"B-but… you… you retired."
Searing, unbearable agony, and yet at the same time a numbness that Quentin Beck did not dare try to analyze too closely. Mysterio, as he was known to the public, was collapsed in a heap on the floor of his own "secret lair"—an abandoned tenement on the outskirts of New York, New York. He could feel the telltale wetness on his face, more blood than he ever wanted to think of pouring out from his pierced flesh. A single punch was all it took, and his reinforced helmet—the envy of titanium, diamonds even—shattered like it was trick glass. The shards dug deep into his face, desperately drawing in shallow breaths. His suit was torn to shreds, the aftermath of a ferocious, all-too-short struggle.
He was on his back, staring up at the gaping hole in his ceiling, where his assailant had simply smashed his way in. There were other holes, his own weaponry blowing chunks of brick and drywall into the air.
He tried to move his legs—his arm, even. Nothing. All that came was a terrible, unnatural twitching that he gave up on just so he could stop experiencing it. He'd done it, then; Beck had never given the kid enough credit, it seemed. He was paralyzed from the neck down. That was how he would have processed it in a calmer state of mind; right now, all he could gather were incoherent, desperate bursts of thought, clamoring to find some mercy in a kind soul gone hollow.
He wasn't able to properly turn and look, but in his peripheral vision he could see the silhouette of the man who did this, hunched over a table as the technology of Mysterio was carefully scrutinized.
A red and blue suit, silvery-black strands forming a web-like pattern. On his back, a giant black symbol of an arachnid was prominently displayed, its legs reaching up over his shoulders and around his sides, connecting to an identical image on his chest.
Spider-Man… what happened to you?
Quentin repeated the phrase he'd uttered, just to convince himself that at some point in the past, it had been true.
"You retired. Y-you disappeared…"
"Came out of retirement." Came a calm, almost cheery voice. So close to the snippy youth's quips, and yet an element was lacking. Compassion. "Just for you, Beck."
Spider-Man, or what had once been Spider-Man, turned away from the table clutching a small device in his hands. He came closer to Mysterio, kneeling down to look at him. This was a different costume, Quentin could tell. The colors were a darker shade, and the eyes narrower. He could still recall the image of the bright young boy, who couldn't have been older than fifteen, sixteen, and the big bug eyes on his mask that covered nearly half his face. He couldn't comprehend how that boy had become this.
"I don't understand!" Mysterio pleaded, on the verge of tears as those destructive hands got close to him again. "I wasn't committing any crimes this time, I swear!"
"Didn't say you were," Spider-Man quipped, shaking the gadget in his hand to draw attention to it. "but when you go bragging on every forum based in the Western Hemisphere that you've developed a dimensional wormhole generator, you get noticed."
Quentin balked. Yes, he'd been developing such a device—perfected it, in fact—but that wasn't illegal! Something was terribly wrong. He had to say something, get the upper hand.
"Y-you think the rest of the Six won't catch wind of this?!" he growled, a lame dog making empty threats to the wolf. "Kingpin, Octavius, they'll come down on you! Wreck everything you've got!"
Spider-Man laughed. But not the light, almost obnoxious laugh Mysterio had come to know. It was low, dark, and short. A cruel laugh for a cruel joke.
"Let them at it." He countered. "Have a field day for all I care—you already took everything work taking."
Spider-Man stood up, turning away from the shattered villain and pointed the device at the wall. A few simple dials to be turned, and codes to be entered.
"E-612…" Spider-Man muttered, setting in the dimensional code. A bright blue light emanated from the front of the device, forming an elliptical ring of what seemed to be colored mist on the wall it impacted. The solid surface within that ring slowly disappeared. Mysterio could see none of this; he could only hear the strange sounds of his own device.
"W-what are you doing?!" he cried, frantically. "That device is unstable, you have no idea what ramifications—"
He was cut off as Spider-Man grabbed him roughly by his hair, dragging him up to the tune of agony the likes of which he'd never felt in his life. He was laid down on his stomach, staring into the portal.
"That's what I'm doing." The wall-crawler told him, bluntly. Inside the portal, an image could be seen. A bright, shining day in New York, and telltale thwip of webs being slung. A cry of elation, ethereal from the warbling of the portal rang in both their ears as a red and blue-clad youngster swung from the highest rooftops.
"Another dimension." Spider-Man stated. "Another Earth. And another Spider-Man."
He stepped up to the portal, turning back to point an accusatory finger. "One who's too young to know the hell you people are going to put him through!"
"What's so special about one Spider-Man?!" Mysterio cried.
"He's the one I found!" the former hero asserted. "One that I can spare from this entire nightmare. It's not too late for him; not too late to quit."
As Spider-Man stepped towards the portal, a stuttering, almost gurgling cry from Mysterio made him hesitate once more. "S-Spider-Man, please! I think I'm bleeding out, you have to call for help!"
One long moment of silence passed, and Quentin could hear the ceaseless patter of rain just outside. Those blank, narrow eyes narrowed yet further, and a cold growl responded, "No."
Tears of confusion, rage, and creeping terror cascaded down Quentin's face as Spider-Man turned back to the portal. But before he stepped through, he called back to the illusionist once more.
"You know, Quentin, you've always had pretty decent acting chops; I bet if you can pull off any role a quadriplegic, you'll net an Oscar… assuming somebody finds you before you die here, at least. And considering how hard this place was for me to find, well…"
He never finished. Spider-Man stepped through the portal, leaving Mysterio to cry after him.
"Spider-Man! SPIDER-MAN!.. P-PETER! PETER PARKER, NO!"
All far too late. The web-slinger was long gone. He closed his eyes, and waited, a few blurbling words still slipping from his lips as despair overtook him. "Peter, Peter please don't leave me here… oh, God, please…"
Hi! My name is Peter Parker. You might not know me very well, but I guess that's for the best. I'm not much to look at, anyway—5'7" at age seventeen, average face, average hair, average nerd's luck. Grew up in Queens with my aunt and uncle—just aunt, now. Nothing really special to mention.
Well, maybe the superpowers are worth mentioning. Last year, on a field trip to OsCorp laboratories, I was bitten by a genetically engineered super-spider, and gained these insane powers! I'm stronger, faster, smarter—well, I didn't need the spider for that, heh—and more agile than any other human on the planet. I did what any kid my age would do with such reality-shattering abilities: cheated at sports, spied on and blackmailed a few jocks, punked random pedestrians. The usual stuff.
But then my uncle died. Gunned down by some faceless, no-name thug for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. And I could've stopped it before it ever happened. I didn't.
So that's what I do now. Stop crime; it's what Uncle Ben would've wanted. But it's a little perilous just making a target of yourself like that, so I created a new identity for myself to take on the scum of the city with: Spider-Man. And the people LOVE me… mostly.
I mean, yeah, there's a few nay-sayers, whose names I will not mention for kindness' sake. But their initials are JJJ, for the record; totally not a name. And he most certainly is NOT any form of chief or editor for any local newspapers that may or may not be named for brass instruments of one sort or another.
But who cares what an old psycho like him thinks, right? All things considered, this whole Spider-Man thing's been working out great! Self-confidence out the wazoo, the best friends a guy could ever ask for, the girl of my dreams… it's all up from here, baby—
…Why am I monologuing?
Peter Parker, a.k.a. Spider-Man shook his head vigorously to rid himself of the weird first-person narration bug he'd suddenly come down with. That had been happening a lot, lately. Probably not the healthiest thing for his ego, come to think of it. He made a mental note to work on that.
He looked out over the city—and over was the correct term. Standing on top of the Daily Bugle building, he was easily hundreds of feet off of the ground, the brisk wind spitting past him and giving him some much-needed relief on a hot summer's day. He looks down at his clothing—that was something he thought of then, too. Did this count as clothing?
It certainly protected his decency, but it hardly left anything to the imagination. A skintight, red and blue suit, with thin black strands across the red to go with the motif. He had spent a very long time trying to develop an opinion on the newest pattern for the colors that his suit was using, but it was simply too hard to care. Mary Jane Watson, a.k.a. Girlfriend of the Century, had been responsible for re-designs and suit repairs ever since she'd gotten wise about his double life. Peter's side of the story put that moment at about six months into his career—MJ's insisted it was closer to three.
"There I go again," he muttered to nobody in particular. "getting distracted by pointless crap."
He stepped up to the edge of the building, and held out a hand, palm up, middle and ring fingers in, thumb placed tentatively above, and the pinkie and index finger sticking out. He wasn't trying to be metal, he swore. This just felt like the most natural way to configure his web-slingers.
Mechanical devices, based off some OsCorp tech generously "borrowed" from his best pal, Harry Osborn's home, along with some repurposed experimental material. "Super-webbing", derived from the same type of spider that gave Peter his amazing, spectacular powers. All it took was a little digging, and he was able to figure out how to make his own batches like it was a child's science fair project.
They certainly came in hand for getting around. Pete pressed down on the trigger, so slight it wasn't even noticeable under his costume. On command, a strand of web shot out like lightning, attaching itself firmly to a billboard on an office complex ahead of him and to the left. He pulled it taut, and with a running start leaped into the air.
The world rushed around him as if he were truly flying in those moments. It took practice, but he'd learned the momentum, the arc of his swings. He'd never expected being a superhero required so much math.
But it was old hat to him by now. What would have been a long, aching stroll down a few blistering blocks became a high-octane adrenaline rush carrying him halfway across town. He barely kept himself from hollering in sheer ecstasy every time he released a web, flinging himself hundreds of feet up and propelling himself at faster and faster speeds. Sometimes, he failed to keep quiet entirely.
For all the distraction this quasi-flight gave him, however, he was hardly blind or deaf up there. A highly-attuned sense to everything happening around him, or his "Spidey Sense" as he referred to it, gave him a full knowledge of the goings-on below.
And right now, approximately one block away and down the alleyway off of Oak, one woman was having a very unlucky day. But the three thugs around her were in for one far, far worse than that. Spider-Man adjusted his course, and made straight for the scene of the in-progress crime.
"S-stay back!" the young woman cried, reaching into her purse and coming up with a pocket knife. She brandished it, taking nervous stabs at the air. "I'm armed, d-don't come any closer!"
"Oh-ho, real scary miss." Said the leader of the trio, whacking the flat end of a crowbar against his gloved hand. His toothless smile spoke of illicit things yet to commence as he shared looks with his two henchmen, twins by the similar facial structure and blond hair. One had a pistol, the other a machete. "Now how about you hand over all the money ya got, and make this easier on yourself."
The girl hesitated, her raven hair drenched in sweat and sticking in odd patterns across her face. "A-and then you'll let me go?" she pleaded.
"HA! No." the thug replied with far too much enthusiasm. "But it'd be a lot easier if you'd just shut your whore mouth and do what you're told!"
"Hey, uh, question!"
The crooks and lady alike were frozen mid-confrontation, and looked up at the roof above them. Peeking down into the alleyway was likely the absolute last face that the thugs wanted to see there.
Spider-Man leaped halfway down, stopping himself by gripping the wall with his right hand and foot. He gestured to himself and quipped, "If she gets to be 'whore', then would it be all right if you guys started calling me Spider-Pimp?"
He dropped down the rest of the wall, landing smack between the victim and her would-be attackers. He thwacked the back of his right hand against the palm of his left, making a loud cracking sound.
"And trust me when I say you do not want a taste of my pimp hand."
The woman, seeing her chance at freedom, made a break for it. One of the twins took aim with his pistol, only for the barrel to be thoroughly coated in sticky webbing. The weapon was hopelessly jammed, and possibly worse it was stuck to his hand. As he tried to shake it off, Spider-Man just wagged a scolding finger at him.
"Ah-ah-ah!" he warned. "No playing with the toys in Poppa's lockbox! Poppa smack!"
The mother of all backhands smacked cleanly across the thug's face, sending him spinning off into the wall. The moment he collided, a torrent of webbing attached him to the brick.
One down, two to go.
The leader, brandishing his crowbar, came down with a diagonal swing. Spidey's senses picked it up before the man's muscles had finished tensing; a duck and a weave was all it took to avoid that one. The crook grumbled and yelled, "Hold still you runt!"
"That kinda defeats the purpose of a fight. You know, I try to hurt you, you try to hurt me." Spidey pointed out, leaning back to avoid another blow with just enough time to thwip a ball of webbing into the second twin's face. His hands pawed helplessly at the obstructive ball, stumbling off and out of the way as he tried to free himself. "I'm just saying, letting you hit me? Counter-productive to the extreme." Naturally, this just made the leader madder.
He bellowed "You talk too much!" before charging forward with a double-handed horizontal strike. Spidey faked a fairly convincing yawn as he backflipped up and out of the way, landing on the wall ten feet up.
"And so do you," the wall-crawler responded. "for somebody wielding a crowbar—"
Before the embarrassment of this crook's lifetime could continue, the telltale ringing sound alerted Peter that someone was calling his phone. His "work" phone, to be specific. He pressed down on his left ear, activating the little gadget he'd made.
He held up a finger to the utterly baffled criminal below. "Hold on a sec, gotta take this—Hello! You've reached the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man Hotline, where your emergency MATTERS! All lines are currently busy, but—"
"Pete, switch off the snark for a second, it's me."
Spidey obliged, being able to recognize the feisty Mary Jane Watson's voice in any situation. "Oh, hey MJ. Is this important?"
"Uh, yeah, Pete." She said, unrelenting on her own share of sarcasm. "Pretty freakin' serious stuff here."
"More serious than re-arranging this guy's face?" Spider-Man asked, cracking his knuckles as he stared down at the criminal. To his credit, said criminal was still confused as hell. "Because right now that's pretty much the major thing on my to-do list."
As MJ began to speak again, Spidey decided not to waste more time. He leapt once more into the fray, landing to the left of the crook and throwing up a right elbow. He managed to hit the crowbar, being used to block, and bent it nearly to the breaking point. He threw another punch, met another parry, and the piece of metal neatly snapped in two.
"It's Scorpion," she explained "ransacking the national bank. Ripped right through the police blockade and holed up in the theater up by the school."
"Sounds pretty cut-and-dry." Peter noted, ducking below a wide hook from the criminal. He decided that yes, this was a perfect time to try it, and threw a headbutt into the man's gut. He doubled forward, choking in pain as Spider-Man backpedaled to finish him. Both web-slingers unleashed a drizzle of web on the ground just in front of the low-life. A pool of the stuff was formed, and with an acrobatic leap Spidey flipped into the air and came down right on the man's shoulders. He lost balance, and went face-first into the web. "What's so special about today?"
The third crook, his face finally freed, took his machete and charged at the webslinger. A dodge, a knee to the gut, and a heaping helping of webbing later, and the crook was collapsed in a huddle on the ground with his cohorts.
"Because… okay, let me put this as simply as possible: you're fighting some goons in some alley right now, I assume?"
"Well, more like was fighting," he corrected as he looked over the carnage. "but otherwise that's pretty accurate."
"Well," MJ chimed in. "I'm looking at the camera feed, and right now somebody's already fighting Scorpion."
One thwip later, and Spider-Man was soaring through New York City once again, making a beeline straight for the Scorpion. His mind was already racing with questions.
"A new Spider-Man. You're serious?"
"Well, it's what I'm seeing here."
"…Hope it's not a clone."