Categories > Comics > X-Men > Days Never Meant To Be

Off The Wall

by Spyda 0 reviews

A young exotic is on the run, and it's a race between Max and the Fantastic Four to reach him in time.

Category: X-Men - Rating: R - Genres: Sci-fi - Characters: Magneto - Warnings: [!] - Published: 2017-04-23 - Updated: 2017-04-24 - 14175 words

Author's Note – Just a warning, there is some bad Google Translate towards the end. I don't actually know anyone who speaks Italian, and I needed some very specific dialogue, so...Internet to the rescue! ....sort of. Also, none of that dialogue reflects my opinions or views in anyway, they're just horrible people, and horrible people are always racist. Because racists are always horrible people, I guess.

Off The Wall

“This is a city-wide Code Stamford alert for all five Burroughs. Police and SHIELD officials are
advising civilians stay off the streets. A rogue exotic has been sighted in the vicinity of the George Washington Bridge; police and AEI enforcement agents are in search of this exotic-”

The wall of screens filling the electronics store window flashed the smooth, triangular face of a young man, no more than fifteen, with hazel eyes and dark brown hair.

“Officials are withholding the exotics name for safety reasons, but he is suspected in the deaths of two police captains and the assault resulting in hospitalization of a local high school girl. Suspect is five-foot-five inches, one hundred-four pounds, and is considered cataclysmically dangerous. If you see the suspect, do not confront them, but instead notify the SHIELD/AEI officers in your location. Repeat, this is a city wide--”

He juked to the left, a piece of mortar exploding as the sniper round struck empty rooftop. Looking around quickly, he spotted an open window. His mind raced with thoughts, “can I make it?”, “why is this happening to me?”, “what kind of idiot leaves their window open in this town, do they hate their possessions?”, as he ran for the window, ducking to avoid another bullet. He leapt, compressing himself into his knees as he squeezed effortlessly through the window. The residents screamed and recoiled as he slipped in, the father grabbing his children. He only smiled, sheepishly, apologized with a small nod of his head, and bolted for the door, “Sorry to barge in like this folks. Lovely place you have here. Say, is that a Rembrandt?” he rambled off as he vanished down the hall. He caught himself on the railing, muttering to himself, “Alright, now what? “ A searchlight cut through the skylight overhead, shocking him into ducking down, holding his breath. The very second it passed, he threw his legs over the railing, dropping down sixty feet to the floor on his haunches. He spotted a large, scruffy looking man exit the room marked, “Laundry”, and quickly stepped in before the door closed behind him. Looking around, he spotted a hamper full of dirty laundry, and quickly rifled through it, finding an oily pair of jeans covered in what he hoped to god was lemon pudding, and an oversized hoodie that smelled like it had been found in an Egyptian tomb. Shaking his head and sighing, he slipped the soiled clothes on, and quickly sidled into the hall again, tearing at the fire alarm hung on the wall as he passed by, rushing out the exit. He drew the hod over his head, and shuffled slowly down the street, as the searchlight from above moves in a beeline down the block. He stayed close to the building walls, getting lost in the shadows, and hoping he could get somewhere – anywhere – without passing someone he knew.

He didn't get twenty yards when he felt the heat of the spotlight land on him. The SHIELD gunship hovered over the street, sweeping the searchlight precariously. He thought for a second that he was caught, slowly this thought giving way to the idea that maybe they didn't suspect him. The loud static in his skull told him otherwise, and a split-second before the pavement was chewed up by heavy fire, his feet were pulling him down the sidewalk. He leapfrogged over a parked car, as it wilted under a hail of gunfire, throwing up his arm as he came down to the ground. A wire of fibrous material shot from his wrist, and with a jerk of his forearm, he pulled himself into the air, vanishing into the deep shadows of the buildings and alleyways.

The pilot pulled the gunship back, painting the alleyway with the spotlight, the ledges and uneven shadows of the buildings casting wide hiding spots, impenetrable from their vantage point.
“Shit. SHIELD One, this is Hunter Red Zero, bogey has eluded us. Returning to base for debrief and advise, over.”

Somewhere, unaware that his pursuers had called off the search, the lithe and spindly youth raced away into the night, tears streaming down his face.

The flashing lights covered the well-groomed suburban neighbourhood in a mixture of red, blue and yellow light. Max weaved his way through the crowds of people holding throng around the police barricades. He stretched his neck to see over a bevy of muttering heads, and saw in the flashing lights a smouldering wreck of a house, burnt wood and collapsed tiling being sifted through by firefighters. A small black form was carried into a mortuary ambulance, and Max heard soft whispers among the crowd, idle muttering about the woman who had lived in the house. One woman, short and thick in the middle with silver hair hung in curtains over her ears, breathed in hushed tones to the spindly old man next to her, “I always knew that boy would be trouble. I just never thought it would be like this.”

Max moved behind her, reaching into his pocket for the press badge and tape recorder Moira had given him. He quickly pinned on the badge, “Stephen Lombard”, to his vest, and loomed over the woman, startling her when he spoke up.

“Excuse me for interrupting, Madam, but I couldn't help but overhear. The police haven't been exactly forthcoming with information, do you know what happened here tonight?”
“Do I know? I only live next door to her. Poor dear, we were best friends. She never could catch a lucky break, I'm afraid.”

Max offered her a handkerchief, which the lady took and dauber at her wet eyes.

“M'name's Anna May. Was Watson, before my dog of a, now's not the time, I'm sorry.
It' was May Parker's house, see? My neighbour. She was a good, God-fearing woman. Never had a sore thought for anybody. Lived there for twenty years with her husband, bless his soul.”
“I'm sorry, did you say, May Parker?”
Anna scowled at the reporter, “Well of course I did. Aren't you listening? I always knew that boy would bring her trouble. Ever since her husband was killed, the boy became a flake. A slacker. Always running off, never taking responsibility for himself. It was shameful. And now this! Turns out he was a mutie the whole time!”
Max bit the inside of his cheek, holding his comment to himself. “A...I'm sorry, I'm missing a lot here? What boy?”
The small woman became indignant, “ Why, her nephew! Or rather, Ben's nephew. Never knew his brother, died when the boy was little. Wife, too. Damned shame, an air crash, I think. So Ben and May took the boy in. He was...well, it's old hat now, but you know what they always say; “he was quiet, kept to himself.” Always alone, up in his room, with his telescope. God knows what he was looking at, had the damned thing pointed at my niece's bedroom window!”
“Are you saying...Peter did this?”
“What? No, not him. Those robots. The one that scientist fella made, the giant man in the Dexter Building. Is that it? No, that's....Baxter, that's it, the Baxter Building.”

Max' eyes narrowed. “Hank Pym?”
“Well, I suppose. Don't know all their names. Anyway, we're all sleeping, the whole neighbourhood, when these....laser sounds start waking us all up. I rush outside, and the whole house is on fire, four of those robots are shooting at the Parker boy, and he's bouncing around like a flea on a trampoline punching them – and wrecking them! It was horrible. And to find out that he killed those two police officers? He even put one girl in the hospital, my niece's friend. We had that monster living next to us all this time. You ask me, the President's right about them, those power people. The sooner they're all gone, the safe we'll all be.”
“Thank you, Ms May, that's all I need.” Max tucked the recorder back into his pocket and walked away, cursing his lateness to the whole affair. Anna May called after him, puzzled. “Hold on! How'd you know Peter's name?”

Max swore under his breath. He should have been faster, should have been here to save the woman, to save Peter. He slumped onto the curb, buried his head in his hands and wept. It was all too much, too similar... another boy, another Peter, lost to him. Perhaps this was a sign, that this crusade of his, Charles' burden, was a fools errand and should be cast aside. What was he thinking, trying to step into Charles' shadow? He couldn't even protect his own family, how could he save complete strangers from the entire world?
Stop it, the small voice said. Max blinked in confusion. Had he...? No. This wasn't him. He wasn't the sort to feel sorry for himself. He shook himself hard, wiping the tears from his face, and stood up. He pulled out a quarter and found a payphone, dialing the motel and rubbing his red wet eyes. After a few rings, the desk clerk answered, and at Max' behest, called for Moira. Her lilting Scottish accent filled the line. “Max, what is it?”
“I was too late, Moira.” Max' voice was heavy and cold. “Pym's Sentinels found the boy before I did, he's gone. His entire house is--”
“What are you talking about, it's all over the news! Max, someone leaked his face to the press! SHIELD was hunting him in the Brooklyn area!”
“No, Moira, you're not making any sense, I'm here at his house, it's gone. He's gone.”
Moira's voice escalated in annoyance; “Did you see his body? Charles always said that if you don't see the body, never assume they're dead. The boy on the news matches the one in the data drive you stole from the Baxter Building. It's him, Max. He's alive!”
Max swallowed some air. Suddenly his head felt lighter. “Where is he right now, Moira?”

Th Holy Ghost Church opened it's shelter doors every evening at five, rain or shine, like clockwork.
Father Francis Delgado had inherited the rectory from a Father Anthony DiMazzoroni, a nice enough man, he had heard, if a bit humourless. Father Frank, as the kids called him, noticed a large number of homeless kids in the area with no place to go, and since the homeless shelter on Eighth opened up last fall, he converted the old rectory basement to a youth shelter, for the kids. It had brought it's share of heartaches – Francis didn't know if the saddest part was all the kids who came, or all the ones who came, then didn't – but he knew it was worth it. There were a few “regulars” - Ty Johnson was becoming a familiar face, as was the Lee girl with the strange name – “Jude,” or “Jube,” he couldn't quite decide, but Father Frank tried to keep a healthy balance of “there for you,” and detached distance, to avoid becoming burned out.

Tonight he saw some familiar faces: Ty was there, and the Jones boy from New Mexico, and a few others. Some new faces too. One caught Francis' eye, a young man of maybe only fourteen or fifteen, slight for his age, but...he was nervous. Like a spring coiled cat waiting to jump at the slightest noise.
He had seen this before, kids trying to get away from a bad home life, abuse and neglect. They had become programmed to accept the violence, and even when they were safe, they could never relax.
Father Frank approached the boy, who was weaving through the other kids, trying to avoid eye contact.
“Hey,” Frank intoned as he reached out for the boy. Like a shot, the kid vanished into the thin crowd, faster than Father Francis had seen him. Frank looked around, confused, and turned down the hall, certain he had seen an ankle vanish down here. He spotted the door to the cellar, an inch ajar, and opened it, pulling on the light chain and heading downstairs. Muffled footsteps moved ahead of him, barefoot on stone from the sound of them. Odd, he thought, the floor is dirt, not stone.
“Hey, listen, you're not in any trouble. Whatever brought you here, it's outside. You're safe in here. What ever it is: drugs, your folks...even if you're....different.”
Father Frank reached the bottom of the stairs, and switched on the light. He didn't even gasp when he saw the boy huddled upside down in the corner, stuck to the ceiling like some great bat.
“Hmm....listen, I don't turn anyone in unless they start trouble in my church. If someone's after you – the Four, for instance, than they won't find you here. This place is a sanctuary, for all God's children. Why don't you come down, and tell me about it.”
The boy only stared at Father Francis, unsure of what to do. The priest's eye, wide and blue, let him know that he had felt pain too, and in a great wail, the boy dropped to the ground, twisting in midair to land on his feet, and curled into a heap on the floor, bawling. Francis knelt to the boy, wrapping his arms around his back. “You're not the first special kid I've dealt with, you know. Sometimes they'll stop by on their way to where ever they think is safe. I...I don't know that I can make it better, son, but I can at least listen. Why don't you tell me about it?”
The boy sniffed, and for a long while, said nothing. The priest nodded, understanding, and stood to leave. “Well,” he said, “the least I can do is fill your belly and give you a place to sleep for the night.”
As he stepped up, a small voice piped up behind him, light and higher pitched than a boy of fourteen or fifteen. “W-why did they do it?”
Father Francis turned back to the boy, who was now looking up with red, swollen eyes.
“Who, my son? Who did what?”
The boy shrunk against the wall, trying to hide in the shadows.
“I never asked for this. I just wanted to help people. I tried to...tried so hard, but Gwen got hurt, and
the Captain Stacy...and Captain DeWolfe...I ever meant for anyone to get hurt, I swear, aunt didn't deserve to die, did she?”
Francis held the boy as he broke down. “No son. Nobody deserves to die.”
The boy collapsed against the priest's chest, his legs giving out under him.
“It'll be alright – what's your name, son?”
The boy sighed wetly, wiping his nose on the sleeve of his soiled hoodie.
“P-Peter, sir. Um, I mean, Father. Peter Parker.”
“Well, Peter, let's get you some clothes – there should be something in the charity hamper – and we'll see about getting you some food. After's in the Lord's hands.”

Captain America sat on the examination table as the SHIELD doctors pulled the blood-filled syringe from his arm. Nearby, a gruff looking man in a fresh-pressed military dress uniform and sporting a smooth-combed grey moustache watched as the doctor put the Captain through his paces.
“I won't bullspit you, Captain, Washington's not happy. Not with what happened in Niganda, and not with the security breach here. There's talk of revoking your charter.”
The Captain looked worried, his brow furrowed. “General Ross, The Fantastic Four by SHIELD's own admission was not given appropriate intel on the Niganda situation. “

The General huffed, “Rappaccini sells a different version, to the surprise of nobody. Sometimes I miss that old cut throat Fury. The man may have been a dirty double dealer, but he'd never lie to your face about the lies he told behind your back. She's saying she informed your people that Moses Magnum had help on the ground.”
“He did, and she did, General, but we weren't expecting a runner and someone who can generate force fields.”
General Ross huffed again, wishing for the life of him that he hadn't caved into his wife's demand that he quit cigars. Damned hell, he needed one now.
“Yeah, on that matter. SHIELD's been running their files – only a few speedsters on record, none of any real note since that Frank fella back in the big one...what'd he call himself? The Tinkler? The Pisser?”
Steve cleared his throat, warning the General. “The Whizzer, General, and I'll thank you not to speak ill of Bob that way.”
The General leaned against the wall, smoking an unlit pen. “Right, sorry. I forgot you and he were old war buddies. No offense meant. I only meant, he's the fastest guy we have on record. Nobody comes even close, but this white blur you all saw -”
“Silver. It was silver.”
“Right then, this silver blur, he's breaking all the records then. If he's as fast as you all say he is.”
Steve flexed his arm, refusing a bandage from the doctor. “He picked up Victor in a full suit of armour, deposited him two miles away and came back to save Magnum in a little less than four seconds. That puts him at thirty-six hundred miles per hour. At least.”
Ross removed his hat, crunching down on the pen to the point of nearly cracking it.
“Yeah, SHIELD said the same damned thing. And then there's the other one. We got a list of folks who can do the force field thing – some Italian wrestler, and a former chess champion, of all people, but none unaccounted for.”
Steve hopped off the table, pulling on a white t-shirt and exiting the examination room, the General close at his side. “So we have a new player, then?”
“Seems that way, Captain. Speaking of, this man who assaulted Iron Man and stole your data. Any luck finding him?”
“None so far, General. Iron Man's in his forge reformatting his armour, and Victor is trying to decipher the data from the server farm's sensors, but they're Iron Tech, and with Iron Man being so paranoid about his technology, Victor isn't sure he'll be able to get anything meaningful from them.”
“Damn. On a smaller matter, then, Captain. SHIELD reported an exotic up near Brooklyn, towards Yancy Street. Some suspect in a couple of homicides and an assault. Two dead police captains, and the daughter of one of the captains, oddly enough. The girl's been in intensive care the last few weeks following a trip off the George Washington Bridge, doctors aren't sure if she'll ever wake up.”
Steve stopped in the middle of the hallway. “General, if you're going to ask, ask.”
A huff followed, then, “The freak's slippery. A local tabloid outed him as one Peter Benjamin Parker. SHIELD has a file on him going back thirty years.”
The General handed Steve the folder; a few seconds of flipping through it, and Steve handed it back, having memorized the contents.
“Boy's only fifteen, General, why is the file twice as old as he is?”
“Because his parents were SHIELD. The boy was tapped as a potential asset back when Fury ran the show, seems he scored off the charts in a few aptitude tests the spook community sneaks into the schools every couple of years. The kid could have been the next Pym, or Von Doom, or Richards.”
“If he hadn't turned out to be an exotic. You know, General, I may go along with the AEI because it's the law, but don't think for one damned second that I agree with the ideas behind it. The President says exotics are dangerous, and from what I see, that's mostly true, but I've also seen good people hunted into the ground because they can glow in the dark or have an extra toe. If this Parker boy weren't an exotic, he'd still be on SHIELD's poach list, right?”
The General stewed a bit, before clearing his throat, “ Harumph! Yes, Captain, if he were not an exotic, SHIELD would still be looking to claim him. But he is.”
“But nothing, General. He could still be an asset. From what's in the file, he's made no aggressive overtures to law enforcement – those two police captains, one was killed by falling debris, and another exotic was sighted on scene, and the second was killed by a psychopath with a badge – who happened to be a former SHIELD agent, I might add. I'm not in the business of telling you how to do your job, General, but I will suggest maybe some exotics can be useful. And before you pull out the “good soldier” spiel I can see your lips forming right now, tread carefully. We both know what I did to the last group of men who 'were only following orders.'” Steve Rogers' jaw clenched as he flashed his resolve at General Ross, leaving him behind.
“Captain, this is-”
Steve waved the General off, “I'll find him, General; that's my job. But if I find out he's been mistreated, you and I will have words. You did learn how to box in the army, didn't you?”
As Captain America walked downstairs, General Ross skulked off. Somebody around here had to have a damnable cigar.

“I'm sorry, who did you say you were again?”
Max cleared his throat at the broad shouldered man's question. The newsroom around them was staffed by only a skeleton crew of people, so the room was unnervingly quiet.
“Eric Roussel, I work for the American People For Exotic Equity. We're a small group, only just starting out. We're hoping someone could shed some light on this...Parker, was it?”
Joe Robertson rubbed his neck. “And how did you hear about Peter so fast?”
“Well, I'm not in New York for Peter originally. I'm here to investigate the Fantastic Four and claims that they've been hunting innocent people who happen to be exotics. The Parker story broke just as I was getting ready to go home, and given some recent developments I uncovered, I thought it prudent to start where it all began. And the Daily Bugle is the paper that outed the boy, isn't it?”
The editor's door stopped Robertson's defensive response, and a tall, middle-aged man with a greying crew cut and an unfortunate moustache stormed out like a ranting dust cloud.
“Robbie, where the hell is that headline! I want copy ten minutes ago!” The raving man saw Max – Eric – and froze. “What's this, a sewing circle? I'm not paying you to socialize, Robbie! I want the headline! 'Exotics Amongst Us! Wallcrawling Menace Infiltrates Crusading News Media!' Who are you?”
The question was aimed at Eric, who started to introduce himself, when Robertson took over.
“Jonah, this is Eric Roussel. He represents a civil rights group looking out for exotics. He's here about Pe-”
Jonah's face became grave. “Don't say that rat's name. He's dead to me! After the crap he pulled, he lies he told-”
“No, Robbie. And you, whatever your name is, you civil rights hippies never stop to think about why it is some groups shouldn't have rights. These freaks are a danger to every law abiding citizen! The President says round them up! I say, line them up! I'll pay for the first box of bullets!”
This time the objection came from a young woman. She was maybe twenty, with short black hair, pretty in a classical way, with a small nose and triangular face. She only came up to Jonah's chest, barely, but the way she jutted out her chin and squinted at him angrily showed that she was a lioness dressed as a swan.
Jonah stammered a bit, not quite backing down. “Miss Brant, I don't pay you to interrupt me!”
“Well that's fine, Mister Jameson, I'll do it for free! Peter – that's right, I'll say his name as often and as loudly as I damned well want to – Peter was one of the best people you had working for you! And you ruined his life for a headline? If that's how the Daily Bugle rewards loyalty, Jonah, maybe I shouldn't stay here! Maybe none of us should! Who knows who you'll throw to the wolves for your next byline! Maybe me, maybe Ben Urich? Maybe Robbie?”
“That's ridiculous, Miss Brant, I would never—well I couldn't—this is a completely different matter!”
“Why, Jonah? Because Peter was an exotic?”. Max took a step back, removing himself from the discussion. He made a note that Joe Robertson seemed the honourable sort, tough but fair. And this Miss Brant had some courage, standing up to her employer.
“Robbie, you know the law. I had to turn him in-”
“Yes, turn him in, not turn him out! If you had to obey the law over basic human decency, you could have still done so quietly, instead of in twenty point bold italics on the front page!”
Jonah was silent for a moment, then remembered the agitator who started all this. “You! You see what you did? What the Sam Hill are you even doing here?”
Max returned to the conversation, standing up straight and clearing his throat. “I'm here to ask what you intend to do about the collateral damage your expose into Peter Parker has created?”
Jonah gave Max a puzzled look. “What collateral damage? The boy lied to us – to me! Whatever happens to him now is his own-”
“Earlier this evening, several of the Fantastic Four's Pym Sentinels went to Peter Parker's house in Forest Hills. There, they destroyed his home and killed his elderly aunt,” Max pulled out a notepad, flipping through it, “one May Reilly Parker, aged fifty-four.”
All the colour drained from Jonah's face, and his legs buckled from under him.
“M-May's dead? No...I never meant-” Jonah Jameson didn't finish his thought, instead ambling back into his office, his face pale and sullen.
“I-I'm sorry to have caused you any trouble, Mister Robertson, I...I thought you all knew.”
Robbie shook his head. “No, we didn't know! My god, I met the woman...she came in here when Peter first started working was hilarious, the way she chewed Jonah out for keeping Peter from his studies. She couldn't have been more than five foot nothing, and she was like a kitten taking on a pit bull. She was good people. Mister Roussel. If...if you find Peter, where ever he is in this merciless world, tell him...tell him that I'm sorry. Now, I should go make sure Jonah's alright. He won't admit it, but he liked Peter too. Probably why finding out he was an exotic hurt so much.”
And with that, Joseph Robertson walked away sadly into Jonah Jameson's office.

Max made his way down the street quickly. He had hoped that perhaps the people who had unmasked Peter to the world would have some bead on where to find him, but it was obvious that Jameson was just a sensationalist looking for an angle, although he clearly had some semblance of a soul left.
A police car sped by, and Max picked up his pace, convincing himself that Peter needed him.
A drumbeat of light footsteps followed him. Unconcerned, Max turned around, and saw the short black bob of Miss Brant trailing him at a hurried clip. “Hey, hold on!” She waved after him, catching up with barely an effort.
“Miss...Brant, was it?”
“Yeah, Elizabeth Brant, Mister Jameson's...well, not assistant, lead researcher, I guess. The man can't even use Google, God knows how he feeds himself. And you are--?”
Max offered his hand to the young woman, a friendly smile on his face. “Eric Roussel, Miss Brant, of the-”
“Yes, the American People For Exotic Equity, I heard that part.”
Max nodded, “Yes well, there you have it. Now if you'll excuse me, I really must be going.”
Max turned to leave, and got a whole five feet before Betty Brant chimed in again.
“Funny thing, there's no such group.”
Max stopped, turned around, and trudged back to Miss Brant.
“As I told your Mister Robinson-”
“Robertson,” Betty corrected.
“As I told your Mister Robertson, we're really quite new.”
“I'm not stupid, Mister Roussel, if that is your real name. Any pro-exotic group, no matter how young it may be, would be flagged by the State department, and you're group isn't mentioned in any chatter.”
“How would you know what's mentioned in State department chatter?”
“I have my sources. For instance, the big stories in SHIELD are this massacre in Africa that's being hushed up, and some lunatic actually stealing something from the Baxter Building. Can you imagine?”
“No, I can't. Now if you'll--”
“You won't find him. Peter. That's why you're here, you're looking for him?”
Max looked around, seeing nobody paying any attention to the tall white-haired man and the young woman on the sidewalk. He pulled her into a nearby alley, wrinkling his nose in disgust at the smell but burying his revulsion deep.
“What do you know, Miss Brant?”
“I know Peter's a good guy. After his uncle was shot, that's when he started helping people. Saving them from muggers and carjackers – he even stopped an arsonist, did you know that? No, because 'Exotic Saves City' wouldn't be as sensational as 'Webbed Menace Terrorizes New York!' He doesn't deserve what's happening to him. Tell me you're a good guy too, Mister Roussel.”
Max looked at the young woman. Her eyes were near-red with tears, her lip quivering. Something in him sunk, and he nodded.
“Eisenhart. My name is Max Eisenhart, Miss Brant, and...I'm trying to be one of the good guys. My story is a long one, but suffice it to say, I am here for Peter's best interests. I want to keep him safe, so he can find some semblance of a normal life in this mad world.”
Betty looked at Max' eyes, and smiled lightly. “Alright, Mister Eisenhart. I'll believe you.”
Betty walked out of the alley, waving at Max to join her. The pair walked side by side down the street, speaking in guarded tones as people rushed past.
“My stepbrother Mark, he was a genius. Like, literally. He was working on a new type of alloy, something that could store energy like a battery and release it when needed, when there was a blackout in our building. I guess his equipment was really delicate, because the whole thing torched our apartment.”
“I'm sorry to hear that, Miss Brant, but I don't see-”
“Mark wasn't the same after that. I mean, literally. He was all bronze all over, too strong to function much in the real world, and whenever he lost his temper – which was a lot after the accident – things would burst into flame. Eventually he had to run before the Fantastic Four tracked him down. Broke my parents' hearts.”
“He was an exotic?”
“Mm-hmm. When he was on the run, he would talk to me in private messages, tell me how much he missed us, where he was, how he was getting by. He mentioned all sorts of things exotics in hiding do to survive, signs they leave on the walls to signal danger to other exotics, or where to get food and shelter.”
“Like hobo signs; markings they would use to help out fellow travellers.”
Betty nodded. “Yeah. He also mentioned this place he would go sometimes, a church. The priest there is a very good man, Mister Eisenhart, he takes in the kids that need a place to stay, and he doesn't ask any questions. Mark said he even takes in exotics when they come. Mark could never stay long, all anyone would have to do is look at him to know he wasn't normal, but he told me it was a good place to go. If Peter were looking for some place to crash or just try to sort things out, it would be there.”
Max wasn't so certain. “I don't know, Miss Brant, what makes you so sure Peter would go to this church? How would he even know about it?”
Betty grew quiet for a second. “Because...Mark didn't take the accident well. He...stole somethings, trying to cure himself. And Peter...has issues with thieves, so he sort of got involved. He found Mark at the church, there was a fight, Mark sort of...cleaned Peter's clock. The priest took care of him, though. I'm just thinking, if Peter remembers the place, maybe he went there? It's a long shot, I know, but-”
“But I have nothing else to go on right now. Thank you, Miss Brant. Where is this church?”
“It's over on 42nd Street. Holy Ghost Church. Ask for Father Frank, tell him Mark Raxton's sister sent you. He'll trust you then.”
“I will, Miss Brant. Thank you again.” Max turned, walking away. Betty called after him.
“Hey! What will you do if you find him?”
Without turning back, Max replied, “Protect him!”

Peter stared at the clothes the priest had given him in horror; someone, some human being, presumably from the planet Earth, actually thought red sweatpants, a red sweater, and a blue hoodie vest were a good combination. Still, they didn't reek of old yogurt and loneliness, so he slipped them on and exited the washroom, heading down the warm hallway to the mess. Other kids, some even younger than him, sat at the long tables, as the church volunteers carried trays of food from the kitchen to the serving table. He sighed, pulled up the hood, and found a seat in the corner next to a couple other kids. One of the boys, a skinny black kid of no more than thirteen, turned to Peter excitedly.
“H-h-hi,” the boy stuttered, “I'm T-T-T-Tyrone, buh-but everyone calls me Tuh-Ty. Wu-What's your name?”
Peter smiled politely, not really sure if he wanted any friends. “Um...Peter.”
“Huh-Hi, Puh-Peter. You new here?”
“No, I've been here once before.”
“Oh/ Well thuh-that's good. I mean, it's not good that you're here, buh-but it's good that you can come here, y-ya know?”
Peter smiled more widely now. Ty seemed friendly enough. The two youths talked and laughed, although there was one awkward silence when Ty slipped up and asked about Peter's family, Peter clamming up and struggling not to break down.

In the kitchen, Amanda Bierce, a mother of two who volunteered at the church to work off a shoplifting collar, whispered excitedly to two other volunteers, all three looking from the screen on Amanda's phone, to the brown haired kid in the blue hoodie. Amanda shook her head noiselessly, ending whatever argument they were having, and quickly put the phone into Call mode, hitting a familiar three tone code.


Sparks flew as the spot wielder torched the diode coil, providing the only illumination in the room. Beneath the wielder's mask, a broad grin stretched out. This will do it. This will prove who the real genius is. Then everyone – Von Doom, Pym, even that anachronism Rogers – would all have to pay attention. He knew what they really thought of him. Never gave him the respect he deserved, thought he was an idiot for letting that...FREAK!, escape with the data drive. But with the new improvements to the armour, nobody would ever think less of him! He was Iron Man! He was Sta--

The lights coming on disturbed his mental monologue, his hidden face red from anger and embarrassment at having be interrupted. He spun around accusingly, ready to bite the head off of whatever idiot janitor tripped and decided to invade his forge. Instead, he saw the familiar green hood and silver armour of Victor von Doom.
“What? What is it, I'm busy!”
Victor only gave a tired look, exasperated by Iron Man's usual attitude.
“We're needed. There was an anonymous tip, a fugitive exotic is holed up in a church on 42nd Street..”
Doom disappeared back down the hall. Finally, Iron Man thought. It was him, it had to be. And this time, he'd have his revenge. The new suit would see to that.

The police had cordoned off the street three blocks ahead of the SHIELD perimeter surrounding the church. Max scanned the area as best he could without drawing any suspicion, but it seemed air tight. Even the sky was locked down, with SHIELD gunships and the Fantastic Four's Sentinels in the area. The vaguely skeletal machines especially unnerved him, and he quickly retreated back to what he hoped would be a safe distance. Looking around, Max saw the Four speaking with the SHIELD Negotiator near the church. After a few seconds, Captain America turned to the other two, calmly planning strategy, Max theorized. Doom nodded and took to the air. Iron Man waved Captain America off dismissively, and trundled his massive armoured frame into a back alley. Max took an adjacent alley nearby himself, careful to stay out of sight. Creeping down a parallel alleyway, Max spied as Iron Man punched down into the pavement, denting it like a bombshell. Two more blows and the asphalt was loose enough for the tank-like armour's thick hands to pull away, revealing a nine-foot drop into a lightless storm tunnel. Without a thought, the gunmetal grey cocoon dropped into the darkness, landing with all the subtlety of an ice-skating walrus. Max tentatively approached the newly sundered hole, looking to make sure the titanic enforcer wasn't lurking in the shadows. A voice alerted Max to his right, ducking him back down the alley. He watched a Captain America coordinated with the SHIELD negotiators, and once the Captain had turned back to the church, Max made his move, slinking into the broken pavement after Iron Man, hoping that somehow he was able to get to Peter first.

Inside the church, Peter shot another load of webbing at the window, sealing it and fortifying it against potential incursions. A few volunteers had remained once SHIELD arrived, most taking off, the children following after with Peter's blessing. Father Francis insisted on staying, on trying to help Peter, but the boy was inconsolable. The people who had murdered the last of his family had come for him, and in a panic, he wasn't thinking clearly. The doors and windows were webbed tight, so that not even a bullet could get through. Father Frank was in the kitchen, trying to console the few volunteers who remained, their faces frozen masks of terror at the human spider trapping them inside. Peter paced about the floor frantically, muttering to himself as he struggled to cope with the situation. Father Francis strode to Peter, but the boys eye caught Amanda Bierce, the woman who had started this madness, and in a blur of motion, he fell upon her, his vice-like grip on her shoulder threatening the shatter her collarbone as he raged at her.
“You! You did this! Why did you do this? I never did anything, I don't deserve this!”
Amanda shrunk in fear against the wrathful youth, tears in her eyes. “Please don't hurt me, I have a family!”
Something broke in Peter, his eyes going wild. He hurled a nearby counter clear of it's contents, spilling groceries and utensils and an eight-pound mixer flying across the room.

Father Francis tried to calm the raging boy down, but Peter pushed him back like he was nothing, sending him crashing into the wall with a sickening crunch that made the priest squeak out a broken moan. Peter, for his part, hoisted the frightened woman from the floor, holding her over head by one arm, his eyes wet and red with anger and betrayal. “All I ever did was help people! I was a good person! I tutored them, I kept my head down, I never caused anybody any trouble! So why did you bastards kill my aunt? All I ever did was help you! Protect you! And you do this?”
Amanda melted into a weeping priapism, “I''m sorry, I didn't mean it, please, I'll do anything you say!”
Peter froze, his hand pulled back and balled into a fist. It had all come to this, everything. The expose, the Sentinels, Gwen and Captains Stacy and DeWolfe...Aunt May. Here he was at the end, and he was ready to kill someone Not even a super villain, not even the bastard who killed his Uncle Ben, just...someone. He stopped, staring at Amanda Bierce as if seeing her for the first time, his eyes wide and blank.

And his fingers relaxed.

Amanda slumped to the floor, and Peter looked at his clenched fist. He would have done it. He knew that much, he would have killed her. He stumbled back, the horror of what he had prepared to do hitting him full force. He could practically hear his Uncle Ben's voice chiding in disapproval. None of this was what he wanted. What he wanted was to study for his Chem exam, maybe goof around with Harry and Gwen...not sit in the middle of a hostage situation with Captain Freaking America ready to kick the door down and put a bullet in his head. This was too much. It was hard to breathe, hard to think anything that wasn't a full blown panic attack. Any second now, Iron Man, or Dr. Doom would come through the door, or the wall, or just shoot him with a laser beam from twenty miles away and he'd be dead. That was the end of it. Nobody ever got away from the Fantastic Four. Not that big green guy in Nevada, or the ghost biker in New Mexico, nobody. It was all over for him.

Peter stepped back, and in a mad, weeping sprint of impossible speed, was gone. It only took a few seconds for him to find himself in the chapel, staring at the broad wooden doors he had webbed up only minutes ago. The webbing would hold for an hour, not even a tank could have driven through it. Peter knew something though. A bare patch of unwebbed door, just to the left. If someone had a small enough battering ram, and sufficient strength, a fair sized hole could be hammered out. He flexed his leg, and prepared to run at the door. He was ending this on his terms. Like a coiled spring, he lurched forward, his foot creasing the hardwood floor with the force of his takeoff.


Peter didn't know if it was the desperation in the voice that halted him, or something else. In a church, the night he's been having, it may have been God himself for all he knew.
He turned and saw Father Francis, wincing in pain and nursing an injured shoulder. The priest stepped forward, wheezing in pain.
“Peter, don't do this. They'll kill you out there.”
“I know. It's better that way.”
Francis shook his head. “Better for whom? You said you wanted to help people, to protect them. How are you going to do that if you're dead?”
Peter shook his head, kicking a pew in frustration and splintering it. “I can't help anybody! All I ever do is make it worse!”
He spun around, unsure of where to turn, so he wound up crumpling on the floor, weeping, arms over his head.
“Why...why don't they want me? I did everything right, I was exactly what they wanted me to be! What did I do wrong?”
There was commotion outside, that drew Father Frank's attention. He peeked through the webs out the window, and saw SHIELD SWAT preparing a battering ram.
“Peter, listen to me” the priest began, hurrying over to the shattered boy, grabbing him by the shoulders, “this is not how you want it to end. You said you wanted to help people. If you go out there, who are you helping? Nobody! I know you've lost folks, and I'm sorry, but you never really lose anyone as long as you remember them. And if you're not here to remember your aunt and uncle, than they really are gone.” The priest could see that Peter was too broken to argue; perhaps that could be used to his advantage. “Peter, if you die, who's going to tell their story?”
Peter slowly shook his head, when a loud voice boomed through the cathedral.


Francis looked back at Peter, pulling him quickly out of the chapel.
“Listen to me now, there's still a way back from this. You haven't hurt anybody, Peter, and that tells me a lot. It tells me that you're still a good person.”
The priest led Peter downstairs off the rectory, to the basement. To a rusted metal door.
“This right here is an access door to the cistern, Peter. Go down through here, and you'll find a way into the storm sewer. Follow it until you get to the river. From there....anywhere else. Genosha will take you easily. If you can't get there, try England, or Australia.'re done in New York, I'm afraid. They won't stop until they find you. Do whatever you can to get out of the States, but hurry. I imagine if the Four are here, that webbing won't hold them out too long.”
Peter stared at the priest, in numb shock; “What about you?”
Father Francis laughed shortly, but it wasn't a humorous laugh, more a nervous chuckle. “Peter, this might seem trite, but what would Jesus do? Some in the church would hand you over to SHIELD, smiling and nodding and claiming to do the Lord's will; but the Jesus I follow, he'd stand up to those in power to save one misfit, one outcast, even at the risk of his own life.”
The moment was ruined by the heavy pounding on the chapel door. Resounding throughout the halls.
“There's no time now. As fast as you can, go!”
Peter only stared at the priest with wide eyes, then nodded, vanishing like a shot into the tunnels.

Father Francis Delgado knelt before the door of the chapel as it splintered open. The webbing had kept them out for a while, ten whole minutes, but eventually the force of the ram began to pull at the masonry, and the doors came off their hinges. The incursion team found the priest, head bowed and hands clasped, muttering a quiet prayer of contrition, asking God to understand his rebellion.
God, he hoped, would forgive him for not rendering unto Caesar. SHIELD, however, was not so kind, and for months during his trial, Father Francis Delgado would be branded a traitor and a revolutionary. And when he was finally released from prison seven years later by the next president, he would not once refute the titles.

Peter demolished the cold cement floor as he ran, the force of his footfalls creating small spiderwebs of debris and impact with each step. It made his feet sting, and he knew sooner or later he'd break something, but he had to run as fast as he could, as far as he could, and it just happened that 'as fast as he could' was pretty damned fast. The tunnel ended some yards back, and he could tell from the cold air and deep shadows that he was well into the storm sewer. His skull buzzed and banged every so often, his spider-sense warning him of when he was going the wrong way, when SHIELD was right above him. He banked on a left turn, kicking off a wall he had only barely seen in the dark. The tunnels were just barely large enough for a grown man to stand up in, and colder than a witch's tit, Peter noticed, and through the storm drains lining the street above swirling red and blue and yellow lights bled in. Peter was almost tempted to poke his head up and look through one, to check how thick the SHIELD presence was, but he didn't trust that he wouldn't be seen if he did, so he kept running at a sprinter's pace. It wouldn't be long before they got through that door and found the tunnel, and then he'd really have to run. But run to where? His first thought was back home t Forest Hills. He wanted to say goodbye, even if it was just to a pile of ashes and the ghost of his family, to apologize for not being able to protect them. Then....then what? Run? To where? Genosha was all the way in Africa, and he had no money. Canada? It was closer, he could be there before sunrise, given his speed and stamina, but he had heard that Canada wasn't much better for exotics, the government there was somehow even more full of raging assholes. England was nice, he thought, even had schools just for exotics and he spoke the language, mayb--

Peter slammed nose first into something hard and cold, and he was certain he had broken his nose. He held it, convinced the stinging warmth was blood rushing between his fingers, when the blaring hum in his skull told him to move back. He juked to the right, spinning backwards on his heels, and squinted in the darkness. He needn't have bothered, because Iron Man was kind enough to turn on his shoulder mounted spotlights.

Max followed the heavy thumps that he had determined were Iron Man's leaden footsteps. The tunnels wound and bent in a strange 'S' pattern, veering off into side pipes that ended in steel grates or aqueducts. He made sure to walk slowly, masking the sound of his movements through the frigid water with the heavy thrashing of his quarry, and staying low and out of his sweeping spotlights. The tunnels weren't terribly large, and Max knew that if it came to a fight, that manoeuvrability would be a minor issue, but given how large Iron Man was by comparison, he was confident he would win, although the tunnels would likely collapse from the chaos. For what seemed like a wet, bone-chilling hour, Max tailed Iron Man through the concrete tubes and refuse water, until suddenly the tank-like enforcer halted. Max ducked behind a wall, listening to the deep, pounding splashes of someone running through the water. There was a sudden stop in the footsteps, and the muted metallic clang of impact, followed by more splashing, and finally, the sudden drone of Iron Man's highlights coming on, then the distorted boom of his voice.

“There you are, you little shit! Making me run through the goddamned sewer, I should blow your fucking head off for that!”
Max peered around the wall, and saw the solid, rounded silhouette of Iron Man, and a young boy standing, blinking, amidst two massive spotlights.
The boy must be Peter, Max thought. H-he's so young!
Iron Man craned his arm up, the palm of his hand glowing and humming. Max knew what came next, and quickly stepped away from the wall. Peter was frozen in fear, preparing for the death he knew was coming, when Iron Man shot upwards, slamming his head and shoulders into the concrete ceiling, destroying the spotlights with a satisfying crunch, then slamming first into one wall, then into the other, and finally being jerked backwards as if by a giant invisible hook, like you see in cartoons pulling people off stage after a bad performance. Peter squinted through the shadows and the momentary blindness of the lights to try and see what had happened, but saw nothing except darkness. A voice called out, calm and smooth, with a bit of a European accent to it.
“Peter, quickly! I'm not going to hurt you, I'm here to help! I'm an exotic, I'm going to get you out of here!” Peter felt some reach for his shoulder, a gentle hand touching him. There was no blaring, no buzzing, his spider-sense was calm and docile. He breathed a sigh of crippling relief, falling into the person's chest and threatening to sleep. Only the heavy clatter of metal being pushed aside kept him alert. A hollow, metallic voice filled the darkness.
“Nobody is going anywhere, shitbird. Looks like Rogers can stick it up his ass, I'm getting two freaks for the price of one.”
Max held Peter close. In the distance, he could hear faint footsteps in water coming from the direction Peter had appeared from. He had to work fast. He thrust his hand into the darkness, towards the clanking that was Iron Man's attempts to stand again. With a bit of a push, Max made the air drone and hum. A smile crept over his face, he couldn't help it.
“Tell me, you bloody fascist – what makes you, you?”
“Wha-YOU!! You son of a bitch! I'm ready for you now!”
Iron Man clapped his fists together, and a ethereal sheen of purple electricity crackled over his form. Magneto raised an eyebrow, intrigued.
“You like this, asshole? Made it just for you! I'd like to see you toss that telekinetic shit at me now!
Fitted this bitch with enough electromagnets to shut down any freaky little psychic bullshit you got!”
Max laughed out loud. It wasn't a cruel laugh, or a nervous one. He legitimately found the situation funny. “I'm sorry, electromagnets? You poor, stupid bastard.”
“The fuck's so funny?”were the last words Iron Man spoke before the armoured suit crumpled into a ball, arms and legs folding into the torso, helmet caved in, and the whole thing tossed into the tunnel from which the footsteps were coming, blocking the SHIELD team's approach.

Peter felt a hand tug at his shoulder gently, and an accent-inflected voice pipe up from the darkness, just as the sound of folding metal and indignant screams ended with a blocky thud.
“Peter, I don't have time to explain now, but I need you to trust me. Hang on tight, and I'll get us out of here.”
Before Peter could respond, he felt a rush of wind and the crackle of static electricity. The light from the storm drains raced past him, providing just enough illumination to tell him that he was somehow flying at a miraculous speed. The blood and wind rushed through his ears, and he blinked as the stranger seemed to veer upwards through a large hole punched through the ceiling, the night time cityscape illuminated with police lights and searchlight. The stranger flew up, above the church, Peter watching as SHIELD stormed the church. He uttered a small prayer for Father Francis, hoping that he'd be alright and the church – the kids – wouldn't lose him.

|Peter looked up at the man who had rescued him – he was maybe forty-five at least, with a thin face and prominent nose, silver hair, and thick black eyebrows. He brought to mind Jim's Dad from the American Pie movies, only...less comical. That, or something evoking Liam Neeson. Either way, Peter was in silent awe of the strangers presence. That ended when the searchlight fell upwards on them, causing Peter to yelp in terror.

Doom was on them first, firing up his armour's jet boots and veering towards them like a missile. Max held Peter close, and concentrated, taking off ahead of the hooded figure. Blasts of hot white energy seared past Peter's head as they barrelled down the city canyons. Doom was fast, and he wasn't firing warning shots.
“Stop this madness and surrender! None escape Doom!”
Peter looked frantically to his saviour. “Can't you do that thingy you did to Iron Ass? Crunch this tool!”
Max looked back, and shook his head. “I can't. I'm riding the magnetic fields in one direction, I can't attack him without altering our path and slamming us into a wall.”

Peter thought for a second, and slithered out of Max' clutch, flipping onto his back, crouching.
“Can you still fly us like this?”
Max banked to avoid an energy blast that exploded a high rise window, sending knives of glass to the street below. “I should be able to. What about you, won't you fall off?”
Peter set his jaw and narrowed his wet, sore eyes on Doom.
“I'm Spider-Man. This is my damned sky.”
Peter held his elbows at his side, like a gunslinger, and fired a shot of gray liquid that expanded into a net of clustered wires that narrowly missed Doom. The good Doctor weaved and ducked to avoid the shot, blobs of webbing forming a jungle of hair-thin cables between buildings that kept any SHIELD gunships from following. Peter leaned back as a blast came for his head, only singeing the tip of his nose. He righted himself again, and returned fire. Victor rolled out of the way, and a dogfight over the busy streets of New York was under way. Max fishtailed to lose Doom, with Peter keeping him on target, firing shot after shot of webbing, his fingers clicking into the trigger panel on the palms of his hands faster than the human eye could see. The air was thick and treacherous with web shots, and Victor spun too late to avoid one, catching a glancing blow off his shoulder. This set him up, as Peter unleashed all hell, firing webbing like a machine gun, striking the Doctor in the face and covering his eye holes. Doom tried to pull the sticky webbing from his face, only to have the barrage continue, pasting his hand to his face plate; more webbing struck him, weighing him down and pulling him toward the street, only for him to succumb to Peter's superior speed and accuracy. In a flurry of motion, Peter emptied his web shooters completely, a sticky gray fog clinging to Doom's body and slamming him into an office window, his boot-jets trying in vain to force him free of his bindings.

Peter cheered and hooted as Doom floundered against the wall. He cupped his mouth with his hands, and shouted back, “Suck on that, you freaking lunatic! Got your ass kicked by a fifteen year old, how 'fantastic' d'ya feel now?”

A series of explosions tore through the web-jungle barring the cityscape, as Captain America rode through on some manner of high-tech flying motorcycle without wheels, his signature shield slotted in the front like a windshield. Peter saw his webbing blown open and burning, and sunk down onto Max' back. “Aw damn...guess I need to punch up the formula a bit.”
“Can you hit him, Peter?”
“No, I used all my fluid on Doctor Dickhead. I only had enough for a short fight, anyway. Want me to go punch him until his crazy falls off?”
“Yes, I want the boy I'm risking my life to save to jump at the super soldier determined to kill him. Go with God.”
Peter tensed up to jump, when Max' voice stopped him; “For god's sake, boy, I was being sarcastic!”
Peter turned back, his legs relaxing. “Oh. You really suck at it, just so you know.”
Max banked a hard left to take a corner, narrowly missing a rocket fired from the Captain's...Peter had taken to thinking of it as a 'sky cycle.' The missile hit a water tower atop a building – Max surmised it was a law office from the signage – spraying the two fugitives with debris. Max struck the wall hard, yelping as his shoulder gave out. Peter held onto the wall by his fingers, his other hand clutching Max' tightly. Captain America skated to a halt in midair, hovering just in front of the cornered fugitives.
“You gave a good run, but you really should have surrendered.”
Max whispered to Peter, just loud enough for the boy to hear, “Peter, I'll hold him off, you run. I'll meet you back where Mark Raxton's sister works.”
“But what about you, you're hurt?”
Max scoffed, “I'm fine. I don't need my shoulder to fight. I'm my power.”
Peter looked at the white-haired stranger, and nodded. He didn't know this man, but something made him trust him. He released his burden, and clambered along the wall, leaping across the urban canyons, until he was out of sight. Rogers motioned after him, but his sky cycle froze in place. The injured man hung in the air like a ghost, glowering at the Captain.
“Captain America, I would have words with you.”
Steve Rogers only stared at the wounded man, then parted his thin lips. “Don't take too long, the gunships will be along shortly.”
Max tilted his head, confused. “What?”
“I said, don't take too long. If they see us talking together, it'll raise questions. Not that you'll be alive to appreciate that. I'll tell them that you...did whatever you do, I lost you, and the two of you escaped. But you have to hurry.”
Max' eyes darted around, thinking. This was a trick. It had to be. This was Captain God Bless America here, he...he was medically incapable of contemplating insurrection! The words, “no” and “sir”, when placed side by side in that order, caused his brain to have a hard reboot! He couldn't be talking about letting two fugitive exotics escape!
Captain America saw this bewilderment, and spoke up curtly. “Listen to me, just because I enforce the damned AEI doesn't mean I agree with it. Do you honestly think a man who punched Hitler in his sadistic little face would agree with this bullshit? I've been trying to change things from the inside, as best I can. I don't know who you are, if you're with Magnum or not, but I don't think so; you haven't killed anyone during this sortie, and if you were one of Magnums, we'd be scraping corpses off the pavement.”
Max had no idea who this “Magnum” was, but Captain America spoke of this person like he was the second coming of Mohammar Qaddafi.
“What's to keep you from tracking us down and killing us at your own leisure, Captain?”
Steve thought for a second, only a second, and set his already square jaw. “My mother.”
Max shook his head, uncertain, but the distant sound of the gunship approaching had made his mind up for him. He'd have to risk trusting this man for now.
“You know I'll have to hurt you.” Max tried to make it sound like an unfortunate reality.
Rogers nodded. “There's a roof just below me. It's only a few hundred feet, I've stubbed my toe on greater heights than that. Do your...whatever it is, and I'll land there. What do you call yourself?”
“Ma--” Max stopped. He hadn't thought of an alias. He'd need one if he was going to finish Charles' work, it would certainly make things easier to have backup identities for emergencies. “Magneto. Like what they used to have in engines.”
“Magneto. I don't know what you're planning with that boy, but you keep him safe. Kids like him shouldn't be caught in our madness. Give him a chance to be a kid, just for a while longer.”
Max nodded, understanding. Maybe he could trust this man, a little. The Captain raised his chin, his eyes resolute. He nodded briefly. “Do it.”
Max only thought – he didn't actually have to use his hands to use his powers, he only did that as a targeting mechanism – he only thought, and the sky cycle flew backwards, Captain America slipping off and rolling as he landed on the rooftop below. The Captain lay there, feigning pain – or actually being in pain – and Max quickly took off after Peter. Captain America tapped his left ear, activating the ear piece hidden under his cowl. “This is Rogers, call off air search. Bastard got away. Repeat, we lost both targets. Reel it in, we'll try again in the morning.” The pilots grumbles, and Steve knew that Iron Man at least would rant and rave, but the gunship pulled back, and Steve Rogers rolled onto his side, wincing at what he suspected might be a bruised rib.

Max found Peter of the roof of the Daily Bugle, pacing atop the bugle graphic sign. Before Max could touch down on the roof, Peter twisted to face him, his face full of fear and exhaustion.
“Alright, just who the hell are you and what the hell was all that back there?”
Max was taken aback, but quickly put the situation under his control.
“Of course. I apologize for all the confusion. My name is Max Eisenhart. I'm...well, I'm a mutant. An exotic, like yourself. I can control magnetic force.”
Peter's eyes went wide. “Oh shi-- are you kidding me? God, no wonder you were kicking ass! That's one of the fundamental forces of the universe, it's pretty much the only thing stronger than gravity!”
“Eh...yes, it is. do you know that?”
Peter rubbed the back of his neck, dangling his legs over the bugle logo. “I read. I did pretty well in science before all...this crap happened.”
Max rested on a cement riser. “Yes, I recall SHIELD's file on you mentioning that you had a knack for the sciences. You were on a short list of potential assets they were looking at for their think tank project.”
The boy's jack went slack, his eyes bugged out. “What? No freaking way, why would they ever want me? That's insane!”
Max shook his head. “I don't know, I guess they thought you were too smart to get away.”
There was an uneasy silence between them. Peter was the one who broke it, wiping tears from his eyes. “Dammit...Dammit! Why is this happening to me? Didn't I do what I was supposed to?”
“What do you mean, what you were supposed to do?”
“I-my Uncle Ben, he had this thing. Politicians, right? He hated politicians. Local, state, fed, whatever. I mean, there were some good ones, but the last few elections, he just hated everyone who ran. He said that these people had all this money, and all these connections, and all this power, and what did they do with it? They acted like unsupervised kids, right? Stealing and messing around and doing whatever it took to get more and more money and power and votes without earning it. He said, if someone had all that power to make things better, then they had....he used the word, “moral imperative” - they had a moral imperative to do so. “
“With great power comes great responsibility.” Max' voice was a hushed croak.
“What? Yeah, I guess. So, when this..just this whole spider thing happened to me, I treated it like a joke. I wasted it, you know? Just goofed off, tried to think of some way to make if pay off. And then my Uncle Ben gets shot by some tool looking for some easy money. And....and that's when I started going out. I have this power, and I have it for a reason, and it wasn't to sit on my butt collecting dust or scam folks out of nickles. I thought I was supposed to use my powers to help people.”
The tears came easily and freely this time, and Max wiped away his own.
“I'm sorry, May,” Peter breathed in a hushed, wavering tone. “I made such a mess of everything.”
The white-haired stranger and the young boy sat silently in the cold night air for what seemed like an eternity. Sirens in the distance impressed upon them the need to move on. Peter spoke first.
“So what do I do now?”
Max cleared his throat with a thick cough. “Actually, that is what I wanted to talk to you about, Peter. The entire reason for my rescuing you.”
“Hmph... and here I thought it was all out of the goodness of your heart.”
Max wanted to chuckle, but he got the feeling that Peter was serious. “Not quite. A friend of mine had an idea, that exotics should band together for protection, to learn how to use their abilities, and work to fight for a place in this world alongside humans.”
“Yeah? Sounds like a sucker. So what, he sent you?”
“....No, he's dead. But he asked me to carry on in his place. And so, here we are.”
Peter dropped down casually, almost looking like he had simply fallen asleep and rolled off the sign, landing on his feet in a low squatting position. He stood up, and for the first time, Max noticed how slight of build he was. There was no way this boy should be as strong as he was, as fast as he was.
“So that's it, huh? You want me to join your little social circle? And how does that work, do I hand out pamphlets at the airport, go door to door? Do we get a telethon or something?”
Max suppressed a chuckle. He got the feeling the boy used humour and sarcasm to mask fear and pain. A reasonable response, given the state of the world lately. “Nothing like that. All I can offer you, Peter, is a place to live as you see fit. I can provide a home, a place to belong, perhaps even a chance at a relatively normal life. I cannot promise a long life, though. Nor can I promise absolute safety. We'll always be outsiders. The best we can do is to be outsiders together. Numbers, Peter, are our greatest power.”
Max offered his hand to the young man. “What do you say. Will you join my X-Men?”
Peter eyed the hand like it was a coiled viper, raised an eyebrow at Max, then shrugged, taking the hand and shaking it vigorously. “What the hell, I've got nothing else to do this weekend. But tell me you're not actually calling it that?”

“What the fucking hell happened??”
The technicians cut through the crumpled ball of metal and machinery that used to be Iron Man. The man inside pulled himself out at the first hint of fresh air, ranting and bright red with rage. “We had the little shit, and...who is this asshole! Tell me you saw him, Steve? Victor? Gaah!”
Victor was studying a strand of the synthetic fibre that had been cut from his armour intently, barely paying any attention to Iron Man's raving. Steve was getting his sides bandaged up by a redheaded paramedic. “Sorry, it happened so fast, I was more worried about not breaking my neck or crashing into a city bus.”
The armour's pilot stood, waving off the medics trying to determine his injuries.” I swear to god, I'm going to kill who ever that bastard is! That's twice he humiliated me!”
Victor finally stood up, putting the fibre in a safe compartment on his gauntlet. “So much for your new anti-telekinetic armour, hmm? Perhaps it's time you finally admitted that you're not as smart as you think you are, Sta-”
The pilot pulled Victor close by the hood, his jaw set, his eyes wild with a maddened anger.
“So help me fucking baby Jesus, Victor, if you even give dignity to that thought by finishing it, I will fucking air mail what I leave of you to Latveria in a fucking thermos!”
“Language!”, Rogers admonished.
The pilot stormed off, muttering and swearing. Steve hopped off the gurney, his ribs plastered tight.
“You shouldn't aggravate him, Victor. You know he's touchy about the intelligence thing.”
Victor only shook his head. “He'll go back to his forge, sequester himself for another week, and come out with another suit of armour, something expensive and unwieldy and gaudy, like he always does. I've mentioned more than once to SHIELD's Director that he should have that weapon taken away from him, if he doesn't even fully understand it. Do you know he's still using an external computer server to handle the targeting algorithms? His suit practically has no AI to speak of at all!”
Steve Rogers tested his side, twisting his upper body to determine his new range of motion, ignoring the shattered, burning feeling it elicited. “You know I didn't understand a word of that, don't you?”
“My apologies, Captain. I sometimes forget. How did our quarry get away, if I may ask?”
Captain America slipped his chain mail shirt back on over his bandages, hissing at the cold pain of his broken rib. “He was some sort of....magnetic man. He shut down my sky cycle and crashed me before he fled.”
“Hmm. That explains Iron Man's inability to deal with him, then. I suppose I'll have to refit my armour to deal with this new magnetic man as well, then.”
Captain America looked around, making sure the SHIELD agents were occupied with securing the area and questioning witnesses. When he was satisfied that the coast was clear, he pulled Victor behind the ambulance, leaning close to prevent any eavesdropping.
“Steven, what's the matter?”
“It's the boy, Victor. Parker. He was on a SHIELD shortlist.”
“I doubt the SHIELD list he was on was terribly short, really.”
“Not that one. He was a potential asset to a think tank. Something called 'Project Pegasus.'”
Dooms mask hid any facial expression he might have carried, but beneath the metal plate, he was shocked. “And then he becomes an exotic and is put on our radar. Bad luck, if you believe in luck. don't, I take it?”
Steve shook his head, thinking deeply. “No I don't. The boy scored a fifteen-seventy-eight on a Gurnsey-Hallimier test, according to his SHIELD jacket. I take it that's good?”
“No, Captain, twelve-hundred is good; a fifteen-seventy-eight is...nearly perfect. The Gurnsey-Hallimier is used to determine potential for non-linear thinking and complex conceptualization, and it's scored out of sixteen-hundred. Even I myself only ever scored a meagre fifteen-ninety-four on it. The boy must be a genius. But...surely SHIELD wouldn't care about him being an exotic? With an intellect like that, they would gladly disregard the AEI anyway, the President be damned.”
Steve nodded, the gears in his mind working overtime. “I think someone wanted Parker taken care of. Somebody doesn't want him on Project Pegasus, and they're using the AEI to keep him out.”
“Well it's worked, I'd say he's out of the running on a permanent basis now."
Steve cocked an eyebrow at Victor; that was unusually flippant for Doom. No, perhaps it's nothing.
Some rest, some food, and everything would make sense again tomorrow. He knew it.

La Dolce Notte was Milan's newest hot spot for drinking, dancing and general debauchery, a place where the pretty, the rich, and some steady mix of the two went to poison their brains, demolish their eardrums and pick and choose from a delightful smorgasbord of sexually transmitted diseases. For the right price, you can melt your brain with the latest designer drug, pick up the booze-addled companion of your choice, and generally feed the local Famiglia's bank accounts. And in Milan, the local capo was Angelo Unuscione, a former wrestler – and in Europe, that meant something other than a balding fat man in tights jumping around a ring like a goon – and not a man to be crossed. His nom de crime amongst the local poliziotti was 'Unus l'Intoccabile ', Unus the Untouchable, a name earned mainly for his skill at eluding prosecution – no matter what crime he was accused of, not one shred of evidence, not one witness or whistle blower, ever fell into polizia hands. Of course, what only a few insiders knew was that Angelo had another reason for the name. One he kept very private. After all, in polite society, such things were simply not discussed. So when a lieutenant from a rival Famiglia or some vengeful brother out protecting his sister's honour takes a shot at him, the explanation for why Angelo is unharmed is seldom brought up. The gun missed, or it was all blanks. Nobody ever commented on the strange white aura that seemed to follow Angelo where ever he went. Not if they enjoyed the use of their hands. Luckily, it only took a few tries before people got the hint: you do not FUCK with Angelo Unuscione. There was a potter's field on the hills outside the Unuscione estate in San Vito that held the last five assholes who never got that memo.

So it was a bit of a surprise when two men walked up to Angelo Unuscione's private table on the third floor of the club, ignoring his rather superfluous bodyguards, and sat down across from him as if they were old friends. Both men were bald, one black, the other white. The white one wore no shirt, and sported a barbed wire tattoo across his neck, and a teardrop on his eye. The black man had no tattoos that Angelo could see, only scars on his pockmarked face. The bodyguards moved to intercept the pair, only to be laid low by the big white man, a headbutt to the nose crumpling first one, then a right hook slamming the second guard's head into a table at a fearful speed. Angelo tried to get up, but the black man pushed him back down into the booth, sitting next to him, smiling. Angelo's date – he never bothered to learn their names, they weren't important enough to remember – shrieked at the intrusion, only for the white man to stare her into silence.
Angelo, for his part, was outraged. “Che cazzo è questa stronzata? Chi ha ordinato il nero?”
The white man snorted, “Shit boss, you understand a word this meatball's sayin'?” His voice was thick with a drawn out Southern accent.
“Oh yes, Carl. I'm Ethiopian. I know all too well what this oily wop-fuck is saying. We heard it enough from the soldiers during the war.”
The black man's smile vanished, and he turned to Angelo.
“Ciao, Angelo, è untuoso figlio di puttana. Vedo che stai ancora giocando mafioso; Mi chiedo che cosa il vostro padre avrebbe detto su di te sprecare i suoi soldi in questo modo? O la polizia? Sono sicuro che sarei interessato a sapere cosa è successo alla sua ultima fidanzata. Il suo nome era Anna, non è vero?”
The girl looked at Angelo in horror, and ran off. Angelo sneered at his accuser, and pushed him from the booth without raising a hand.
“The fuck you think you're talking to, homeboy? You come all this way to talk shit to me? Don't you have a rap video to star in, you fucking piece of ghetto trash?”
The black man looked up at Angelo from the floor, and smiled to his companion, Carl, who was already on his feet ready to fight back.
“It's alright, Carl. They're only words. My apologies, signor – no, Don Unuscione. I misspoke. My Italian must not be as good as I thought.”
Angelo rose from the booth, red with anger. “No, I think you said what you wanted to say. You think some cazza nero can walk up to me and disrespect me like that in my own club? And who the fuck is this, you think I run a circolo per omosessuals here? Prendi il cazzo fuori di qui, finocchio!”
The black man crawled to his feet, still smiling. “Carl, this man just suggested that you enjoyed what those big bad men did to you in prison. Are you going to take that?”
Carl's eyes went wide in maddened rage, and he gripped the metal table hard. “Hell no, I ain't no queer!” Angelo watched as Carl's skin took on the same black gloss as the table, the wiry hairs on his arms turning into thin curls of razor wire. Angelo barely had time to react as the now-ebon chrome skinned man drove his fist at Angelo's face. There was a white flash, the sound of metal impacting something, and Carl's fist bounced back a good eight inches. A smokey white haze hung in the air around Angelo, a sly smirk on his face. “Well ain't this a thing? So what, we got us an exotic trying to muscle in on my business? Who the fuck do you think you're dealing with? I'm Unus the Un-fucking-touchable, capisce? I'm not culo gangbanger with his pants around his fucking ankles like a putanna, I'm a real fucking man! Get the fuck out of here before I fucking kill both you assholes!”
Carl moved in for another punch, but his boss stood between them.
“Not until I say what I came here to say, Angelo. I came here originally to offer you a place in our organization. We could use a man of your talents, someone...untouchable. We're being hunted on a nearly global scale, Unus. Hunted, imprisoned, aborted, sterilized. It couldn't be any more blatant if the American president started rolling out boxcars. We need a unified front, a standing force ready to oppose the humans when they come for us. And I had thought, a man with your skills, your abilities, would jump at the chance to join up. But then I remembered, I hate Italians. Seriously, just as I was sitting down right next to the fog of garlic and patchouli oil that seems to permeate every fucking one of you sheep-fucking pasta-dicks. I mean, you're not the political type, what do you care about changing the world or helping people, when there's futbol to dull your already mediocre wit and vino to numb the sad pathetic life you live. No, on second thought, I don't think you'd be a very good fit for us, Angelo. But, this wasn't a completely wasted trip.” The man put his hand against the white haze, pressing against it like a wall of glass. Angelo smirked, “Hey, dumbfuck, nobody gets through my wall. Unus the Untouchable, get it?”
The man only smiled, his teeth an unnatural white against his dark skin.
“No, Angelo.”
The haze started to jump and fidget, and the hand made a low chattering noise against the invisible wall. Angelo's face went from arrogant, to perplexed, to wincing in agony in seconds. It didn't take long for a thin wire of blood to trickle from his nose, his teeth visibly chattering. The air was filled with a low humming drone, and Carl cringed when Angelo's teeth finally shattered. Angelo, for his part screamed, falling to the floor clutching his head, the white haze still holding. There was a wet pop, and Angelo fell to the floor, blood trickling from his ears. He rolled over, and Carl saw his eye sockets, empty and wet with gore.
“It's Unus the Untouchable. Not Unus the Unkillable. Get it, you worthless dago fuck?”
Carl struggle to keep from retching on the floor, as the white haze slowly dissipated. His boss walked away, sneering. “The sooner I put this shithole country to the back of me, the better. Let's go, Carl.”
Carl sprinted to catch up. “Eh, Mister Magnum, what was the point of all this? I thought you wanted to recruit more people?”
“I do. But as I was sitting down and looking at his greasy goat-eating face, I realized that we already have someone with his power, who can use it better and is much more pleasant to be around. Also, I really hate Italians. You're not Italian, are you Carl?”
“N-no sir, I think my family's French, with some English in it.”
“Relax, Carl, you know you're safe. I don't hurt my own.”
“R-right. Of course not, sir. still don't make no sense, we came all this way jes' ta kill him?”
Moses Magnum turned as he and Carl left the club. Somebody must have found Angelo's body, because the entire club had erupted into a screaming panic.
“No, Mister Creel, we didn't come all this way to kill him. I could have killed him from anywhere on Earth. I could have sunk this entire miserable country into the Mediterranean from the comfort of my toilet seat this morning. But sometimes a man has to do things face to face. I killed him, Carl, because I wanted to. That is all the reason I need. That is the lesson I am imparting to you today. I kill, because I can.” Carl felt a chill run up his spine. What the hell was he getting himself into?
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