had worked there since Pete was eleven, the wide-set negro with a bristly mustache and eyes that usually squinted in a grin when they saw him instead squinted with rage as he turned to him with a brief cuss. “You can’t be back here!” he said, “if you have a problem with the food, you’ll have to take it up with the front, but…”

          “You know who I am,” Pete interrupted, pulling his mask up from his pocket just enough for it to be visible, lowering his head into the scarf at the same time, and the rest of the kitchen stilled, turning to look at him, look at that mask. He watched the recognition spread, and it hurt as much as he had been afraid of, because the look wasn’t of the joy that Pete had partially imagined, the shouts of his name, the happiness and relief in their faces as they saw the kid that had been gone for over a year back in their midst…

          Their reaction was fear.

          “Spider,” Tim hissed, he and the other men in the kitchen the ones that had been in the club Cage had brought him to that fateful day stirred with fear and realization. The rest of the men that were there were ones that Pete knew and trusted. They wouldn’t crack, and he could see the realization fighting with resolve on their faces. “What are you…does that mean the man that came with you…?”

          “He’s Klan,” Pete affirmed.

          “Son of a bitch,” Tim cussed, sending a furtive glance towards the door as though he could see through it. “What are you doing here?”

          “He brought me,” Pete answered, frowning. “He has information I need. If a distraction can be caused…I need him alone.”

          There was a quiet laugh from the back, Pete’s attention drifting towards it and finding the Head Chef, a man that had owned the restaurant since before he was born, a man named Isaiah that had named the place after his wife that he loved dearly, and always slipped Pete and Robbie treats with a grin and a wink. The way he was looking at him held none of the usual warmth, replaced by a grim wariness, as well as amusement. “Well, if you’re looking for something to happen to the man, that can certainly be arranged. We can certainly start something.” He leaned forward; his expression almost vicious. “Though I’m guessing you’ll be wanting whatever you order raw…” that expression turned wary.

          “No, actually,” Pete responded, shaking his head. “I’m…actually not able to eat anything raw. It’ll likely make me sick. Though…I didn’t actually order anything, I wasn’t planning for this to be a long stay.”

          “I’ll be fucking damned,” another cook hissed, Montgomery, wicked humor and a wandering eye, staring at him with wide eyes. “I thought…we all thought…?”

          “No,” Pete reiterated, something throbbing in his chest at the realization that maybe they weren’t trying to slight him, or put him in his place, but were actually trying to accommodate him. “I can’t eat it,” Pete said, shaking his head.

          “Well, fuck, I’ll be spreading the word, I think…” Tim said, his mouth pulled into a fine line. “What’s your preference?”

          “I’m going to be honest and say that I like knowing it’s dead,” Pete responded, shaking his head.  

          There was a surprised laugh, “Alright, I can do that,” Isaiah promised. “Whatever you do, though, Spider, don’t touch anything that we give him. Though…maybe we ought to give you the same treatment…” Isaiah frowned. “If we show preference…”

          “But…”

          “You might not have ordered anything, Spider, but Richards definitely did.”

          “…What?”

          “About the most expensive thing we have. I think he’s trying to show off.”

          Pete tilted his head. “To what end…?”

          “Who knows. I can’t tell you what these people are thinking, only that they’ve got money and they’re willing to spend it.” Isaiah shrugged. “Now tell me, what’s the plan with him?”

          “Richards isn’t making it through the night,” Pete finally answered. “I need information that if I ask for, he will absolutely get suspicious. If he’s suspicious…it’s over for me, and it can’t be over yet. So…consider this Richards’ last meal.” He frowned slightly, tilting his head. “It’d be rather a shame if his last meal was a pretty awful dining experience,” Pete hummed in a way that gave full indication that he didn’t give a rat’s ass how the dining experience went. It led to a rather vicious grin spreading across their faces, heads tilting in a mildly appreciative manner.

          “Well, well…I didn’t realize that this particular breed of spider was venomous…”

          “Only if the food’s poisoned,” Pete returned, “though I don’t recommend that, actually. I’ve still got to talk to him. I just need you to make it quick, please,” Pete said. “I need to find who they’ve taken.” Pete paused by the door to the kitchen, his fingers pressing against the flat of the door, waiting for the moment when his sense stopped buzzing.

          “Here,” Tim said, moving closer to him than Pete expected. “I’ll make sure he’s not looking, slip into the restroom behind me. Find what you’re after.”

          Pete nodded, taking a step back, and Tim pushed the door open and Pete followed after, sliding into the hallway to the restroom behind Tim’s bulk. Pete slipped into the men’s for a moment, washing his hands and then splashing some water on his face, before finally walking back towards Richards.

          Richards gave him a lazy grin, leaning back slightly as he approached. Their drinks were already on the table, and Pete sat with a brief apology.

          “No issue, no issue,” Richards assured, toasting him with his drink. “Now, to your health and speedy recovery, I should think,” he said. Pete clinked his glass to his and they both drank. “Alright, now, Williams, I did take the liberty of ordering for you, I do hope that you don’t mind…”

          “I think I can trust your judgement…” Pete agreed quietly, frowning.

          “Good, good, now…” Richards clapped his hands together, smiling. “I think that we should do an exercise here, don’t you?”

          “What kind of exercise?” Pete asked.

          “How many of these women do you think you could…”

          Pete found himself clenching his fists under the table so hard he heard his knuckles crack. He immediately forced himself to loosen them, doing his best to stop his hands from shaking as he pressed them against his pants.

          “Well?” Richards asked. “That one’s pretty, don’t you think…?”

          Rosie.

          “Or that one,”

          Isabelle.

          “Or…oh, now that’s a sweet one,”

          Sylvia herself, oh fuck she was coming this way, please, go the other direction, don’t…

          “How are you two gentlemen enjoying your stay here tonight?” she asked, cocking her hip deliberately as she got to their table.

          Pete was seventeen and, in another life, when he actually had been born in 1900, he may have found the artful way that her dress draped across her thigh attractive. As it was, the only thing he could think of was the fact that this woman was probably old enough to be his mother, and she had personally handed him a sweet roll and pinched his damn cheek the last time he had been there with his aunt. Pete had never wanted the ground to swallow him up more in his entire life.

          And then Richards opened his mouth and he wanted to die.

          Pete promptly grabbed his drink in preparation for either a sip of something or a distraction in case his expression slipped. Sylvia laughed, a polite sound, but Pete could see the flint in her eyes. Pete wasn’t sure whether he wanted to make eye contact and try and make it as apologetic as possible, look at the ground, look at the ceiling, or clap a hand on Richards’ back and try and get him to stop.

          Pete took a sip of alcohol to compensate for his indecision. Pete was reasonably certain that it wouldn’t go over well if he intervened and he wanted Richards to be relaxed.

          Sylvia asked them how they were enjoying her little restaurant, telling them that she always made it a point to talk to the guests and see how they were liking their dining experience. Pete kept his mouth shut and let Richards do the talking. It was impressive really, the grace that she put into deftly avoiding any of Richards’ advances and teases, and Pete found himself gaining a new appreciation for the person that the restaurant was named after. Finally, Sylvia turned and walked away, putting a bit of a sashay in her steps. Pete looked towards his glass.

          “Now there’s a woman that might be interesting,” Richards hummed. “What do you think?”

          Pete had a moment where the words were lost in his brain, unsure what to say, before finally, “It’s too soon,” he settled on quietly, keeping his gaze firmly away.

          “Oh,” Richards said, softly. “That’s right, I had forgotten what you lost.” He gave a quiet hum. “Being around these…people must make your blood boil, doesn’t it?”

          “Yes,” Pete rasped, taking another sip of his drink, his eyes closing.

          “I’m sorry,” Richards said, leaning back. “We’ll eat quick and go. I should have thought this through, Williams, I’m sorry.”

          “It’s alright,” Pete said, allowing his hands to fist on the table, his eyes closing as he bowed his head over them. “It’s alright…”

          Pete decided later that no matter what, he was rather amused at the show that was steadily put on. Sylvia was in rare form, bringing their food to them with a devilish flair, placing Pete’s in front of his easily, only for Tim to knock into her as he passed, sending the bowl of hot soup meant for Richards right on Richards’ lap. Richard stood up immediately, cussing, Sylvia and Tim both apologizing. He was red in the face, angry as a spitting snake, and Pete caught his wrist before he could lash out. He pulled, looking up at Richards with a pointed look and brought him closer.

          “Not here,” Pete hissed, which made Richards pause, taking a look around at the people that surrounded them.

          Pete could practically hear the gears ticking in his head, the realization that they were outnumbered in every conceivable way, and finally he sat down. Sylvia apologized then, Tim standing down from his position just behind her, catching Pete’s eye in a way that almost seemed…thankful. They got Richards’ napkins and towels, as well as promised to comp him for the rest of the meal. Richards cooled slowly, the gray flush rising up his cheeks fading as he learned that. Pete had no doubt that he would try and get even later…

          Not that there’d be a later.

          Pete took a few bites of the soup as Richards waited for his replacement, a hearty gumbo that Sylvia’s was known for, and one that made the heat rise under his skin, but Pete didn’t particularly care. It was food and his sense was silent, which meant it probably wasn’t poisoned. Good enough for him.

          “How is it, Williams? Good enough to dump all over someone?”

          “I’d say so,” Pete responded, giving him a slight grin. Richards allowed himself to laugh. “It’s a spot of bad luck,” Pete hissed. “Either way we can’t take them all. I didn’t bring a weapon with me, did you?”

          Richards gave an unhappy sounding scoff. “No, I hadn’t thought I would need it,” he said.

          Fortuitous.

          Pete continued eating his soup, Richards finally getting his own bowl. Sylvia froze in surprise at the slight flush to Pete’s complexion that she could see, a bit of his cheek and the back of his ear, Pete could see her head tilting out of the corner of his eye, but she didn’t linger. Pete idly wondered what she made of it, whether she would tell the others in the kitchen that the Spider didn’t have much of a spice tolerance. A small part of him wondered if she had recognized the part of his face that she had seen… Though he supposed the reaction was too subtle for that kind of thing.

          Richards ate through the gumbo with relish, obviously more used to the heat than Pete himself was, though he made no comment on Pete’s inability. Probably ate with enough people that weren’t able to manage the spice, though that did raise the question on how Richards had built up his tolerance. Pete eyed him carefully, looking over his features, idly wondering…

          Richards sat back finally after finishing the soup, giving a small sniff of satisfaction. “I think I see what you mean about how good it is,” Richards said, giving him a slight smirk. Pete returned it, curious as to what, if anything they’d done to the soup. Pete realized that there was going to be another course as Sylvia walked up to them, carrying a tray that held…fish. Of…some kind. Pete wasn’t as well versed in various types of fish as other things. Chicken had been cheaper, and it was chicken that they had served most often in their breadline.

          “I hope you don’t mind me taking the liberty of ordering…” Richards said finally. “You did say buy you a drink, but you can’t have a proper drink without the proper accompaniment. The herring really brings out the subtler notes of the whiskey.”

          Sounded like bullshit to Pete, but he’d let it slide.

          Sylvia placed the herring in front of them, giving Pete a very deliberate wink when she put his down in front of him, focused to just over his shoulder and avoiding looking at his face properly which surprised him, but also made him feel rather…comforted. Sylvia then sent Richards’ dish a very pointed glance that said ‘do not touch,’ Richards too focused on his meal to pay attention. Pete hesitated for a moment when she left before finally cutting into the fish. The herring was nicely flaky, served in a sauce that was a very nice mellow flavor that really rounded it out, Pete didn’t eat a lot of fish, but he really liked this one.

          The whiskey did nothing for it.

          Richards didn’t seem to be having any issues eating his own food, but Pete was mildly curious as to whether or not Isaiah would have actually deliberately botched the dish. Pete was very aware of the way Isaiah had thought of food, the way he had considered it almost a crime to ruin perfectly good food when there were so many that were starving. It made him think that something else had been added to it, something else done that would give Richards discomfort of some sort without causing any real harm to befall him.

          Then again, Pete hadn’t expected that Isaiah would make food to be deliberately dumped, maybe he’d changed his tune…

          Or maybe the Klan were a special exception.

          Watching Richards suddenly turn ashen gave him the realization that either way, Pete did not want to be close.

          He stood up, taking a couple steps back from the table, and watching in idle disgust as Richards was suddenly sick all over it. That disgust also turned a bit disappointed as it covered the fish that Pete had been eating.

          Pete was not eating that.

          Pete took a deep breath, sighed, and as Sylvia and the others rushed forward to ask how he was and apologize, Pete hooked Richards under his arms, giving them his apologies, and taking Richards to the restroom, carefully avoiding having him throw up on anything, or anyone else.

          Pete positioned Richards over the toilet carefully, and then locked the door to the outside behind them. Pete waited quietly as Richards heaved, waiting for when he finally calmed down enough to sit up properly. Richards spat into the toilet and looked back at Pete with watering eyes. Pete idly hoped that he wouldn’t vomit on him if he did get up and resolved to stay where he was.

          “Well, this didn’t go as planned,” Richards managed, grinning. Pete tilted his head in affirmation. “I gotta say, after this service, I’m kind of thinking it’d be a good time to light some matches, wouldn’t you say?"

          Pete hummed quietly, “I think that’d just be in bad taste. They can’t help it if you’ve got a weak stomach. Mine was fine, after all.”

          Richards was looking at him with those eyes, and Pete could tell the jig was about to be up. Pete watched as Richards straightened slightly. “You know, it’s awfully odd about you,” he started. “You come in here with this sob story about a dead lover, you rise through the ranks, but no one’s seen you actually take action. Sure, you’ve gotten your arms all cut up, but the way you’re talking…”

          “I don’t know what you mean, Richards,” Pete replied, keeping his voice deliberately lazy, tilting his head back slightly. “That’s a rather serious accusation. Are you sure you’re not just sore because you got sick?”

          Richards hesitated, looking him up and down with those eyes, his expression getting colder and colder. “Tell me, Williams, do you have a fondness for those animals? Because if I didn’t know any better…I’d sure think you were a bit concerned by the idea of burning them down.”

          “I’m concerned with the idea of burning down an establishment in the middle of Harlem, particularly one that’s as well-known as Sylvia’s,” Pete retorted easily, tilting his head. “Don’t you think that’d be a bit…risky?”

          Richards hummed quietly, “Maybe you’re right, Williams,” Richards finally conceded leaning away from the toilet. “Though that won’t stop us later.”

          Pete felt his insides go cold. “Later when?” Pete asked without hesitation, the words slipping out too fast for him to check them.

          Well.

          Pete had locked the door.

          “Now…” Richards hesitated. “I may not be the quickest man, Williams, and while I think that you are correct on the fact that I might be a bit sore from getting sick… That sounded a bit like concern.” Richards started pushing himself up, wiping away sweaty locks of hair, and glaring out at him with narrowed eyes. Pete said nothing, just watched. Richards stood slowly, shakily. “You aren’t concerned, are you Williams?”

          “A bit,” Pete answered. “Though at the moment, I have to say I think I’m more concerned about those people that went missing two days ago.”

          “Missing, huh?” Richards asked, taking a couple shuffling steps towards him.

          “Oh, yes,” Pete agreed. “One of them was named Errol, and there were two other people that went missing with him from the docks. They were on the way to Carl’s when they got jumped.”

          “From the docks, huh?” Richards asked, his hands balling into fists. “Don’t tell me you care about them?”

          “Errol had a wife and a child,” Pete answered with a loose shrug. Richards pressed his hand against the door next to him, leaning up into his space, his breath rank with the acrid smell of vomit. “It wouldn’t be good for them to lose the man that was providing for them, would it?”

          “Well, well,” Richards hummed, eyes gray-rimmed and cheeks ashen. “I wouldn’t have expected it out of you,” he said, and then his fist was planted directly into Pete’s stomach. Pete curved with the punch, his breath leaving him in a rush, that spike of agony ratcheting up his skull something looked for. He fell to his hands and knees on the bathroom floor, wheezing. Richards kicked his side, sending Pete rolling, and the wind out of him for the second time, his breath a choked gasp. “Don’t tell me you’re some kind of spy for those bastards?” Richards asked. “Don’t tell me that they’ve got you coming after them?”

          Pete took in a breath, looking up at Richards with a wide grin. “Maybe,” he responded, rasping. “Would it shock you?”

          “Cheeky son of a bitch,” Richards hissed, looking almost impressed.

          Pete’s only real regret as Richards’ shoe connected with his side, was the fact that he hadn’t taken this outside. He’d actually liked this overcoat.

          “You know you don’t have to do it like this, Richards,” Pete hummed. “I wouldn’t have let you live, but I wouldn’t have made it hurt nearly as severely as I’m about to.”

          “Hurt me?” Richards asked, laughing. Richards brought his fist down suddenly, smashing into Pete’s nose, which Pete felt break in a rush of warmth and salt. “I think you’re the one getting hurt here, Williams,” he spat. “You and your ugly-” blah de blah, creativity, where was it these days? “-loving self… What were you hoping from me? Were you hoping for me to spill the location of where we took them? Because if so, you guessed right in the fact that I do know where we took them…”

          “Oh really?” Pete interrupted, licking at the blood coming from his nose idly. “Would you tell me if I asked you with a pretty please?”  

          Richards laughed. “How about I beat you ash and gray, and right before you really begin begging for mercy, then I tell you?”

          “Sounds fine to me,” Pete grinned.

          Richards laughed. “I have to say, Williams…if that’s even your name…I think I might have liked you.”

          “It’s not mutual, buddy,” Pete winked. Richards hummed.

          “Shame, that,” Richards sighed, and brought his foot down. Pete took the blows deliberately, making sure they were placed just so to prevent any lasting damage. Fists joined feet in a rain that Pete danced with, lances of sharp pain that ripped its way through sides and chest and back and leg and head… Richards deliberately stepped on his arm, tugging the stitches terribly and causing agony to shoot its way up Pete’s skull. Pete couldn’t hold back the cry that left his teeth, but he managed to bite it down harshly before it grew too much, and Richards laughed. Richards reached down, pulling him up, Pete aware of the blood leaking from his nose, from his mouth, the feeling of swollen tissue around his eyes making it hard to open them.

          “Well, well, I think I’ve tenderized you well enough,” Richards hummed. “I think now’s the time I can tell you where they are.”

          “Would you please?” Pete asked, spitting blood to the ground.

          “Yeah,” Richards laughed. “They’re in the middle of old Harlem, in the clocktower. It’s rigged to blow at midnight.”

          Pete snapped his hand out like lightning, tightening around Richards’ lapel, pulling him close, bright gray eyes widening at the sudden contact. “Thank you, Richards,” Pete said, grinning. “You’ve been a lot of help.”

          Richards tried to jerk back, only for Pete’s hold to tighten, his other hand to come up, and very casually snap Richards’ finger back. Richards screamed, letting go instinctively as Pete pushed himself up to his feet. His body ached with a familiar and welcome sting, and Pete hummed, rolling his shoulders slightly.

          “I don’t…” Richards managed, looking up at him with wide and horrified eyes, “I don’t understand…how?”

          Pete pulled his mask out from its pocket casually, pulling it over his head as Richards stared up at him with wider and wider eyes, Pete’s goggles easily fitted over his eyes easily. He slipped the overcoat off his shoulders, and removed the scarf, and stared down at him for a moment, drinking in the horror and realization he found there.

          “Oh…” Richards whispered, “oh god…oh…”

          Pete crouched down slowly, watching as Richards backed away with a sense of amusement building in his soul. “No one to hear your request tonight,” Pete hummed. “You’re just with me. Luckily for you, however…” Pete lashed out immediately, grabbing hold of Richards easily and bringing him close, Richards screaming as his hands came up to his head, and his shoulders. With a quick jerk, Richards neck was broken. “I’m on a bit of a time limit.”

          After a moment of hesitation Pete hefted Richards into his arms before bringing Richards up across his shoulder. Pete unlocked the door, and knocked twice. The door opened, Isaiah’s worried face peering in, only to freeze at the sight of the Spider in full costume carrying the dead body of Richards over his shoulder.

          “Call a cab,” Pete ordered. Isaiah rushed to do so. “What time is it?” Pete called out.

          “Eleven twenty-two!” a woman dressed in what had to be her best evening out wear called out, her black-painted lips trembling as she stared at him with white-rimmed irises.

          “Not a lot of time, then,” Pete hummed to himself. He looked around, looking for any faces that he didn’t know, anyone he knew that he couldn’t trust. Isaiah was doing so as well, he could see, Sylvia herself sweeping the guests.

          “Regulars,” Sylvia called back finally, and Pete gave a brief nod.

          “Anyone interested in a new coat, scarf, and hat?” he asked, holding them up. “I need a decoy.”

          A white-haired man whose complexion was very close to Pete’s stood up then, his limbs trembling. “That man Klan?” he asked, Irish brogue rolling soft.

          “Was,” Pete answered.

          “Sign me up,” he walked forward, Pete holding himself very still, merely holding out the articles of clothing. The man carefully put on the hat and scarf and the overcoat.

          “Are you alright with carrying a dead body?” Pete asked, tilting his head slightly.

          “If it means you get to keep doing what you’re doing, then yes,” he said, and Pete very carefully helped the man drape Richards’ arm across his shoulders.

          “Sir,” Pete said, indicating Isaiah, “would you be so kind as to help this man escort this one out of the building? I’m afraid he’s deadweight…”

          Isaiah gave a surprised laugh, but carefully hooked his arm underneath Richards’ other side.

          The sound of a car pulling up outside was heard, and Pete jumped into the far corner, hiding in the shadows. “I’ll follow you,” he hissed. “I need you to run as soon as I stop the car, do you understand? Run like your life depends on it. You won’t be in danger from me, but you need to make it look as though you are.”

          “Where do I leave your things?” the man asked, looking up towards his voice without seeing him. This was going smoother than anticipated.

          “Corner of Earl’s and 5th,” Pete answered.

          “Got it,” the man nodded, and the cabbie entered then, asking who the cab had been called for. Pete’s decoy gave a call, and Isaiah helped the man take Richards corpse out, Pete jimmying the nearby window open and carefully climbing outside. Pete watched from a safe distance as the two of them loaded Richards into the cab, the cabbie giving a bright laugh at how drunk the man had gotten himself and accepting the Irishman’s tip for possible vomit along the way. Isaiah went back into the restaurant as the cab pulled away and Pete immediately began following.

          Time limit.

          He waited four city blocks before allowing himself to plummet from the air and land in front of the car, the cab swerving, Pete very carefully grabbing hold of it and doing his best to halt the momentum without actually causing too much damage to the vehicle.

          This was someone’s livelihood; Pete would kill himself before he wrecked some innocent’s life because he wasn’t careful. The Irishman took Pete’s distraction as time enough to jump out, and he immediately been booking it, Pete sending a shot of webbing after him, but missing very closely. The cabbie had let go of the wheel and was covering his head, Pete opening the door and pulling Richards’ corpse out of the car. At that point there were many witnesses, multiple people screaming in terror as Pete hefted him over his shoulder and leapt, swinging away, still carrying the man.

          Pete let out a scream, pitching his voice to match Richards’ as well as he was able to with scar tissue, flipping easily in the air and lifting him higher up his shoulder as he did so. He waited until he had gotten to the edge of Harlem to take a momentary break, always paying attention to the time, making sure that he had plenty of time to get to the old clocktower and potentially disarm, or otherwise destroy a bomb. There was a lot of trust he was placing in Richards’ account, but Pete was pretty sure he knew his type, and besides, the setting and time made sense.

          It was the eve of the anniversary of the first negro-owned business in Harlem, a clocktower that had also provided watch tune-ups and clocks. The jazz, and the speakeasies, and the literature had come after, the first thing that they owned was time.

          Pete waited until he was pretty sure Richards’ would have given up the location out of fear, and webbed him up, before launching a web to the building alongside them. He attached the web in a tightrope, carrying Richards’ body to the center, and carefully pulled the white hood Pete had stolen from Richards and brought with him out from under his vest. He tugged it onto Richards’ head carefully, tightening it, and then attached a web to his feet, before allowed him to drop to swing there between the two buildings as he attached Richards’ web to the structure.

          The Spider had given his warning.

          There would be no Klan in Harlem.

          Pete immediately turned and began a full-speed sprint towards the clocktower, leaping and swinging over gaps so fast he was almost flying, his stomach left behind him on that tightrope. Pete saw it ahead of him, a beautiful clockface with intricate paneling and equally elegant numbers, the stonework carefully hewn, black tiling covering the top.

          The first thing Pete did was knock on the door of the nearest house. After a moment the door opened to reveal a tired looking woman who snapped to full alertness after the sight of him.

          “The clocktower has been rigged to explode, the Klan is trying to give a message, I need you to evacuate the area, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to stop it from detonating.”

          The woman’s expression changed from terror to horrified realization. She looked to the clocktower, and then gave a harsh nod, before letting out a scream of “Bomb! Klan, everyone run!” that split the night in a way that would have woken the dead.

          Lights were thrown on in nearby houses, the call taken up by others.

          Pete didn’t stick around to see the chaos, vaguely aware of running people below them, he leapt as high as he could and landed on the side of the clocktower with a thump, carefully crawling through the window, feeling a bit like they would have gone for the highest part, and finding out that his guess was good as eight men turned to him from where they had been bound and gagged, each tied to their own individual chair, none of them facing the other, only in their peripheral vision lost in their own personal hell. There were only three that could see the window, and therefore him, their eyes widening at the sight of him. Pete immediately tracked the roof for the bomb and found…

          Dynamite.

          The rush of relief that went through him was heady. Pete could work with dynamite, among the newer explosives like liquid oxygen, it was an old hat and one that Pete knew how to handle easily, particularly if they were as blatant as the fools that had set this up.

          Normally Pete would expect for a timebomb to be placed in such a way that the containment was almost part of the trap. Something where attempting to disarm it might trigger the combination of elements that would lead to one fuck of a bang, but this…

          Pete looked over the men that were there, walking around them until he finally found Errol, Pete dropped before him, moving towards him very deliberately. Errol’s heartbeat picked up, Pete could hear it, see the way that his eyes widened, sweat beading up on his brow and trickling down.

          “Milly sends her regards,” Pete said and held out the paper that Milly had placed in his web, her wish that Pete was working to grant. Errol’s eyes tracked over the paper in confusion, before realization spread across his visible face, and he relaxed visibly, almost physically slumping. That reaction slowly spread to the rest of them that were aware of his web, of what he was holding, their ears left clear to hear the sound of their breathing and the ticking of the clock.

          Sixteen minutes.

          Pete reached out carefully and pulled the gag from Errol’s mouth.

          Errol coughed, spitting to the side, working his jaw. Pete waited as patiently as he could.

          “Is that the only triggering device?” Pete asked, pointing to the timer that had been set up in the center of the tangled mass of dynamite along the ceiling. “Is there anything else in here, do you know?”

          “I don’t know,” Errol answered, shaking his head, his voice a rough croak. “I was out when they brought me here. They’ve come back twice since, to taunt us and to tell us that… You came, Spider…” Errol whispered. “You came…”

          “I did,” Pete agreed. “Did they touch you during those times, did they do anything to you?”

          “No,” Errol answered. “We’ve tried to get up, tried to move, but the knots are too tight, we’re…we’re too weak. We couldn’t get close…”

          Pete gave a nod of understanding. “I’m going to check your chairs for explosives,” Pete explained. “I will have to get close.”

          “Do your thing, Spider,” Errol said. “Get us out.”

          Pete moved towards them, his eyes closed, listening first to see if there were any other sounds that didn’t belong, any ticking that was coming from something other than that one in the center above them.

          There was something.

          Pete immediately moved towards it, finding it coming from the center of the room, but not up as the timer was, but below. Pete pressed his ear against the floor, hearing the muffled sound of more ticking.

          So. They had been clever after all.

          Pete leaned back, removing his goggles and tracing the floor with his eyes, testing the limits of his newly enhanced vision, looking for any signs of wires coming out from the floor…

          Shit.

          Shit, shit, shit, shit.

          Wires, coming from underneath their chairs, which explained why his sense hadn’t gone off as Pete moved forward, all of them fine as fishing line. They led to their bonds.

          Fuck.

          Pete checked the time again, ten minutes, and began doing a bit of mental math. The chairs were bolted down, so they were unable to do any walking forward of the chairs, and the bonds had been tied so the chairs themselves were almost a part of the knot, keeping their hands relatively stable. All of this pointed to the idea that the lines weren’t able to carry a spark or other triggering mechanism, it likely would come from the application of force. The cruel twist of allowing them the idea of freedom, only to snatch it away from them at the last moment by placing their rescuer in the position of pulling the wires and activating the bomb below… Well, that was just nasty.

          However, there was no reason they couldn’t twist in their bonds, which meant that there therefore would be some amount of slack given. If there was slack, Pete could exploit it. Pete carefully approached the wire nearest him, examining it closely and seeing that there was just that slightest bit of curve that indicated slack, that indicated that Pete could attach a bit of webbing to it and finish its track to the ceiling. Pete wasn’t sure if removing slack totally would cause it to activate as well and it was best to simply keep it stable.

          Explosive devices loved stability…

          “Don’t move,” Pete said, pulling a knife from his vest. Pete shot a line of webbing to the ceiling and brought it down slowly before carefully touching his wrist to the wire a little lower than the knot. He felt the catch of the wire against his webbing and sliced the wire above it, allowing the wire to dangle from his webbing at nearly the exact height it was before. Pete sliced through the man’s bonds around his hands then then, and carefully cut through the bonds on his feet. There was no warning buzz of his sense.

          One down, seven to go.

          Pete moved quickly but carefully, attaching wires to the ceiling and slicing them out of their bonds. When they were finally all free, Pete indicated that they followed him to the window, speed leading to silence. Pete had them jump up with him two at a time, grabbing him and each other, swinging them to a likely safe distance, and then repeating it with the others, telling them to run.

          Pete didn’t necessarily know if he could save the clocktower, but he rather liked the idea of making it so the Klan had none of their plan, and Pete knew that he could get clear in time if he couldn’t.

          Pete made his way to the timer in the center, carefully beginning to work on removing the triggering mechanism before finally with a feeling of heady relief it stopped with four minutes to go.

          Pete pulled the triggering mechanism away completely, adding that extra layer of security, and turned his attention to the floor. Pete dropped down, applying pressure carefully in places, feeling the buzz of his sense roll and finally ease up completely. Pete punched his fist through the wood, beginning to carefully pull it back and away in order to expose the bomb, as well as the complicated wire set-up that did look a bit as though any change of slack would have led to an explosion. Pete became extra careful in his excavation, moving as quickly as he could, making sure that he wouldn’t disturb the wood that held the wires in place still, or the webbing attached to them.

          Pete took in the final set-up with a heady feeling of annoyance, his eyes tracing the components and the delicate mechanisms that would trigger the chemical mixture necessary to blow the place to kingdom come. This one was a doozey, and Pete didn’t have much time, his own mental countdown placing him at two minutes thirty…twenty-nine.

          Pete first began carefully removing the wire triggering mechanisms with a knife, and the dull warning of his spidersense in his skull letting him know when he was cutting it too close, leaving him with beads of sweat running down his skin, but no longer the same amount of terror, or need to be as careful. Pete carefully touched the cover plate to see how his sense would react to it, not even putting pressure, but there was no warning buzz. Pete carefully began working his fingers to the edge, hooking them there, and finally pulled the cover plate away from the mechanism, finding the same one that he had just defused in the other bomb.

          One minute ten.

          Pete began carefully working his way through the bomb, cutting wires, twisting connections, and finally, finally, the mechanism ceased.

          Ten seconds to go.

          Pete collapsed to the ground beside the bomb, his heart pounding in his chest, his breath coming out in a rush, having held his breath what felt like the entire time, his hands beginning a delicate tremble that he felt through his entire body. Pete pulled up his mask over his mouth and nose, taking deep gulps of air. The sudden sound of the door being slammed open almost made Pete leap out of his skin, but his sense didn’t scream in warming, so Pete very carefully pulled his mask down, turning his head to see who was there.

          Luke Cage stood there, staring at the floor and what Pete had done to it, Cage staring up at the ceiling above, taking in the dynamite.

          Luke Cage looked down at him again, taking him in, before he very carefully dropped to the ground.

          “What the fuck?”  

          Pete found himself laughing until he cried, a reaction he hadn’t had in so long he almost forgot about it, half-hysterical, and entirely exhausted. Cage looked like he had no idea how to react to Pete’s outburst, but Pete couldn’t help it, and almost didn’t want to… But the night wasn’t over yet, Milly still needed her father back.

          Pete stood up shakily, forcing his limbs to move, and pulling the goggles back down around his eyes.

          “Cage,” Pete said. “I wouldn’t touch the dynamite. Maybe see about getting someone to remove it? I’ve got one last thing to finish.”

          Pete dove out the window before he could say anything, searching for Errol. When he finally found him, the man had slumped against the wall and was shaking, his hands over his face, trembling running down his limbs. Pete landed in front of him, causing Errol to start, before his eyes locked on his.

          “I haven’t fulfilled the wish, yet,” Pete said, his head tilting. “I need to bring you back to Milly.”

          Errol hesitated, before finally took a step towards him, “Please, Spider,” Errol said. “Take me home.”

          “You good with a piggyback?” Pete asked, an eyebrow rising. Errol blinked, looking at him in surprise, before finally threw his head back and laughing.

          “Get me home however you need to,” Errol agreed. Pete turned, indicating for Errol to climb on. Shaking limbs threaded over his shoulders, Pete hiking him up into position. Errol was taller than him by a solid few inches, but Pete’s strength and his natural stick meant that it wasn’t much of a hassle. Pete jumped, Errol shouting out in alarm, before making his way as slowly and as carefully as he could back towards his office.

          Errol got used to the feeling of swinging very shortly, and Pete could feel the grip on him relax slightly, the man taking careful breaths in time with Pete’s swings. Finally, Pete could see their destination in the distance, and Errol gave a sudden cry of joy. There was a voice that answered that cry, a loud voice that exclaimed, “Daddy?”

          “Milly!” Errol yelled, very much in his ear, and Pete had to fight the flinch as his ear began to ring, his sensitive hearing registering that as akin to an attack. Pete didn’t say anything, Errol didn’t notice. The little girl running towards them was given a further shout of recognition, a taller figure running after her, Errol's wife, Lois, her own voice yelling out Errol’s name. Pete moved faster, finally coming in for a landing and releasing Errol from his natural stick, and stepping away.

          Milly leapt towards Errol, Errol catching her in arms that had been trembling, but would lift her no matter the weakness, swinging her up in the air and giving yet another shout of her name, even as she yelled for her daddy, the two of them spinning once in jubilation, before Lois crashed into them both, her arms flung around them, pulling them close, pressing a firm kiss to Errol’s lips, Pete immediately turning away at the sight.

          Pete backed away, beginning to turn…

          “Where do you think you’re going?” Pete blinked, turning around to see Lois staring at him with tears in her eyes, kohl running down her face. “You can’t go yet,” she said. She took a few steps towards him, her eyes torn between the natural fear of him and gratitude, before she finally managed to fling her arms around him. “You brought my husband back,” she whispered, tightening her hold, sobbing into his shoulder. Another pair of arms surrounded the two of them, Errol embracing the both of them. The sudden feeling of a pair of arms hugging tight to his leg brought his attention down to Milly. “You brought him back to me. Thank you, thank you so much…how? How did…how did you find him?”

          “I answered a wish,” Pete answered numbly, barely able to think of the answer, lost in the rush of realization that they were hugging him. They were hugging him. Here, where…where he was a monster, where he was cursed, where he was hated… “Wishes left in the web are powerful things, so long as they’re given to your neighborhood Spider.”

          There was a laugh, and a wet agreement, a promise that there would be another wish, soon, a wish for him specifically. Pete didn’t know what they could possibly have to wish for, but he would check later. For now, Pete was too lost in the rush of success to really care about it.

          Later, Pete would have to come up with excuses for the leaders of the Klan. He would have to tell explain what had happened, how he had been able to escape when Richards hadn’t. He would have to talk to Cage and Daredevil about the bomb defusal, he would have to talk to Tony.

          But that was for later.