At the end of Olivia Octavius’s world, there is blood, so much of it, too much—staining her shirt dark around her midsection where old incisions are prying themselves loose, and dribbling warningly down her mouth in a thin line.
As her erythrocytes continue to implode upon themselves, her organs will shut down one by one until the lack of oxygen finally squeezes upon her tired heart like a vice.
She was out of her own dimension for too long.
If you stay in this dimension too long, your body’s going to disintegrate. Do you know how painful that would be, Peter Parker?
She thought she could have control of the multiverse if only she could stabilize her body with exposure to gamma radiation, theorizing that the treatment would do as it had done for the infamous Bruce Banner and reinforce her cellular structure—but she miscalculated.
And Olivia never miscalculates.
No, that isn’t true, an awful voice in her head says, right here and right now, on her fucking death bed. Her conscience has always gloated rather than informed. You miscalculate all the time.
“No, goddammit,” May Parker growls. “You do not get to leave like this.”
Surprise jolts through her unpleasantly considering everything that is happening to her body; with an effort that isn’t minimal, the physicist opens her eyes to see a familiar shape kneeling by her side, pressing gnarled hands to her stomach wounds, desperately trying to staunch the bleeding.
But there is so much of it, too much.
Out of the periphery of her eye that isn’t blackened, she can see the shadows of the various Spider-Fools simply standing a few feet away, watching. For they understand, better than maybe most, that there is nothing to be done, no more fight to be had.
May Parker’s hands are vivid with her blood, drowning in it.
“What?” Olivia attempts a bloodied smile that doesn’t quite cut through the pain in her eyes. “You want me to walk away in cuffs? Cheeky, cheeky, May Parker. I thought you were oh-so-straight-laced.”
“Shut up,” May snarls, and the scientist is startled to see that there are tears in her cornflower blue eyes, threatening to spill over, to leak, to pour.
And then she knows.
She knows, she knows, she knows.
That May Parker still loves her, too.
That maybe she never stopped.
And the realization of it takes her breath away, what little of it is that is left.
“May,” she says, her voice surprisingly soft, even though her shivering hands are firm as she slowly brings them up to rest upon the other woman’s. “Cellular decay. Multisystem organ failure. Within a few minutes, I'll likely go into cardiac arrest. It will be quick, maybe even painless.”
“No,” May mutters. “No, no, no. We could get you to a hospital, offset the worst of your symptoms until we can regenerate cellular life in you. An ambulance is coming. ETA five minutes.”
“You’re thinking with that big, ‘ole heart of yours again.” The thing Olivia loves and hates most about the old bat—how much she cares. It’s sickening. It’s stupid. It’s wonderful. “I’ve lost too much blood, and my exoskeleton implants are compromised, which—“
But May cuts across her with an explosive swear.
“—likely means that your spine is also compromised,” she finishes, eyes closing in horror.
Liv smiles weakly, a gesture which ends in her coughing up phlegm and blood.
Doc Ock’s comeuppance has finally arrived, both decades late and years too soon. It is quieter than she imagined it would be, less of a kaleidoscope of many colors than it is a coagulated darkness. She can see black beginning to edge upon her vision, eradicating the excess, eliminating anything that isn’t May Parker.
“I went to twenty-seven different dimensions, May,” she whispers, “and they were all so beautiful—vivid, unique, and extraordinary, each a fully realized universe unto its own...”
When she closes her eyes, she can conjure them even now, the shapes of them, their textures, their scientific impossibility... and it is with awful reluctance that she pries them open again. The darkness is so soft and inviting. Oblivion isn’t as scary as she had imagined it to be.
Maybe she can explore its expansive confines, understand it in the same way she does quasi connectivity in dimensional warping.
Or maybe Olivia Octavius can simply rest.
That might be a nice change in pace.
“Liv...” May whispers, though, and it’s more than enough of a reminder for the sole reason she’d ever stay if she had a choice.
(She doesn’t have a choice.)
“And in every world, I did what a scientist just a tiny bit full of herself would naturally do. I searched myself out. In every dimension... and I asked myself, damn, do I really look like that? In eighty-nine percent of the worlds, I had a bowl cut, May! A godawful bowl cut!”
“Is this really what you want to talk about?”
“Yes—I mean no. No.” Olivia’s dark brow furrows as she herself tries to remember the point of bringing up the twenty-seven universes and the self-exploration and the bowl cuts. Her brain’s a little wonky at the moment, dull and heavy, like a rock sunk in a lake.
But then it hits her.
Realization and remembrance.
Dimension 24. Earth C-432.
The cats. The apartment in Brooklyn. The cozy sweaters. The peace.
“In the 24th iteration of Earth I visited, I looked a lot like I do now—geeky, foxy, big hair, and less than enviable eyesight... I was intrigued naturally, and so, when I found out where I lived, I paid myself a little visit.”
She knocked politely on the door before not so politely letting herself in, tentacular extensions swarming.
She always did like a dramatic entrance.
Fuck, Olivia J. Octavius moaned. I invented inter-dimensional travel again.
May E. Parker looked up from her mug of coffee and simply raised an unimpressed brow.
Well, at least you didn’t smash the door this time.
“I'd... she’d never gotten the implants, so she was paralyzed from the waist down... do y’know what that means?”
Of course May does.
Beneath Liv’s hand, her knuckles tense, the ridges warm against her cold palm.
“We never separated then,” she rasps, her voice strained, a hundred emotions thick. “I must have taken you home from the hospital, like I told you I would.”
A single tear leaks out of the corner of Olivia’s blackened eye, dripping down her cheek and falling away. If she'd been able to, she would have tried to wipe it away before May Parker could see.
“Were we happy, Liv?” She whispers, and she looks guilty about it. She has never cared much for hypotheticals, while Olivia built her entire career upon them—a delicate balancing act, always doomed to collapse one day.
She just never wanted to admit it.
Indeed, she just wanted to see how high she could go.
She didn't want to touch the stars.
She wanted to rip open the fabric of the fucking universe.
“We have two cats, one called Marie and the other Curie... and we live together in an apartment in Brooklyn. Nice place. There’s a Dunkin’ Donuts just around the corner. Parker visits at least three times a week unless he’s busy saving the city or the world or whatever the hell else he has it in his mind to save. He has a kid—a boy named Ben, but everyone calls him Fox because of the hair.”
We like to beat each other at Scrabble, even though we’re both sore losers. Four times a week, we head up to Columbia to do guest lectures on particulate matter and cellular structure and quantum physics. You’ve organized all of our medicines in alphabetical order, and I tease you about it because of course I do. Once a month, we replace the flowers on Ben Parker’s grave and have a picnic in the cemetery. We’re thinking about moving to a tiny house on Long Island that’s more wheelchair accessible, and we can hear the ocean every time we wake up in the morning side by side. There are wedding bands on our fingers, simple, understated, even though I'm pretty fucking sure they're made of anti-metal. In a different world, in an entirely separate universe, we are together forever, as long as we both shall live.
“I think so. I think we were happy,” she finishes quietly, “but I didn’t stay long enough to know for sure.”
“Too bad,” May Parker finally says, her tears falling freely now.
With the last of her strength, Olivia squeezes her hand.
“I... I heard myself say one thing, though, right as I was leaving.”
By leaving, she left a gaping hole next to their door just for the hell and spite of it.
“I chose correctly, it seems.”
In that warm apartment, May E. Parker laughed bluntly before she returned, quite dryly, You never miscalculate, do you?
Olivia Octavius miscalculates all the time.