Peter thought he'd taken out all the bank robbers in the lobby, but just as he bent over one of the guards to see if he was still breathing, his spider-sense went off, louder than a migraine. Like Mr. Jameson, jabbing at him with a cigar, barking out, "Parker! Page one headline: You're gonna die!" He turned around, and time slowed for him, but it wasn't enough; he felt like he was moving in mud, and his muscles were too weak to do what he needed them to do.
There was a fifth robber, and he was right behind Peter, and his finger had already started tightening on the trigger, and his webs were fast, but they couldn't warp time, and he had maybe a tenth of a second to live--
But even as he saw the trigger-finger move, he was aware of a dim figure rising up behind the robber. The gun went off, but the robber's arm had already dropped, sending the bullet into the floor, and a second later he crumpled over.
"Good work, kid," said his savior, hefting the gun she'd just used to knock the robber out, "but always remember that there may be a lookout on the perimeter who can come back after you."
Peter stood and gaped. Partially it was just the shock of still being alive, but mostly it was because his savior was a woman who was completely blue. From head to foot, except for short, slicked-back dark red hair.
He didn't remember seeing a blue woman when he first swung into the lobby, and he really thought he would have. She was not only blue, but also tall, gorgeous, and giving him a cool smile. The kind of woman that Manhattan was full of, who usually acted as if he didn't even exist, unless he accidentally jostled them on the street.
He thought he recognized her, too. One of that group of mutants that followed Magneto, that had done some kind of crazy stunt on the Statue of Liberty a couple years back. Maybe.
The police sirens grew louder, then halted right outside. Her smile turned into a wince, and she put a hand to her head. "That knockout gas was nasty," she said. "Disrupted my ability to shift form." Her voice was full of echoes and eddies, but there was a kind of feedback shriek in it, too, that didn't sound entirely right. She reached out to a rail to support herself.
When the cops realized there was no one guarding the doors anymore, they'd be inside in minutes. He could get away, but she didn't look so great.
"Come on," he said, caught her by the waist, and shot a line of webbing up to the skylight.
Mystique--what she said her name was, anyway--sat on his one chair, looking out the window while he hastily changed in his closet. He brought her a glass of water from the sink and some painkillers he'd managed to con out of the campus doctor.
"Thank you," she said, popping back the pills and swallowing them in one fluid motion.
Peter watched her throat ripple, scales--scales?--flashing in the sunlight. She was ridiculously exotic in his shabby little studio, like some rare bird or one of Professor Connors' lizards with iridescent skin. "You're welcome."
She turned in the chair to look at him. "You're a mutant, then. We wondered."
"Oh, no," he said quickly, then stopped, embarrassed. Not that he meant to imply to the possibly-killer mutant lady in his apartment that being one was a bad thing, but the city was already suspicious enough of him, and he didn't need that, too. "I was bitten by a genetically-modified super-spider. I think."
"A...genetically-modified super-spider." She laughed, strange harmonies resonating in her voice. "If you're in denial, kid, at least you have a good cover story."
"I'm not. In denial, or a mutant. Sorry."
"Then why did you save me from the police? I could tell you recognized me."
It had been an impulse, really, but he wasn't going to admit that. "Well, you did save my life," he said slowly. "And I know how the papers can get a story about--about our kind of people wrong, believe me. I don't know if they're telling the truth about you and the others or not."
"That depends on who you read," she said. "Though they all say I'm dangerous, and they're all right about that."
He frowned. "I'm not looking for trouble."
"Don't worry. As soon as I can change again, I'll be gone."
"You don't have to--" he started, but then the phone (newly back in service, at MJ's insistence) rang, and he picked it up, sitting down on the bed.
He put on his cheerful-and-totally-fine voice, which he used to save for Aunt May. "Hi, MJ."
"Are you okay? I heard on the radio you were involved with a bank robbery!"
"Yeah, I'm fine. I got the robbers, and nobody got hurt."
"My hero! Do you want to come over for dinner? Celebrate?"
"Um, I've got some stuff to take care of. You go ahead."
She laughed, the tinkly MJ laugh. "Do I need to have a talk with Ursula Ditkovich, Peter?"
"No, no," he said. "It's just a few errands. I'll call you later."
"All right. Bye, Tiger."
He hung up. Mystique was looking amused at him again. "Girlfriend?"
It was occurring to him that maybe it wasn't so great to give this woman that much information, but the cat was pretty much out of the bag at that point. "Yes."
"I'd be sweet to her if I were you. It's not easy, being involved with one of us."
"I can't imagine you've ever had any problems."
"Oh?" Her teeth were very white. "Why not?"
"Well," he said helplessly, "I mean, someone as beautiful as you are, why would anyone ever break up with you?"
"You think I'm beautiful."
"Of course." In a totally different way than MJ, of course, the way a peacock was different from a robin, but...
"Well." She rose deliberately, slinked across the room, and settled next to him on the bed. It creaked faintly. "Do you want to do something about it?"
It would be useful if spider-sense warned him about things like this, he thought, while his vocal cords suffered a traffic jam. After a minute, he got out, "I just--I've already got a..."
"Peter!" There was a heavy thud on his door. "Peter, I hear you in there! You think you can fool me? I have brain the size of an elephant's!"
Mr. Ditkovich. He scrambled to his feet. "Just--just a second--"
"Three months you are behind on the rent! Do you think I lose track?"
"My landlord," he hissed to Mystique, who immediately got to her feet and darted into the closet. The second she slid its door closed, he opened his.
Mr. Ditkovich glowered at him. "You cannot pay the rent in flirting with my daughter, Peter! Where is my money?"
"Look, Mr. Ditkovich, I just did another freelance assignment, I should be getting paid soon--"
"'Soon'!" he snorted. "What is this 'soon'? Are you trying to put it off til the wedding? My daughter would never marry such a little man as you--"
"He'll grow into it," put in another voice, heavy and growly, and Peter turned around.
Standing behind him was...a big guy. A biker-club-in-Jersey big guy, easily six-feet-five, with huge arms covered over with tattooes and a shaved head. Either a pro wrestler had just snuck in his window or..."Mr. Ditkovich, this is my...my cousin, Mike."
Mr. Ditkovich's eyes shifted back and forth between him and "Mike." "You never said you had a cousin."
"Everybody's got a cousin," Mike grunted. "Some of 'em are just more out of prison than others."
"Prison." Mr. Ditkovich swallowed, and took a step back.
"Yeah, I just got out last week. Pete's stuck by me, though. He's a good guy. His only problem is he's a little naive. Sometimes, he lets people take advantage, you know?"
"Oh, yes, this city is full of terrible people. Terrible. But Peter, he is like a son to me! I look out for him. He is welcome always to stay in my building!"
"Good to hear. 'Cause Pete's not going to have any trouble, not while I'm around."
"Of course not." Mr. Ditkovich cocked his head. "Ursula? Ursula, what is that you say? Excuse me, my daughter..."
He got across the hall fast enough for a supervillain. Peter shut his own door, and turned to Mike, who was already shimmering back to her old form.
"I can't believe you did that!" he said, trying not to laugh.
She shrugged, with only one shoulder. "Our kind has to stick together, Peter."
"Listen, about before--"
She held up a hand. "Forget it. Between that MJ and this Ursula, you're too much of a ladies' man for me."
He blushed, bright red, which he didn't think he'd done in years. "Ursula's not--"
"Don't worry. I don't judge." She looked through the peephole, ignoring his further protests. "And I should be going."
"Okay. Well, good luck, I guess."
"To you, too." She turned, and quick as lightning, she had her arms around him. Before he could say anything, she kissed him, but slower, as if they had all the time in the world. When she let him go, he was speechless. She touched one finger to his lips. "Stay sweet, Peter."
Then she slipped out the door and was gone.
Peter dropped onto the bed, hand on his mouth in disbelief. After a minute, he picked up the phone. "MJ? Yeah, I changed my mind. I'll be there in fifteen minutes. With ice cream. Chocolate sprinkles."
"Oh, Peter. My favorite! You're so sweet!"
"Well, I try."