Miles liked being Spider-Man. Sure, there were big shoes to fill but being a superhero had its perks. He could swing anywhere in Brooklyn whenever he wanted, no matter the height. The dizzying perspective of the city in midair, streaks of color spinning beneath him, and infinite stars above. Not to mention the praise from his fans, well, the ones that didn't go overboard at least. Miles had only been Spidey for a week and he had a hardcore Twitter following! How about that!
Of course, there were also the downsides to being New York's resident web swinger.
For instance, no one in his dimension knew what it was like to be Spider-Man. Gante was always up for some Spider-Man chit-chat but it wasn't the same as what he had with Peter, Gwen, or any of the others. Miles missed his support network.
Of course, there was always May Parker. But Miles felt bad getting her back involved with Spider-Man stuff. She'd already lost her nephew and then Miles and the others trashed her house… that just felt like a low blow. The woman deserved to be left alone.
Or at least that's what Miles told himself until he shredded his Spider-suit in a nasty fight with some porcupine-themed villain. Like, seriously? What were they even aiming for when they chose 'porcupine' as a gimmick? The needles were a literal pain in the ass.
The night after the incident, he and Gante tried to sew the suit back together. It went as well as anyone would expect from two thirteen-year-olds who'd never touched a sewing needle in their lives. Gante accidentally sewed the suit to his pants and Miles tried to rip it off. Unfortunately, Miles had only had super strength for about two weeks and was prone to forgetting about his enhancements.
So, yeah. Miles ripped his friend's pants off.
It was not something they were going to talk about.
With no other options, Miles paid May Parker a visit. He stuffed his tattered suit into his backpack and hopped on the train for the commute. It was the first time in a while he'd taken public transportation but it wasn't like he could swing through Queens in his street clothes. That would draw far too much attention.
It wasn't long until Miles found himself back on May's doorstep. There were still a few memorials for Peter lined along the sidewalk. In Miles's mind it had been so long since his death, but in reality, little to no time had passed at all. It made sense that people were still paying their respects, adorning May's front yard with extravagant bouquets, photos, candles, and crafts—a phantom reminder of such a tremendous loss.
Now that he thought about it, maybe this was a bad idea...
No. Miles couldn't be Spider-Man without a suit. He's going to ask this lady to fix it and be so polite that she forgets all about her dead nephew!
Well, maybe making her forget about Peter was too extreme. The best way to go about things would be to just act casual! Miles could do casual. Casual was his middle name!
… he was going to fuck this up royally, wasn't he?
Maybe! Just maybe! The best idea would be to turn around and just go home!
"Is that Miles Morales on my doorstep?"
Well so much for that plan. May's screen door was propped open and she was standing in the foyer wearing a maroon cardigan and gray capris.
"Uh, yeah. Hi May! Nice to see you again. Thought I'd swing by for a visit!"
She snorted. "Doesn't look like you 'swung' by. I saw you walking up the road."
"Oh, haha… yeah. Figures of speech, I always forget about those! Anyway, you wouldn't happen to know how to fix a maybe… completely shredded ensemble you may or may not have lent me?"
May's face went slack. "Come on in, Miles."
He gulped. "Yes ma'am."
Once they were inside and the door was shut, May wasted no time fretting over him. Initially, Miles thought she was upset about the suit, but she made her concern very clear.
"What in the world were you doing to shred the entire suit! I mean, Peter pulled a stunt or ten like this before but that didn't stop my heart from jumping out of my chest!" She waved the tattered suit in his face. "It's a miracle you're not hurt!"
Miles's face felt hot. "It was a porcupine dude…"
"Sorry, a what?"
"A porcupine dude. You know those little animals with all the needles?" He gestured pricking his hand on something sharp. "Like, it was a person, but they had needles poking out of their skin. I mean, I can stick to walls and stuff so I'm not gonna judge."
May stared at him. "Oh my god. You sound just like him."
"The porcupine dude? You know him?"
"No! Peter, you sound like Peter."
His voice hitched in his throat. "Oh. I—I do?"
"Once I found out about the whole superhero gig—which took him a few years to fess up to—he was always rattling off about the villains he fought. Well, talking about them and downplaying them. 'Yeah, May. It's just a guy with needles in his skin! No big deal!' Sound familiar?"
Miles shrugged. "Vaguely?"
"Oh great, you're a smart aleck too! I should've known any successor of Peter's would be just as bad as him. God help us all."
Miles knew that he was Peter Parker's successor, it was just weird to hear someone so close to him say it openly. It felt like he'd kind of adopted the title without any formal blessing from Peter, well, the Peter Parker in this dimension. May made it sound official, like it was something to be proud of.
He'd only had the job for two weeks now and suddenly May's approval meant more than any of his fans. If he was being honest, a little more than his dad's too. But not much! Miles still needed validation from his dad. The main difference was that his dad didn't know that Miles was Spider-Man, so it wasn't as personal.
"Hey, what's up with that grin?" May accused. "That's not exactly a compliment, you know!"
"What?" Miles shot back. "So being like Peter is bad now?"
"No. He'd love you. That's what's frustrating me; you're too alike!"
"I still don't get what's so bad about that," Miles said cheekily.
"Oh, just you wait. One of these days you'll find me, all busted up from some fight, and then I'll tell you 'I told you so.' It's a classic Peter Parker move, trust me."
Miles snorted. "I guess other-dimension Peter must have rubbed off on me, then."
"Oh, that I have no doubts." She clicked her tongue. "He wasn't my Peter but he was definitely a Peter. Too heroic for his own good."
Well, Miles could see how that was accurate. Other-Peter had been prepared to stay in Miles's dimension and die in order to shut down the collider.
"Yeah, tell me about it."
May narrowed her eyes. "I am."
There was a beat of silence and she resumed.
"Be smart about things, kid. I don't want to see this suit destroyed more than I have to. But if I do, please make sure only the suit gets torn up—I couldn't handle something happening to you. I don't want to go through that again."
May's voice had an edge to it, but Miles could discern the vulnerability in her tone. She'd lost so much so recently. Keeping himself safe was the least that Miles could do for her.
She shot him a warm smile. "That's good to hear. Now, how about I get started on mending this suit?"
It was another few weeks before Miles saw May again. Although, this time it wasn't because of a ruined Spider-suit. It was a weekend and both of his parents were working, so Miles decided to do some patrolling near May's neighborhood. Maybe it was coincidence he spotted her shopping at a grocery store a block down from where he stopped a robbery, or maybe it was fate.
Good ol' Spider-Man wasn't going to pass up an opportunity to help a poor, old lady with her groceries! After all, superheroes gave back to the community!
Miles touched down a few feet from the store's exit, where May was struggling to maneuver her groceries from the shopping cart into her arms.
"Uh, hello ma'am! Would you like some help carrying your groceries home?"
"Oh! Spider-Man!" She almost dropped a bag of canned goods. "You startled me for a moment. What are you doing here?"
Miles shrugged. "It's a slow day. I figured I'd help uh, a nice-looking lady with her groceries."
"That would be great. I walked today and forgot my own grocery bag. They had to use all these plastic bags. They're horrible for the environment, did you know that? I read in a magazine that they take hundreds of years to decompose."
"Yeah, I think I've heard something like that before."
Miles wasn't the most environmentally conscious, but he knew enough to hold a conversation.
"That and fabric bags are so much more convenient when you're on foot," May said. She handed Miles about five grocery bags and kept four for herself. "So, how's the hero stuff going?"
"Eh, it's going alright. Still trying to find a good rhythm with uh, work. Definitely not school because I'm way too old for school!"
May rolled her eyes. "If you say things like that, it won't be long before all of New York figures out your age."
"Nah. I'm totally inconspicuous."
"Don't be too sure," she advised. "One of the hardest parts of the job is keeping your identity secret. Peter didn't have too many slip-ups, but they were always stressful. I was always afraid I'd come home one day and the entire world would know. And well… one day they did."
Miles winced. He hoped his parents never had to go through that kind of shock.
"I'll keep that in mind..."
"Oh," she said. "I didn't mean to guilt-trip you or anything."
"No, no you didn't! I'm good. We're good."
"Peter managed ten years as Spider-Man. That in itself is a miracle. If you'd seen that boy before he got powers… whew! Who would've thought?"
Miles frowned. "What was he like before?"
"For starters, he was only sixteen. Pretty thin, no muscles at all. He was reserved but kind, but also sad because of his uncle, Ben. Those years… those years were hard. After he became Spider-Man, Peter gained a lot of confidence in himself and became more confident in others. I was glad to see it, even though I didn't understand at first."
"I guess that's another thing we have in common. Before this… I didn't feel confident in anything at all. Not even my art."
"Your art?" she asked.
That was probably not the best thing Miles could have let slip out on the street, with several passersby eavesdropping but it wasn't that explicit. After all, artists in New York were a dime a dozen and it's not like Miles was planning on making it anything more than a hobby.
"Yeah. It's just kind of a passion of mine, I guess. Nothing too serious."
"But you feel more confident about it now?"
"Mm-hm! I've been sketching a lot more in my downtime, which isn't much because of this gig. But I'll take what I can get."
"It's good to have something you care about. I know Peter liked photography. There was a while there I wondered how he got some of his shots, thought maybe he'd bought a drone without telling me, but it turns out that," she laughed, "he was just swinging around."
"Whoa. So he got pictures while he was Spider-Man?"
"Yeah. I can show you some if you'd like? MJ has most of them now, but I managed to hold onto a few myself."
They were approaching her house now. Miles should probably get back to patrolling… but eh. It was a slow day. He could take a small break at May's house!
Once all the groceries were put away, Miles found a seat on the couch and waited for May to return with some of Peter's photos. Her house had an ordinary atmosphere. If he hadn't seen it himself, Miles would have never believed that there was a high-tech base of operations only two stories below. It was funny how someone so seemingly normal could have such an expansive secret life. Himself included.
Eventually, May descended the stairs with a leather-bound photo album and set it in front of Miles on the coffee table. Five minutes later, she returned to the couch with two steaming mugs of hot cocoa topped with excessive marshmallows and whipped cream. He could already hear his mother's disapproval—too much sugar, mijo!—but hell! Miles had a spider metabolism now. It wasn't like a few extra calories would do him any harm.
"You don't need any extra cream, do you?" May asked.
She'd already added so much that Miles couldn't tell if she was serious or not.
"No, no. This is good." He took a long sip of cocoa. "Oh wow. That's… that's definitely not water and Swiss Miss."
May smiled. "It's my special recipe. Melted chocolate, boiling water, and a dash of cinnamon."
He gaped at her. "Please be my grandma."
"Pft. You don't have to ask."
If he was drinking anything other than piping hot cocoa, Miles probably would have spit his drink out. Thankfully, he had just enough self-restraint not to spew his chocolatey beverage over Peter's prized photo album.
"This book has a little bit of everything," May said. "Peter's first photos before Spider-Man, pictures he took for himself as Spider-Man, and then pictures of Spider-Man and villains that he sold to the Daily Bugle."
"The Daily Bugle… isn't that an anti-Spider-Man news site?"
"Yep. Well, when Peter started they were only a newspaper. But they paid well enough and Peter figured they'd slander his name with or without his photos."
The Daily Bugle had already written a few articles on 'the new Spider-Man' and Miles was not impressed. Gante had read some of them aloud ironically to try and make Miles feel better, so he appreciated that.
It also helped that most Spider-Man fans memed J. Jonah Jameson and Miles's debut had given them a plethora of new material. If Miles was being honest, he'd made quite a few himself but none of them had gained any traction. Would it be wrong to get verified on Twitter as Spider-Man just to roast J. Jonah Jameson?
May flipped open to the first page of the photo album. "You can see here some of Peter's first pictures. That's Ben and I in that one… and here's Ben and Peter together before his first school dance."
Miles gently traced his fingers across the first photo. Ben had graying hair and prominent dimples and May looked significantly younger, happier. In the photo below, Peter—much thinner than Miles had ever seen him—was wearing a navy suit with a red tie. Ben's arm was wrapped around him and Peter was holding a rose corsage. What really baffled Miles though was Peter's hair.
"His hair is brown," Miles said dumbly.
Other-Peter's hair had been brown, but Miles had attributed that to general dimensional inconsistencies. Now he felt stupid.
May snorted. "Yeah, well, that's his natural color. He dyed it when he turned twenty-one and nearly gave me an aneurysm."
"I think brown suits him more."
She laughed. "Oh, that we can agree on."
They browsed through the photo album for a while. Before long, the photos gradually exhibited some of Peter's exploits as Spider-Man. Not that Miles would have recognized Peter as Spider-Man. He started out with a low-budget suit that was a simple red jacket, a red ski mask, and blue sweatpants. Miles had seen better Spider-Man cosplayers! Then again, Miles doubted he would be able to come up with anything better on his own. Should he ask May to teach him to sew?
Well, he'd think about that later. Miles wasn't exactly eager to learn a new trade skill with everything else he had on his plate. He could probably wait until spring or summer break.
"This is the first picture he submitted to the Daily Bugle," May pointed out. "It made the front page. I have the newspaper clipping in a scrapbook somewhere… I'll have to find that later."
The picture showed Spider-Man—now in his classic era suit—mid-swing, hurtling through an abandoned Queens backstreet. Underneath the mask, Miles could see an impression of a smile.
"He rigged the camera to shoot when he swung by?"
"Oh yeah," she said. "He had a really good knack for it."
The next picture was a group shot in some sort of laboratory. It was a normal photo at first glance until Miles noticed a familiar face.
"Is that Gwen? Gwen Stacy?"
Gwen appeared about the same age she was when Miles had met her, albeit her hair was quite a length longer. She was standing near the edge of the group, beaming from ear to ear and wearing a black sweater and green coat. She looked so much like the Gwen that Miles knew but so different. It took Miles a minute or so to place it, but there was something in her eyes that was a little bit brighter—less jaded.
It was uncanny.
"Oh… that's right," May realized. "You met a version of her, a spider-powered version of her. She and Peter interned for Dr. Connors together before… the incident. It's so tragic what happened to them both. Dr. Connors was caught in an experiment gone wrong and Gwen was killed by the Green Goblin."
Miles's breath hitched in his throat. "She's… she's dead?"
May nodded solemnly. "It was unfortunate. Peter blamed himself for her loss. One thing I don't want you to do, Miles, is take on unnecessary emotional burdens. It is right to grieve for someone and it is right to regret… but wallowing in that regret every living moment is unhealthy."
May rested her hand on top of Miles's and chills ran down his spine.
"We can't change what happened before, we can only strive to move on and make the world a better place," she resumed. "That's what Peter tried to do, but he got caught sometimes… caught on his emotions. It's a natural thing, of course, but I don't want to fall down that slippery slope."
Despite his attempts to bottle up his emotions, Miles was already on that slope, wasn't he?
He blamed himself for Peter. He blamed himself for Aaron.
Yeah, he tried not to think or talk about it. He tried not to let on with his parents, Gante, or May… but Miles was carrying a tremendous amount of regret. Not that he regretted Spider-Man! He just… could've done better. He could have done something to save Peter and Aaron. Anything. But the truth of the matter was Miles lived and they died!
Now that Kingpin was locked away for life, who was left to blame!
Miles hadn't realized he started crying until he felt May rub soft circles into his back. He leaned into her embrace and bawled like a baby. A stupid, pathetic, grieving baby. It wasn't fair! Peter was her nephew, he might as well have been her son! She didn't deserve to console Miles. May was a nice lady…
"Shh… just let it all out, Miles. I promise everything gets better with time."
Miles didn't move from her grip. "Stop it… you're too nice."
"If there's anything I've learned over the years, it's that there's no such thing as 'too nice.' Well, that and those who need the most love often receive the least."
"Mm." Miles's voice felt heavy; speaking was suddenly much more difficult than it had been minutes before. "That's philosophical."
May gently patted him on the shoulder before pulling away. "It better damn be. I almost majored in philosophy, but Ben told me it would be a waste of time because I knew too much already. He was right, of course. I got a degree in business instead."
Despite his tears, Miles couldn't help but laugh.
"You don't seem like a business major."
She raised a brow. "What's that supposed to mean?"
He flustered for an answer. "I thought business people were like… always wearing suits and stuff. You know, bigwigs that like the stock market."
May crossed her arms. "I'm a manager for a local non-profit. Is that not business enough for you, kid?"
"Yeah, we help out a lot of homeless people around Queens and low-income families."
"That's really nice. Wait." Miles wracked his brain. "It's not that one that Spider-Man sponsored a few years back, was it?"
"Ah… guilty. Peter helped out a lot, got us some good publicity, and really expanded our horizons. The funny thing is, he started helping out before I knew he was Spider-Man! He just showed up in my office one day offering to sponsor us. I was so starstruck that I just said yes right off the bat. I found it suspicious as hell, of course, but I'm not one to look a gift horse in the mouth."
"You're a real amazing person. You know that, right, May?"
"Aw, thank you. You're not so bad yourself, Spider-Man."
Miles half wished he hadn't taken his mask off once he entered May's house, because he was definitely blushing.
"Thanks! Now uh, what were we doing? Pictures?"
"I believe so…"
He turned back to the photo of Gwen, a remnant of a girl that Miles would never know. This wasn't his Gwen Stacy. This was just… a doppelganger.
(Even if they were alike in every way except the spider powers.)
Miles turned the page and pretended not to see the phantom flicker of sorrow in May's eyes. It was hard to believe a woman so kind had also seen so much loss.
She deserved so much more.
'Those who need the most love often receive the least.'
Miles owed it to her to follow her advice and be careful with his own life. Everything in him told him to give heroing his all, but that would just make him another casualty.
If Miles was going to carry Peter's torch, he wasn't only doing it for New York.
He was doing it for an exceptional woman who'd gone above and beyond for people in need. He was doing it for a widowed wife who'd felt too much hurt in her life. He was doing it for a parent who'd seen her son die far too young.
He was doing it for May Parker.
A woman who could have easily refused to help him, who could have rejected him as Peter's successor. Instead, she readily accepted Miles's limited prowess and took him under her wing, giving him his own suit and all the supplies he'd ever need to create web-shooters. She paved the path to his leap of faith.
May made Spider-Man possible and Miles had a feeling that she would always have his back, unconditionally. That's just the sort of person that she was. Peter was blessed to have her and so was Miles.
"Oh!" May gingerly thumbed through the photo album, landing on a random page. "Here's a picture of Peter fighting the Green Goblin… was that their first fight? It had to be one of their firsts."
Yeah, everything was going to be just fine.