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boy, you were battle born

Chapter Text

peter wasn’t perfect.

he always had known. he had once hoped others would notice, too, but all this city ever saw when it looked at him was new york’s golden boy. 

his meds hadn’t worked for years now, but he still took them anyways. when he remembered he had to. it was out of habit, mostly. 

sometimes peter just wanted to choke on them

he remembered not being able to focus on school, two weeks after the spider bit him. he remembered bringing it up with his therapist, and just getting a different prescription. he remembered crying in mary jane’s embrace over chemistry homework he already knew how to complete, but just couldn’t ; he remembered standing in front of the whole class for a presentation, just barely sixteen, and breaking down into panic. 

spider-man hadn’t been the start of all his problems: that pleasure went to him and him alone. peter parker wasn’t perfect, but spider-man had no choice but to be. peter parker stumbled on his words and couldn’t talk to boys without embarrassing himself; spider-man flirted with his enemies like it was second-nature. new york’s son. 

he wouldn’t mind if new york vanished, he’d often thought. he loved his city, and he really was the one thing standing between it and obliteration — but he thinks everything would be better if nothing existed at all. 

it would be better if he didn’t exist—

peter parker wasn’t perfect. he had a plethora of issues that were no one’s fault but his own. if he weren’t so scared, he could ask for help. if he weren’t so unfocused, he wouldn’t need said help in the first place. 

if he were better—

if he were good enough—

mj held his hand and told him he was wonderful just the way he was. it happened exactly one week after they graduated, and that one moment was more memorable than the entirety of their actual high school ceremony. he hadn’t believed her, but the words had stuck. you’re wonderful just the way you are. wonderful in every way. she’d clung tighter to him on her bed. green day was playing from her speakers, but his tears (movie star crying, quiet and beautiful and somehow real) were more important to her than anything billie joe armstrong could say. 

he hadn’t believed a single word she’d said.

if he were good enough

peter wasn’t perfect, but spider-man was more than peter. spider-man was a symbol. spider-man was a legend. if you were in trouble, no matter who you were, spider-man would protect you. spider-man meant so much to people. peter parker was inconsequential. 

he had never believed anything mj believed about him. 

peter wasn’t perfect. 

peter had troubled thoughts and the self-esteem to match. pardon the lyrics — but it was true. it probably started in grade school and only grew, and grew; then he got medicated, then the meds stopped working and he never bothered looking for a replacement. it was his fault, really: clumsy, forgetful, too busy, too damn apathetic at times . and it wouldn’t even matter. he’d just have to live with his head in the clouds. he’d just have to live chasing the skies. 

and so spider-man soared through the air, reaching the heights — and then falling down, a nosedive towards the depths of the earth, only to leap up again. spider-man didn’t need to stay up for days trying to finish a paper. spider-man didn’t need to struggle with tacky circuitry or lab reports or thesis corrections. spider-man never struggled with his own darkness at four in the morning, mj calming him down through the phone. no, spider-man just was , and he was loved for it.

peter wasn’t perfect. peter wasn’t spider-man. he made plenty of mistakes, some of them often fatal. he still remembered: gwen’s blood on his hands. he still remembered: getting stitched up in mj’s counter every other saturday. 

peter wasn’t perfect, not by a long shot. 

but spider-man always got back up, no matter what. 

so no matter how many times peter got knocked down— he had to get back up. over, and over again—

get up, spider-man, new york would scream. get up, peter, mj would shriek. 

so he did. 

peter wasn’t perfect. not by a long shot. but staring down into the shining, glitching spiderverse, a mere glimpse into the cosmos his siblings in arms shared, for once spider-man didn’t feel overwhelmed. for once, spider-man felt wonder. 

get up, spider-man, everyone cried. 

and the world burnt around him. 

 

and then he woke up. 

Chapter Text

this wasn’t the weirdest weekend peter had ever had, but it sure was a close third. 

it had begun friday morning, really early — or really late thursday night; it didn’t matter, it was fucking freezing and he was going to somehow catch a cold. he’d been swinging around after a hard day’s work, ready to go home and finish binging that new show with mj, when his whole body had spasmed. 

help, someone had cried out. or maybe it was just his own voice. he’d seen the void: a glimmering spider web of stardust and worlds just like his own, a man falling through the multiversal morningdew, and then he himself was back to falling from the sky, like nothing had ever happened. 

he paused on a rooftop to catch his breath. collect his thoughts. he hadn’t imagined that — had he? he glanced at the time. he probably did make that up. holy shit, he was sleep deprived. mj was gonna kill him. 

then, the next day, when he met up with miles for training (with his brand-new suit! he looked dashing, and peter couldn’t be more proud of him), he told peter, “i had a really weird dream last night. there was this guy that looked just like you, dude, but he was blonde, and the kingpin killed you! and there were some other dudes around and then the prowler chased me. that was terrifying.

“that’s nuts,” peter replied, leaping from the rooftop they’d met up at. “you should stop staying up late watching videos of my battles!”

“dickhead!,” miles shouted, but they were both laughing and peter kinda forgot about his little hallucination from the previous night. 

and then, that night, something happened. 

as he was swinging, a man — the man from his daydream — crashed, literally, onto him. he appeared out of thin air, slammed like a dead weight against peter, and they both plummeted from the heights and smashed against the asphalt. 

peter groaned as he sat back up, shoving him off of his body; a crowd was already forming around them. shit, peter thought. he quickly stood up: back to work, spider-man. “stay back!”

he flipped the man around, lying unconscious on the asphalt, and when he saw his face he froze. because it was his own face. the blonde bastard looked just like him — miles’ dream felt less and less like such thing and more like a premonition, or something. he was wearing a fancy suit (with a blue tie that peter recognized as his uncle ben’s, and that was chilling) that had miraculously stayed clean during impact. 

and then his doppelganger glitched. 

and when he did, the hand he’d turned him over with flickered in a rainbow of pain. 

he glanced up at the man again, disoriented, only to find—

calm, as if something was twisting into his soul, settling, every second he looked at this stranger, it was like—

“not that weird,” peter had said, what felt like ages ago, upside down on the ceiling, and miles had smiled, and he’d felt this very same way then—

you’re like me—

peter couldn’t handle this. 

he’d managed, somehow, to haul the blonde clone into his and mj’s place. when she’d seen him, carrying a basically-dead body on his arms, she somehow hadn’t panicked. god bless mj, honestly. they’d put the guy on the couch (“don’t touch him,” peter had shouted, just moments before her hand made contact with the man’s jacket, and peter had done all the glitched handling) and then tried to figure out what to do.

“maybe he’s an evil clone,” mj said. they were sitting on her carpet; he’d pulled out his physics textbooks from college, she’d opened her laptop. “maybe he’s out for blood, or something.”

“no way. we look nothing alike.”

“dude, you’re identical.

“he’s a blonde!”

“because he’s an evil clone.

“i’m not calling blonde me evil. if he’s me, he can’t be evil.”

peter glanced at his hand. it was still flickering, and starting to sting. he shook it off. 

“are you okay?,” mj asked him. 

“it’s nothing,” he said, standing up. “i should get changed. he’s not an evil clone.”

“you don’t know that!,” mj’s voice carried through the hallway. peter rolled his eyes and laughed, but his hand still hurt too much to go unnoticed.  

his phone buzzed. had the dream again :/, miles said. it was u this time tho

peter couldn’t handle this. 

Come over, he typed back. We gotta talk. 

his hand didn’t stop glitching even after he was out of the suit; it was as if the flickering had passed through the spandex and seeped into his skin. it stung and heated up like a sunburn — he soaked it under the faucet for a while, but it didn’t seem to help. he left it alone then, but knew, dread settling heavy inside him, that it wasn’t the last of it. 

and a scream ripped through the apartment — it was his own voice, shaking him to the core, and peter ran to mj, to the scream—

the man was awake, staring into space in the middle of a panic attack, and his eyes were blue, so blue, like the sky itself, limitless—

“peter,” mj was saying, controlled, but not at peter, “i need you to look at me. breathe.”

and peter looked at her, and blonde guy looked at her, and they did. they breathed when she did, and the world felt—

a little less heavy, they both thought. 

“i’m sorry,” the other guy (blondie seemed like a good nickname) said, once he’d calmed down a bit. peter had sacrificed one of his old blankets for him, now settled on the identical stranger’s shoulders. he glanced at peter, then, and the uncertainty returned to his expression. “i’m— i think i’m having a bad dream.”

“do you know where you are?,” mj asked. peter sat down again; he really needed a moment. blondie pondered for a moment, took in his surroundings, and squinted.

“it’s your place,” he said, “but there’s something wrong about it. i don’t know wh—“

and he glitched. now that he was awake, it was clear it was a very painful process for him too, even more than peter’s messed-up hand. it lasted for a few, unbearably-long moments, in which blondie tried his hardest to bite down the initial yelp that had come out, after which he was left gasping on the couch again. 

they remained in silence for a moment. and then, blondie gasped out, “oh god, this isn’t a dream, is it? oh no. fuck, i didn’t dream that either.”

“dream what?,” peter asked, but blondie was shivering, his hands covering his face. mj reached out for them but he leaped out of her way. 

“no,” he said. his eyes were blown out. “it’s dangerous. look at my— his hand.” he gestured towards peter, and mj frowned. peter looked down: his hand was blinking through the rainbow. 

“peter!,” mj cried. “why didn’t you say anything!”

“it doesn’t hurt!,” he replied, even though his hand looked ( and felt, he thought, slightly worried) like it was burning, “i didn’t think it was important.”

“jesus christ.”

“god.” blondie exhaled. “i shouldn’t be here. i don’t think my molecules like being here.”

peter put his hand out of sight. that was not what was important right then. “what do you remember, man?” 

“i remember… i was at the basement. fisk tower, maybe. no, definitely. yeah. they built a dimension super-collider.” pause. wait. “holy shit. this is another dimension. oh god. mj would’ve killed to see this. she’s gonna murder me. she said next time i went to a parallel universe or another plane of existence she’d—”

“pete, focus.”

“yeah, sorry. sorry. no meds. my bad. fuck. okay. okay, i was— i was gonna stop it, the collider. and there was this kid — god i hope he’s okay — i don’t even know his name, but he’s like me, and i was so excited i got distracted and green goblin shoved me against the beam— and then it exploded.” peter frowned. the green who?, he thought. but blondie seemed lost in thought now, clearly confused by how things had turned out. “i couldn’t move. i thought i was gonna die. and then the kid found me.”

blondie fell silent, then. for a moment, peter saw in him something akin to confusion, maybe even pain, in his other self’s eyes. he reached over to him with his glitching hand, and even though mj drew in a sharp breath, she didn’t stop him. and neither did blondie, even though he froze when their hands met. “and then what?,” peter asked him, gently. he felt his arm heat up, but he didn’t move it. it seemed like blondie was thinking of what to say, or how to say it.

“i don’t know,” he said. “i told the kid something. everything hurt. and… the kingpin was there. and tombstone, and…” he shook his head, shutting his eyes tight. “the prowler,” he pushed out. “i don’t remember anything else. i just… woke up here.”

there were a lot of questions blondie couldn’t answer. how he’d gotten there to begin with, for example, was just a theory: “maybe when i got shoved into the collider my particles destabilized,” he thought, watching his fingers phase through the tea mug. “that’s my best guess.”

then there was the fancy suit. there wasn’t a single injury under it — and yet blondie couldn’t help but feel it was all wrong . he’d been injured (doomed, really) and then he had woken up perfectly fine, if you could ignore the glitching. it just made no sense. there weren’t even any scars left. 

(he felt nauseous. peter thought the other looked pale as he patted down his chest.)

“well, we need to get you back home,” mj said. god bless mj, man. blondie managed to force a smile onto his face and she smiled back. 

“i don’t know how we’d do that,” pete countered. “we can’t even touch him.”

“he’s right. i… unless there’s already a collider here, i don’t see how this could work. i don’t even know what dimension i’m from.”

“maybe the doc was working on something like that.” peter’s heart twisted at the thought of his former mentor. otto…

if blondie noticed his newfound sadness, he didn’t mention it. “maybe,” he agreed instead. another glitch coursed through his veins, but he bit down the agony and somehow managed through. “and those keep getting worse,” he exhaled. “this sucks.”

the window slid open, startling the small group and stopping the conversation. blondie froze in his seat, eyes wide, as he watched miles come into the living room, pulling off his mask. “alright, i’m here, what’s—”

he looked at blondie. then at peter. then back at blondie.

blondie stared back.

“you’re the kid,” he mumbled, dazed.

“you’re the guy i saw in my dream,” miles said back.

you’re like me, they all thought. 

“oh god,” mj sighed, standing up. “too many spiders. i’m just gonna go make tea.” 

“this is miles,” peter introduced them, watching mj go. “miles, this is, uh— this is me. from another dimension.”

“i dreamt about you a while ago,” miles said. “it’s— it’s nice to see you?”

“interdimensional dreams. that’s crazy. i’m peter. don’t—“ blondie moved away from miles when he tried to shake his hand. “don’t touch me. it’s dangerous.”

peter showed him his own hand, making miles grimace. “oh, that’s bad,” he hissed, gently holding pete by his arm. “it’s like, contagious or something. are you okay?”

“just burns a little.” it felt like his skin was on fire. peter smiled, anyway; he didn’t wanna worry the kid. “ he’s doing way worse.”

“hey,” blondie complained, “i’m right here,” but there was no real bite behind his words. 

miles wasn’t laughing, though. something somber had crossed his expression, and both peters faltered. he stayed quiet for a moment and then: “i saw you die,” he said. 

blondie didn’t know what to say. 

“kingpin killed you in my dream. he— he pulled off your mask, and he—“

“stop,” he gasped.

“i saw you,” the kid whimpers. he looks like he’s about to cry, and god, he looks too much like the subway kid, way too much, and it was always too much for pete like kingpin’s hands falling towards him and the way aaron was probably smiling behind his mask and the kid’s eyes as he pushed the goober into his hands—

(it was terrifying—

“i know what you’re trying to do. and it won’t work. they’re gone.”

it hurt so much—

if only he’d been better—

get up, spider-man, everyone cried, and the world burnt around him—

as he fell through the void———)

“pete,” someone said. 

blondie opened his eyes and realized he wasn’t breathing. mj was standing in front of him again, holding a cup of tea in her hands. 

“look at me, dude,” she said, gentle. he missed her so much. “breathe with me, okay?,” and he does. two in, three out, and he repeats, following her rhythm, until finally he felt calm enough to speak again. 

“i’m not dead,” he stumbled out, taking the cup from mj — careful, don’t touch her . “if i were— i wouldn’t be here.”

miles sat on the other end of the couch, unable to meet his eyes. “i saw it happen,” he said, “and i don’t think it was a dream anymore, man—“

“maybe you are an evil clone,” peter interjected.

mj smacked his arm. 

“i’m not an evil clone,” blondie concluded after a moment of uncertain silence, but he didn’t look too convinced himself. he steeled himself again then: “no, i’m—“ and a glitch seared through his soul, but he soldiered on— “i’m me, and i’m the only me there is.“

“hm,” said peter. mj smacked him again. 

“that’s different! you’re not me- me, you’re another-dimension-me.”

“well, okay,” miles placated. “how do we get you home?”

there was a simple answer to that question. find doc ock, find the collider (or something similar to it), get back home, and hopefully not die in the process. but the process itself wasn’t simple, and the complications began with doc ock himself. ( herself, blondie corrected him, frowning. he was starting to think maybe the poor dimension-hopper guy was just a tad delirious.)

case in point: otto positively hated peter’s guts. and it’s not like peter loved the guy either; not anymore, at least. it was strange. now there was a man that had knowingly hurt his mentee and killed hundreds, if not thousands, just because of a petty fight with the mayor. 

but they had no other choice, did they. 

peter lent blondie one of his spare suits, the classic one, and the three of them were on their way to the raft. 

“let me talk to him,” peter had told them. “he might listen to me, even after all that happened.”

blondie nodded, knowingly. “father-son relationship?,” he asked. peter recoiled. blondie couldn’t help but smile sympathetically. “i’ve been there,” he said then. “olivia was like that, before. not anymore.”

they didn’t talk about it after that; neither of them really wanted to. miles had jumped ahead while they talked, and they needed to catch up. and so they did. 

now they were at the first hurdle: otto would not talk to peter. he wouldn’t talk to anyone, actually. so between peter’s semi-permanent grimace and blondie’s increased glitching, they were still at square one.

second hurdle: even after raiding otto’s old lab, even after combing through years of data stored inside peter’s computer, they couldn’t find anything even remotely resembling the collider blondie kept describing. 

“how about a quantum tunnel?,” miles said, flipping around his tablet so blondie could see. they’d gone back to their place; she was busy at work in the bugle, working through a special report on the elusive green goblin, so she wouldn’t be around anytime soon. they pondered on it for a moment before blondie shook his head. 

“that messes with the planck scale,” he said, “and it’s more of a time gizmo than a space gizmo, i think.”

gizmo?

“it’s peter for device, miles,” peter said. he clicked at his laptop’s beaten-up trackpad and then turned it to show the other two spiders. “maybe this could work, though.”

it was a molecule-stabilizer thingamajig, a sort of bracelet that could be fitted onto his webshooters. it wouldn’t get him back home, but it would stop the glitching real fast, as long as he managed to actually build it in time before he became multiversal spider dust or some shit. and then, once he was no longer in risk of falling apart, they could work on actually getting him back into his own world. 

so they got right into it. they had everything they needed, peter thought. the schematics were old, outdated, barely a half-drawn thought, so he got to work on those while miles and blondie built it on the go. 

blondie kept getting worse through the night. his whole body shook with sickly tremors, and they only became more frequent as the very late became very early, as the glitching grew more and more painful. 

“it feels wet,” peter said at one point, staring at his hand after a glitch. it was drenched in water. he patted it dry, but he didn’t miss the way blondie’s hair looked damp. 

they were running out of time fast. and they were nowhere near done when it happened. 

pete had just finished the schematics, uploaded them into a goober, when a glitch — the mother of all fucking glitches, coursed up his arm. he hissed, dropping the flash drive and turning to blondie… but the pain didn’t subside. 

fuck ,” blondie cried out. he was trying his best to stay still, even as his body morphed and his voice distorted. something terrible settled inside peter: they were too late. “tell mj— god, tell her i’m sorry.”

miles grabbed the goober from the floor. “we can still finish this,” he insisted, but they all knew that just wasn’t true. he fitted the unfinished device onto blondie’s wrist and activated it, but it only seemed to make the glitching worse. blondie actually screamed now. 

and then blondie opened his eyes—

“oh,” he said, straining. “ oh.

and with that, he was gone. 

peter and miles stayed in the apartment in silence, trying to understand what had happened. had he disintegrated? was he just somewhere else, now? 

“shit,” peter couldn’t help himself. they’d failed other-peter. 

the gizmo was gone, now, forever stuck within blondie’s arm. and so was the goober: apparently, miles had pushed it into peter’s hand in his hurry, thinking nothing would happen. there was nothing they could do about it now but start over, in case any other maybe-evil-clone showed up through a portal about to turn into stardust. (they would, eventually.)

“do you think he’s dead?,” miles asked him days later, voice barely a whisper, as they walked down the street. 

peter stared down at the concrete, pondering, for a few minutes in silence. “no,” he answered then, truthfully. “i don’t think he is.”

inside his pocket, his hand felt wet. 

Chapter Text

peter woke up, and the world was flooding. 

thunder rumbled above him. he must’ve missed the lightning, having crashed against a wall upon entry on this new york. the fact was: it was pouring like hell, he was cold yet again, and he was still very painfully glitching, thank you very much. 

groaning, he pushed himself up from the ground into a sitting position. he’d managed to land on top of a rooftop, so hopefully no one had spotted him. he didn’t know what was happening, he didn’t know why, either; he just wanted to go home so desperately. his hair let drip ice-cold droplets onto his face. god damn it, he thought. 

he still had the goober, at least, tucked safely into his hands — he quickly stored it into his suit. and the stabilizer gizmo thing was still wrapped against his wrist. it hadn’t worked in time, and it sure as hell wasn’t gonna start now, drenched in rain.

peter inhaled. exhaled. “peter,” mj had said, just like his mj, but not quite. she had the same kindness, though, the same steady smile he’d always yearned for, and that was all he needed. for a moment he pictured her, hair tied into a ponytail, and she laughed in a voice that was not hers, and then his mary jane watson said, “i need you to look at me. breathe.”

and peter’s eyes, tightly closed, pictured his best friend, and so he did. inhaled, exhaled.

he’d fallen through the multiverse again. 

he really missed her.

what if he never made it back home? it was clear he wouldn’t die from glitching, no matter how excruciating; he flickered too hard, too fast, to tear himself apart. what if he just ended up stuck in the multiversal spiderweb, forever a vagabond, so far away from a home he could never go back to?

“breathe,” mj had said. inhaled, exhaled.

god. he couldn’t catch a break. god fucking damn it, he was so tired. 

he flopped back onto the ground. above, lightning stroke. he could feel the tips of his fingers flickering, and the thought brought tears to his eyes. he let the rain pat against his face, his body, and closed his eyes.

then, after a while, he got up. enough moping for today. it was late; he’d better find some shelter soon.

he swung around the city (not his city; the buildings were too tall, the streets too dark, the billboards too futuristic) until he finally crashed onto another rooftop; this one had a little garden on top, and an even smaller zinc sheet covering parts of it as an improvised shed. he huddled underneath it, finally resting in-between bags of dirt, and closed his eyes. 

he was cold, drenched in rain, alone, maybe even afraid, but it was okay. he’d figure it out in the morning. 

and then a kick woke him up. 

he startled awake, gasping and choking, holding his side; there was a stranger standing above him, and he felt scared, for a moment. it was still pouring, so maybe he hadn’t slept that much. he felt so tired. 

and then she spoke. 

¿estás bien? ” god, peter was glad he remembered some spanish. he glanced back, towards the kid dressed in navy, and his breath caught in his throat. who—? “ lo siento, no sabía— no puedes estar aquí. verga.

the rain kept pouring from the heavens. above, lightning stroke. 

“who are you?,” he stumbled out.

the girl paused. their eyes met — and he suddenly felt at ease again. another spider, he realized. 

eres como yo, ” the girl said. she helped him up before he could warn her — don’t touch me, it’s dangerous, he would’ve told her. “ ¿hablas español?

un poco, ” he admitted. 

“english?,” she said then; she had this very thick accent, and it was a little hard for peter to understand, at first, but it was better than a different language altogether. “i’m out of practice, but…”

“that’s okay.” peter shuddered. he could feel another glitch coming. already? it felt so soon. “i’m sorry, i don’t know— i’m peter.”

“parker?”

“yeah. how’d you—“

“you look like him,” she said. “just blonde. are you a clone?”

“i hope not.”

“then where did you come from? because you’re clearly not my pete.”

“i, uh,” and peter struggled, “i’m from another dimension? i think?”

the girl stared at him, and for a moment peter feared she wouldn’t believe him. but if she didn’t, she didn’t let it show either. she merely nodded, typed something into her — her holographic wristwatch thing. holy shit. “i can live with that. i’m nightspider.” she paused, stretching. “rio to you.”

the name didn’t ring a bell, but he couldn’t complain. “nice to meet you.”

“you too, i guess,” she said. “we should go. you can tell me what you’re doing out here while we head back to base.” rio stared at her hands, squinting. “are you, uh… contaminated? or something?”

peter winced. he tried breathing in, slowly; it was rushing, it would catch up soon, and it would hurt like a motherfucker when it did. “it’s a long story. try— just don’t touch me again. it might sting a bit, i was told.”

rio sighed. “i certainly didn’t miss this.” he wondered what she meant by that, but guessing by the dramatic shift in her face and the almost-too-convenient lightning that struck nearby, he decided not to press the subject. he prepared himself for swinging, shivering; it was getting colder, he felt.

“you websling too? that’s good. i’m not carrying you.”

“i’m too heavy anyways.” he’d be bordering on underweight if it weren’t for his muscle mass, which, admittedly, wasn’t that much. “you lead the way, cool fellow spider-person.”

maybe, if she hadn’t just pulled her mask on, he would’ve seen the faint smile that flashed on her face for just a second. but he didn’t, and her voice didn’t give her away when she said, “i sure am.”

they leapt through the air. there were times where he wanted to stop, take a break; everything felt so strange, disorienting. it wasn’t like other-peter and other-miles’ world. this was pure neon and pouring rain and mist and darkness, somehow, and he already felt dizzy enough from the whole glitching aspect of his life. but rio zoomed past the skyscrapers, taller than anything peter had ever seen, and he wondered how it would feel to stand above it all. some of the buildings pierced the clouds; perhaps on top of one he could see the sunset, or the moon. he didn’t even know what time it was.

they were headed towards one remarkably tall building. that’s one thing her world shared with his: stark tower. “any reason in particular we’re here?,” he asked, once they’d landed on the glass windows.

she didn’t turn towards him, catching her breath. “this is hq,” she replied. “we can talk safely in here. and if anyone in this city can help you, they’re probably in here—”

fire burst through his lungs and he resisted the urge to scream as he flickered. he lost grip on the glass for one moment, and he could’ve sworn his hand phased through the window before it shattered into a million pieces, sending him crashing down. everything hurt, everything felt like he was burning from the inside out—

and then he caught himself.

mi-er-da, ” rio muttered, sliding down to his level. “are you okay? what was that? okay. okay, let’s- let’s go in. come on, hold my hand.”

no, ” he gasped. the lenses of her mask squinted at him as he ripped off his own mask again. “not… not that one. the other one. your hand is already—”

and she looked down at her hand, pressed against the building. her palm was gently twitching in blues and greens, the holographic display on her webshooters seemingly corrupted. she took in a deep breath, and gently, she switched her hands around and held onto peter. “come on,” she told him, all business. “let’s get you inside.”

she pulled him into the building through the glass he’d broken. the lights were blaring red, and he tried not to panic as she put him down against a wall. she pulled off her mask and then, after taking a good look at her surroundings, she typed something into her functioning wrist display, and then started speaking into it: “it’s just me. we need a medical team, there’s an injured man with me, mid-twenties. make sure they’re all wearing decontamination suits; the condition is highly contagious.”

¿por qué hablas en inglés? ,” a voice replied. 

“victim isn’t fluent in spanish, and i don’t want to scare him off.”

a pause. “ okay, i guess… please confirm. id code required.

“confirmed. rio morales, id code: 10089512. can you hurry? he doesn’t look too good.”

“i don’t feel too good,” peter drawled. he was suddenly very tired.

“don’t you dare fall asleep on me.” rio fumed. she seemed mad, but he honestly couldn’t tell anymore. “and if you could send dr. banner over, that’d be great.”

got it. there’s a squad headed your way.

gracias, gwen.” 

the alarms died out, and peter breathed in relief. “gwen,” he whined. everything felt fuzzy, and then— pain yet again. he tried to keep it in, come on, it’s okay— and then it passed. he felt static, like when his leg fell asleep but on his entire body. “i knew a gwen. in high school...”

“help’s coming, peter,” rio said. she kneeled down next to him, holding his hand with her own rainbow mess. “you’re gonna have to explain some things. to all of us.”

“i… i figured…” even speaking was difficult, now. he squinted at the girl, and tried to focus on her; if he fell unconscious it would probably mean death for him. “talk to me. please.”

“oh. uh, okay. maybe— maybe we can, um. jugar un- play a game? yeah. do you want that? truth or dare?”

“can i—“ peter wheezed. don’t give up , he told himself. come on . “can i postpone my dares?”

rio pressed her lips into a thin line; he only realized later on that she was trying not to smile. “sure,” she said. “truth or dare?”

“truth.”

“have you met me before? in your, um, your universe?”

“don’t think so,” he mused. “would’ve remembered someone so cool. truth or dare?”

“truth.”

“lame. okay… is it always raining here or did i just get unlucky?”

“is it not always raining in your world?”

“uh, no.”

“oh. then yes, i guess. truth or dare?”

“truth.”

“again?”

“i’ll— i’ll do dare next.”

“hm. okay. have you had your powers for long?” peter kept dozing off. he stared at the wall, breathing slowly. “peter.”

“ten years,” he mumbled. “i was sixteen.”

“peter, stay with me.”

dare, ” peter pushed out then. 

maldita sea. don’t you fucking die.”

he didn’t remember what he had replied then. next thing he knew, he was coming to bright green lights, a steady beeping sound, and his body felt so heavy, and he was so tired…

“peter, i need you to stay awake.” his eyelids flew open again; there was a man sitting next to his bed. he knew who it was, but there was something off about him. he was looking at peter like he was staring at a ghost - come to think of it, he hadn’t seen himself in this world yet, and considering what rio had said… he didn’t know why he thought he as spider-man was a constant. maybe peter was the exception; maybe there were only a few where he even kept on existing— “i can see your imagination running wild. you’re the real deal, aren’t you?”

peter hadn’t seen dr. banner in years, not since the civil war. it was strange; this man was his spitting image, but (and that was the difference, wasn’t it, he had pinpointed it) he was missing an eye. the other one, bright and green, was looking straight at him; peter squirmed at how uncanny it all was. 

(it hadn’t felt like this with other-peter at all.)

“uh,” he stalled. “dr. banner.”

“hi.”

“did i die?” finally?, goes unsaid.

(no matter how many times peter got knocked down— he had to get back up. over, and over again—)

banner snorted, like his question was somehow silly. like he hadn’t— “no, peter. you’re not dead, against all odds. because you should be.”

for some reason, that’s what sent chills down his back. 

“i think you have some explaining to do,” banner continued. “don’t you?”

“i, uh… i guess i do.” he looked down at himself: he’d been stripped of his suit (probably a bad idea) and his webshooters were gone… and so was the gizmo. “where’s my stuff?” 

“we had to take it off, you were in pretty bad shape. it’s over there.” he pointed to an empty chair; indeed, all his things were neatly stacked. “they’re clean now.”

peter sighed. “good. good, i—” he felt the air getting knocked out of his lungs. he braced himself for a glitch, for the waves of blinding pain, but all that hit him was a mild discomfort, edging on a burning sensation at worst as the world swirled around him. when he opened his eyes again, dr. banner was typing into his tablet. “what the fuck.”

“does that happen often? the, uh, the flickering?”

“it— it didn’t hurt. ” he was so confused. “what did you do?”

“molecular stabilization,” he said. “the room works to trick your body to believe nothing’s wrong on a quantum level. it won’t stop the cellular decay, but it will stall it.”

peter blanched. “ cellular decay?

“and i’m guessing you didn’t know that...” dr. banner looked apologetic. he wrote that down on his tablet quickly before looking up again. “yeah, i’m sorry. your cells aren’t taking very well to being here. it should be safe in here, though. agent morales said you mentioned another dimension?”

“y-yeah.” peter glanced back again at his second-hand suit, at his webshooters, at the gizmo. for some reason, his spidey senses kept yelling at him. “I, uh, I think i got slingshotted here. it’s a long story.”

“i have time,” dr. banner smiled. 

peter stared at him and smiled back, nervous. “with— with all due respect,” he started, and god, he felt so anxious, what was going on, “i’d— i want to talk to— may i talk to rio?”

“why, you don’t trust me?” banner chuckled. “i’m hurt, pete.”

there was something banner wasn’t telling him.

“i don’t know you,” pete said. 

“you don’t know her.

“it’s different. it’s like— she’s like me. ” he didn’t know how to explain it. she was like him, like miles, like other peter, like the six in the void. it didn’t matter if he didn’t know her because he knew her in a different way. “i trust her.” 

banner’s expression was unreadable. it made peter so uncomfortable, not knowing what was going on. he had work to do, he had to get home, and he couldn’t do that just sitting in bed like an idiot. “you understand that there’s safety measures in place,” banner started, standing up. “we can’t let you see her. not when you’re like this.”

“i could die, ” he insisted.

“then tell me.

“no!”

the door flew open, the lights bathing them both with red. peter jerked back, tense, only to relax when he recognized the silhouette. 

“you can’t come in here,” dr. banner said, standing up, but there was no use. peter’s senses settled, for once, and he was sure the scientist noticed.

rio marched into the room, ignoring banner’s protests. her hand was bandaged, but it didn’t look like it was glitching anymore; that was a relief. “i have dr. stark’s permission,” she said. she motioned to someone outside the room, and when he saw her walk in the beeping of the machines suddenly got quicker. “c’mon, gwen.”

she didn’t look like his gwen, for starters, but she also didn’t not look like her. it was like a weird uncanny valley of dead friends. his gwen, for example, wouldn’t have shaved half her hair off for an undercut, like this gwen, or given herself piercings. his gwen was a natural blonde; this one had outgrown roots. she looked- she looked good, though, safe and sound, even when she was ten years younger and the same age she’d been when he’d killed her she’d died.

and, he realized, she was looking at him like he was looking at her. like she’d seen a ghost. and then he realized: she’d probably seen him die, just like he had watched her fall from the empire state.

he was dead in this universe.

“peter,” gwen exhaled. and she sounded just like he remembered.

“gwen.”

“dr. banner, if you could, uh, give us some privacy,” rio asked. 

“i’m afraid i’m not leaving—”

dr. banner. ” bruce rolled his eyes, heading for the door.

“i’ll be back, peter.”

the second he was out, the door closed, the lights turned green again. “i can’t believe he fell for that,” gwen said, reaching for the machines. rio followed suit, snickering, while she typed into her wrist. 

peter didn’t get it. “what?”

“we’re breaking you out,” rio said. “dr. banner’s gonna experiment on ya.”

“yeah. rio should’ve seen it coming, but she was too busy trying to help.” gwen flashed a smile at peter, small but so familiar. “he means well, but he doesn’t always do what’s right.”

“oh.” he ripped the iv off of his arm and stood, dizzily; rio caught him with her injured hand. 

“easy,” she said. “get dressed quick. how do you go between dimensions?”

“i don’t know.” they both stared at him, and he groaned, pulling up his suit as they turned away. “i got pushed into a dimension collider and, uh, i think it destabilized my molecules or something. banner said cellular decay? when the glitching gets really bad, i just flicker into a new dimension.” he clipped the webshooters into place and motioned at them to get closer; when they did, he showed them the gizmo. “other-peter and i were working on this.”

“other-peter?,” gwen asked, voice thin.

“a gizmo,” rio recognized. “looks like a stabilizer, but small-scale.”

“it’s not done, we didn’t get to finish it. but i have the schematics— fuck! ” the glitch hit him suddenly. now that he wasn’t connected to the thousand machines, the room alone wasn’t enough to filter out all the pain. he crumbled to his knees, exhausted. he shooed them away when they tried to help him. “the goober.”

“keep it hidden. if they know you have it and they catch us, you’re never getting it back.” gwen opened a window and climbed onto rio’s back; the storm outside kept raging on. how long had it been? “let’s bail.”

they looked at him like he was made of paper.

get up, spider-man, new york screamed; all the universes rallied around him and his siblings. get up, peter, mj shrieked. he wondered if there was one here, too; it was a shame they’d never meet.

they leapt out of the window into the hurricane. swinging in strong winds was a very, very stupid idea, but it was their best shot yet. being out of the room felt horrible, though, and he could feel himself deteriorate quickly; it was even worse than the sensation of being unplugged. “follow me!,” rio shouted over the thunder, and he did his best to keep track of her. which was hard. because it was raining. and he couldn’t see.

actually, and peter was starting to panic, he really could not see a thing. like, physically. when did that happen? “rio,” he half-gasped, half-shouted. his spider-sense was too loud to pinpoint her, oh god—

“peter,” dr. banner’s voice cut through the storm. peter flinched and kept moving forward, away from him, even if he couldn’t hear the girls anymore. “stop running. we can help you.”

a glitch shrieked through him and he could only focus on the agony of it all, god he hoped he was still holding onto the goober and the gizmo and himself and please don’t fall apart i have to go back i have to

and he was falling.

he still couldn’t see, but he was aware of the void around him, of the sudden cold, the air knocked out of his lungs…

peter tried to scream, but his voice failed him. 

and he fell, and fell, and everyone called his name—

“blondie,” other-peter gasped.

“peter!,” other-miles shouted.

peter, ” rio shrieked.

“mr. parker?,” someone whispered.

there were a million voices, then, a billion, so overwhelming and yet so calming… 

you’re like me, everyone understood.

someone reached out to him, their hands pulling him through the void but not quite: young, warm, unexperienced. they dragged him away from the spiderweb, and he landed on hot asphalt with a thud. he coughed for what felt like forever, his eyes watering: when he opened them, he could see the sky, navy and blue and merciful and beautiful and not fucking raining.  and, it hit him, he could see again. glad to know that was temporary. or, well, possibly, he thought, as his vision blurred and the world melted at the edges.

“are you okay?,” he heard someone say, but he just huffed out a laugh and promptly passed out under the sun.