New York City, NY --- Thompson Memorial Hospital
“Guh-buh--...” Nonsense-words spilled out over Peter’s cracked lips like the blood that leaked from his mouth as he wrenched himself over the rooftop gravel, little stones grinding into his chest and spiking pain up through his ribcage. His Spider-Sense didn’t matter anymore, it was a constant background, crackling TV Static over the violence and the twisting slurry of his costume over his skin, the black tainted red with his blood.
How did this happen?
Hairs jolted up on the back of his neck -- the air behind him was crackling, ionizing faster than Peter could think. His muscles moved on their own, throwing him up into the air and crashing down to the side and flopping like a dying animal as a brilliant bolt of lightning obliterated the rooftop, sending plumes of gravel into the sky. Peter flipped onto his back and his fingers flashed spasmodically into his palms, sending out arcs of webbing blindly. He had to hit something, anything.
There was a force on the other end and he was in the air, over the lip of the roof, nothing between him and the ruinous concrete but a drop. His muscles screamed and his grip tightened around the line, refusing to release. His costume gelled together, black cells trying to weave an impact barrier as he was yanked back and jerked to the ground. His face hit first and his nose exploded into blood and phlegm.
“Urgh-!” He had barely hit the ground before he wrenched his torso around and tucked his shoulder, moving below the vibrating speed of a passing fist.
“C’mon, Spydah-Man.” An Austrlian accent cooed. Peter could scarcely hear it over the wardrum of his own heart in his ears. “Give us a fight, now.”
“The Spider’s all tuckered out, Frank.” Peter hardly registered the shifting of gravel before there was a gloved hand around his neck, lifting him into the air. The costume railed as it could, weakly, tiny tendrils sluicing themselves from the membrane of the costume and slapping against the glove weakly.
“This way, Sanders.” A third said, somewhere beyond the haze of Peter’s vision. “I wanna see him fucking joke when his heart stops.”
The background buzz of electronic drones had subsided in this part of the city -- the horde that swept to Madison Square Garden had left the Upper East Side deserted, a sky free from bugs and streets free from deranged civilians, spare the stragglers that dragged shattered legs behind them, enroute to join their fellows.
Spider-Man swung high, switching off of each web at the low point of its arc, prioritizing speed. The X-Men had parked their battle wagon some miles away -- miles that didn’t pass quick when hauling a blue fuzzball. He hooked a right turn and skipped over a rooftop like a stone across water -- his hand came out and another web snapped to the skyline, he felt the suit with him then, making microscopic adjustments to the cadence of his swing, ensuring he’d hit on target.
It’d be moments before the Four Freedoms came into view -- if the newly topless Empire State, and the streaking trails of flying metahumans were to be believed, it was the place to be. Maybe if Peter got there fast enough, he could get in a few licks on the chrome-domed dude, and -- Blue Beetle’s earpiece snapped to life in his ear, back in comms range.
”Hey, kid! Things are getting wrapped up here -- I’m about to check on our friend in the Bug, but it’s looking like we have a man down at Staten Island. Think you could swing by?” Peter heard The Blue Beetle’s voice in the background, having failed to deactivate his own mic. “Swing. Bwahaha!”
Rescue duty? Again? Peter’s muscles jerked as he overextended on his web. He released and slung another, leaning into it with his shoulder. He stuck himself to the nearest skyscraper and steadied. Wall-crawling boo-boo patrol, at your service
”I got it, B.B. … Save some cake for me.” Spider-Man tapped his comms device and shot forward into the sky. He felt his suit worm into his muscles and he fired another webline, hanging a turn down the island.
Oh, what am I complaining about? I could show up at the Four Freedoms anyway, have Captain America and that weird arrow dude tell me I did a great job running away in the first place. He adjusted his angle at the subtle indention of the black fabric, instinct guiding his hand, and he crested over the next building, bringing the next row of concrete towers into view.
One stood out -- The Thompson Memorial Hospital. He hadn’t realized he was passing so close. The fibers of his suit quivered, on edge. Like a spider raising its forelegs in warning.
He held onto his web for a moment longer and released at the tip of its swing, launching up above the sweeping cityscape. The Hospital’s lights winked dimly in the encroaching night sky, warding the darkness. The helicopter pad atop it sat unused -- they were probably more concerned with keeping the building shut and the bugs out than accepting helivac patients. Tombstone’s people could be with them now, sequestered from the ICU to the labs, hiding needles of heroin amid crates of narcan, away from the Hell that dwelled outside. Dennis Carradine could prowl the halls, swiping his mop from one side to the other.
He’d probably already forgotten about the man he’d shot.
Spider-Man refused to forget.
The next web brought him low and he let go, loping between rooftops and springing towards the Hospital. He was a hunting dog, and blood was in the air. His legs pumped and he was in the sky again, one last webline before -- goosebumps rippled across his skin, and the fabric of his suit stuck fast to him, sealing his pores and insulating his body.
Spider-Sense? What the hell is--?
His muscles had started to spasm before the feeling of burning got to his brain. There was shock up and down his body as his fingers opened involuntarily and he plummeted, arms pinwheeling and legs splayed. A smell like chlorine jumped up his nostrils and he hit the gravel of the Hospital’s rooftop hard, pain lancing up his back.
“Aw, that was so not crash.” Spider-Man grunted. Spider-Sense flared and he rolled into it, bouncing off the rooftop as another arc of lightning crackled past. He swiveled in the air, white lenses turning to meet his attacker. He was six foot at least, wrapped in black tac gear -- it was a little like what the MSF’s tower mercs had been wearing, but higher end. This one had a yellow belt wrapped around his waist, it was about as thick as Peter’s biology textbook. Electricity crackled across his body, sparking from the belt to nodes around his joints, joining together into a glowing ball in his hands.
“Cut it out dude, you're gonna ruin your electric bill.” Peter moved to fire a webline, but there was a black blur and something rammed into him, flinging him down the rooftop. He adjusted in mid-air and landed on his haunches, hands forward and ready to fire. There was a second player on the rooftop, in the same gear as the first, but his chest was sheathed in a red and blue polymer plate. Shielded red goggles hid his eyes.
“Couldn’t wait five minutes for my coffee break, webs?” He said, rolling his shoulder.
“You’re right red, take a load off! I’ll deal with Sparky here first,” Spider-Man said. He fired a salvo of webs at the new opponent and sprang to the side. Bounding off one hand, he flipped onto the rusted steel of the Hospital’s AC unit as webs sealed the new player’s hands in white gunk.
“Think he’s all you gotta worry about, Spydah?” A voice tinged with an austrailian accent rose from the rooftop around him, and with a resonating clang the AC unit lurched, metal screaming as bolts burst and the unit was tossed into the air. Peter’s muscles sprang in a tenth of a second and he jumped, spinning backwards in the air. A dent the size of Peter’s whole body marred the side of it. Suddenly, there was a hand as big as a baseball mitt around his ankle and he smashed into the ground. He pulled forward before the pain had time to reach his nerves, away from the new combatant’s steel corded grip. There were spiderweb cracks along one of his eyes lenses -- the suit liquified it, trying to repair the damage. He squinted, one eye closed.
“Aw,” Peter coughed, “all three of the Musketeers? You shouldn’t have…” Bones in his knees clicked and ground as he staggered to his feet. His shoulder blades stood out like razors and he hunched. You could count each bone of his spinal cord, bulging from his back, each bundle of neurons frazzled yet pounding with electric potential. Peter chanced a glance backwards, eyes darting faster than most men could perceive.
Number three made Captain America look like a schoolboy. He’d forgone the armor of his fellows in favor a stretched black long sleeve. The plates of his muscles were like armor in and of themselves. He cracked his knuckles and the sound reverberated across the rooftop. Like gunshots.
“Take it as a compliment.” The red one said. His hands began to shake. Faster. “Whole squad of Enforcers just to crush one little bug.” In moments, his hands were a blur, shaking the webbing that held them apart, vibrating through.
“Surprise parties are always nice. Can’t say I’m a big fan of the guests.” Peter said. The suit fluttered. Gravel shifted behind him. Movement. He swallowed.
“How’d you goons know I’d be here, anyway?” Peter’s eyes tracked Red, his movements, the shifting in the soles of his feet. He watched the arcs of electricity sparking around the hands of the man in yellow, crackling with death.
Red laughed. “Things you stole only lead one way, dipshit. Tomb--” Yellow’s face scrunched up.
“Shut the fuck up Sanders. Move, now.” Yellow snapped. There was a low hum of power, lightning given form. Yellow’s nodes sparked. Peter’s muscles coiled. Red looked back. The big man stepped.
“Hold him still, Oliver. Don’t get squeamish when he starts to fry.” Yellow said. The air was still. Peaceful, almost. The currents were gone, like the air channel was preparing to conduct motes of lightning, jumping from one atom to another. Gravel shifted behind Peter.
Spider-Man exploded to the side and a gigajoule of electricity sparked past him and into the washboard chest of the big man. He gargled out a scream and Peter flung himself into the air on his own power, dispensing bursts of web fluid down on his opponents. His brain weaved a web between them, a map of attacks, movements.
“Watch your aim, Shocker!” Spider-Man called. He dodged between arcs of lightning, trying to keep red suit down while the big guy recovered from his surprise defibrillation. He could dodge the shots, as long as it was the only thing he had to worry about. “Wait, wait, my bad, isn’t that taken? Sparkplug?” Peter flipped away from another shot. Yellow grunted.
“Sanders, get moving!” He turned away from Spider-Man and pointed two fingers at the man in red. A bolt arced between the two men, frying bundles of webbing on contact. Red goggles locked onto Peter’s lenses.
Peter’s muscles hardly had time to coil and spring before Red was upon him, an unrelenting whirling dervish of fists and kicks and blows delivered so quickly that each strike blended into the next. Peter twisted away from the strikes and zipped away on a webline, higher into the air, narrowly avoiding another megajoule of electric death.
Peter contorted his body in the air, staying aloft on weblines strung between the surrounding skyscrapers, weaving a very literal web. The red speedster darted from point to point on the ground, ready to obliterate him if he ever touched the ground… Or if sparky got in a lucky shot and brought him down.
“Woah, guys, one supervillain at a time!” Peter shouted. He sprung from an elastic strand and fired between the maze of his webwork, dotting the ground with globules of webfluid. “Come on, Speed Demon, slow your roll.” Another arc of lightning whisked past his head as he spoke. He flipped backward and scurried along his webs.
“See Lightning Lad, there’s a good name -- Speed Demon. We’ll get t-shirts printed, and --” Spider-Man began, but the man in yellow cut him off.
“Sanders, wake Oliver. I’ll deal with the webhead.” He commanded. Speed Demon changed his trajectory in an instant, weaving between blasted heaps of gravel and nodes of web to the big man, who was slowly working to regain his footing.
“Hey! Three players is already more than enough.” Spider-Man complained. There were more arcs of lightning by the second, blasting through the openings in his labyrinthine web, like a cage of lightning between him and the other two villains.
Peter’s eyes flickered over the rooftop as he danced over the web. There had to be something to give him an edge. He eyed the crumpled remains of the AC unit, lying in scattered pieces among the gravel.
Galvanized steel… Aluminum… It should attract. Webs lanced from Peter’s wrists and Yellow jumped to the side, instinctively, but Spider-Man wasn’t aiming for him. Pieces of metal were spirited away, strung up and into the great lattice hanging above the hospital. He was like an orb-weaver, swinging above and below his creation and applying the metal, gluing them to stress points as lightning tried and failed to strike him. The bolts twisted in the air as they were fired, unsure of their target -- looking for the easiest path, the most conductive surface. The remains of the HVAC began to thrum with power, vibrating with endless joules of electricity as Yellow tried and failed to hit, blasts arcing off into shards of fans and metal chassis -- irresistibly attracted to the path of least resistance.
“Wallcrawler!” Yellow screamed. A tremendous bolt launched from his hands, rocketing towards the white spider emblazoned on Peter’s chest. The bolt faltered and changed course, splitting into little streaks of lightning and dissipating into parts of the HVAC.
“Megawatt!” Peter called back. “Hey, another good one! I’m two for two!”
“The streak ends here, underoos.” Speed Demon shouted. The big man was up again, sporting a blackened mark on his chest. It was red and angry beneath the char.
Okay, not… Favorable. At least they can’t hit me up... The big man crouched, low, and the rebar supporting the rooftop screeched as he launched himself, soaring up and beyond Peter’s web and into the sky. His frame was big enough that he seemed to blot out the sun, the black silhouette of death. He hung in the air for a moment, priming his legs for another shot on landing.
“...Here.” Peter finished aloud.
“You guys have a Kangaroo!? PETA’s gonna be pissed!” Peter talked as he worked, firing two weblines to either side of tugging back on them, bracing for launch. A good slingshot kick should knock him clean away from the roof, and --
Lightning shot up, the perfect angle to sever one webline and have the other pulled out of Peter’s hands, unbalanced. He tipped backwards, down below the swoop of his web and a hand came up, to pull him to safety, but it was too late.
Speed Demon descended on him in a moment, sweeping in with the force of an F1 racer. He jumped and pulled Peter the rest of the way to the ground, crashing into gravel at impossible velocity. Pieces of it flicked up like bullets, tearing through his costume and leaving bleeding rents in his skin.
Peter didn’t have time to think before Speed Demon went to work. There were fists and knuckles and crunches and blood from every angle, sprays of red and the combined squelch of meat as Speed Demon worked him like a tenderizer. He felt a rib crack in his chest. Two. He couldn’t see anything through the flurry but the descending form of Kangaroo, obliterating the hanging web with the force of his body, pulling it all down at once -- the stretch and crack and squeal of concrete connection points begin ripped apart.
Fists turned his head into a blender for his own brain, crashing from one side of his skull to the other. His chin was like a speed bag, knocked forth and back by the flurry of blows. Hairline fractures erupted all at once across his chin and his jaw, blood began flowing into his mouth.
Run. It was all he could think. Darkness closed at the edges of his vision.
Run. He needed a way out. He lashed out at once, with everything he had, muscles splayed out in blows easily dodged, leaving holes in the roof’s cement. Knuckles pulverized his muscles for every attempted strike, punishing him for his insolence.
Run. His brain drew inward like a wounded animal, a spider with its legs ripped off by a cruel child, searching for any survival instinct against impossible odds. His suit bubbled and festered, black tendrils drawing themselves outward from muscles and sinew and bone, preparing beneath the surface. They speared out together, all at once, a network of spines and thorns and bristles and spikes, warding off any attacker. Fists too fast to react crashed in anyway, drawing lines of blood and shards of finger bone. Speed Demon yowled and danced backwards, shaking his knuckles out.
“What the fuck was that?” He shouted.
Run. The spines withdrew and Peter flopped onto his stomach, crawling along the rooftop, vying for escape. Run, c’mon, run, c’mon…
Peter’s hands pulled as they could against the hand around his throat, pockmarked with injury and blood dripping down the black fabric. Lightning crackled in the distance, and huge muscles closed in to turn his remains to powder.
Have to… Run. He shifted his wrists upward, adjusting the angle, and let loose with what webbing he had, spewing into Speed Demon’s face, filling his eyes and nose and mouth.
“Gobdbdamnbitb!” Speed Demon choked out, stumbling away, pulling at the substance choking his airways and filling his eyes. Peter lurched forward and the edges of lightning streaked across his back, incinerating a line of his costume and blasting his skin. He stifled a scream and took one last step. Foot over the ledge, up, and out.
He was in the sky again, finally away. Webs launched from his wrist and snapped to a skyscraper. A few more swings and the ‘Enforcers’ would be in the dust, Megawatt and Speed Demon and --
Kangaroo leapt from the rooftop, across the gutter of open air between the buildings. He slammed his shoulder into the connection point of the webbing and shattered the building’s facade, breaking through and sending shards of stainless steel and granite wall to the streets below. Peter’s lifeline snapped, connection point destroyed, and he plummeted, pinwheeling, trying to get his hands in front of him.
He focused, like he had before, at the police station. Uncertain phantom hands merged in his vision, steady coalescing into one.
C’mon, c’mon… He aimed. The skyscrapers were passing so quickly now, endless stonework of walls speeding by.
Now-- It was too late. Metal and plastic groaned as a teenager destroyed an industrial garbage bin with his body, sending chunks of green metal and heaping piles of trash into the street.
He lay there, for a moment, waiting for his brain to stop pinballing around the inside of his skull. The moon shone down, framed by buildings on either side, silver light painting piles of garbage and twisted metal in sharp relief.
Every bone in his body cried as he rolled himself from the crumpled bin, hitting the concrete with a wet smack. He gurgled as he rose, supporting himself with the wall. He couldn’t decide if he was supposed to swallow the blood to spit it out. He thought he felt a tooth floating around in it, by now stained red with his suffering.
He let the blood dribble from his mouth, around the edges of his lips and down through torn holes in his costume. He looked up. No one was coming for him. Maybe this was enough. Maybe the Enforcers though he’d learned his lesson… Whoever they were.
He set his eyes front, and nearly cried as his neck protested the movement, reaching out into his chest with icy fingers of pain.
It would be a long walk home.