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In the Hospital After the Spiderverse

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Aaron woke up in a hospital room, not sure how he'd gotten there.

It was the first time that had ever happened to him. For all he'd spent his life doing illegal and unethical things, he was usually pretty good at not getting hurt, or at least not hurt seriously. He was good at what he did; very good. He was proud of his skills, if not always of what they were used for.

Whatever had happened, it hurt like hell. He moved around, experimentally, to see where it hurt, and the answer was everywhere, but through a haze of painkillers. He tried to think. He'd been working for Kingpin, who was kinda nuts but paid well. And as cape-and-cowl jobs went, it wasn't bad; nobody was going to get killed who didn't deserve it for sneaking around Kingpin's business or trying to shut him down. And "bringing back your dead wife and kid" was a good goal, practically heroic.

He swallowed, or tried to, but his mouth was too dry. Miles. Miles had been there, in a Spider-Man suit. He'd been fighting Miles.

"Ah! You're awake!" A dark-skinned nurse in cheery purple scrubs stood in the doorway. "How are you feeling?"

"Hurts," Aaron rasped, through a throat that felt dry as cotton balls.

"I'm not surprised!" the nurse bustled into the room and began examining him. "You were shot! And you were pretty banged up, too—do you remember what happened?"

"No fucking clue," Aaron said, truthfully. It felt more like a nightmare than reality.

"Guess the cops'll be disappointed when they come by to take your statement, then," she said. After making sure everything was okay and telling him where the button for pain medication was, she left again, leaving him to wait for the cops.

Great.

He considered his situation as best he could. The nice thing about the cape-and-cowl gig (and the reason he had slid over in that direction from the gang where he started) was that you were masked and gloved and there was a voice changer, so while there was a lot of evidence of the cape, there wasn't much to tie the cape to you, if you were careful.

And if you changed your costume and "name" every so often, well, there was a good chance that even if they did catch you and tie your name to your previous costume, they wouldn't be able to connect that to any previous identities you had. And he'd changed his identity just before signing on with Kingpin this last time; Kingpin knew who he was, but Kingpin wouldn't give the cops the time of day, and he had lots of lawyers to stonewall with.

Bottom line, the cops probably didn't have much they could pin on him, and that was good.

It took the cops a couple of hours to get there; just one cop to take his statement. And he noticed there were no cops outside the door and he wasn't handcuffed to anything, which he should have noticed first thing.

Did they … not know he was the Prowler?

"Mister Davis," the cop said briskly, "can you tell me what happened when you got shot?"

"No, man, it's all hazy." Aaron tried to sound as out of it as he could, which wasn't hard.

"Right." The officer sounded dubious. "Did you see who shot you?"

"I don't think so?"

"Did you see any of the fight? Could you identify anyone present?"

They thought he was an innocent bystander? "Not really?" Aaron considered what he should say. "I mean, there were a bunch of people in Spiderman costumes, I know that. And some crazy chick with a whole lot of bionic arms." He cut himself off. It was hard to think, but the last thing he wanted was to ramble long enough to say something suspicious.

The cop asked him some more questions, but he kept his answers vague, and eventually the cop gave up.

"Hey, can you tell me what happened, what it was all about?" Aaron asked, as the cop turned to leave.

He shrugged. "Sure. We don't know what the attack on May Parker's house was about, but it was probably related to Wilson Fisk's attempt to destroy the five boroughs, and possibly all of the universe."

"What?" That wasn't the head wound. That made no sense.

"You know all the weird shit that had been happening for the last couple of days? Fisk was building some sort of machine that would rip holes into other universes. Had some crazy idea that he could grab another version of his wife and kid from somewhere else. Problem was, the longer that thing ran, the more damage it did to the fabric of reality. The new Spider-Man stopped him. Fisk is under arrest—caught red-handed, he won't be able to weasel out of this one, I don't care how good his lawyers are."

"Huh," Aaron said. Who had shot him? Were they aiming for Miles? If Kingpin was arrested, surely he would have better things to do than go after Aaron, but then again, he was a vindictive son of a bitch.


Jeff came to visit him that evening. "How're you feeling," he asked, settling his bulk in the crappy hospital chair.

"Like I got shot." His head was a little clearer, but he still hurt like hell, and it got worse if he moved.

"Do you know why Kingpin shot you?"

"What do you mean?" Aaron asked. How much did his brother know? Despite some very questionable choices, like joining the pigs, his brother wasn't stupid. Quite the opposite, in fact.

"Aaron, I was there, at May Parker's house," Jeff said. "I saw the end of what happened. Kingpin shot you. You were one of his, and he shot you. Why?"

"If you think I was there as some sort of plot to destabilize the universe, why haven't you said anything?"

Jeff snorted. "I don't think you were trying to destabilize the universe, I think you were just acting as hired muscle for a mob boss."

"Still doesn't say why you haven't turned me in, Mister My-Badge-Is-More-Important-Than-Family," Aaron said.

Jeff looked down at his hands. "Miles took you out of the suit," he said.

"So you know that he's…?"

"The new Spider-Man."

They were quiet for a bit. Aaron tried to rein in his bitterness. So Jeff the Perfect Paragon of Legal Might wouldn't bend the law for his own brother, but he would for Miles. That was fair, Aaron thought; there was a lot he'd do for Miles himself, that he wouldn't do for Jeff. It still hurt, the way it always did, to know just where he ranked in his brother's affections and loyalties.

"That's why," Aaron said. "Miles lifted his mask, so I could see him. If he hadn't, I would've killed him. I almost did, without knowing. Fuck." A shiver went through him, at the thought, how close he'd come to killing Miles, the person he loved most in all the world.

"Well, if you hadn't been working for a mafia don-turned supervillain, you wouldn't have come close to making that mistake," Jeff growled. "If it hadn't been Miles—if it had been some other thirteen-year-old kid too young to shave—would you have done it?"

Aaron was the one who looked down now, because they both know he probably would have. And he wasn't proud of it, okay, but life was like that sometimes, and if kids didn't want to get killed, they should stay out of dangerous shit. It wasn't like he was some low-level thug, he didn't do drive-bys or shit like that (any more), the only way he'd be in danger of killing a kid was if they purposefully got in the way of something big.

But that wasn't the same as not being willing to kill a kid, if he had to, and they both knew it.

"You should confess, get a plea deal," Jeff said.

"Are you crazy?" Aaron scoffed. "Why would I admit when nobody knows I had anything to do with it?"

"It would make the case against Fisk stronger," Jeff said, leaning forward. "He'd get a longer sentence, you'd be safer."

"I'd be dead," Aaron said. "If I lay low, maybe he forgets about me. If I testify against him, then he'll have me killed. He has the reach to do it from prison, you know he does."

They went back and forth like that for a while, neither giving an inch. Eventually they subsided.

"How's Miles doing?" Aaron asked.

"How do you think he's doing? He has superpowers. People tried to kill him. His favorite uncle tried to kill him." Jeff's voice dripped with scorn and righteous indignation. "He almost died multiple times. That leaves a mark."

"He's a strong kid, he'll bounce back," Aaron said.

"He shouldn't have to," Jeff said. He shook his head. "Rio and I are completely out of our depth. He's home for now, but he'll be back at school on Monday. Maybe the distraction and routine will be good for him."

"Maybe," Aaron said, though he doubted it. Miles was miserable at that hellhole, and Jeff and Rio cared more about his college applications than whether he was happy. But now was not the time to hash out that argument.

Jeff got up and said good-bye.

"Hey," Aaron said, before he could leave. "You won't say he can't see me, will you?"

"Would it do any good if I did?" Jeff asked. He looked at Aaron, face hard. "I've known what kind of man you are for longer than Miles has been alive, Aaron."


The next day, Miles came by in the afternoon. He sidled into the room, wary in a way Aaron had never seen him be before.

"Hey," Miles said.

"Hey," Aaron said back. "How are you doing."

"Okay," Miles said. "Shouldn't I be asking you that?"

"I've been better, but I'll recover," Aaron said. "You don't have to worry about me. Thank you for taking my costume off, by the way."

"You're welcome," Miles said. "Thank you for not killing me, I guess."

Aaron shook his head. "Nah, man, I could never hurt you. I love you, you know that."

"But you could have killed me," Miles said. "You almost did."

Aaron had no answer to that. He couldn't say "not on purpose" because he had been trying to kill him on purpose. He just … hadn't known who was under the costume.

"Why'd you become a supervillain?" Miles' voice was plaintive, and there were tears in his eyes.

"Because it pays better than gang member," Aaron said. "And it's safer, and the hours are better."

"Why were you a gang member, then?" Miles asked.

Aaron shrugged. "You've been on the streets, man, you've seen it, you know how it goes. We don't all get good grades and scholarships and shit. And when the gang's there and you don't have other options for making something of yourself—"

"Dad didn't do any better than you in school, and he didn't join a gang," Miles said.

"Yeah," Aaron's voice was bitter. "He became a cop."

"Look, I know a lot of cops are corrupt or racist or whatever," Miles said, "but at least they weren't working with Kingpin to do something that would destroy the universe!"

"Hey, I didn't know it was dangerous, okay," Aaron said. "Doc Ock never said anything about that."

Miles scoffed. "Yeah, because mad scientists are so trustworthy and forthcoming about all the negative side effects of their research." He crossed his arms. "Are you going to continue as a supervillain?"

"Are you going to continue on as Spider-Man?" Aaron countered.

"Yeah," Miles said, as if any other answer was ridiculous.

"Do you know what happened to the last Spider-Man?"

Miles crossed his arms. "Yeah. I was there."

"It's dangerous, Miles, and you're just a kid—"

"—and isn't it kind of hypocritical for you to be lecturing me on danger?" Miles demanded.

"No, because I know what I'm talking about, and I never wanted you to have this kind of life," Aaron said, frustrated.

"I think there's just a bit of difference between being a supervillain and a superhero," Miles said.

"At the end of the day, I'm here, and Peter Parker isn't," Aaron said.

"If you think it's such a bad life, why don't you quit?" Miles said. "Because I'm not going to. New York needs Spider-Man!"

"We got along just fine before he came, I have no doubt we'd get along just fine without you," Aaron said.

"No, we wouldn't," Miles said. "If it weren't for me, New York would just be a twisted hunk of junk melded together from hundreds of different worlds, by now. We'd all be dying slowly and in a lot of pain. But your boss doesn't care, 'cause he'd have his family back. And I guess you wouldn't care, because you'd have gotten paid. Oh, whoops, you wouldn't care because you would have been dead because he would have killed you."

"He wouldn't have killed me—" Aaron said, then broke off because what could he say, that he'd have been fine because if Miles hadn't been Spider-Man, Aaron would never have hesitated to kill the Spider-People?

"There's nothing I can say that would make you stop being Spider-Man, is there," Aaron said. Miles was stubborn; it ran in the family. Argue, and he'd just get more set in his way. Maybe, if Aaron let it go, he'd change his mind later.

"No," Miles said. "Mom and Dad aren't going to change my mind, either, and they have better arguments—and they're not being hypocrites. So am I gonna have to follow you everywhere to foil your dastardly deeds?"

"No," Aaron said. "I'm hanging it up. No more cape for me." What the hell else he was gonna do to make rent, he had no idea; it wasn't like he had a lot of job skills or contacts outside of the underworld. But he'd have to take time off to heal and wait for Kingpin to forget his ire, anyway, and maybe by the time it was safe to show his face, Miles would have gotten bored with the whole superhero thing.

"Good," Miles said. "That's settled."

He turned to go, and Aaron watched him leave with an aching heart, knowing that Miles was hurting and disappointed and Aaron had caused it. He'd hurt and disappointed a lot of people, but … never Miles. "Hey," he said. "I love you."

Miles turned in the doorway. "Love you too, I guess," he said without looking up, and walked out.