the cat returns

At first, he thinks it's just his imagination, an image conjured by the delirium from too many sleepless nights in a row. Peter can't remember the last time he'd actually slept in his bed. (Hell, he can't remember the last time he'd seen his bed let alone slept in it.) Then as he vaults between two buildings in the financial district, he sees it again. The outlines of a dark figure sweeping across the rooftop.

Reacting more on instinct than logic, he changes direction mid-air. Swinging by web, he tries to catch up to the figure as its stature grows smaller and smaller. They're fast, whoever they are, and adept at parkour. And fearless. Every time the figure comes to the edge of a building they leap off of it without and inkling of hesitation, implying familiarity with the area. They know what's coming next and likely have a base somewhere.

On the next upswing, Peter finally catches a better glimpse of the figure and recognizes the lithe form almost immediately. The moment he puts a name to this figure, she disappears. It throws Peter off and would have resulted in a deadly fall if he didn't have such sticky hands and feet. He catches himself by planting his feet on the first solid purchase he feels. Which leaves him standing upright on the left side of one of the financial centers, trying to remember the last time he'd seen Felicia Hardy in person.

In a word, this woman is...uh complicated.

She always left behind clues, little hints here and there for him to follow. It was always a game with her. A game to test how far he would go. Sometimes to stop her, sometimes to save her, sometimes to bring her back from the edge. It made it difficult to tell what was real and what was part of the game. Which is partly the reason Peter had such trouble talking to her without sounding like an idiot half the time.

"Hey there, Spider."

And there it is. As if she hadn't disappeared from his life without a word, Felicia appeared behind him.

He turns to see her perched on the fire escape, practically beaming with mischief. She looks so graceful, poised just like a little black cat, sitting on the railing with the confidence of a feline. Her costume looks a bit different, modified-well upgraded. The style looks less outlandish and lavish and more like a practical military suit. The likes of which a spy would probably wear. And her hair was just as silvery and free-flowing and wavy as he remembered. Though he couldn't remember the last time he'd seen her hair in a ponytail.

Honestly, he likes the nickname Spider. Of all the names he's been called in his career it's been his favorite. It makes him feel cool. Like bike gang leader cool. She had this innate ability to make him feel like so much more than he really was. Sometimes he got carried away in it all. Swept up in the hazy delight that was ger company. It overwhelmed the senses, tempted you to do things you normally wouldn't.

Peter takes a long hard look at her. The last ponytail he could recall had been during the summer. A broken air-con and another one of Felicia's games.

"Truth or dare?" He could still remember the feel of her pressed up close, her head tucked neatly under his chin. At the time there were clothes and empty drinks strewn about, she'd tugged at his shirt and grinned when he chose the dare. Peter feels his face heat up as the memory resurfaces. He's always had trouble seeing the big picture when Felicia was around. She always distracted him with mind games, puzzles, teasing.

Her voice is like silk, thick with implication and smoked with innuendo. She says, "It's been a while."

It has been exactly seven months. He remembers because she'd disappeared a month or so after MJ dumped him. Afternoons and evenings were spent between his apartment and the Chinese place down the street from him. She'd slept in his bed, wore his shirts like dresses, pranced around in her underwear toting a mug of coffee. At the time it felt like a hole in his life was being filled.

Then she was gone. As quickly as she'd settled in she picked up and left. Like a stray moving from one house to the next. As if their time together meant nothing. Severing ties seemed so easy for her. Now she was here and practically sprawled out on the railing in front of him like she'd never left.

He wants to tell her how much it hurt when she left without saying goodbye. Wants to tell her that the city hasn't been the same without her in it. Wants to tell her how much he's missed her. Instead, he says, "Where have you been?"

And it sounds more accusing then he intends. She likely can't see it, but Peter frowns at the tone of his own voice. In response, Felicia stretches, seemingly nonplussed, her arms extending high overhead. She tilts her head back so that her neck is bared to him, and Peter finds it difficult to focus on much else.

"Oh you know," She lowers her arms to get a grip on the railing. "Around."

Shifting her feet beneath her, she suddenly pushes off, lunging at him like a cat going for a canary. He could dodge, quite easily. He chooses to allow himself to be tackled and even allows them to fall toward the ground for a few moments before slinging a web to pull them to safety.

Felicia curls around him so easily. She's done it before. Her arms are around his neck, thighs on either side of his waist. The city gets cold most nights, but the closeness of another body keeps him warm as they continue to swing between buildings.

Peter isn't sure how long they travel through the city like that. With her wrapped around him like she doesn't ever want to let him go. The thought makes his heart flutter. Being needed was something he didn't inherently think about. But if there was one thing he'd learned from his breakup with MJ it was that he could be really oblivious to the way others were feeling. And on his best day, he had trouble guessing what MJ was thinking. When it came to Felicia it seemed even more of an impossibility.

When she tells him to take them to a spot underneath a bridge his first reaction is to be apprehensive. "You're not about to mug me are you?"

He feels a pang of loss when he lets go of her, but soon he's too distracted by the way she smirks at him and beckons with a nod toward the bridge. His curiosity is piqued.

"Not this time." She tosses this statement over her shoulder as she saunters over to one of the walls under the bridge. There's a large portrait of a cat spray-painted on the wall, and upon closer inspection, Peter notices a handle hidden within one of the cat's claws.

"That's a little on the nose for a secret hideout isn't it?" Peter follows her in, heart racing. Being with Felicia is always a rush. It dials his heightened senses from eleven to twenty.

"You'd be surprised how easy it is to keep people at bay with a few well-placed rumors."

She leads him into a small room filled with her exploits. There's a slew of paintings, cases of wine, boxes of files (used for blackmail no doubt), and a map of the city plastered to the wall. Peter also observes some shelving toward the back of the room stacked with gadgets, artifacts, little black cat statutes, and a few copies of her costume folded neatly into little piles. It looks like her main hideout.

"Is this-" He turns to find her standing in front of him. She's disposed of her mask. And there's a small smile on her lips. She shrugs as if she couldn't help but show him this place. It isn't quite helplessness, but a gesture of vulnerability. She's being open with him in a way she never has before.

"I didn't mean to leave without saying goodbye." She says, reaching toward him, brushing his cheek with the backs of her fingers. There's a thrill in having her claws so close to his face. They've ripped right through his suit on more than one occasion. "Somethings just...came up."

This stings. Is she playing him for a fool? Surely it couldn't have been that simple. He catches her hand a bit too suddenly, her claws catch on his face mask. But he doesn't want to lose his momentum. With his other hand, he reaches behind his head and pulls the mask from his face, while still maintaining grip her hand. He doesn't want her to leave again without warning.

"Are you telling me that you left because of 'complications'? So complex you couldn't even mention them on your way out?" He doesn't mean to sound so hurt. So argumentative. He wants to get along. He isn't sure if he wants things like the way they were yet.

"Well…" He's never seen her hesitate.

"Felicia, you wear a cat burglar suit and have strange voodoo powers that give people bad luck. I'm a nerd in a Spider costume who catches bad guys with webs. Are you telling me you really thought we couldn't handle it together?"

She pulls away from him then, moving as if he'd struck her. "Some things need to be handled alone, Peter. And you were so…" She looks at him with glassy eyes. "You kept treating me like-like a backup plan. "

It feels like an anchor rips his heart out of his chest. It's like MJ is speaking to him all over again, in the same heartbroken, exasperated tone.

"No! I-"

"Not all the time." She moves closer, putting a hand on his chest. "Most of the time you were so good. In the beginning, I think you were lonely, heartbroken because of MJ. And that's fine. I never intended it to become what it did."

She doesn't pull away when he reaches for the hand on his chest. He remains quiet as she speaks, "I don't think you planned for it either. You'd just been in a major commitment. And neither of us knew-neither of us expected for it to be anything longer than a night or two at most. But. Then I think you felt...torn between having a person who was in it for everything and me. Who was in it for...well."

"The other stuff," He supplies. Peter doesn't know what else to call his time as Spiderman. In some ways, it's like a career, in other ways a hobby. He didn't get paid so it felt a little odd calling it a job. Then again calling it a hobby didn't seem to cover it either. Regardless, Peter has always had trouble with finding the balance between his time as Spiderman and Peter Parker.

Felicia nods, the tears haven't fallen but he can see them swelling in her eyes. "I didn't know what to do. I felt horrible for being there for Spiderman and not Peter Parker. I think you needed more than I could give you at the time."

Peter as always hated seeing anyone cry. It makes him feel helpless. His superpowers didn't cover the emotional stuff. So he's always had to rely on what he's learned from Aunt May and MJ.

"I have a bad habit of putting people on the spot," He says because it's true. He's done it to his friends, his family, his lovers. "I don't...I don't try to do it. I don't want people to feel like it's me or their career or...whatever it is that comes up. I made MJ feel like I was treating her like a kid. Like she couldn't do anything on her own. I take it for granted that I have good people in my life and sometimes I let them down. I have so much going on with Spiderman that I neglect things in my life as Peter Parker."

She's listening to him so attentively. It makes his heart ache. Like he's living through another loop of MJ and their breakup. Like he's walking into his apartment expecting to find Felicia and finding a post-it note with the words "see ya" scrawled casually in the middle instead.

"Sometimes I get so caught up in heroics, so caught up in trying to catch everything in the city that I often miss wants going on in the room. And it can hurt. And I really don't mean for it to happen. I'm used to being able to control a situation-well. To a degree. But, anyway, after what happened with MJ I got so stuck on figuring out what I did wrong that I didn't take the time to enjoy what was going right."

He finds himself looking sideways. It's embarrassing admitting all this. But Peter knows that if you're sincerely apologizing to someone, you can't apologize to the room. An apology has to be to their face. So he looks at her. Steps a little closer, taking hold of her shoulders to ground himself.

"Felicia, I am so sorry. I never wanted you to feel like a backup plan. I got so caught up in trying to figure things out with my previous relationship. And I'm really sorry."

Felicia looks so strong standing in front of him now. Carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders. Trying with all her might to keep the tears in. He pulls her to him, tucking her head under his chin.

It's a little difficult, getting her head under his face with the high ponytail, but it tilts his head to keep from practically eating her hair. It isn't as smooth as he foresaw, but it gets a watery laugh out of her.

"I've missed you, Spider."

He doesn't trust that he pulls it off, but he tries not to sound too happy when he says, "I've missed you too."

"What happens now?"

"Well...uh we could go to bed?"

She pulls back far enough to look up at him. Her eyebrows are raised in surprise. "My we've gotten forward in the past few months haven't we?"

As appealing as that would be he wrinkles his nose like he doesn't like the idea. He sounds childish, "Feliciaaa that's not what I meant."

Her grin is stunning, her hair like starlight, and those eyes…"Isn't it?"

"No," Peter says firmly. "I haven't slept in like...36 hours."

"What's a few more?"

"Felicia!" He gets a hold on her shoulders and forces her to detach from him.

"Oh al-right. You can lay down."

She leads him by the hand to a space tucked behind a row of boxes files. There's a sleeping bag and a few pillows made with relative neatness. Peter flops down on it instantly.

He's still holding her hand when he drops, so she's forced to crouch beside him to keep from falling over.

"You aren't joining me?" He landed face down, so he has to shift his head to peek up at her.

He feels her hand on the back of his head, starts stroking the hair there gently. It's soothing. "If I join you, then you won't be getting much sleep."

Peter manages to roll his eyes. "You are too much Felicia Hardy."

Fatigue hits him hard, making his limbs feel like they weigh a thousand pounds. In truth, he's exhausted. And the chance to sleep has been escaping him recently.

"Get some sleep, Spider."

He pulls a section (he isn't sure which part of the sleeping bag it is and doesn't bother to check) over his back with the hand that isn't still holding hers.

"Will you be here when I wake up?"

Peter hears more than sees her shift to sit down beside him. She isn't on the sleeping bag but beside it. He hopes she's comfortable like that.

"Oh most definitely. I need to make up for lost time."

"You're incorrigible."

"Would you have me any other way?"

He can feel himself falling asleep. His senses are dulling, eyelids drooping, everything feels so heavy. So, so heavy. She keeps stroking his head and it's making his whole back tingle with relaxation. Like laying down in a clean bed with fresh sheets after a shower.

"Sleep tight, Peter" is the last thing he hears her say.