What if something went very wrong, at the most pivotal point. The beginning. A brief look at a road not traveled, and more stolen material than you can shake a stick at.
You sure you want to know?
This is Peter Parker.
Peter is of rather unassuming appearance and bearing. He is fifteen. He's just gotten his first 'paying' job, but his name doesn't appear any where in the paperwork. Strictly under the table, and under an alias.
This is Peter Parker returning home one evening.
Money is a bit of a worry for him, but he does know the value thereof. And as for how he earns it, well, he _is_ a teenaged boy. And one who wouldn't consider abusing a chance granted by great power to, say, commit larceny.
He may have been changing lately, but it hasn't been that big a change. The new hasn't quite worn off yet.
Peter lives with his uncle and aunt, and has ever since his parents' death years ago.
Whatever his faults, and whatever bit of arrogance his personality may hold, he loves Ben and May Parker dearly.
From an evening under the glaring lights of a wrestling arena, he returns to the only home he can remember. A small house in Queens.
He knows something isn't right the moment he finds the front door unlocked, and the house dark and silent.
Too silent. Too still.
To his eyes and ears, so newly made so far more acute than they had been, this is simply wrong.
Hinges creak. He hears the door to the backyard swing this way and that. Feels the draft.
He smells food gone cold. And copper. And the hint of something acrid and burnt.
His eyes adjust to the darkness easily. He is numb.
"Uncle Ben? Aunt May? I'm home!"
He steps into the hall, calling out. He sees the living room. And the stairs leading to the upper floor. A shape lies slumped like a sack, having rolled from those steps.
Another is nearly at his feet, and equally immobile.
This is Peter Parker's world, crashing down.
The story of my life is not for the faint of heart.
If somebody said it was a happy little tale...
Peter Parker screams.
He cries in horrified disbelief.
In one fell stroke, in the course of one day, a life he thought he was on top of is undone.
And Peter is filled with sadness. A sorrow so much more profound than anything he'd ever felt when thinking of his parents.
And fear. Of what happened. Of the unknown. The fear of someone who's just lost everything he's ever had and real, true faith in.
And, more than anything else, he is filled with anger.
It starts deep in his chest, and at the base of his spine. It spreads slowly, creeping through limb and nerve and blood-vessel.
He's good at thinking. Good at figuring things out, even if he's not yet a wise person by any definition of the word.
He thinks, but there is only one thing he can think of, given the circumstances.
Someone will pay for this.
This, he swears to himself.
... that there'd be a happy ending?
It is only on the next day that people find out.
Only on the day after that when the papers mention it.
A turned up television set and a crime drama used as justification from one neighbor.
A drunken stupor still ongoing well into the following day from the other.
If anyone had heard the gunshots, they'd dismissed them as being the work of overeager and enthusiastic children playing with fireworks. Maybe if they hadn't, Ben or May Parker could have survived. Maybe paramedics would have been able to help. Maybe the police would have been able to chase down whoever had done it.
The world is full of maybes and what ifs.
Full of should haves, would haves, could haves.
This is Peter Parker's, as it sits perched atop a roof.
As it tosses a newspaper aside.
As it stalks.
As it lands amidst a group of men.
These are tough men. Tough with experience and ruthlessness rather than age. Tough with the conviction of their swagger and feelings of self-importance.
It doesn't care.
"Ben and May Parker. Who killed them?"
Amused disbelief gives way to outrage at being questioned. It's the standard response. What follows would have been even more-so.
There is nothing normal about this night.
Forgotten underneath the old bed of the maybe, there is a collection of old pulp novels. One of the few things it had left of its father.
This is Peter Parker's fear.
This is his sorrow.
And his anger.
It is a slow, creeping kind of anger. A methodical kind of anger.
Peter is good at thinking, you see, but not yet very wise.
Still, Peter is good at figuring things out.
This is a thing.
This is a problem.
And he will figure it out. Methodically. Logically.
Even if he has to take it apart, bit by bloodied and bruised bit.
The hunt is on.
The message goes out.
In the end, it simply isn't worth it.
Chasing shadows that will as soon disappear as they come alive to ensnare, question, and leave one a mess of whimpering, helpless pain.
There is a name that is dropped.
There is a name that is found.
There is a location that is discovered.
Far from it being that simple, but it is not ... difficult.
It takes three days for those being targeted to prove there is no honor in the face of self-preservation, and no money in keeping someone inconsequential protected.
This is when hearsay is repeated. This is when names start to happen happen.
This is a maybe of fifteen. In the past three days, it has lived out the equivalent of three years in blood, tears, and pain. Both its own and otherwise.
What remains is ripped gloves and bloodied knuckles. What remains is a body that refuses to stop. What remains is a mind picking apart a problem, and a basic, primal instinct lurking in the wings.
The web tightens. The world goes away.
His arms burn from the effort, before he lets go.
A body hurtles through the air, like a guided missile in tatters.
It strikes true.
Feet come down hard atop the speeding car. Fingers and hands and arms punch and tear through the flimsy aluminum of the roof with fury-fueled ease.
The driver and sole occupant is summarily yanked from his seat, seatbelt and all, and the vehicle is left to veer out of control and crash through the barrier, going over the side of the bridge and into the river below.
The next thing he consciously feels is the gravel of a rooftop on his cheek.
There is a person-thing crouching next to the man, and it takes him a moment to recognize the horrific apparition. He's seen it before.
And so has it him.
It's just chance that he moves. It's just reaction. To the danger. To the fear.
To the familiar weight of the gun in the back of his belt.
Bones crunch. Steel protests.
The man screams in pain, eyes wide with pain as the wrist and hand are mercilessly crushed by a vice like grip, cracking again and again as they are forced against the metal of the pistol he holds.
He dangles from one hand of the ... the showman. The bozo. The circus freak attraction.
The red and blue is not so funny as it had once seemed anymore.
"Why?" A hoarse, angry voice asks.
"W-why what? Why _what_?!"
"Ben and May Parker. Why did you kill them?"
The voice is no longer angry, and that scares him more than anything. It's a dead voice.
But he's started talking before that registers.
"Me? Me?! Could ask you the same thing, ya self-righteous bastard! Why, huh? Because it's you ..." The man is dangled over the edge, and looks down before he can stop himself. He messes his trousers. "Jesus! Ya want the one responsible, look in the mirror ya crazy fuck! You're as responsible for it as I am!"
All but the wind is silent.
The arm, at full extension before, starts to draw him back in.
Before stopping an inch or two short of the edge.
"That's bullshit. You held the gun, you aimed it, you made a decision to shoot."
"Christ on a crutch, why do you even care?!"
A hand reaches up. Yanks off the scuffed and savaged facemask.
'It's just some _punk kid_' briefly wars with 'Hey, I saw this face in a picture frame in that ... house ...'
"My name is Peter Parker. You want me to take responsibility for my actions? Fine!"
This is Peter Parker, letting go.
He doesn't look away.
This is not about great power.
He walks on.
He is unable to think.
He is empty.
A gaunt face with black rings around the eyes.
A tattered, torn-up, refuse-splattered coat that looks like it's been picked out of a dumpster.
Done. Burned out. Everything just seems to be a pale, washed out shadow of its former self to him.
What's left? No family. No life. Not even himself. Passing by storefronts, he looks at the window panes, and a stranger's reflection stares back at him blankly.
He moves forward. Stumbling along.
Hoping against hope that the world will somehow make sense again with the next step he takes.
It never does.
So he keeps walking, until he can't walk anymore. Until his mind is muddled, clouded, and half asleep.
Until he can no longer tell how, or why, or for what reason ... merely realize how very tired he is.
In the end, it's instinct that drives him. That has his body move. That has it seek even some vague semblance of shelter and separation. Limbs move, and he climbs, and things rustle around him with city winds in dirtied leaves.
He rests in the branches, lulled to sleep by the city's life-blood coursing all around.
He does not dream.
Rather, he is met by specters of vague images, flitting across empty blankness.
Dead to the world as his body burns anew.
Time enough for even an aimless hunter to realize its need to heal. To recover.
Day and night pass, and he does not stir. Day and night pass, and he is not seen. High in the branches, between the leaves.
Not even when dreams finally come.
And they are not good dreams.
Nor is it about great responsibility.
This is the waking mind.
A confused waking mind.
A waking mind wanting nothing more than to return to the embrace of slumber, even if it would be met only with nightmares.
And a waking body which has it hear metal sliding against metal. Feel the tension in the air.
Smell the sour stench of fear.
The light stings at his eyes, and they feel as though they were the tender things of a newborn, but they still see. Clearly. Stinging light, or no stinging light.
This is Central Park.
To both sides, men. Suits that didn't sit quite right on one side, with an older man in the center on one side. Hands move through molasses.
One side is first, with coats flapping as large, unwieldy looking weapons are retrieved.
He recognizes these.
Old. Almost archaic. But a .45 caliber bullet can be as archaic as you want it, and remain lethal.
It's almost pastiche, almost cliche ... his mind tells him this as it races. Thompsons and coats and bad suits on a sunny day in the Park, like something out of an old penny novella or gangster movie.
Almost makes him not move and just watch.
In between the two groups, roughly halfway, there is a blanket.
A picnic basket atop that. A husband. A wife. A boy playing with a kite, and a girl following along after.
It happens almost before he can realize it himself.
A jumble of images, and stinging pain in his wrists.
Two yanked off their feet, slamming through their respective groups with bone-jarring force ... but it's enough.
Two more go down hard, when he slams into one hard enough to break both his arms and shatters the other's jaw.
A tingling in the mouth, the jaw, and the next one goes down screaming and tearing at his face when he gets an eyeful of spit.
A piece of metal is hurled through the air, walnut stock shattering on impact, and he follows ... but there is only so much time. Only so much speed. And there are two groups.
It isn't a difficult decision to make. Not at all.
The bullet takes him high in the shoulder, another in the side, and a third one to the upper leg. Three. Those would have hit.
"I win," he says to himself.
Then it's just momentum that carries him, in a half-leap and half-stumble, and there's a moment of arms flailing wildly and shouts and cries of bloody surprise.
Darkness takes him.
There are no dreams.
It's about price.
This is Peter Parker, waking up.
This is Peter Parker, still alive.
This is Peter Parker, looking at himself in the mirror with eyes that lack whites or retina, but are simply uniform black. Feeling the insides of his wrists, where he would wear web-shooters before.
This is Peter Parker, closing those eyes, and making a choice.
I know it well.
And every night and day for the rest of my life ...
Black and gray on his face. Black and gray on his chest.
A finger traces the outline of the oversized off-white spider symbol on his chest.
So they shoot at the body-armor first. Mr. ... no, Frank's idea.
Twin 1911s in a shoulder rig.
Fighting daggers at the shins.
Those as well.
Peter Parker closes his eyes.
And the Spider opens them.
I pay it gladly.