Peter stood on a rooftop in Queens, Midtown students streaming through the streets below him, the school and train off in the distance. His backpack sat by his feet (Iron Man-themed, because Mr Stark made it for him as a joke, but it had inbuilt speakers and a secret pocket to stash secret things, so of course he used it), his Spiderman outfit donned.
“I’ve got patrol,” he said, Karen playing the phone as Mr Stark spoke down the line.
“I know you’ve got patrol. I’m saying after patrol you and May are coming to dinner at mine.”
“Tower yours or compound yours?”
“Tower mine,” Mr Stark replied. “The compound’s too far to go for dinner.”
Peter swung his backpack over his shoulders – he was hesitant to leave it behind when it was so custom made, and all of his backpacks tended to get stolen, go missing or, well, okay Peter would forget where he put them. But that wasn’t his fault! He was fighting crime! He got hit on the head all the time – he could forget things sometimes.
“Is it a special occasion?” Peter asked. “You never invite us to dinner.”
“Any occasion is special if you make it so.”
“That’s cheesy, don’t say things like that.”
Mr Stark laughed in his ear as Peter caught a flash of colour on a rooftop somewhere to his right. He frowned, narrowing his eyes.
“Karen, zoom in. What was that?”
“Crime’s a-calling, huh, kid?”
“Maybe. I’m not sure.” There had been a flash of something, he knew. It was there and gone; bursts of yellow and pink. He elected to check it out. “I’ve got to go, Mr Stark.”
“Sure, sure. Be at the tower by six, okay?”
“You got it.” The line clicked off and Peter stretched his neck out. “Alright. Let’s go.”
Peter ran and leapt off the roof, a web catching him on another building and flinging him through the air. The golden light of the sun warmed him on the upswing, sending him high above the roofs of Queens, flipping languid before slipping quickly back down towards the sidewalk. Another web shot out to catch him, someone yelled YEAH, SPIDERMAN! from below, and Peter grinned.
Today was going to be a good day.
He came to a stop on the rooftop he’d seen the strange lights, only to find it empty.
“Karen, can you search for – I don’t know, anything? Weird energy. Yeah, let’s go with weird energy.”
“The area seems void of any weird energy,” Karen replied, “however, particles in the air seem to be vibrating at a higher rate than they should be in this spot.”
Peter frowned. “What does that mean?”
“I don’t know, Peter. It’s an anomaly.”
Peter waved his hand through the anomaly but felt no change – not in temperature, wind, weird energy. He turned, scouring the skyline for anything that could explain. For a moment, he saw nothing, then a body rose up above the city and quickly dropped again. What?
He didn’t think before chasing after them.
No longer was his web-slinging relaxed or warmed by the sun; now he felt compelled to go fast. His spider sense usually told him to move, to dodge, run, turn, attack – now it told him to follow, which had never happened before. There was a lot he didn’t know about the sense, sure, but it had never given him such a feeling of you need to be over there, where that person is.
He swallowed at the magnitude of such a thought. Who are you?
The figure appeared; a flash of white against a building, then vanished again.
“Gimme a short cut or something,” he said, and a moment later Karen was plotting the quickest route to the figure. Peter took a hard right, catapulting himself to a tower and using it to launch himself off to cover more ground. He was catching up.
When he got closer, he could see the details better – white and black suit, a flash of blue, webs.
Who are you?
“Hey!” he called, swinging low, almost skimming a car and letting go early for maximum distance. “Hey!” This time, the figure glanced behind them during their swing. They seemed to falter, then shot out a web and swung up, landing on a rooftop. Were they waiting for him?
Peter followed as quickly as he could, rolling on impact and landing easily on his feet after.
The figure was his height, maybe shorter, female, and strange. Strange not in a weird way, but in the way that who she was, was not like him. It was almost as if she wasn’t real; she seemed a little less made of flesh and bones than Peter – almost as if she came out of a movie, animated by someone else’s hand.
His breath seemed to leave his body at the sheer concept.
She stepped towards him and he felt it in his body, a surety:
“You’re like me,” he said.
She laughed, quick and sharp. “I’ve heard that a lot.”
“Who the hell are you?”
“Oh, that too,” she said with a nod, then she flung out a hand, confident and relaxed. “I’m Spider Woman.”
“You’re what?” He forgot to take her hand.
“Spider Woman. You – uh, you do handshakes in this universe, right?”
Peter blinked, short-circuited, blinked again. “This universe?”
Spider Woman – Spider Woman - reached forward, grabbing his right hand and shaking it lightly with her own. She felt real, substantial. Not like a figment of his imagination.
“Karen,” he whispered, “you see her, right?”
“Yes, Peter. She registers on scanners.”
Spider Woman tilted her head to the side, then shrugged, dropping his hand. “I didn’t mean to end up in this universe,” she said, as if he wasn’t still tripping over the concept of multiple universes – universes that looked like her. Like, not him. “I’m still getting used to switching dimensions, and I can’t do it for long, obviously – are we in New York?”
He nodded, slow.
“Great! Which part?”
“Uh – uh, Queens.”
“Nice, I was in Manhattan in my universe. Your world looks so different – dimmer, kind of. Less, I don’t know, vibrantly colourful. Definitely less saturated than Miles’, that’s for sure.”
Peter let out a ragged breath, shaking his head. He waved his hands in the air. “Okay, okay, hold up. I’m gonna need an explanation. From like, the beginning. Spider Woman. You. Who the hell are you? Why is this not your universe? How did you get here? Why are you here-”
She laughed, shaking her head. “Boys,” she said, though there was something like affection in her tone. Then she reached up, pushed back the hood of her suit and removed her mask.
She was fucking CGI, that much Peter swore by. She was animation, like from the movies he’d been watching his whole life. Her skin was smooth and peach like how an artist would render her, without pores like the humans of his world. Everything about her hinged on fake, hinged on being surreal – being not part of his world.
She was blonde, but that was an afterthought. An undercut down the right side of her head, shaved away. A tiny barbell at her eyebrow.
He let out a breath. “Secret identities are a bigger deal in this universe,” he said, because what the hell was he supposed to say?
She shrugged. “Doesn’t matter here. This isn’t my world. I’m Gwen Stacy.”
Gwen Stacy. The name sounded familiar, like maybe there was a classmate with the same one somewhere in Midtown. Year below him, maybe, but Peter would’ve noticed if she looked like this.
There was something so otherworldly about the moment, that Peter only gave a quick glance to his surroundings before copying and pulling off his mask. Because why not? Because she wasn’t of this world – who was she going to tell?
“Peter Parker,” he said.
She sighed, rolled her eyes. “Not another one. God, someone would think Parkers are the main Spider People and the rest of us are all just—spin offs or something.” She spun around on one foot. “You know, you’re like the fourth Peter Parker I’ve known about. Third I’ve met.”
“There’s more of me.”
Peter, by the way, was intelligent. He logically knew that if there were parallel worlds – though, parallel might be pushing it when it came to these other worlds being 3D rendered animation – there would be more Peter Parkers. He just… felt strange about that, in practice. He missed the theory.
“Sure, sure. There’s more of you. I only knew like three of them, though. The one I didn’t know was blonde.”
“Blonde,” he breathed.
“They’re all older than you, too. Like, Peter B. Parker? He’s thirty or forty or something.” She shrugged, turned to look out across the New York City skyline, in the distance. “Oh, and Noir Peter Parker? You know what? I don’t know what he looks like. He’s black and white, though.”
“I need to lie down.”
She laughed. “You’re fine, Parker. It’s a lot to take in, probably. How old are you, anyway?”
She nodded. “How long have you been Spiderman?”
“Uh, year and a half? Kind of? I didn’t really get the upgrade until last year.” He scratched his hair, then realised he was bare-faced in a Spiderman suit in the middle of Queens and pulled his mask back on. “Before that I was kind of running around in my pyjamas.”
“Peter,” Karen said in his ear. “I believe the anomaly found on the rooftop came from this Gwen Stacy.”
“Way to catch up,” Peter replied.
“It seems that there is a device of unknown origin and ability on her person that caused the fluctuation in the fabric of the area.”
“I guessed as much,” Peter said, though he had only half guessed it. His thoughts were still whizzing around. Multiple Peters? Multiple Gwens? What about Mr Starks and Mays and Neds? What about MJ and Flash and his enemies? Were there Vultures in every universe too? Picking up the scraps of Avengers battles and sending planes careening into beaches?
Was there a Liz that wasn’t left at the dance? A Ben that wasn’t shot? A Peter that didn’t know Mr Stark?
“Who are you talking to?”
“Oh, uh, I have an AI in my suit,” Peter said.
“An AI? Like, Artificial Intelligence?”
“Sure. She kind of runs the show. You know, monitors police scanners, handles phone calls, sends out emergency signals, words of encouragement, all that good stuff.”
“That’s an apt description,” Karen commented.
“You’re welcome,” Peter replied.
Gwen narrowed her eyes and studied him for all of a moment before looking back out at the skyline. Peter moved to stand by her side, eyeing the vibrant blue ballet flats, the suit, the device on her wrist that looked less like webshooters and more like something out of a sci fi movie.
“I’m guessing that’s what got you here,” Peter said, pointing at it.
Gwen nodded. “Multi-dimensional watch,” she replied. “Haven’t had it long, still getting used to it, I guess. I meant to visit my friend’s dimension. For fun, you know? This one’s cool, too – you look so alien.”
“Thanks,” Peter deadpanned.
“You know what I mean. You’re different to everyone I know. But, anyway, I shouldn’t stick around too long. It’s dangerous to be out of my universe.”
She nodded. “Your universe is made up of different matter. We don’t gel too well. I lasted a week in Miles’ universe, but I was glitching like nobody’s business the whole way through.”
“Another Spiderman, you mean.”
“There was a Peter Parker Spiderman in his universe, too,” she replied with a shrug. “You’re, uh, radioactive spider origin story, right?”
He nodded. “I hallucinated a spider god, though, so. Could be that.”
Gwen snorted. “You and Miles would get along-” A smile appeared on her face, growing wider. “You wanna go on a trip?”
“A multi-dimensional trip.”
“The only fun kind,” she agreed. Gwen turned to him, her smile large and coaxing. “It’ll be great. I’ll get you back here as soon as you want – but it could be fun! Meet Miles, maybe another Peter if we have time.”
Peter really wanted to go to another universe, let’s be clear. But he a) had homework, b) didn’t need his brain to melt out of his ears, and c) had a dinner to get to in three hours. He pulled a face she couldn’t see. “I’ve got dinner plans,” he complained, because he really wanted to go to another universe.
“Oh, that’s plenty of time! Come on! It’ll be fun!”
“Will you tell me about your universe’s gossip on the Avengers?”
Gwen laughed. “If that’s what it’ll take.”
“That’s what it’ll take.”
Gwen held out a hand for him to take, and he took it, again so painfully aware of how real she felt, how weighted. Queens could wait another day for their friendly neighbourhood Spiderman. When would he get the chance to go to another universe again?
“In my universe,” she said, “the Avengers just took on Doctor Doom, I think Bruce Banner – you know, the Hulk—”
“—is dating Red She Hulk, Betty Ross—”
“Like Thaddeus Ross’ daughter?”
“Yeah, you have her, here? Cool. And I’m pretty sure they don’t know I exist.”
“So, they didn’t break up?”
“Like a boyband?”
“Like a boyband.”
Gwen shook her head. “They’re the Avengers. Why would they break up?”
Peter wondered for all of a second about a world in which the Civil War didn’t happen, where he would’ve never been called into action by Mr Stark, where the Accords hadn’t driven a wedge between the world and its heroes.
He didn’t wonder for any longer than a second, because that was when Gwen fiddled with a dial on her watch-gauntlet-multi-dimensional-teleportation-device, and the world in front of them burst into colour and light.
In the centre of this, there was a Spiderman, just like him but in a black suit, and he looked over suddenly, as they pierced into his existence. “Gwen!” he called. The world behind him was coloured in neon. Peter had never seen anything so vivid.
“Miles! I’m bringing a friend,” Gwen announced.
Together, they stepped through the portal, and out of Peter’s universe.
Miles Morales AKA Spiderman.
Peter Parker AKA Spiderman.
Gwen Stacy AKA Spider Woman.
“Though, sometimes we call her Spider Gwen,” Miles said with a nod, leading them across a skyscraper. Peter felt, particularly vividly, like he was in a children’s cartoon – like he was the guy in Blue’s Clues, acting like he was interacting with the drawings. He felt like he was just watching himself from the outside, walking alongside these two differently-animated people. Because they could only be described as animated; Miles with fucking dot art where he was shaded or highlighted.
God, Peter was dreaming, that was it. It was a fucking fever dream.
“I can’t believe how many Peter Parkers there are,” Miles added as they reached the ledge. It was Peter’s New York, alright, but just a little fucking not his. He was gonna have an aneurism or something, surely. Maybe he’d been knocked out by his last battle and now he was in a coma. Maybe this was it for the rest of time.
He wondered if there was a Miles Morales in his world.
“That’s what I said,” Gwen laughed. “Though this is the youngest one yet. Sixteen.”
“Oh, man, that’s cool – we should introduce him to Peter B.”
“Why does he use the B.?”
Gwen shrugged. “Differentiation, probably. Hey, do you have a tragic backstory?”
Peter blinked and forgot to answer, his eyes catching on a tower in the distance, lit up like a Christmas tree in the evening of another world’s New York. Stark Tower. Maybe there was one in every reality.
Peter stepped onto the ledge. “You guys know Tony Stark?” he asked, filled with the overwhelming urge to meet an alternate reality version of his mentor.
Miles barked out a laugh. “No – I’m a—I’m a me! Why would I know Tony Stark?”
Peter shrugged. “I know my universe’s Tony Stark. Thought it was transferrable via Spidermen.”
“How do you know Tony Stark?”
He tore his gaze away from the Tower, his Iron Man backpack heavy on his shoulders. “He recruited me when the Avengers fought each other in an airport in Germany. Captain America and his team became war criminals, and then we kind of kept in touch? I’m like, Junior Varsity Avenger. Mr Stark says I’ll get to lead the team when I’m older.”
Miles and Gwen paused, then immediately started asking questions, one over the other. You know the Avengers? You know Tony Stark? The Avengers did what? Why would they break up? You’re an Avenger? You’re gonna lead the Avengers? Why hasn’t my Tony Stark recruited me?
Peter laughed. “That’s too many questions. Oh man I wonder what my friends are like in this universe.”
Miles and Gwen shared a glance and then a smile. “Give us some names, Parker,” Miles said. “Let’s go on a trip.”
They swung to Queens in a dizzying array of lights, wind and whooping. Peter caught the stares thrown their way, the confusion at the sight of three Spider People – of Peter in all his wrongness in this world, in the same way Gwen was wrong in his. They chattered throughout, all three of them having to push past the strangeness of Peter, of Miles, of Gwen’s existences. They were fun, Peter realised. They were teenagers.
If Peter had lived in these universes, would he know them? Would he be their friend?
They had to search Ned manually, because Miles’ universe seemed to be about ten years behind Peter’s in terms of Peter Parkers and their existences, hence the original Spiderman of this world being older, despite them both being in 2018. They found his apartment only a few roads away from where he grew up; lit up a golden yellow, music playing through speakers as he cooked in his dining room.
He was so animated. Not in the joyful way, but in the drawing kind of way. So strangely other to Peter’s Ned but looking so similar at the same time. They sat there for a moment before a woman moved into the room; pale skin, red hair. Ned turned around to laugh at something she said.
“Oh man,” Miles said, “this Peter must’ve known Ned, too, if she’s here.” The thought warmed him, that across the universes, Ned and Peter were more than just a once-in-an-existence.
“Who is she?”
“You don’t recognise her?” Gwen asked.
Peter narrowed his eyes. “Karen, zoom in.” There was a delay before the suit zoomed in on the scene, and Peter tried to catch a likeness, a familiarity.
“Peter B. knew her too,” Miles told him. “Or, I mean, he was married to her in his universe.”
“Divorced,” Gwen corrected. “This Peter married her.”
Sure enough, there was a wedding ring on a chain around her neck. She grabbed something from the fridge. Ned told a story with his hands.
Peter zoomed out again. “I don’t know her,” he decided.
“That’s MJ Watson,” Miles said. “Or, MJ Parker? Maybe? If she kept the last name.”
Peter was glad to have his mask on because he was short-circuiting. MJ. No fucking way.
“You’re kidding me.”
“Oh, you know her now.”
“Yeah – no, not really. My MJ doesn’t look like that.”
“Your MJ, huh?” Gwen asked, raising a pointed eyebrow. Peter rolled his eyes, shoving her away lightly.
“What does MJ stand for?”
“Mary Jane, I think,” Miles replied.
“Michelle Jones,” Peter said. “That’s – she’s one of my friends. Only, you know, she’s not white. Or a redhead. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen her smile before. You’re telling me two other Peters married their MJs?”
God, he didn’t need this on an obscure Tuesday. Didn’t need this at all.
“You know what? Dimension hopping has been fun and all, but maybe I should get back to my own universe. I’ve got that dinner with Mr Stark at six, and-”
“Oh come on,” Gwen said, standing. She pulled Peter up with her. “I want you to meet Peter B., at least.”
“Yeah!” Miles agreed. “Oh! We should all go fight crime together! I’ve been working on this move – it starts with a triple backflip, then I get all sparky, you know? I’m trying to work invisibility in there somewhere-”
“Oh, you can’t do that?” Miles asked.
Peter yanked off his mask. “You can turn invisible.”
“And I can do this electric shock thing with my hands. Look!” Peter watched, dumbfound, as bright blue electric sparks danced around Miles’ fingers.
“Oh my god,” Peter said, then he went, “Oh my god. You should electrocute me.”
“I have taser webs.”
Miles’ eyes widened comically large. He whispered, “Taser webs,” with the reverence of a priest in a church.
“It’s one of the web combinations,” Peter said. “Consider this: you shock me at the same time as I shock you.”
“Why the hell would you do that?” Gwen asked, attempting to be the voice of reason long after rationality and sense had flown out of the dimension-hopping window.
“Science,” Peter said, at the same time as Miles said, “Who cares, let’s do it.”
In short, it went badly.
It hurt both parties.
They both cackled for five minutes straight after, though.
Gwen sighed, heavily, then said, “I’m getting Peter here,” and turned to open a new portal.
Peter didn’t think his life would turn out this way. He thought he’d work hard through Midtown, he’d get into college, get a career and have an average, normal life. At one point, he’d thought he’d have that life with his parents, and at another, with both aunt and uncle. That wasn’t the case, however.
Rather, Peter was bitten by a radioactive spider, and chose to become Spiderman. Rather, his parents and uncle were dead and buried, and Peter skipped over to another universe and met a few other versions of himself – or, at least, his vigilante self. And then, there was the man standing in front of him, who’s life hadn’t gone the way he expected either, but at least seemed calm about the development of real-boy Peter Parker, standing in front of him.
“I think I’m losing my mind,” Peter decided, staring at this older version of himself. You’re like me, he thought, like he’d thought when he met Miles, like he’d said aloud upon meeting Gwen.
“You’re too young for that,” older Peter said, brushing away the thought with his hand. He was animated too, because everyone here was, because there were alternate realities out there and none of them seemed to be in live action. “Peter B. Parker, nice to meet you.”
He was in his Spiderman get-up, too, though the design was different to Peter’s, and he’d been watching TV in it, not crime-fighting.
Peter didn’t say anything and Gwen laughed. “Don’t worry,” she said, “Miles just tased him and he also just found out that multiple Peters and MJs have ended up together.”
“Oh,” Peter B. said with a suggestive smile. “So, you have an MJ, huh?”
“We’re not doing this,” Peter announced. “Nope. Nada. No way. All of you guys are like, really good CGI animation, and this is all crazy and mind blowing and I’m amazed, seriously, but May and Mr Stark are gonna be waiting for me at the Tower, we’ve got dinner plans-”
“May?” Peter B. asked.
“Yes, May – I assume she’s your aunt too, as you’re the twenty-years-older-drawing-version of me.”
Peter B. blinked. “My May’s not around anymore.”
“Is Ben? For you?” Peter B. asked.
“Uh, no. No. I was fourteen when-”
“Bodega robbery,” Peter B. finished with a nod. “I was twenty-four. I have a Tony Stark though – we got closer after May’s… you know.”
It was quiet and strange and weird, but it was sincere. The distance sounds of the city sounded so similar to the sounds his own city made. These were people, at their cores. These were his people. Spider People.
Peter asked, quiet, “Is there a May in this universe?”
Peter B. broke out into a smile. “There sure is. I bet she’d love to meet you.”
May Parker of Miles Morales’ universe was a lot older than Peter’s May, but was apparently identical to Peter B.’s. His surprise was clearly evident on his face, as May sat everyone down in her living room with tea and biscuits. It was interesting, Peter thought, because his May liked coffee. His May had an apartment, not a house. His May was at least twenty years younger. And wore glasses. And was a nurse, and went dancing, and said I larb you as an inside joke from all the times they went to the Thai place round the block.
“Surreal, huh?” May asked, but it wasn’t Peter’s May, it was someone else’s, and her voice wasn’t the same, either. The Ben in the pictures, too, was unrecognisable.
“You can say that again.” Peter drank his tea. It tasted great, though the liquid felt strangely heavy in his mouth – it was drawn, animated, it was not the same kind of water that came from his universe.
Everything here was a trip.
“Wait until you meet Peter Porker,” Peter B. said with a grin.
Peter Porker was a fucking pig. Spider Ham. He didn’t stay for longer than ten minutes, and he talked in a voice that was strangely similar to John Mulaney’s from Peter’s universe – though Peter Porker did not know who that was – but Peter was fucking done with this whole trip, while at the same time being incredibly amazed by the sheer fucking prospect.
“Is my universe the only normal one?” he asked after Spider Ham made a copyright-infringing exit.
“Depends,” Peter B. replied. “What are your villains like?”
“I mainly deal with grand theft bicycle.” The others looked at him with tilted heads, as if they dealt with bigger things. Peter shrugged. “I’m a friendly neighbourhood Spiderman – I help where the bigger heroes don’t.”
Peter B. pointed at him. “Nice mission statement, kid. You’ll grow out of that when you meet the Green Goblin.”
“Who the hell is that?”
“Green monster thing,” Miles replied with a shudder.
“Norm Osborn,” Peter B. supplied. “Keep an eye out for that.”
Peter blinked. “I was at Oscorp when I got bit by the spider.”
“See?” Peter B. hissed. “Evil.”
“But seriously,” Gwen said, “you don’t deal with any major villains? I thought you fought with the Avengers?”
“Well, yeah, but like, not often? I’m in training, you know? There was the Vulture-”
“Oh, nasty guy,” Peter B. agreed. “Weird genetically altered mutant—”
“Not in my world,” Peter replied. “He had these metal wings that made him fly. Stole alien tech. Dropped a building on me. Was, uh, my girlfriend’s dad.”
The other Spider People winced in solidarity. “Tough blow, mini me,” Peter B. said with a knowing nod.
At that moment, a shudder shot through Peter. It felt painful, static, electric, and it was in and out like a bullet of colours and shapes he couldn’t discern.
“The glitch,” Gwen told him, gentle. “You’ll be okay. We’ll get you back to your universe soon, don’t worry.”
“We should show you Peter’s lair first!” Miles announced, jumping to his feet. Peter noticed for the first time that Miles’ shoe laces were untied. He wore the shoes and a jacket over his suit – Peter wondered absently if he could get away with that look.
“Yeah! And the cape! Let’s go!”
Peter wanted a goddamn lair. Why didn’t he have a lair? Why didn’t he have a plane? He was so asking Mr Stark for a lair when he got back to his universe.
Peter B. left soon enough through a portal of Gwen’s making, because he and MJ had a date night and she was pregnant and oh my God, Peter Parker and MJ were married and having a baby and Peter couldn’t deal with all of this in one day. They stumbled away from May’s house and back into the city, three Spider Teens swinging across the skyline, one end to another, yelling and laughing and Peter finding out that Vine hadn’t shut down in Miles’ universe, and stopping on a building for twenty minutes to relish in the comedic gold his universe was missing out on.
They stopped at murals Miles had painted; he pointed out the ones dedicated to specific Spider People – like the black and white Noir Peter Parker and his Rubik’s Cube, like a small Japanese Anime-style girl and her giant robot, Peni Parker. Like Spider Gwen on one wall and Spiderman on another.
Peter wondered if he’d be made into art after he left; if he’d have a footprint in another universe that he should never have been able to access. He held onto the straps of his backpack tightly at the thought, a universe that’s not his, affected by him anyway.
They sat at the very top of Stark Tower, at Peter’s request, as Gwen fiddled with her watch, trying to find the right world to return to.
“You’re going to get me in trouble with Iron Man,” Miles said, concern in his voice as Peter watched the night flood in across the city.
“Maybe he’ll let you join the Avengers,” Peter replied. “What’s he like in this universe?”
Miles shrugged. “He’s Iron Man. There’s the Maria Foundation that does all the rebuilding after his battles. He and Pepper Potts just got married-”
“Oh, cute, they’re engaged in my universe.”
Miles smiled. “It’s her second wedding, I think.”
Peter frowned. “Who was her first?”
“Uh, Happy Hogan, I think.”
Peter choked on fucking air. On fucking air. Now that was an image that wouldn’t be leaving his mind any time soon.
Gwen smirked but didn’t look up from her watch. Peter shook his head. “I didn’t see that coming, I’ll admit.”
Miles grinned. “Your universe must be so different. We’ll have to visit some time.”
“Definitely,” Peter said, and he meant it despite the possibilities it would open. “Someone should at least make some sort of signal that can interact with that watch – so instead of Gwen choosing to come and go, she could at least be called in to help.”
“That’s a good idea,” Gwen agreed, flipping the dial.
“Karen, could you make a note of that? Karen? Hello?”
“The voice in your head not working?”
Peter huffed. “Maybe she needs to access the Stark Satellite to work. The functions of the suit seem fine, but it’s just her, you know.”
“Maybe if I make friends with Tony Stark, he’ll make me an AI, too,” Miles whispered.
Then there was a flash of colour, a portal glowing in the middle of the roof.
“Got it!” Gwen said. “I think, anyway. I’ll come with you in case I’m wrong.”
Peter hugged Miles goodbye, which felt right but was also strange and other like everything else in this universe. He looked at New York, at this world, one last time, before stepping back into the real world.
“Home sweet home,” Gwen announced as the portal zipped shut behind them.
Peter looked out across New York – he was in Manhattan, somewhere, he figured, though he couldn’t tell where exactly. Peter turned in a full circle.
“Uh, where’s Stark Tower?” Peter asked.
Gwen turned, too. “Uh…”
Peter rushed to the edge of the building they stood upon and looked down across the edge. It wasn’t very high up, so he could see the clothes worn by the people, could see the phones in their hands.
“Oh my god, is this universe just 2006?” Peter asked. “Look at that – that’s a flip phone. Flip phones are extinct in my universe. Where are we?”
Gwen was viciously stabbing at the buttons on her watch, eyes wide. “I have no idea – it’s almost right, I think? It’s the right, you know. Feeling. They look like you.”
Sure, they did. They were real people, the roof was real roof. This wasn’t animation, at least. This was no talking pig.
But it was a little wrong. A little to the left of his universe.
And then, because that was Peter’s luck, along came Spiderman.
“I’m gonna hide,” Gwen decided. “I don’t wanna deal with the multi-dimensional thing, again.”
She was gone before Peter even turned to look around, but when he did, another Spiderman was rolling into her space. His suit, by the way, was worse than Peter’s. It was similar, all red, but a little cheap-looking. Like he didn’t have Iron Man design it for him.
“Nice costume,” Spiderman said with a laugh. “Though, it’s not very accurate.”
Peter looked down at his outfit. “Probably more expensive than yours though, huh, Peter?”
Spiderman, Peter, froze. “What did you just call me?”
Oh, Peter was seeing why Gwen was tired of this conversation. Peter was already sick of it and it was his first time explaining. He really hoped the Baby Monitor was still filming, because he did not want to do the explaining again when he got home.
“Where did you hear that name?”
Peter shrugged. “Every day. It’s mine, too.”
There was a moment of silence, then Peter said, “I’m from a different universe, if you’re wondering. Is it, by any chance, 2006 for you?”
“2007,” Spiderman replied. Then he just fucking left.
Spiderman AKA Peter Parker, returned a moment later to yell a little bit, and Spiderman AKA Peter Parker did a little bit of yelling of his own, yanking off his mask to fight better. By the end of the argument-that-wasn’t-really-an-argument, they threw out the facts, because why not.
This new Peter Parker had neither May nor Ben, he was currently dating a Mary Jane Watson, he’d been Spiderman for a few years. His best friend was not Ned Leeds but Harry Osborn – or was, at least, because Harry Osborn had been the second Green Goblin after Norman, his father was the first (God, Peter needed to keep an eye on that situation, and maybe let Mr Stark know, for future reference), and they were both dead. This Peter Parker was a photographer for the Daily Bugle and provided photos to the newspaper that seemed to – in every universe, as far as Peter could tell – hate Spiderman, and unlike Peter B., did not have a Christmas album.
Peter Parker of a different universe entirely got out of there as soon as possible.
“I think I’ve got it this time,” Gwen hissed as they jumped into the portal, knowing this universe’s Spiderman was chasing after them in confusion.
Gwen did not get it right this time.
“I’m so gonna miss dinner,” Peter whined.
“Oh, shush, we’ll get there,” she said, waving a hand in his direction. “This is closer, though, right?”
Peter shrugged. Looked right, felt right. But there was Spiderman trying to stop a train on the tracks below them, so he knew it wasn’t his universe.
“We’ve gotta help,” Peter said.
Gwen pulled a face. “You go. I’m difficult to explain.”
Peter nodded, ditched his backpack at Gwen’s feet and leapt from the roof. Karen was still quiet, unable to give him any tips on a quicker route, so Peter made do; he shot through New York City as fast as he could, landing on the back of the train only a few seconds after leaving the roof. He ran towards the front carriage, where Spiderman was doing his best to slow it down, and he leapt down, digging his heels into the track and shooting out the webs, like the other Spiderman, to put a brake on the train.
“What the fuck!” the other Spiderman shouted. “You’re like me!”
Peter strained against the webs. He could see the track, ahead of them, broken, deadly. “Not right now!” he yelled back. The position, the weight on his arms, it all felt a lot like the ferry. He’d do better this time.
“You’ve got this, Spiderman,” he whispered to himself, eyes clamped shut. “Come on, Spiderman. Come on.”
The train ground to a halt, their feet hanging over the edge of the destroyed track. The other Spiderman offered his hand, pulling Peter onto the roof of the train.
“Who the hell are you?”
“Spiderman,” Peter replied. God this was gonna be exhausting. “What year is this?”
Spiderman jerked back a little, like Peter was a time traveller – which, he kind of was, now. “2014.”
“Getting closer,” Peter nodded. “This takes a whole explanation. I can’t really long-story-short it. Let’s go sit on a roof or something.”
Spiderman blinked. “Alright.”
Once on a roof, overlooking the city, they swung their legs over the ledge. Peter could feel Gwen standing somewhere behind them, trying to work out the dial and find their way back to the right universe. Occasionally, Peter felt the strange painful shiver of a glitch race through his body – Gwen had lasted for a week in an alternate universe, but he didn’t like to think about what would happen if he spent too long in a world that wasn’t his.
“You’ve got a lot of explaining to do,” Spiderman said, and Peter nodded. This world was so similar to his, so clearly only a few years behind and a little to the right. Was Peter somewhere in this world? He would’ve been thirteen in this one – is he here somewhere? Or is this Spiderman the universe’s version of him? Does Peter cease to exist in a world where there’s another Peter.
“My name is Peter Parker. I come from another universe.”
Spiderman groaned. “No, nope, I don’t wanna deal with this – dude! Why would you tell me something like that? The scientific ramifications are fucking huge – no, that isn’t a good thing to spring on a person.”
Peter laughed, and Spiderman huffed. “Maybe we’re the same person after all,” he said. “Don’t worry, I’m not gonna introduce you to any of the animated Spider People – just meeting one of them was enough to make me brain dead.”
Spiderman shook his head. “Two Peter Parkers. Does this mean there are two Mays? Two Bens? Two… Two Gwens?”
Peter looked up at that name. “I still have May,” he said. “Ben, uh-”
“Bodega robbery,” the other Peter said.
Peter’s laugh empty. “Maybe that’s an every universe kind of thing. But your May’s okay?”
“As okay as she can be with me for a nephew. She’s been going to school at night to become a nurse.”
Peter smiled. “My May’s a nurse, too.”
“Yeah? Does she like it?”
“May Parkers across the multi-verse like looking after people. They’re all gonna do great.”
They sat quietly for a moment, the sounds of traffic careening their way up to the rooftop.
“Gwen,” the other Peter said. “I just – I need to know. Do you have a Gwen?”
Peter tilted his head. “Gwen Stacy,” he replied. “Vaguely familiar name, I think she goes to my school in my universe. And, well, there’s the Gwen that’s a Spider Person.”
Peter nodded. “Yeah, she’s the one that landed me here by accident – I’ll be going soon, as soon as she can figure out how to get me to my universe. But she’s – she’s pretty cool. Spider Woman. Great hair. Wears bright blue ballet flats for the aesthetic. She – uh – your Gwen. Is she okay?”
“No, no. My Gwen’s – mine’s gone. I didn’t save her.” Peter swallowed, and the other Peter nodded, once. “I’m glad there are others out there, alive and kicking. Maybe there’s a universe where we both end up in England and she takes the world by storm.”
Peter smiled sadly. It seemed as if every Spider Person held loss in their hands; it was inescapable, part of the job. The universe wasn’t cursing Peter to lose his uncle, to hurt Liz, to worry May – no, the universe was cursing the radioactive spider that bit everyone, it was cursing the concept of a spider-themed vigilante. They were all in it together.
The other Peter caught sight of Gwen for all of a moment before the portal opened, and Peter wondered if he was stuck, staring in shock because of her otherness, or because this was a version of Gwen that hadn’t fallen to her death.
“I’ll visit,” Peter said, saluting the other Spiderman, and he kind of meant it. This Peter was only a few years older, a lot taller, but very much the same as him. There was less strangeness to Peter Parker in 2014, a little to the right of his own; more familiarity. Maybe, one day, he could travel between universes like Gwen, and maybe he’d come right back here, or right back to Gwen, or Miles, or Peter B. Parker, and help someone else save the day.
“Come on, third time’s the charm,” Gwen said as they jumped out onto a rooftop.
Peter sucked in a deep breath. “Looks like Queens. Smells like Queens. Karen? You there?”
“I’m here, Peter.”
“Karen.” He turned to Gwen with a grin she couldn’t see. “Is this my universe?”
“By all accounts, yes. You have two hundred and thirty-four missed calls.”
“So we’re back?” Gwen interrupted. “I got you home? I didn’t curse you to live in 2007?”
Peter laughed. “We’re back, I think. Man,” he looked around at the darkened night sky. “I’m so late for dinner.”
Gwen smiled, sheepish. “Sorry. I’ll work on that.” Peter watched the glitch roll through her, the sharp intake of breath, the static and colours. “I should get back to my own universe before I mess anything else up. We’ll work on getting some kind of inter-dimensional phone going, yeah?”
“Yeah,” Peter agreed. “Call me if you need me.”
“You got it, Spiderman.”
Gwen bumped her knuckles against his before diving into a new portal, and then he was alone on a rooftop in Queens. He let out a long sigh. His brain felt melted with all the new information that had been poured into it. Other universes. Other Spider People. Other Peters.
He leapt off the roof, aiming for Manhattan.
“Karen, call Mr Stark. I need to apologise for being late. He’s not going to believe where I’ve been.”
“Calling Mr Stark.”
It only took a second, then, “Peter? Kid? Is that you?”
“Yeah, hey, I’m on my way—”
“Where the ever-loving fuck have you been?”
“I’m sorry! How late for dinner am I? I’ve got so much—”
“How late for dinner? Peter! Dinner was two days ago!”
Peter faltered on a web and grabbed onto the side of the building he’d flung himself towards. “What?”
“Where have you been, Peter?”
“Two days? No, I left a few hours ago—”
“Yeah, Pepper, it’s him. Call May, would you? Oh and the police? Tell them he’s back.”
“The police! Mr Stark! What’s happening?”
“What’s happening? Peter – you disappeared for two days! Karen went offline, the tracker vanished from the face of the planet – and not even in the space way! If you were in space, the tracker would say! You were just gone.”
“For two days.” Peter was so gonna kick Gwen’s ass next time he saw her.
“You have so much explaining to do.”
Peter winced. “Would you believe me if I said I went to another universe?”
“Over my dead body did you go to another universe.”
Peter whistled. “You might wanna get dying then, because otherwise you’re not gonna believe what I’ve got to tell you.”
Mr Stark and May pulled Peter into the biggest hug of his life when he arrived at the Tower. They then showed him the missing person’s report, the cameras Mr Stark had hacked into across the city, the several hundred texts and voicemails left on Peter’s phone.
He responded by pulling up Karen’s servers, the Baby Monitor, and watching the stored footage upload. He pressed play and settled back to watch them watch Gwen, her otherworldliness, her wrongness, her strangeness.
Mr Stark and May gaped at the footage, Pepper, Happy and Rhodey joining not much later, relieved to have Peter back. They settled into chairs and sofas and watched everything Peter’s mask captured, whether it was being worn or not; the portal, Miles’ murals, the existential crisis of Peter marrying MJ in many alternate realities. When Miles mentioned Pepper and Happy’s previous marriage, Happy spat coffee out across the room, Pepper said, “what the fuck?” and Mr Stark laughed so hard he choked.
May nodded appreciatively at the other May. “At least I age well,” she decided.
They stared at the world without Stark Tower, at the Peters that didn’t know Tony Stark. “I should get my ass to those universes and tell the other mes what they’re missing,” Mr Stark commented, sipping at his coffee.
Eventually, when they reached the last universe he jumped into and watched as Peter dumped his backpack by Gwen’s feet to help with the runaway train, Peter swore.
“What?” Mr Stark asked.
Peter groaned, rolling his head back. “I left my backpack in another universe. That had all my homework in it!”
“Christ, kid,” Mr Stark replied, though there was a relieved smile on his face. He wrapped an arm around Peter’s shoulders. “I’m glad you’re home.”
(When the other Peter and the strange girl who looked like Gwen but couldn’t be Gwen because Gwen was gone, she was dead, and not standing in front of him in a spider suit and blue ballet flats, were gone, Peter let out a long, deep sigh.
“That is just too much for me to deal with today,” he said, spinning on one foot to head away from the portal that had just slinked shut in front of him. His eyes snagged on something, however, and he paused to look at it. A red backpack, Iron Man-themed. Peter crouched by it, carefully opening it to find-
“Peter Parker,” he read, the name written on the first school workbook he saw. He let out a laugh. The other Peter had left his backpack in his universe. Peter rummaged vaguely through the backpack, kind of his, mostly not his, and grabbed the candy bar he found in there. Then he swung the straps onto his shoulders. The other Peter would probably come back for the backpack at some point, the least he could do was keep it safe.
He looked at the candy bar. Peanut Butter Snickers. “Nice,” Peter said. “They discontinued this two years ago.” He supposed that other universe didn’t sound so bad, after all.)