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Cat's Cradle

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The test was positive.

Felicia tilted it idly this way and that, sitting on the bathroom floor with her back against the cupboard. The floors and the counter tops were marble, and the shower door was glass. Every one of Felicia’s moves seemed to echo in the large room, even though she knew that she was making no sound.

The test was positive. She didn’t bother to check the box to make sure she’d gotten the little symbols right. She’d known before she took it.

“Well,” she breathed out, tilting her head back to inspect the ceiling. “Damn, Spider.”

It had been over a month since she’d seen him. He hadn’t called, hadn’t written. Not that she’d left him a current phone number or address, but still. A month without his face – either of them. Without his hands or his mouth, or his lean, powerful body. Without leaping over rooftops with him, both of them pushing themselves; higher, faster, better.

They hadn’t, she could admit, always been the most careful, in any area of their relationship. It hadn’t seemed to matter in the moment, not with the push and pull of their chemistry, crackling electric between them. Nobody had ever made Felicia feel the way he had, and when things had gotten hot and heavy on a remote rooftop or twelve, well, she certainly hadn’t wanted to stop. Neither had he.

Consequences, thy name was Spider.

She left the pregnancy test on the counter. With any luck, the ensuing chaos would keep the apartment’s inhabitants from realizing Mrs. Henricksen’s prized ruby and diamond necklace was missing for a little while.

 


 

The first few weeks after she found out she was pregnant, Felicia thought a lot about how she was going to tell Spider-Man.

She could’ve just shown up, she knew. Through the door or the window, or truly surprised him by waiting for him outside that dingy little lab he liked working at so much, bearing his standard order for him and an herbal tea for herself from his favorite hole in the wall coffee shop so she could ease him gently into the news. But where was the fun in that?

She could splash it over the rooftops. Leave a breadcrumb trail of clues, all up to a box containing, she didn’t know, a diamond studded pacifier. Something to make his jaw drop while she waited on a neighboring rooftop with her camera, waiting to snap the moment of realization for their future family scrapbook. She wondered what was the flashiest thing she could steal that would best convey the message: congratulations! You’re going to be a daddy!

Or like something out of a movie, her silhouetted in the moonlight in a freshly liberated silk gown, him in a top hat and tails – over the costume, naturally. Her hair would be fluttering in the sweet night breeze as she embraced him, all, “Spider, my darling! I have the most wonderful news for you!” That one made her smile.

Spider would want to marry her. Spider would want to do The Right Thing. She should want that, shouldn’t she? After all, she loved him. She’d never known anyone like him.

Felicia shifted and stretched out on the bed, sliding her hand down to rest against her stomach. But then Spider could be so overbearing. Overprotective, even. She imagined herself, nine months pregnant, with him trailing after her. Don’t do this, Felicia, don’t do that Felicia.

No leaping over rooftops, Felicia. No stealing diamond studded pacifiers, Felicia. Absolutely no grappling hooks, Felicia, just be a good girl and sit down, relax, let him take care of everything. No, Felicia, don’t get up, he’d get some water for her, and while he’d be at it he’d offer to rub her feet, probably, all with that lost puppy look on his face, and suddenly she felt like she couldn’t breathe.

She sat up, gasping for air, as she pushed her hair away from her face. Her hand shook as she fumbled on the bedside table for a hair band, and continued to as she tied her hair back. She was sweating, suddenly clammy all over. She needed to get up. She needed to get out.

She slipped out the open bedroom window, quiet as a cat. The night air felt good on her face, grounding her even as she leapt across to the next roof. She kept at it until her thighs ached and her arms felt weak, and then she folded herself up over the edge of a building, knees pulled up to her chest and arms settled over them, matching the stone gargoyles that kept her company.

She took a deep breath of the cool night air. This was better, she thought. Up here, alone, she could think. She’d always been good on her own, always content, as a child, to play her own games, whether or not any of the other children wanted to join in. Even when she’d been with Spider, as close as they had been, there had been that little part of her that he hadn’t embraced. She’d still been a little bit alone.

Alone, she thought, struck by it. She could do this alone. She turned the concept over and over in her head. It occurred to her with a strange, sudden clarity that she didn’t have to tell Spider.

It wasn’t like she and Spider had exactly parted on the best of terms. They’d fought, the last time. They’d both said things they couldn’t ever really take back. Felicia, at least, had only half-meant them.

He might not be happy to see her. He might not be happy to hear her news. He might finally prove himself the same as every other disappointing man she’d ever known, reveal himself as only human all along.

“Oh, don’t be stupid, Felicia,” she said out loud to herself.

Spider would be so good to them, she knew. To both of them.

Too good to them.

Felicia wasn’t done being bad just quite yet.

Some things, she did better on her own.

 


 

Her priorities shifted, Felicia found she had to make some changes to her lifestyle. Breaking and entering wasn’t exactly the safest activity with a baby on board. Spider would’ve been proud.

Still, she picked up a few things here and there. A painting or two. A rare manuscript. Some jewelry. Nothing too strenuous. She had the baby to think of now, after all. There was nothing wrong with collecting a little nest egg. A literal one, in the case of the Faberge egg she liberated from a private collection.

For the most part, though, she visited friends, basking in their excitement over her news and in how everyone wanted to pamper the mother-to-be.

Felicia had a lot of friends. That was something Spider had never really understood about her.

The number one question on everyone’s lips: who was the father?

Felicia had had time to come up with a number of tall tales. He was a famous painter who fell madly in love with her after spotting her in a gallery. He was the owner of a yacht she’d attended a party on, where she’d stolen the most fantastic necklace – and his heart, beside. He was an eccentric billionaire and they’d made wild, passionate love in his cabin in the Swiss Alps in front of a roaring fire, rolling naked together on a bear skin rug.

The more elaborate the story, the more her friends all gasped and laughed, hands poised in front of their mouths while Felicia ate finger sandwiches and sipped at her tea, basking in the attention like a cat in the sun. None of the stories, in her opinion, were better than the truth, but she liked to keep people guessing.

Then there was her mother. She wasn’t unhappy about the pregnancy, at least, not in so far as Felicia’s decisions usually made her unhappy. But she was baffled.

Perhaps there might have been an easier way to break the news to her mother than by showing up on the doorstep of her apartment in Flushing, visibly pregnant, and saying, “Surprise.”

Her mother, understandably, had a lot of questions. When had this happened? Why hadn’t she told her earlier? How far along was she? Where was the father? It was part of why Felicia had been putting this off. Her due date was getting closer, though, and she missed the comforts of home, her mother’s cooking, the apartment that held so many memories of her father. She could run her hand across a wall and feel him, like he was still here with her.

“You do know who the father is, don’t you, Felicia?” her mother finally asked, sorting through the latest batch of baby clothes and accessories that had arrived in the mail while Felicia reclined in her father’s old favorite chair, threadbare with age now but still her favorite place for a cat nap.

“Don’t be silly,” Felicia said. “Of course I do. It’s Spider-Man.”

“I don’t know why I bother to ask,” her mother said, rolling her eyes, and Felicia merely smiled and shrugged her shoulders, laying her hand on her pregnant belly.

 


 

It was strange, being so close to Spider and yet so far away from him. She stayed in Queens, for the most part, and so – ironically -- she rarely saw him, except on the news. He was on the news a lot.

“Daddy’s always so busy,” she said to her stomach, idly lounging around on the couch. “He used to have fun, when he was with me.”

One day, a month before her due date, she went into Manhattan. It didn’t take her long to find him. He liked his habits – the same coffee shop, the same walk to work, when he kept his feet on the ground. The same old haunts, day in, day out, boring and predictable and nothing like he was when he put on the costume and became her Spider. She’d been good for him, in that respect. Gotten him to loosen up and try something new. Now here he was again, buying his usual copy of the Bugle from his usual newsstand, wearing his usual old blue flannel shirt, the one he’d sewn three buttons back onto after she’d torn it off of him.

She kept a safe distance behind him, though it was a bit of a pointless precaution.

“How does it work, lover?” she’d asked once, referring to his spider-sense, lying on her side in his terrible bed. She’d put her hand to his chest and dipped her head so her hair spilled over her naked shoulder, giving him her most imploring look, bottom lip just slightly stuck out. He’d melted, of course. But she’d loved that about him, his unexpected softness, and the way it could bring a softness out in her. He’d cupped his hand to her cheek and kissed her pout away.

He’d explained his spider-sense in very technical detail as his index finger slid up her arm, tracing the angle of her elbow and the dip of her shoulder, traveling the curve of her bare breast. So Felicia knew that unless she meant him harm, it would stay silent.

He never turned around. He slipped into a diner, the kind of greasy spoon that he favored, and she settled at an outdoor table at a charming café across the street, choosing a spot where she could watch him through the windows.

“Just a chamomile tea for me, please,” she told the waiter, gesturing none too subtly to her pregnant stomach.

She remembered the photo in Spider’s room, the one of him sitting on a green lawn with two redheads. It had sat in a shiny frame, right next to the photo of his aunt and uncle embracing, and something about its placement had always caught her eye.

“Did you sleep with her, too?” she’d teased, referring to the pretty girl with the shiny hair and the bright smile, wearing the oh so sweet white blouse with the eyelet lace.

“Why?” he’d asked, a touch cagey. Bingo, she’d thought. “Don’t tell me you’re jealous?”

“Only if you want me to be, lover,” she said. She glanced at the boy in the photo – cute, in a nerdy way, with black-rimmed glasses and something unreadable behind his eyes. “What about him?”

He’d grunted, and then with a clever twist of his wrist, he’d torn her panties off. “Are you sure talking is what you want to do right now, Felicia?”

“Oh, Spider,” she’d purred. “You always know just what to say.”

Now, he was kissing the red-headed girl in broad daylight. Mary Jane, Felicia’s memory supplied. Some light Facebook stalking had told her everything he wouldn’t. For a man who guarded his identity like it was a Da Vinci, he was terrible at passwords. She would have helped him with that, if he’d ever thought to ask. But then he hated asking for help. It was something they had in common.

They looked good together, him and Mary Jane. She had a sweet face and his gaze never strayed from it. She whispered something to him and it made him laugh, his smile big and bright and genuine.

He never looked up, of course. Never glanced across the street and saw her. He was too wrapped up in his own world.

Felicia signaled the waiter for the check.

She hipchecked a guy in an expensive suit and tie on her way out and, when he saw her stomach, he apologized to her.

“Not at all,” she said, smiling at him as she slipped his wallet from his pocket. “I’m sorry, I’m so clumsy these days.”

 


 

Felicia’s son was born just after midnight on Friday the 13th. She considered it a lucky sign. It had been an easy delivery – or at least that was what she had been told. From her perspective, it hadn’t been easy at all. But then, she thought, holding him safely nestled against her chest, nothing good had ever come cheap.

She thought he had her Spider’s nose.

“What are you going to call him?” her mother asked.

Felicia stared down at him, at his sleeping face and tiny fingers, the tuft of brown hair. Strange, fierce love surged in her chest.

“Walter,” she decided, “after Dad.”

She ignored her mother’s split-second tightening of her lips. She’d never been very good at hiding her microexpressions. Then again, neither had Spider. As soon as the mask had come off, she’d always known exactly what he was feeling, his heart on his sleeve. She wouldn’t lie and say she hadn’t loved it just a little bit, her very own open book.

She drifted a careful fingertip over their son’s dark hair, remembering a particularly wistful look one night when Spider had laid himself bare for her in more ways than one.

“Benjamin,” she decided. “Walter Benjamin Hardy.”

 


 

One of her first priorities was getting her own apartment. She loved her mother, but Felicia needed her own space, and she had a few itches to scratch that required a little more in the way of floor space and a lot more in the way of privacy.

She finally settled on a spacious penthouse, sold by the big glass doors that led out onto the private roof. It wasn't the biggest building in on the block, and the surrounding skyscrapers would give her plenty of vantage points.

“It’s perfect,” she said.

“There are several other offers…” the realtor said, his tone cautioning.

“Money’s not an issue,” Felicia cut him off. She turned in a slow circle, taking in the high ceiling, the bare walls. There was even a chandelier. “I have to have it.”

“Is it just you?” the realtor asked, his gaze lingering on Walter, asleep in his sling, and then on the curve of Felicia’s hip.

“I’m afraid so,” Felicia smiled at him pleasantly. “His father’s doing two to five for aggravated assault, but he’s been on his very best behavior.”

With a new base of operations secured, Felicia had space – and time – to plan. The months passed peacefully as she laid low and gathered her resources, stepping up her old training regimen body after baby style, and spending quality time with her infant son.

She liked being a mother, she found. She was good at it. It soothed something inside her. She even took him along on a few rooftop jaunts – nothing dangerous, of course, mostly just information gathering. She liked the company.

“See, kitten?” she said, holding him up so he could peer through the viewfinder into her current target’s luxury apartment. “That man has something Mommy wants. And what does Mommy do when someone has something she wants?”

Walter giggled and Felicia smacked a kiss to his cheek.

“Smart boy,” she purred.

First things first, there was the matter of her old equipment. She’d improved it on it, but there was such a thing as sentimentality. Two generations of Hardy ingenuity had gone into its creation, and she didn’t like the idea of her old gear locked up in some police locker, dusty and unappreciated.

There was also the matter of Spider. She knew it would only be a matter of time, once she made her return to the rooftops proper, before he was on her tail again. He’d been especially active lately, triumphing over Wilson Fisk and looking good while he did it. Social media was all abuzz about his new costume, too, but personally Felicia felt it lacked a little flare.

Two birds, she thought, running her hand up a bolt of slick black cloth, one stone.

“Daddy just doesn’t know how good he looks in black,” she told Walter as she finished the final stitches. She spread out the costume, touching the red spider at the center, then held it up for his critical eye. “What do you think, kitten?”

He blew a spit bubble. Felicia nodded seriously.

Very handsome, I agree,” she said. “I’ll make you one, too.”

 


 

Seeing Spider in the flesh again brought up unexpected feelings. The old pull was there, as strong as it had ever been. Maybe stronger. She still wanted him, and she knew he still wanted her, too, even if he wouldn’t admit it. But there was something deeper underneath it now. Watching him, being with him again, it was easy to imagine – him, out of the mask, the look on his face when she told him, when she brought his hand gently to the curve of her stomach. Him, holding her hand in the delivery room, unflinching even when she squeezed too hard. Him holding Walter, safe in his strong arms.

They could have had all of that, if only he’d been a little less stubborn. If only he’d been a little less good.

God, she’d missed him. That hadn’t been part of the plan.

She almost didn’t tell him. Almost. Even when he gave her the perfect opening, asking why she was stealing the Maggia’s drives, she hesitated for just a moment.

But the plan was already in motion, and she needed Spider to help her finish things.

“If I don’t,” she said, “they’ll kill my son.”

Then she threw a smoke bomb at him, only partially so she wouldn’t have to see the moment when that new piece of information clicked, and ran. The chase gave her time to compose herself. She couldn’t afford to mess up, not on this job.

He caught up to her, of course. She didn’t make it easy, but then he’d never liked it easy, not really. Not where it counted. He laid out his brilliant plan for how to help her get her son back from Hammerhead – Walter was safe and sound, sleeping at her mother’s apartment in Queens – and she wanted to smile. He’d picked up all the clues she’d wanted him to, walked right into the path she’d set.

“I’m glad we’re back together again,” she told him, stroking his masked cheek with the back of her knuckles. He gripped her wrist – firm, but not hard – and lowered her hand.

“Not like that,” he said.

“Shame,” she said, wistful.

“So, about your son,” he said, stilted, trying to lead his way into this conversation. He’d clearly done the math. Maybe he’d even relived the memories. Felicia hoped he had – they were good memories. “Is there a chance I’m --?”

She turned, trying to hide her telling smile, and put her finger to his lips before he could say it.

“Later,” she said.

They danced together as well as they ever had. From the very first fight, something had clicked between them. She still loved to watch him fight, sinuous and brutal. Some things hadn’t changed; he still loved a good fight.

He still knew how to get under her skin, too. No matter how much she thought she was prepared for him, she never really was. He was always just somehow more.

“Let me help,” he said, always so earnest, even when he was surrounded by the unconscious bodies of henchmen he’d beaten bloody.

“Some things I do better alone,” she said.

She touched his cheek, brought his head close to hers, let him lean into her. She pictured the three of them – her, Peter, and their son – all sitting together on the floor of some New York loft, the sunlight streaming in through the windows. He’d be playing with their son, dangling a toy over his head and laughing at the intense look of concentration on Walter’s face. She’d be content just to watch, even when he looked up at her and smiled, a real smile, with none of his ghosts behind it. A smile just for her – her, and their son.

“Some things,” she said.

Then there’d come the shipyard, the slam of the vault door, the inevitable betrayal. The entire wealth of the Maggia held in her hand. Just like she planned it.

He still tried to save her, in the end. Even after he realized he’d been played. She knew he would, but a little part of her had hoped – hoped that he’d be a little less himself. It made a little part of her want to turn around. It made a little part of her want to tell the whole truth.

“I love you, Spider,” she told him, and opened the door to her rigged apartment.

 


 

“You’re late.”

“I am not,” Felicia said, kissing her mother on the cheek. She was holding Walter, and Felicia bent down kiss the top of his head next, breathing in the familiar smell – her mother’s powdery perfume, her child’s hair. “The plane hasn’t even started boarding yet.”

“Well, how are we supposed to know that?” her mother asked. “Honestly, Felicia, you leave Wally with me, you disappear for a week – and then you tell me to meet you at the airport and you won’t even tell me where you’re going.”

With one more brush of her fingers against her son’s cheek, Felicia straightened up and reached into her bag. It was black leather and silver hardware, brand new like everything else she was wearing. After all, all of her things had gone up in a ball of fire. She’d planned for it, of course. Hammerhead was so predictable.

Everything irreplaceable – the first painting she’d ever stolen, her favorite photo of her father, the little gifts Spider had given her, her baby’s first footprints – was safe and sound in storage. The rest was ash. Felicia could live with it.

She produced the tickets from the inside of her new purse, freshly five finger discounted from Saks, and held them out to her mother.

“Greece,” she said. “You always used to talk about how Dad said he’d take you one day.”

“Oh, Felicia,” her mother said, her face softening. “Where were you? I saw your building on the news. They said it was a bomb. I was worried.”

“I’m fine. I just had a little business to wrap up. How’s my little man?” she asked, lifting her son out of her mother’s arms with an exaggerated grunt. It wasn’t anything she’d originally intended to call him; in fact, the first few times she found herself doing it, she’d wrinkled her nose and told herself never again.

But she couldn’t get the image out of her head: Peter, holding their son high above his head, like he was a one man Lion King reenactment. “My little man” was the kind of thing Peter would call him, she knew, just like she knew that Peter would pull him in close and kiss his cheek obnoxiously until he started to laugh.

Their son was a serious child. Not a lot made him laugh. But Peter could do it, Felicia knew. Peter could do anything. Peter was too stubborn to admit defeat.

Maybe it was cheating, telling him without telling him. But then neither she or Peter had ever exactly played fair.

The fake passports she’d secured moved them quickly through security. From there on it was easy. They found their gate, and Felicia amused herself playing peek-a-boo with her son while her mother picked up snacks and magazines for the trip.

“Oh, he’s darling,” said an older woman across the row, beaming at them.

Felicia smiled back.

“Isn’t he?” she said. “He looks just like his father.”

“He must be very handsome,” said the woman, winking at her.

“Oh,” Felicia said. “He does alright for himself.”

“Are you flying to meet him?” she asked.

Felicia hummed to herself. “Not this trip, no.”

Over the loudspeaker, they announced that pre-boarding for passengers traveling with children under the age of two had begun. Felicia cast a glance out of the window as she stood, her son held securely to her chest.

“Maybe next time, Spider,” she said, and walked towards the gate.