“And I present to you: one hog-tied Goblin!” May said proudly.
She was perched on top of a lamppost with Norman hanging underneath, arms and legs pinned to his sides by innumerable strands of webbing.
“Nice work, kid,” Fury commended. “We’ll take him from here.”
The Helicarrier had been parked over the roof. Unfortunately that complicated Normie’s delivery seeing as they were on the ground. May detached him from the overhanging light, maintaining a firm grip on the web, and swung him up and over the edge of the roof.
She heard the unmistakable grunt as he landed and saw two heavily armed guards haul him to his feet.
By this point the police cordon was nearly ten men deep in order to keep the screaming fans away. Cameras flashed and news reporters fought to get to the front in order to see what was happening.
May couldn’t believe the attention. She waved at them and the screams went up several octaves.
“Yeah, don’t let it go to your head,” Fury said and May grinned beneath her mask. “Now, I believe your mother,” he added in a low voice, “wants to see you.”
May’s grin faded. “Uh oh.”
She jumped down to land next to Fury. “Need a lift?”
In next to no time she was aboard the Helicarrier and May pulled her mask off as she saw Mary Jane pushing Peter towards her in his wheelchair.
M.J.’s eyes widened at the sight of her and she ran straight for May, leaving Peter to wheel himself, pulling her daughter into a bone-crushing hug.
“Ow! Mom!” May gasped and M.J. quickly released her with a look of concern. She cupped her face in her hands as Peter finally caught up with them, a smile on his face.
“There she is! My little superstar!”
M.J. whirled around with lightning speed and her hand cracked across Peter’s face.
At that moment it was hard to tell who was more shocked: May or Peter.
“OW!” he cried indignantly.
“How dare you send your daughter to die for you?” Mary Jane raged. “What kind of father does that?”
“A very trusting and supportive –” Peter cowered as M.J. raised her hand again.
“Mom, I’m fine, really!” May said hastily.
M.J. rounded on May with a stupefied look on her face. “You call this fine?” she cried, gesturing at the slashes on May’s costume. “Look at you, you’re bleeding!”
“It’s not that bad!”
“Okay, maybe it was a little rash, it was last-minute,” Peter conceded, “but look at what she’s accomplished! Gobbie’s out of the picture and she’s given the people hope again.”
“Peter!” M.J. said warningly.
His eyes dropped to the floor in silent submission.
“We need to get you patched up,” M.J. said, and with that, she took May by the shoulders and steered her away.
It was a very painful process. Luckily the cuts weren’t too deep, but some of them wouldn’t be easy to hide. May didn’t think she’d ever needed so many bandages before. How did Peter live like this?
She finally found herself sitting on a hospital bed with an ice pack pressed to the back of her head.
“Funny, I didn’t seem to notice the pain much at the time,” she remarked, switching hands when her arm began to tire.
“Well, I’m sure you were too focused on stopping the Goblin,” M.J. said. Her eyes softened as she studied May’s face. “You did a very brave thing today. And as happy as I am to find you in one piece, it still wasn’t easy to watch knowing it was you.”
“Yeah, I know the feeling,” May muttered, thinking back to Peter’s last fight.
“It scares me to think of what could’ve happened,” her mom said. “You’re my baby and I don’t want you to get hurt.”
May was at a loss for words. No one had ever called her their baby before. It gave her a sense of peace, security and comfort the likes of which she hadn’t felt since she was small. M.J. may not have had much experience as a mother, but she had enough love in her heart to compensate for the sixteen years she missed.
“But if you really want to do this – become Spider-Girl – I won’t stop you,” Mary Jane said. “I just want you to understand the risks involved. There’s a motto your dad lived by throughout his entire career as Spider-Man: with great power comes great responsibility. Your secret must remain a secret. Not just for your protection,” she added, “but for the protection of those girls in the foster home. It’s not going to be easy, but we’re here for you no matter what happens.”
“Thanks, Mom,” May said. “So, exactly what am I supposed to do about this?” she asked, raising her arms to expose the rips and tears in her suit.
“Well, you might wanna try your hand at sewing,” M.J. suggested. “Peter’s fantastic seeing as he made his from scratch and since you two share the same abilities, you probably have uncapped potential.”
“Sure, why not?” May said, chuckling. “Miss Edna probably has a kit lying around.”
“Oh, and you might want to be extra careful on laundry day,” M.J. added.
“Yeah, I’ll give it to Miss Edna separately.”
M.J. smiled, brushing a lock of hair behind May’s ear. “Come on,” she said. “Let’s go find your dad.”
May got up, wincing slightly, and she and Mary Jane left the ward. The two wandered the Helicarrier for a bit, May taking every opportunity to peer into the rooms they passed as if hoping to run into another superhero somewhere on board. Mary Jane shook her head and gave May a nudge, diverting her attention from an incredible arsenal of weapons laid out on a table that looked suspiciously like Hawkeye’s bow and arrows. May looked around and M.J. pointed down the hall where Peter and Fury were talking outside a room, Peter wearing an uncharacteristically stern expression on his face.
May started forward when M.J. caught her by the arm. “The mask,” she whispered. “Put it on.”
May was confused, but she did nonetheless and went to join Peter. It was then that she realized where they were: they were standing outside Normie’s cell, watching him from behind a huge glass window. Norman was strapped down to a smooth board tilted upright to face them, his mask mounted on the wall to his right. Various parts of his costume were strewn across tables on the wall behind him, but his glider was absent. Most disturbing of all was Norman himself. He could’ve been very good-looking were it not for his sickly greenish complexion, the dark shadows under his eyes and the way his veins stood out starkly against is skin. He was probably about May’s age with bright red hair, dark sunken eyes, a defined jaw and his lips were pulled back into a vicious snarl, fists clenched at his sides. His gaze rested on Peter alone, burning with an incredible intensity.
May swallowed uneasily. He looked completely insane.
“What happened to him?” she whispered, hoping that he couldn’t hear them.
“It’s the Goblin Formula,” Peter said. “It was designed to enhance both physical and mental capabilities, but at the cost of your sanity. It’s the reason Norman Osborn Sr. took up the identity of the Green Goblin in the first place.”
“Can he be cured?” May asked anxiously.
“Yes,” Peter said without hesitation. “But I want to wait until he’s back in his right mind first. Then maybe we can figure out what brought this on.”
“If there’s anything left to salvage,” Fury muttered.
May suddenly felt guilty. She had hated Normie for what he did to her dad, but now that she knew he was mentally unstable, it changed her whole perspective about him. Maybe he never meant to do any of this.
But that doesn’t change what happened, she argued with herself. He’s still dangerous.
“Hello, little spider,” came a hiss and they all froze, realizing that it was Normie who had spoken. He was looking directly at May. “I see you watching me. Think you’ve gotten the better of me? Just wait. Your death with be slow and painful.”
M.J.’s hand closed firmly around May’s upper arm and she attempted to pull her away, but May stood rooted to the spot, paralyzed in horror.
“Come, May,” M.J. said insistently.
“And still you look down on me!” Normie spat. “Look me in the eyes if you dare! Remove your mask!”
“It’s time to leave,” M.J. said firmly.
May finally regained control of her legs again and she stumbled blindly after her mom, letting her lead her away.
“I want to see her face!” Normie screamed, jerking against his bonds and the board shook violently.
The commotion attracted several guards and a few medics.
“Put him out,” May heard Fury say behind her and she picked up the pace, keeping her head down as Normie’s screams echoed down the corridor.
May returned to the hospital ward feeling numb, her heart pounding loudly against her ribs. She sat down on the nearest bed and removed her mask with shaking fingers. She didn’t realize how much Normie’s threats had unnerved her.
The door opened behind her and Peter wheeled in, coming to a stop next to May.
“I’m sorry you had to see that,” he muttered. “Believe me, he wasn’t always like this.”
“I’m fine,” May said, but it was a lie. “He probably doesn’t know what he’s saying.”
Mary Jane’s gaze switched from May to Peter, giving him a pointed look.
May sighed, deciding it was best to change the subject. “So, what are you going to do about …” She bit her lip, her eyes resting on Peter’s stump.
“I’ve taken Reed’s offer,” Peter said. “Figured I don’t want to be wheelchair-bound for the rest of my life when I could have two legs again.”
“That’s good,” May said. “Um … there is something I’ve been meaning to tell you, actually.”
Peter straightened in his chair. “Shoot.”
“A while ago my spidey-sense started acting weird,” May said. “There was no immediate danger, so I don’t know what triggered it, but it happened twice in the same day.”
Peter’s brow furrowed in confusion. “Well, what was going on at the time?”
May told him about Allison’s surprise visit and Tricia’s disappearance during the freak storm and how nothing particularly special happened in either case. “I don’t know, it’s like they just said something and my body reacted to it,” she finished.
Peter thought for a moment, shifting in his chair and then raised a finger. “Okay,” he said. He leaned forward, looking May directly in the eyes. “I have the Avengers insignia tattooed on my back.”
May felt a tingle in the base of her skull and her eyes widened with a dawning realization. “You’re lying!”
“Aha!” he cried, snapping his fingers. “You can sense deception. That is so cool!”
“Wait,” May said. “Does that mean you can’t?”
“I am only guided by my judgment and instinct, same as everyone else,” Peter said. “That’s fascinating. Though we share the same spider DNA, certain aspects vary slightly. I suppose it makes sense if you have a basic knowledge of genetics. To each his own, right?”
“It’s definitely a very useful tool to have,” M.J. agreed. “It’ll be easier to determine who you can trust. These days you never know who’s trying to fool you.”
The Helicarrier dropped May off a block away from the foster home. She kind of dreaded swinging for fear that she’d reopen her new wounds, but it was the only way to get to her backpack stashed across the street from Miss Edna’s.
She bounced on the balls of her feet, trying to steel her nerves. “Oh, this is gonna hurt.”
She launched herself off the building and tucked her arms into her sides. Her stomach dropped and the wind buffeted her as her nosedive slowly leveled out.
May raised her hand and shot a web.
“Easy, easy,” May muttered as she swung, trying to keep her elbows close to her chest. “Oh no. Corner!”
Corners meant raising her arms over her head and pain. Lots of pain.
She flew through the air and landed on the side of the building opposite, pushing off into a backflip that sent a searing pain through her torso.
“Okay!” she cried, lowering herself gently to the ground on a web. “I’m walking from here.”
She hastily ducked down a side street away from the foot traffic where she’d be less likely to be seen and began to climb the back of the convenience store. She ended up jogging over the rooftops, leaping from building to building until she got her bag and put on her clothes from earlier.
May hurried down the fire escape and crossed the street, hands in her pockets.
“I’m back,” she said upon opening the front door.
Logan’s head jerked up immediately from her spot at the table and May could see how difficult it was for her to keep a straight face. Her expression was a mixture of excitement, relief, and shock.
“Oh my gosh, May!” Kelly cried, rushing up to her with Krissy, Brenda, and Hallie at her heels. “You missed the whole thing, where were you? It was so awesome!”
“Oh, didn’t you hear?” Logan said. “May got a job.”
May felt the now familiar tingle that identified the lie, but went with it nonetheless.
“You did?” Kelly asked, perplexed as if the thought had never crossed her mind.
“Well, not quite,” May said. “I was supposed to have an interview with the manager of Midtown Comics, but Times Square is still closed, so I had to come all the way back.”
“Aw, that sucks,” Logan empathized.
Who knew she was such a good actor? She’s definitely stepped up her game, May thought.
“Don’t worry, I recorded the whole thing,” Kelly said proudly.
Hallie, Brenda, and Krissy all began talking at once.
“It was so good!”
“— should’ve seen her!”
“— Goblin looked like a joke!”
“Whoa, whoa, wait!” May cut across them. “You recorded it?” She didn’t remember seeing a news chopper on the scene.
“Yeah, and the camera guy did a much better job,” Kelly said. “It was like watching a movie!”
And May talked avidly among them, all the while wearing the Spider-Girl costume under her clothes.
The next day at school, May had a nasty surprise in store for her. As she reached the threshold of her first-period class, an arm was thrust out to bar her way.
She halted, looking up to see an angry Mr. Wyatt standing over her. Oh, great.
“Miss Atwood,” he said crisply.
“Mr. Wyatt,” May replied. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“Don’t mock me, little girl!” he scolded and May had to repress a shudder. He sounded an awful lot like … Normie. “As an honor student I expect better from you. Aren’t we in trouble today?”
“I’m sorry, but I don’t know what you’re talking about,” May said.
“No?” Mr. Wyatt said in disbelief. “Then exactly where were you yesterday afternoon when you were supposed to be in detention?”
May had to stop herself from uttering a curse. Detention! Now she was in for it.
“I am so sorry, I completely forgot!”
“Well, I’m afraid it’s going to cost you,” Mr. Wyatt said remorselessly. “Your punishment will have to be extended to next Monday. If you miss another one, I’ll be phoning your parents … or in this case, guardian,” he corrected himself apologetically.
May had to resist the urge to roll her eyes. Though technically she had parents now, she’d grown up with that horrible label “foster kid” stuck to her forehead. She remembered the sorrowful looks adults and kids alike would give her when they learned she was an orphan. She didn’t want their pity or special treatment, especially from Mr. Wyatt.
“I’ll be there,” she said shortly. “I promise.”
It wasn’t until lunch rolled around that May realized the severity of her predicament. Now that she had taken up the position as Spider-Girl, she needed to sort out her priorities to ensure her two identities never overlapped. But how could she sit around in detention when there were people who needed her help?
“Think about it,” she told Logan in the cafeteria. “I’ve taken all the weight off my dad’s shoulders. Sure, he’s probably still needed, but all the grunt work is on me now. How am I supposed to maintain my average, get all my homework done, make room for study time, go to detention, protect my secret,” she added in a low voice, “and fight crime? I mean, jeez, I’m not Wonder Woman!”
“May, would you relax?” Logan chided. She cast a quick glance around before leaning forward and whispering, “It’s not like you’re the only superhero out there.”
“Yeah, but they’re probably busy with bigger and better missions than petty theft and gunmen,” May argued. “They’re actually saving the world! I just get stuck dealing with psychopaths like Normie Osborn!”
“May, no crime is insignificant,” Logan told her. “And Spider-Girl taking out the Goblin was a big deal. You don’t know what you mean to people.”
Okay, maybe she had a point, May admitted.
“Well, what if something happens and I can’t be there because of detention?”
“I dunno, find someone else?” Logan suggested, scooping out the last of her pudding.
“Oh yeah, ’cause I just so happen to have Captain America on speed dial!” May said sarcastically.
Logan gasped. “Really?”
“Ugh, don’t do that to me!” Logan grumbled, slamming her spoon down on the table.
“I’m sorry, I’m just … ugh!” May groaned, dragging her hands down her face. “I’m seriously stressing here.”
“Well, don’t!” Logan said. “It’s not good for you. Look, your dad did it. So can you. And besides, aren’t you supposed to be –” She coughed for emphasis. “— taking it easy?” Logan looked pointedly at the edge of the bandage poking out of May’s sleeve and she hurriedly tugged it down.
“It’s actually a lot better,” May informed her. “I changed the bandages last night and the cuts have already started to close.”
“Well, at the very least take a nap in detention and I’ll text you if there are any emergencies in town.”
So at three o’clock May went to room 113 and as soon as she set foot in the room, she immediately wished Logan had gotten busted too. Everyone from class clowns and slackers to delinquents and smokers were scattered around the room, though a few had banded together. Some of them even sized May up and she could almost hear their thoughts: Who’s the newbie?
She decided to sit in the safest spot right in the middle row next to Devon Broker, the fidgety guy who liked to dance. He had a light brown complexion with his hair done in little dreads, two silver studs in his ears, and was wearing a jean jacket over a hoodie, black jeans and spotless Jordans, a red-and-black checkered shirt tied around his waist. He looked up as May sat down and did a double take.
“Whoa, I gotta get me some glasses, ’cause something’s wrong with this picture! Whatcha doing here, Atwood?”
“Well, if you must know,” May said, trying to suppress a smile, “I got in a fight.”
“No way,” he said at once.
“What, did you accidentally spill your lab experiment on somebody?” Devon said with a grin.
“Yeah, and it ate a hole right through his chest!”
Devon clapped a hand over his heart, mouth hanging open in mock horror.
“That was the face!” May laughed.
“Hey!” Mr. Wyatt said sharply from his desk. “You know the rules: no talking, no eating, no cell phones and no naps!”
“But I’m hungry!” someone complained.
Mr. Wyatt slammed his hand down on the desk and May flinched. Slowly, he raised a finger to his lips. “Shh!”
May waited until he went back to writing in his binder before she allowed herself to breathe again.
Devon shot her a sly smile. “So for real,” he muttered. “What’d you do?”
“I threw a guy down the hallway,” she said softly.
“Niiice,” he said, giving her a fist pump.
“So what are you in for?” May couldn’t help but feel like they were delinquents in a prison yard.
“Apparently you’re not allowed to flip off of desks in class.”
“Who you trying to impress?” May demanded.
“Aw, you know, just messing around,” he said airily. “Mighta got a little cocky.”
“A little,” May repeated teasingly.
They were silent for a moment and May sunk down in her chair, watching Mr. Wyatt. “Does he, like, ever leave?” she whispered.
“Wait for it,” Devon muttered, eyeing his watch. “Three – two – one …”
Mr. Wyatt stood up, pushing his glasses up his nose. “I’ll be right back,” he said. “And I expect it to be quiet when I get back,” he said warningly, glaring around at them all.
He left the room, shut the door, locked it, and gave them one last burning look before he disappeared from sight.
“Yo, gimme a beat!” Devon said loudly and at once “Turn Down For What” blared throughout the room.
Devon got up and went to the front of the room, back facing the crowd, and started stretching, waiting for the chorus to kick in.
Oh no he’s not! May thought in astonishment. But everyone already looked eager for the show to erase the past fifteen minutes of boredom from their minds.
Devon pointed one finger in the air as silence fell and even May was captivated, waiting for what he’d do.
Turn down for what!
Devon spun around and began to dance, a fusion of hip hop and breakdance. He moonwalked, spun, and even what May liked to call the “ripple effect”, sending a pulse through one hand, down his arm, into his chest, dropped to his knees, and sent it all the way back up the other way.
“Okay, you gotta teach me how to do that!” May cried.
“C’mere, c’mere!” he said, beckoning, and May got up to join him. “It’s real simple, all you gotta do is picture this ball of energy on an electric current and let it travel through your body.”
He demonstrated again and May tried to copy his movements with little success.
“Nah,” he said, shaking his head. “You gotta extend your hand and kinda roll the wrist, and then when you send it to your chest, it’s really all in the shoulders.”
After a few more tries, May had it and she and Devon executed it in sync.
Suddenly there came a shout. “He’s coming back!”
The music cut off abruptly, everyone flung themselves back in their chairs, shoving their phones out of sight, and tried to act natural.
The lock clicked and the door swung open. Mr. Wyatt scanned the room as if he suspected foul play.
He sat down at his desk and May had to suppress a smirk. Maybe detention wasn’t going to be so bad after all.