"He's been gone for over a week now Mary Jane! A week! He could be hurt or lost, or-or-" May Parker couldn't even finish that sentence and soon she found herself sobbing into her hands once more.
Mary Jane Watson sat beside the elderly woman with a hand gently rubbing her shoulders. "Hey now, I'm sure he'll show up eventually Aunt May." she softly said, trying to calm down the nearly hysterical woman. Her heart lurched in her chest at the sight. The poor woman had lost her husband two years ago and now her nephew, the sole remaining family member she had left, was missing. None of Peter's friends, family members, or even work associates had any clue where he was. It was as if he had seemingly vanished from the face of the Earth. No matter how many times they contacted the police for any updates or how many missing posters they put up no one could find him. They both felt horrible at the fact that nothing they did brought them any closer to getting Peter home.
They were currently inside the Parker house, the usual homely and comforting presence that the house always had on her prior visits was completely gone, now only a melancholic silence filled the house that was only broken by Aunt May's cries. It was as if Peter's absence had completely drained the life out of the building.
Having a missing loved one was such a terrible thing, not knowing whether they were alive or dead somehow made it worse than knowing that they were dead, at least than one could get closure. There was always the slight hope that they would return safely one day, a feeling that would slowly shrivel up and die as the days passed by and their absence grew larger. Hope could be such a cruel thing sometimes.
The elderly woman briefly looked up before wiping her tears away with the back of her hand. "Oh sweetie, I wish I could believe that Peter always had a habit of disappearing without telling anyone, but for this long is just..." she went quiet, a distant look appearing on her face.
"Yeah, I mean...he's always busy when he's not in school or at home, I've lost count of all times he had to cancel our plans to hang out. Exams are coming up soon, maybe he just studying in the back of the school library for an entire week and forgot to tell everyone." she weakly chuckled. Peter was always canceling his plans, usually work and studying would take most of his time or at least that's what he had claimed.
Aunt May shook her head. "This is all my fault! I-I should have paid more attention to him, I thought he recovered from Gwen's death!" The poor woman cried out.
Mary Jane suppressed a flinch at the reminder of her friend's death, months later it was still fresh on all of their minds. She had been visiting May as often as she could these past few days after realizing Peter's absence was far longer than all of his previous ones. She had been a little uncertain about it at first, not quite sure what she could do that could help the poor woman out. But she had promised Peter to help his aunt if something like this ever happened.
As she stared at the sobbing woman she couldn't help but feel like a complete and utter failure. '
he sarcastically thought as she fruitlessly tried to comfort the poor woman.
She knew something was up with him that night he had asked her to make that promise, but she had naively hoped it was just him being a worrywart over May like usual. The thought of him...committing suicide was just unthinkable, but now it was a very real possibility especially considering everything that had happened with Gwen and Harry. Every day since Peter had gone missing she woke afraid that the morning news would be reporting a body being found that matched up with a familiar face. She desperately tried not to think about it, Peter was her best friend and she would be damned if she wrote him off as dead so quickly.
Aunt May had stopped crying by now, her eyes were puffy and red but tears were no longer falling at least. But now an uncomfortable silence had taken its place. Mary Jane's eyes fell on the TV remote laying on the coffee table in front of them. Some white noise would definitely be preferable to the awkward and solemn silence that permeated the air, with some luck, it would at least temporarily distract Aunt May from Peter's disappearance. God knows she needed it right now. With that in mind, Mary Jane grabbed the TV remote and clicked the 'on' button.
She immediately regretted it when the first thing that popped up was J. Jonah Jameson's frothing face in the middle of an interview.
Jameson slammed his hand against the table he was seated on, startling the interviewer next to him. "It's a trick I tell you! Spider-Man goes missing for a week and suddenly everyone gets concerned. That's exactly what he wants people! He's sick of people rightfully criticizing him for all his illegal behavior. So what does he do? He just disappears on us - and doesn't even bother updating that godawful Twitter page of his or anything!- just to make all his fans worry to sate his disgusting ego! It makes me sick how that masked menace could manipulate us all like that just to bask in people's worry! Not to mention how irresponsible it is! Ever since word got out that Spider-Man's gone crime has risen by 10% because all the local criminals get it in their heads that no ones around to stop them anymore!" he shouted to the camera, a vein appearing on his forehead. "Just last night Mysterio breaks into the Bank Of New York, and does Spider-Man swing in to stop him? No! It was Daredevil -Daredevil!- who came to stop him. That bank wasn't even in Hells Kitchen, it was miles away! Spider-Man's little 'vacation' is forcing the actual heroes to come out of their territory just to make up for his slacking!"
Mary Jane slapped a palm to her face as she witnessed his little tantrum as he continued slandering Spider-Man and talked about how he was increasing crime into the city and how it was likely his intention. Could he just talk about something that wasn't Spider-Man for just ten minutes? Ah well, looking back to Aunt May the elderly woman was at least distracted from her thoughts of Peter so she would call this a success.
Actually...a little too distracted. The look she had on her was face was of complete shock, as if she had just seen a ghost.
Mary Jane shot her a curious look at her sudden change in demeanor. "Everything okay?" she asked in concern.
Aunt May startled as if noticing her for the first time but quickly shook her head after. "No, I just...isn't it a bit strange that both-?" she cut herself off, Staring at the picture of Spider-Man on the corner of the TV in silent contemplation.
"What is it?" Mary Jane questioned.
May sighed. "It-it's nothing dear, nothing at all..." she glumly said, her eyes leaving the TV and lowering to the ground in a depressed manner.
Not quite understanding why but seeing that Jameson and the news about Spider-Man were having a negative effect on her, Mary Jane hastily shut the TV off. "Aunt May..." Mary Jane hesitated for a moment before sighing and wrapping an arm around the distressed woman and holding her close. "Hey now, I'm sure it'll be okay. Peter's the smartest guy I know, I'm sure wherever he is he's safe."
Peter slumped to the floor with a resigned expression on his face. "I died, didn't I?" it was posed as a question but felt more like a statement. Then again, with the life he had been living ever since he had gotten his powers, death was something he knew was likely to come to him sooner rather than later. Spider-Sense or not, all it took was one well-placed bullet, or death ray or one... whatever the local supervillain of the week was using to put him down for good. But still, to happen this soon was just depressing.
"Yes." Death casually agreed before waving a hand in the air dismissively. "But don't worry, it's only temporary. Doctor Tompkins is bringing you back as we speak. She'll succeed." at his shocked face, she continued. "You're not brain dead but your heart did stop beating for a few minutes, it's technically close enough that I can talk to you without breaking the rules. "
Putting a hand over his chest Peter was unnerved when he couldn't feel the familiar rhythm of his heart beating. Now that was freaky. "What rules?" he questioned.
"The rules of a wager between my siblings and I." she cryptically replied.
The hell? Siblings? A wager that involved him? "And what exactly is this 'wager' about?" He asked narrowing his eyes suspiciously at her.
"It's a...family matter." Death replied.
Well, that was annoyingly vague.
Hm, now that he was giving her his full attention he couldn't help but notice that she sounded familiar. Kind of like...oh. It couldn't be.
Peter stiffened up in shock as he recalled his first moments in Gotham. "Wait...your voice. I heard the same voice when I got tossed into this place, were...were you the one who sent me here?"
"Yeah." She casually stated as if kidnapping someone from their dimension and shoving them into a completely different one was a normal thing to do.
Peter blinked. "Wha-why!?" He questioned angrily after getting over his initial shock.
"I needed an ace, Peter, and so I chose you." She said, absentmindedly twirling her umbrella around.
He snarled in response, taking a threatening step towards the 'girl'. "What the hell for? You dragged me away from my home without my say-so and tossed me into a freaking different universe without telling me what I'm supposed to be doing. What exactly was it all for!?" He hadn't intended to be yelling by the end but the frustration of the entire week had finally caught him and he couldn't stop unleashing it all on the person responsible for it all. Not to mention that while he was not the only superhero in New York, him being gone meant some of his usual nemesis would be able to get away with their usual crimes! Bank robberies were one thing but what about the more crazy ones, the ones who just didn't care if innocent people ended up dead like Venom, Rhino, or Doctor Octopus? What if him being away meant more people would die?
Throughout the entire rant, her the tranquil expression never left her face or even showed an ounce of fear, even as the larger boy looked like he was going to attack her in his rage. After a moment of silence, she spoke again. "I'm sorry."
Peter froze up. "What?" of all the things he expected her to say, a sincere apology was not one of them.
"I'm sorry about dragging you here without your consent or giving you a proper explanation." a sheepish expression appeared on the girl's face. "I admit I tend to forget how time effects...'normal' people like yourself. A week is practically a few seconds from my perspective but from your point of view a week in a place like Gotham may as well feel like an entire year." She shrugged. "So, uh, yeah. I know it doesn't change all the crap you've been through but for what it's worth I am sorry for everything that's happened, I never meant for it to get this bad."
Peter stood still as he took her apology in. Did she seriously think an apology made any of this okay? He was still in Gotham and still 'dead' because of her. He took a deep breath to calm himself and see this rationally. There was no point in getting angry he decided, all that mattered now was getting home. But there was one thing he couldn't look past...
"Why me? Why not the actual heroes like Iron Man, or Captain America, or literally anyone else!? How am I supposed to do this if none of those guys can't?" he softly asked. What did he, Peter Benjamin Parker, have that none of the actual big shot heroes in his world had?
Death shook her head. "That's the thing, this situation requires a more... gentle approach. There's no world-ending threat for you to face, no big bad to face in the end or loved one in trouble. No, this situation is pretty... inconsequential to the world if I'm being honest."
"Then why bother?" Peter asked.
"I always did prefer happy endings," she replied. "Plussss I may also be betting a lot that you can win this one."
Peter stared at her aghast. "Is...is that seriously it?" he asked incredulously.
"It's...a bit more complicated than that, but that's pretty much the gist of it." She said. "Anyway, since we're being honest I figure you should know that you were getting pretty close to getting home a couple of times. No point in bringing you here if the Justice League sends you back. That's why I had to alter your memories."
"You messed with my memories?" He asked incredulously. Scrunching his face up in thought he thought back to every moment he could remember since coming to Gotham. He tried his best to remember but just couldn't recall forgetting anything important or any sudden bouts of forgetfulness during his time here. He felt the same as he always did. "I don't feel like my head was tempered with... but... that would be the point, right?"
Death nodded in confirmation. "I made sure it was subtle," she said. "Anyway, getting back on track, at-"
"Woah, hey! Hold up a sec here lady. You can't just admit to brainwashing me and continue like it's nothing." Peter scolded, the realization that his memories were being altered without his consent was unsettling, to say the least. Were any of his actual memories real or were they all just lies implanted by Death?
"It's not as bad as you think," Death quickly said. "Whenever you were in a position that could have gotten you home I altered your memories so that your knowledge of your world and this world merged together to make you believe that this was your world and that you were never...'displaced' from your actual world. And after I would make you forget that you ever thought that so you could think normally."
Peter opened his mouth once and then promptly closed it."So...basically you would make me forget that I wasn't in my universe and then make me forgot that I forgot that?" he asked after a few moments, getting a nod in return. Peter shook his head in frustration, this was getting confusing. Now that he thought about it, there some blanks in his memory. "Did you ever alter my memories outside of those moments?"
Death shook her head. "No, never. I'm not a monster Peter, so don't worry, alright? All your memories of your world; your Uncle Ben, Aunt May, and all your friends are and will always be real." she said, causing Peter's shoulders to slump in relief.
Well, at least he didn't have to worry about his entire life being a gigantic lie. He wasn't sure what he would do if that were the case.
"Anyway, as I was saying. It would be pretty cruel to force you to continue after all of...this," she said, gesturing to the empty void surrounding them. "So tell you what, if you really want to I can just send you home right here."
A shocked expression appeared on Peter's face, whatever anger he was still feeling being washed away in his surprise. "Just like that?" he asked cautiously, prepared for a trick.
Death nodded. "Yup, just say the word and I'll send you back right now."
"I..." Peter absentmindedly chewed his lip as he thought it over. A few days ago he would have jumped at the chance to leave this hellhole of a city, but now...
He wanted to go home; to see his friends again, to sleep in a warm bed in his clean room, to hug Aunt May and promise to never leave her alone ever again. But then he also thought back to the kids, who were currently hiding out in a dirty and rat-infested building waiting eagerly for his return. To Leslie's tired eyes as she recalled all the deaths of the homeless to Winter's merciless cold and criminals looking to prey on the weak. To Catwoman, who the last time he had seen was tied up in an alleyway to Deathstroke's mercy, her terrified expression as life left his body was still repeating in his head.
"Back in my world...how-uh how is it going over there without me?" Peter cautiously asked. The thought of staying here was terrifying but seemed like the right thing to do at the moment. But at the same time, New York wasn't exactly crime-free either, who knows what had happened during his absence. It could be something as trivial as a few Bodega robberies to an entire army of symbiotes appearing in New York. Who would stop them while he was in Gotham? Sure there were plenty of other heroes in New York but the big players like the Avengers just used the city as a base of operations and mostly operated internationally, street crime was rather low on their priorities in comparison to the world ending threats they often faced. The few superheroes that did fight street crime usually only operated in specific areas due to their lack of mobility compared to how he could patrol large areas of the city with the speed of his web-swinging.
"You don't need to worry about that, things are going fine in your world. I specifically chose that moment in time to pull you because it was the most peaceful. Sure there's the occasional supervillain, but you can't walk a block in New York without running into another superhero. So don't worry, your friends can handle your usual villains while you're gone." Death said.
Huh, well that settled that problem at least. Part of him knew that everything Death was saying could be nothing but lies, but as he gazed into her eyes he couldn't see a single shred of deceit within them.
Peter closed his eyes in resigned acceptance. "In that case...I can't leave. Not yet." He couldn't just abandon everyone in trouble here, it would be spitting on everything Uncle Ben's mantra stood for. He had to power to help those people, so he had the responsibility to do it and make sure they didn't suffer anymore. "No, not yet. first I have to help the people I promised myself to help. And then I can go."
Death didn't reply with words, opting to nod her head in acceptance at his choice with a small smile on her face as if she approved.
Peter held up a hand. "But...since I'll be doing what you asked, you stay out of my head from now on. Got it?" he said pointing an accusing finger at her.
Death tilted her head to the side for a moment in thought. "Alright, since you won't try to get home early any more than there wouldn't be a point anyway."
Peter released a shaky breath and nodded, hoping to whatever God out there that he hadn't just signed his death sentence. Well...again anyway. "Alright then. So...what exactly do you need me to do?"
Death shook her head with an apologetic grimace. "Sorry kiddo, but I can't tell you your exact purpose, I'm already bending the rules just by talking to you."
Peter threw his hands up in frustration. What was with this lady!? "Than what am I supposed to do!? Just wander around cluelessly?" All this and she still wouldn't give him some straight answers.
"Just do what you've always done, help people who need help and eventually, you'll get there and can go back home. By the looks of it, you're already doing just fine without me telling you that." Death said.
Peter let out a frustrated sigh at the lack of information but reluctantly nodded anyway. Helping people, easy enough. He had two years of experience in that area.
"How will I know if I'm on the right track?" he questioned.
"Don't worry about that, just do what comes naturally and you'll get there. I'll contact you again when you've done it."
A sudden awkward silence enveloped the void they were as the two had nothing more to say to each other, for some reason they were both still here...oh right, he had to wait until Leslie resuscitated him before he could leave.
To keep the awkward silence from continuing he decided to bring up a certain mercenary that had actually mentioned knowing Death prior to this meeting. "Deadpool talked a lot about you ya know, although he described you as a skeleton." he had also been disturbingly detailed when it came to the curves of said skeleton but Peter decided against mentioning that bit to her.
Death shook her head. "That's your universe's force of Death, believe it or not, but we're actually two completely different people. I'm much more stylish for one. I mean seriously, a skeleton? Ugh, such a stereotype." she rolled her eyes.
Peter's brow rose at that. Two different Deaths? That was pretty hard to wrap his head around, almost as much as the fact that there even existed a personification of death or universes in general, it was all just superstition and theory respectively at his worlds point in time.
He perked up when remembered something from the first time she had spoken to him. "When you first spoke to me you said that once my work was done that I would have a choice. What did you mean by-"
The white void they were in suddenly flashed just as Peter felt a jolt in his chest. Placing a hand over his heart again he almost jumped up in joy when he felt the familiar rhythm of his heart. He glanced over to Death only to be surprised when he saw her almost entirely obscured by the white void, her clothing, and dark hair being the only things to stand out.
Death regarded her fading presence with a calm look. "Looks like our times up kiddo, we'll meet again later when you're done. And for the record..." She shot him a small smile. "I knew you were the right guy for the job."
The brightness in the void suddenly intensified to an almost blinding brightness white, with a flash of light Death quickly disappeared from his sight.
Commissioner Gordon stiffened in shock momentarily, almost choking on his cigarette, before letting out an annoyed sigh and rolled his eyes. Just once he could greet him like a normal person instead of scaring him half to death every damn time.
The Batman stood before him, what was different than usual was the fact that he was out during daylight. The Dark Knight was a strange sight to see when the sky was still blue, one that Gordon had seen enough times to count on one hand. "It's rare to see you during the day." he remarked.
"This is an unusual situation, it warrants an exception," Batman said with a grim tone. "Deathstroke, he's in your custody?"
"Yeah, he currently sitting in a nice cozy cell in Blackgate. We got a report of shots fired down at the south yesterday. By the time we got there, we found him webbed up in a wrecked alleyway. I think we both know who's responsible for that." he paused momentarily to take a drag from his cigarette before shaking his head in astonishment. "Gotta say I'm impressed. Kid's only been in town for a few days and he's managed to beat both the world's greatest detective and assassin in a week."
If Batman was offended he hid it well. "Do you know what Deathstroke was up to?"
"Forensics team found a few fired bullet that didn't match up with the calibers of the weaponry we found on him," he placed his free hand on his chin in thought. "Considering he's still alive it seems like the kid didn't turn into a gun-toting killer overnight, so it looks like he interrupted him in the middle of one of his contracts. We also find two different blood samples that didn't match up with anyone in Gotham's blood register, likely Spider-Man's and our mysterious target. But here's the thing, one of the blood samples we brought in linked with Deathstroke's, take a guess who it was."
Batman frowned. "Ravager." he deduced. She had been a secondary target, one that was thought to be settled when Spider-Man had beaten her. She had suddenly gone missing soon after, no trace of her aside from reports of her fighting and killing several Yakuza members. She had tried to kill Spider-Man earlier, and now suddenly it seemed as if she was teaming up with him against her father? He was missing a lot of pieces to this puzzle and if there was one thing he hated it was being left in the dark, she would require further study. But that was unimportant right now. "Have you gotten anything else from Deathstroke?"
Gordon shook his head. "The bastard's been quiet as a mouse since we took him in, though that didn't stop him from breaking one of my guy's arm when we shoved him in a cell. Hopefully, you'll have better luck. you'll have to wait a bit though, we're still going through the legal process."
Batman nodded before speaking up about the true elephant in the room. "I've been investigating the recent shipment of weapons in Gotham, how have your people been handling it?"
Gordon let out a sigh, one hand rising up to massage his forehead. "Not well, this was a really bad time for half our department to be exposed as dirty. We were already understaffed beforehand, but now we're barely scraping through. The areas you and Spider-Man cleared out gave us some breathing room, but we're nowhere near getting control of the city back."
"I'm starting to believe that this wasn't a coincidence."
Gordon shot him a curious look. "You think they were exposed by the same guy bringing in these guns?"
Batman nodded solemnly. "Most likely, guns start pouring in as soon half the police department gets outed? The timing is far too convenient to be a coincidence." he pointed out. "Someone is trying to raze Gotham to the ground, and if things keep going this way then they'll eventually get what they want."
Jim let out a deep sigh, sometimes he couldn't help but wonder if Gotham truly was a cursed city. "...So what the hell do we do?"
"We take out the source, someone outside of Gotham is supplying all this weaponry, my people and I will find them eventually. But right now we have to focus on minimizing the damage and-" Batman suddenly stiffened for a moment, a hand rising to the side of his cowl. He abruptly turned and walked away, Jim wasn't able to make out what he was muttering. The conversation was a short one and within seconds Batman had hung up and approached him again.
With the way he stared at him Gordon could tell he wasn't going to like what happened next.
"Jim, about that favor I asked, I'm ready to begin now."
Yeah, he really wasn't going to like this...
Peter opened his eyes only to immediately shut them with a pained groan when bright light burned his vision. God, he felt like crap. Most of his body felt numb and he had a terrible migraine to boot. His mind flashed back to that white void and the girl who called herself Death. Did that actually happen? Maybe it did, maybe it didn't. But he could worry about that later when he wasn't in so much pain.
A quiet 'meow' caused him to break his train of thought and nearly jump up to the ceiling in shock, glancing down he saw that Mr. Mittens was curled up by his side. Despite the soreness of his body, he couldn't suppress the giant grin on his face from appearing. "Aw, hey buddy," he cooed. "Were you waiting for me?" he asked as he began gently running a hand through the cat's soft fur, earning a pleased purr in response. "Sorry, didn't mean to worry you."
He glanced around the room he was in, his vision was still a bit blurry but he could easily tell from the familiar plastered walls that he was in Dr. Leslie's clinic. There was an IV next to his cot that had a tube feeding some fluid to his arm. Glancing down he saw that his suit was replaced with a medical gown. Despite the pain he felt, he couldn't help but let out an annoyed groan when he recalled the ruined state of his suit. That would need so much stitching...
He tore off the bandage covering the IV tube on his arm and promptly removed it. With his hand now free, he made to get off the cot and only managed to rise off halfway before the door opened and Leslie herself walked in, reading from a clipboard in her hand.
She froze up when she saw that he was awake, her face undergoing several emotions within a few seconds -for a second he thought she actually looked relieved - before she quickly settled on an annoyed glare when she saw him trying to rise from his cot. She abruptly walked over to him and firmly shoved him back to lay down on the cot. "Lay down, I don't need you tearing my stitches apart." stepping back she regarded him with annoyance. "This is a clinic you know, a clinic. Clinics are not meant for critical surgery. I was half-tempted to throw you in a hospital so you could be someone else's problem."
Whatever sarcastic retort he was about to make died on his lips as he got a good look of her face. She looked terrible, her eyes were red and puffy with heavy bags underneath, her hair was unkempt, and her posture just screamed 'sleep deprived' with the way she looked like she was going to fall over from a light gust of wind.
"Oh, wow Doc. When was the last time you got some sleep?" he asked in concern.
She glared at him. "Making sure you didn't die didn't exactly leave me much time to sleep." he was about to apologize before she cut him off. "Catwoman came in yesterday morning with you, she and that young girl, Rose, and left after."
His mind flashed back to when he had last seen them in that alleyway. "Were they both okay? They were both in pretty rough condition last time I saw them."
Leslie waved a hand dismissively. "They're both fine, nothing a few days of rest won't fix by itself. I was too busy keeping you alive to treat them since neither were in critical condition, so they left after."
"And the kids are they also okay?" he had told them that he would only be gone for a few hours, they were probably freaking out that he disappeared for over a day.
"They're fine, I gave them some food that'll last for the week." she gave him an accusing glare. "That 'shelter' you put them in isn't much better than a crack house, I've seen fewer rats in a sewer. I hope you're not planning on just keeping them there."
An offended look appeared on Peter's face. "Of course not! I was gonna fix the place up but than Deathstroke showed up and well..." he gestured to the medical gown he was wearing.
Leslie shook her head in response, a gesture he had become very familiar with by now. She stared down at the clipboard in her hand and began reading its contents out aloud. "A broken rib, two lacerations marks, a bullet wound that was inches away from your heart, and to make matters worse there was a highly lethal poison in your system that would have killed a grown man in minutes. On top of all that, your heart stopped beating for a few minutes before I managed to revive you." she glanced up from the clipboard with a thunderous expression on her face. "What part of 'stay away from Deathstroke' did you not understand!? If you didn't have enhanced healing you would be dead ten times over by now."
Peter felt his face lighting up. "Hey now! It's not like I asked him to suddenly show up and start beating the crap out of me. I mean he freaking kidnapped Catwoman! What was I supposed to do, just leave her to him? Hope he was just gonna use her as bait for Batman and not just pull a bullet in her head after he was done with her?"
Leslie clearly didn't sympathize with his position. "What you should have done is called Batman instead. I told you Deathstroke was dangerous and you refused to listen."
Peter threw his hands up in frustration. "Catwoman didn't have enough time for that! You really expect me to just call up Butlerman and call it a day when one of my friends are in trouble!?"
A look of confusion momentarily appeared on Leslie's face at the nickname. "Butlerman? Why would you- no, don't try to change the subject on me, young man! Deathstroke is an assassin, an assassin known most heroes avoid just because of how dangerous he is. It's a miracle you're even still alive." she gave him a pleading look. "Peter, Your luck won't hold out with the way you're going. Just... stop this nonsense."
Peter turned his away, unable to face her desperate face. He really wished that she didn't remind him of Aunt May so much right now. "...I'll be fine, doc."
Leslie's lips pressed into a thin line. "Peter, you died."
Peter sheepishly rubbed the back of his head. "Only for a few minutes..." he weakly muttered.
Leslie's gripped her clipboard with enough force that Peter was genuinely concerned that it was about to snap in half. She took a deep breath before fixing him with a level stare. "You're going to stop this."
He raised his eyebrows. "Stop what?" he questioned.
"Don't play dumb with me you brat. I've let this nonsense go on for far too long," she said. "You are going to stop being Spider-Man and stop digging yourself into an early grave."
"I can't just-"
"You will!" she all but shouted. "If you don't I will reveal your identity," she said with utmost seriousness.
Peter felt his blood go cold at that statement. "You wouldn't."
Leslie didn't budge. "Oh, but I would. If I can't convince you to stop this nonsense then I'll just force you to. I'll contact the authorities and tell them who you really are if you won't stop."
Anger ran through Peter and he forced his body up into a sitting position, ignoring the pain that flared through him with the motion. "You- I trusted you!" he shouted, furious at the breach of trust.
"And I trusted you to handle yourself out there, instead you come back poisoned and with a bullet in your chest. You're only seventeen,
seventeen. You should be in high school worrying about girls and your grades. Not fighting insane criminals every night and coming back with wounds that would kill a normal person in minutes." her anger momentarily faded as her eyes suddenly dimmed, as if reliving an unpleasant memory. "I was forced to watch as your heart flat-lined a little while ago, do you know how that felt? Being forced to watch a child die and knowing you could have stopped it?"
Peter winced. If there was one thing he understood it was feeling guilty for your failures. "But you weren't-"
She held a hand up, cutting off what he was about to say. "Don't. Don't you dare say that none of this is my fault. I let you go out there and fight those Godamn loonies out there, and you...you died because of it. I was the one who could have stopped it all from happening, instead I...I just let you. And because of that, you were left dead on my table just like..." she didn't finish, instead choosing to glance towards the picture of her younger self and the young dark-haired boy he had seen on his first visit to the clinic.
Peter swallowed, the connection between them was clear. Despite his earlier anger he couldn't help but sympathize, it was clear that the boy was dead and Leslie was worried that he would follow the same path. He had felt the same when Uncle Ben had died, and it had only gotten worse when Aunt May's health slowly started deteriorating over time.
"Fine," he said after a moment of silence.
Leslie looked at him with a relieved expression. "Than you'll finally stop?" she softly asked, as if she couldn't believe it herself.
Peter hesitated for a moment before slowly shaking his head, his heart twisting at her broken expression. "No, Reveal my identity, do whatever. It doesn't matter, it won't stop me in the end. Having my name out to the public and the police trying to arrest me won't change anything. I'll still be Spider-Man and I'll still be helping people no matter what." His reason for keeping his identity a secret was primarily to keep Aunt May safe, and well...that wasn't exactly a problem when he was stuck in another universe. His identity being exposed would be problematic, but nothing that would force him to stop. "I'm sorry Leslie, but I just can't give up being Spider-Man, not now."
If this was a crappy movie he imagined that this was the moment where they both put aside their differences and fix their broken relationship to work together. But no, his life never worked like that. It was more like a stupid mix of action and drama.
Leslie closed her eyes and was silent for several uncomfortable moments. "..." her eyes suddenly snapped open with a cold gaze. "Get out."
Peter blinked. "Wha-" he was forced to duck when she tossed her clipboard at him, Mr. Mittens letting out a high-pitched cry at the sudden ruckus.
"GET OUT I SAID!" she screamed hysterically, tears suddenly pouring from her eyes in a mixture of sadness and anger that caused guilt to seep into Peter's chest.
She marched up to him and grabbed his arm and with a surprisingly strong grip forcefully pulled him from his cot. "You want to get out there and get yourself killed? Fine! But I'm not going to be a part of it anymore. I've seen enough dead children for one lifetime, I'm not going to keep enabling your suicidal behavior!" she screamed, shoving him towards the exit. His injuries stung painfully with each push. Even injured it would be so easy to push her away with his superhuman strength, but he just couldn't bring himself to do something like that. After everything he had put her though he deserved this.
As he was forcefully shoved out of the clinic Peter turned around and looked at her with a pleading expression. "But what am I supposed to-"
The door slammed shut in his face.
Peter stared at it for a moment with a pained expression before sighing and turning away. He looked at his surroundings, Gotham looked as dark and unwelcoming as when he had first arrived. It was also, unfortunately, snowing again and he couldn't repress the shiver that ran through his body as the cold suddenly hit him with full force. He was still in his medical gown and nothing else, he'd have to find shelter soon or risk freezing to death. His apartment? Belonged to Leslie, so that was a no-go, as soon he got his stuff from back there he doubted that he would be welcome there anymore. That only left the buildings he had purchased.
The dirty, rat-infested buildings with no electricity or even beds. Great.
Mr. Mittens had followed him out and sat on the snow-covered ground, he was staring up at his owner with a look that seemed almost sad. Peter knelt down and scooped the kitten up, cradling him close to his chest and scratching his ears half-heartedly. The young boy let out another sigh and began limping through the cold city.
"Way to go Pete..." he muttered dejectedly, wiping away a stray tear that slid down his cheek. Then again he had been the idiot who decided to not go back home when he had the chance, so he deserved it.
Zatanna Zatara adjusted the hat on her head for the seventh time that hour. A nervous tick of hers. But anyone sane would be nervous in the presence of the Joker, the self-titled clown prince of crime.
They were currently in Arkham Asylum inside of the Joker's white padded cell. She had been rather surprised when Bruce called in for a favor and even more surprised on learning what it was, but had been eager to agree to it. Their two-decade-long friendship had been almost entirely destroyed after that incident with Dr. Light and she was more than eager to fix it. But as she stood there now facing the Joker, doubt began gnawing in the dark-haired magician's mind.
J'onn had once gazed into his mind, had even managed to leave him sane for a short time, that unfortunately was only temporary. The haunted look on J'onn's face when he had finished had always stayed with her. He was always so composed, almost beating out Bruce for sheer stoicism, but after gazing into the Joker's mind she had never seen him so...vulnerable before. Whatever he had seen in the insane criminal's head had left him shaken for days. And here she was about to attempt the same thing.
The clown gazed at her with a sick demented smile on his face on the other side of the table they were sitting on, letting out a short laugh occasionally and eyeing her from to top to bottom, not with the gaze she was used to by men, his gaze was more akin to an animal stalking their prey. His arms and legs were restrained with a straight jacket, but it did little to make her feel safer.
At least she wasn't alone, Bruce stood behind the Joker, casting a menacing shadow over him and the table, ready to intervene at even the slightest movement. But even the Dark Knight's presence did little to calm her nerves.
She shook her head. God, what was wrong with her, she had fought and defeated literal demons, what was one insane clown in comparison? Summoning up her courage she momentarily closed her eyes and exhaled before opening her eyes with newfound determination. She could do this. With that in mind, she slowly walked towards the Joker.
The Joker's permanent rictus widened by a fraction as she approached him. "Well now, aren't you-"
He was cut off as she suddenly clamped a hand to the top of his head. "peelS." she commanded. The spell was successful, and soon the clown's eyes drooped before his head hit the table. The only sound that could be heard in the room now was his soft snoring.
Bruce looked at the unconscious clown for a moment with a scowl, before glancing at her in concern. "Are sure you want to do this Zatana? It isn't too late to back out."
God did that sound nice, but no, she owed him this much. "I'll be fine Batman, you don't have to worry," she said, faking a smile as she stepped closer to the slumbering criminal.
Okay, this was easy, just take a look in the insane clown's head and erase the memories of Catwoman's identity. She had done this once before with that monster Dr. Light, this couldn't be much different, could it?
As she pressed both palms on the Joker's head and gazed into his mind she soon realized just how wrong she was.
She thought Dr. Light's mind was demented, but he had the mind of a saint in comparison to the Joker's. Memories of horrendous crimes assaulted her mind. A crowd of screaming infants, a club owner skinned alive, men and women laughing and wheezing to death with a grin forced unto onto their tearful faces. If that wasn't enough the order of memories was bizarre, she had trouble sifting through ones that were real and ones that were fabricated. More than once she had come across a memory that had felt both real and fake at the same time.
...if I'm going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!
Okay. All she had to do was-
A chorus of boos and jeers played in her ears as she recounted a particularly painful memory.
"All it takes is one bad day..."
Find the name and she could-
She harshly bit down on her tongue as the phantom pain of acid bleaching bare flesh passed through her.
"You complete me..."
Damn it! Where the hell was-
Found it! With a frantic pace, she grabbed the memory. "tegroF" she whispered. With a few whispered words and a breath of magic, the memory disappeared into oblivion. With a relieved breath, she shakily staggered back from the table. Resting her back against the cell's door and trying to control her frantic breathing. What in God's name caused a mind to become so demented!?
"Is it done?" Bruce's deep voice reverberated through the room, breaking her from her thoughts.
"It's-" She cut herself off as she thought back to his mindscape. She had seen something in there, something dark and ominous that dominated his thoughts without challenge. "It's not done yet, I still have to take another look." she lied, ignoring Bruce's frown as she walked back to the Joker and reluctantly placed her hands on him once more. Her stomach turned at the fact that she was lying to Bruce, but there was no way he would approve of what she was going to do next. With steady concentration, she entered his mind once more.
Everything was still a mess, demented smiling images appeared everywhere, horrifying images of the Joker's various crimes, she almost forced herself to stop right there and then when she saw the memory of poor little Jason's mangled body.
After a few minutes of this madness, she contemplated just giving up, but then she saw it, in the center of it all. A bat. More specifically a giant, dark-colored bat cloaked in shadows towering over everything else in his mindscape with dark, uncaring eyes. Was this it? It was clear who the bat was supposed to represent. Was his obsession with Batman the source of his insanity? If it was then all she had to do was erase it from his memory, that could potentially fix him, or at least take his aggression away from Bruce. But as she prepared the spell she was suddenly hit with a wave of dread.
Could she actually succeed where J'onn failed and turn the Joker sane? He was much more experienced when it came to altering the minds of others and even his expertise had failed to heal the Joker's mind. For all she knew, without Bruce as a fixation, the Joker could potentially lose it even more. Was it really worth the risk?
...No. This monster had caused an untold amount of suffering to one of her closest friends and his entire family, he had gone so far as to murder his adopted son. If she could get him to stop than it was worth the potential cost. Bruce might not appreciate it but she couldn't just let this bastard continue to torment him when she had a chance to permanently stop him without breaking Bruce's one rule.
With a renewed resolve, the magician went back to work.