OsCorp is amazing. It's not that Peter doesn't appreciate how far ahead of everyone Stark Industries is, it's just—OsCorp focuses on biology. What his dad likes to call not-very-nicely “soft science”; but Peter's always been fascinated by it and OsCorp is one of the leading companies doing bio-mechanical engineering and genetic experimentation in the world. Which is why he and Gwen are interning here, and also why they’ve dedicated themselves to peeking at his phone behind their chaperones’ backs. Been there, done that, got the app, like his dad is always saying.
They're waiting for the elevator when it goes off again. His hand drops to his pocket and Gwen catches the movement out of the corner of her eye. She glances up at him and then eases between him and the closest chaperone. “My hero,” he whispers to her and smiles when he sees her cheek curve in reply.
“Flattery will get you nowhere,” she murmurs. He hunches down to peer at the screen and pauses to nuzzle her shoulder.
“But Gwennn,” he says, making his voice extra plaintive and she throws her hand up, putting the back to her forehead.
“No, not the puppy eyes!” she cries in a dramatic Southern accent and he has to stifle a laugh in her shoulder blade, hiding the phone in the small of her back when everybody turns to look.
“You are terrible at stealth-ops,” he whispers when he thinks most everyone has looked away.
“Not my division,” she retorts. “Will you check already?”
Peter stifles a laugh in the hood draped across her shoulders and does as he's told and pulls up the texts. They're from his dads. The first two are from Tony, the earliest a snapshot of a cowl-less Captain America with a line of black stitches that slants diagonally down from the ridge on the left side of his forehead all the way to the arch of his right eyebrow. It looks like he tried to clean up some of the liberal amounts of blood dried on his face, but he hadn't been very successful. It's like a horror movie rendition of himself with blood crusted in his eyebrows, in dark rivulets down both sides of his nose, his temples. Peter wonders if his dad's skull wasn't stronger than an ordinary man's, if whatever had done that could have—okay, stop. Stop. No. He deletes the photo and his dad's other text comes up:
dad 13:04 03.06.39
looks nasty, but no concussion. he loves it when i
call him Frankie.
Peter snorts. The next message is from his other dad, but he has to wait until he and Gwen are stuffed into the back corner of the elevator to read it because one of OsCorp's two assigned escorts for their class keeps sidling up beside them.
DAD 13:05 03.06.39
I really am okay, Peter. Please put your phone away
now and enjoy your field trip. I know you've been
looking forward to it for weeks. Love you. Dad.
“Your dad is adorable,” Gwen whispers and Peter pins her with a look. “He signs all his texts!”
“Please never say that again.” Dad does sign all his texts though. Peter's tried a thousand times to get him to stop.
“I'm just saying,” Gwen says with a little prim shake of her head. “He's like a giant marshmallow. A giant, red, white, and blue, butt-kicking marshmallow.”
Peter slips his phone back into his bag as they shuffle off of the elevator. “All right!” their tour guide says. “Do we have any tourers who have arachnophobia?”
A couple of girls at the front of the group giggle nervously and Gwen wraps her hand around Peter's arm, leaning up on her toes to look at their guide. “Is he serious?” she whispers. “They’re taking us through The Tunnel?”
Peter checks the guide's face again and nods. “Yeah, looks pretty serious.” He raises an eyebrow at her. “Are you?”
“No. No,” Gwen says, shaking her head and staring at the guide as he separates out several of the students who have decided that they are. “No, I'm not phobic. I just. Prefer it when they're not near me.”
Peter's laugh catches in his throat. “Oh, well, okay then. You coming?” he asks when the guide starts walking backwards again, waving his hands and talking enthusiastically about OsCorp's numerous spider-related projects.
“Yep,” Gwen says. “Yep, I'm coming. Here I come.” She grabs his hand then, her grip a little too tight, and Peter can't bring himself to care.
“Oh my god,” Gwen breathes a few minutes later when they reach the archway leading into the department's tour de force and her grip on his hand grows a fraction tighter. This is one of the few places in the building they haven’t had a chance to explore. The Tunnel, as it’s referred to by employees, is home to the world’s most expensive arachnids. Each one is worth like, quarter of a million dollars or something.
The tour guide uses his badge on an access pad, which flashes a little green light, the door making a soft click as it comes unlocked. It's glass, set in a half-moon glass wall, behind which is a tunnel filled with a low lagoon-colored light. The entire class hushes as they move through the door, the tour guide speaking in a stage-whisper.
All up and down the first sections of the tunnel walls are hundreds—maybe thousands—of soft, gauzy white spider's webs, densely woven in between pegs sticking out of the walls. There are tiny eight-legged bodies moving over the webs and Peter stares in awe.
Each section is marked with a small placard, attached to the hand railing and tilted upward for easy reading. The first shows an enlarged image of the little round spiders—they're actually kinda cute—moving across the webs and it reads: Aridne borabilias – A small genetically modified specimen, which spins masses of webbing. The webs are regularly harvested to be used for various strengthening and binding projects. These spiders produce the strongest, most lightweight, and the most flexible substance on earth.
Peter leans in to get a closer look and Gwen makes a little noise, pulls back on his hand. “Peter, what are you doing,” she hisses, “don't stick your face in there!”
Peter looks back at her and grins, “Relax, Gwen. They wouldn't let us in here if there was anything dangerous.” And—this is one of the things Peter loves about her—Gwen gets that. So she leans in too, holding her breath and just about crushing his fingers, but she leans in and looks. Peter just stares at her, totally dumbstruck.
“Okay,” she says, and waves a finger at a small section, “These ones are actually a little bit adorable.” She looks up at him then and catches him gawking and Peter feels heat flood his face. She gives him a funny look and straightens up, says, “What?” She pats her cheek. “Is there something on my face?”
“No— I was just— You're kind of, you know.”
Now she looks like she's trying not to laugh at him. “Am I now.”
“Shut up,” he mutters and gives her a little push to get her moving. Gwen laughs and it makes the little hairs all down his spine tingle.
The two of them drift along at the very back of the group, reading the placards and examining the various species of spiders—one called dominae oribus has even created these tubes of webbing between each of the pegs, each spider hidden somewhere inside, barely visible. “Okay, those ones creep me out,” Gwen admits. “Come on, next section.” She tugs on his hand and Peter lets her drag him forward.
The last two sections on either side of the tunnel are dummy set-ups. “'The barola mindicus and aracadia traxila are OsCorp's most advanced research specimens',” Peter reads. “'These spiders have been not only genetically modified, but irradiated and as a result must be kept in special habitats to protect the scientists working with them. These displays are to give you an idea of what these specimens and their habitats look like.'”
Gwen's frowning. “Irradiated spiders. That's a terrible idea. It's a miracle any of them are even still alive. Does it say why they're doing it?”
Peter leans down to get a better look at the placard, then across the aisle to look at the other one and shakes his head. “No, doesn't say. Must be something big.”
He actually knows why.
The scientist he’s been interning for is the same guy who’s been heading the team working on the aracadia traxila and the spiders are part of an attempt to recreate the effects of the mutant gene, the super soldier serum, and the radiation effects that created The Fantastic Four.
It’s actually brilliant, but radiation restrictions and genetic modification laws have made it nearly impossible for them to do any real world testing. But after a semester of studying the data and the simulations and the history of all three groups, Peter is sure that this is the answer to his problems.
“Or something ethically questionable,” Gwen mutters. “I mean irradiation, come on. You don't mess with that. You'd think people would learn after what happened to your uncle.”
It’s not the same, Peter wants to tell her, but if anyone ever found out about what he and Sibbel are about to do, the entire program would be shut down. Sibbel would be in massive trouble for involving a minor, even if it’s what Peter wants.
“Can you imagine a spider Hulking out?” Peter says instead, chuckling as he leans over the railing, checking out the display spiders and admitting he's glad these ones are fake when his stomach gives an uneasy roll. They're the creepiest kind, with long, pointed legs and visible fangs—they look a lot like black widows, but they're pale and semi-transparent, eerie-looking in the blue lighting.
Gwen shudders and says, in a low voice, “Oh my god, don't even joke. My worst nightmare.”
The doors at the end of the hall swing shut behind the last of their classmates as she moves up close behind him and the shifting light tricks Peter into thinking that the display has moved. Dozens of spindly legs waver, reaching out, and Peter's hand clenches around the guard rail. He straightens, a little zing of irrational fear darting into the base of his skull. “Okay,” he says, voice coming out a little higher than it should. “I think I've had about enough of the spiders for today. Gwen?”
Relief breaks across her face. “Oh, thank god, let's go. I don't want to be alone in here.”
It's already too late for that though; they're the only ones left in the muffled quiet of the tunnel. Thanks to his mildly enhanced hearing, Peter can hear a whisper from the far end as thousands of tiny web-spiders skitter around. How does anyone do research in here without getting a massive case of the creeps?
Gwen grabs hold of his hand and Peter pulls away from the railing, feels a sharp prick on the side of his hand. “Ouch!” he says, snatching it back.
Gwen hesitates and looks up at him, eyes wide and her face ghostly in the strange blue light. Her freckles are stark across her nose. “Peter? Did something just—”
“No,” Peter mutters, because that's ridiculous, there's no way, and bends forward to peer under the sign on the railing. Gwen's twisting his hand around so she can look at the stinging spot on the side of his hand.
“You have a little cut,” she tells him and Peter nods as she says it because he can see the culprit.
“Yeah, there's a screw under there sticking out.”
“Come on, let's go,” Gwen says, tugging on his arm, “I am so creeped out right now. I thought you—”
“You thought I got bit by a spider, didn't you?” Peter says, his amusement leaking out into his voice as she hauls him toward the doors. “You thought one of the radioactive spiders was roaming free and attacked me. You thought I was going to turn into The Thing.”
“Shut up,” Gwen mutters and pokes him in the ribs. “General Jerk.”
Peter laughs. “General, am I. Hey, at least I out-rank my dad.”
The light outside the tunnel is painfully bright and both he and Gwen wince. The class has gotten ahead of them, but not too far. Peter tugs on Gwen's sleeve lightly and says, “Hey, I'm gonna run for the bathroom, cover for me?”
Gwen gives him a look and says, “You had better dig deep and find some super speed.”
“Scout's honor,” Peter says, backing away from her with his fingers spread in the Vulcan salute.
“You are maligning my dad's favorite thing!” Gwen hisses after him.
Peter's heart starts to beat a little faster as he makes his way through the building, walking fast. He adjusts his glasses for the gazillionth time, and hopes if anyone notices him, his pace will keep them from finding him out of place. Gwen is probably going to be furious with him when he gets back, but hopefully this won't take long. All they have to do is administer the dose, and he’s out of there.
At the elevators, Peter slips inside, ducking his head at the looks he gets from all of the adult occupants. He's been interning with Doctor Sibbel for just over a semester now. He's been patient, but he's done waiting.
He can barely stand still, fingers tapping against the straps of his backpack. A man standing in the far corner of the car gives him a look and Peter shoots him a nervous smile, clenching his fingers to stop the tapping. God, please don't let anyone recognize him or catch him or, oh man, his dads would freak if they heard he'd snuck away from the class. And if they knew what he was doing?
Despite what their past-selves have done, Peter's pretty sure they wouldn't approve. He's doing it to help though. It's the right thing to do.
The elevator climbs steadily upward, Peter squirming the whole way and trying not to look suspicious while he does it. It's just creeping past the last floor when a woman narrows her eyes at him and speaks up. “Are you—”
“Getting off here, yep, thanks, can you just—” He gestures at the button and one of the other men presses it for him. “Thanks.”
The woman goes quiet, frowning, and Peter bites the inside of his cheek. Come on, hurry up!
Finally, the elevator doors slide open and Peter squeezes through.
The floor is expansive and open, split up by glass walls—most of the floors in Oscorp are like this, but this is where they keep some of the most choice equipment, although nothing like the stuff his dad and uncle have got at home.
He can't help a giddy little laugh from escaping his throat. He claps a hand over his mouth to stifle further noises and tries to get himself together. Oh, god, he's delirious. “Be cool,” he orders.
Each of the rooms has a keypad fitted into the glass next to the door. They look like keycard scanners, with a touch panel for a palm scan. It's not the worst, but it's definitely nowhere near as secure as the Tower.
Sibbel's lab is in the middle of the floor. His name is printed on the blue lit placard above the keypad and the man himself is sitting at one of the lab tables inside hunched toward a holographic screen hovering over the center. Peter's mouth quirks up in a smile. He likes the Doc. He's funny, although Peter's not really sure he means to be.
A swallow catches and sticks in his throat, around his rabbiting heart, and Peter realizes he's nervous. This is something he's gotta do though. He's a liability the way he is. He's not going to be anymore. After this they won't be able to stop him from helping.
He tries to imagine his dads' faces if they knew what he was doing, and he can't quite do it. But Tony built himself a suit, and Steve was offered the super soldier serum. This is the same thing.
He wants to help people and watch out for his family and that's a good thing, right?
They'll be proud, when he can keep up with them running across the city, scaling buildings, and punching bad guys.
Peter steps forward and knocks lightly on the glass.
Doctor Sibbel looks up, confused for a moment. Then he sees Peter's face and his expression goes comically wide. He's about the same height Tony is when he's wearing his lifts. Brown hair, brown eyes, tanned skin and eyebrows that are tilted in a little bit toward his nose under a creased brow. He kind of looks like a surprised orange.
Peter waves, and grins.
Sibbel hurries over and pushes open the door, waving him inside. “Come in, come in, you made it. That's excellent.”
“Hey, Doctor S. Thanks for seeing me. I was hoping we could make this quick, I'm actually on a field trip right now? And my teacher's gonna freak when she realizes I'm not with the rest of the class. I'm sorry to rush you and I can't tell you how much I appreciate this.”
“No, no, no,” Sibbel says, “You're doing me a favor.”
“I've been studying your research for ages now, Doc,” Peter says. “Considering what we know about the Fantastic Four and Doctor Banner, it makes sense that the key to unlocking superhuman abilities in non-mutants would be radiation-based. It's totally possible that the Vita- Rays they used to make Captain America were a form of radiation.”
Sibbel looks spooked at the mention of Peter's dad. It's taken him weeks to talk Sibbel into letting him be the first guinea pig. “You do understand the risks this poses, don't you? There is, of course, no guarantee, and the process could be very unpleasant. Several of my test subjects were sick for days.”
Peter nods. “No, I understand. I think the science is sound. If there's a way to do this, I think this is it.”
Sibbel wrings his hands.
“Come on, Doc. You did your research, right? You can finally prove to everybody that you knew what you were doing all along.”
That makes Sibbel's eyes gleam, just the way he knew it would. The guy's hungry to prove himself.
“Come,” Sibbel says, beckoning him forward. There are a row of plexiglass boxes sunk into the wall over one stretch of countertop and Peter blinks at the series of small habitats inside them. Sibbel reaches for the handle on one of them—it's unlit and Peter can just make out the curve of a length of pipe or something sitting on the bottom. “This is the only way to administer,” Sibbel says apologetically. “The serum degrades when exposed to oxygen.”
“Oh, super,” Peter says. “Just what I've always wanted. Here goes nothing.”
Sibbel pulls out the little plexiglass case just far enough for Peter to slip his hand inside. For a second he just stands there, heart thumping against his sternum, hand dangling inside the box, before realizing the goal here is not to avoid getting bitten. So he grimaces and reaches down, fluttering his fingers inside the opening of the pipe.
A pale, spindly-legged spider, just like the one he'd been looking at with Gwen not ten minutes ago comes scuttling out the other end, front legs waving in clear agitation.
“Ugh,” Peter says, the skin crawling along the back of his neck and up his arms. His fingers curl involuntarily, but he pushes his hand toward the spider, closing his eyes. He hears rustling as it skitters through the wood shavings covering the bottom of the plexiglass box—then the hairs on his arm rise up in a wave as something tickles his knuckles. He yelps at a sudden sharp stab of pain near the base of his thumb and bangs his hand on the top of the enclosure.
“There, there, it's done,” Sibbel says, but Peter feels it bite him again.
Sibbel grabs onto his wrist when he tries to pull his hand out and holds him there, using a thin metal ruler to brush the spider off of Peter's hand. He lets go and Peter jerks away, Sibbel pushing the box back into the wall as the spider slinks back into the pipe.
Peter hisses, four dots of blood marking the back of his hand. His heart is racing. “I'm not going to overdose am I,” he quips, but some of the humor is lost in the shaking of his voice.
“No, it doesn't work like that,” Sibbel says. He stares into Peter's face, worry wrinkling his face. “Are you all right?”
“Sure. Sure, yeah, sure,” Peter babbles, staring at the spots of blood. He did it.
“Where have you been?” Ms. March demands when Peter jogs up to the group ten minutes later. He flushes as the whole of his classmates turn to stare at him, Gwen giving him a what the hell, dude? look as he comes up beside her.
“I, um, got lost coming back from the bathroom?” Peter says. He feels a little strange going back to class in the wake of the potentially life-changing punctures on his hand. It all feels kind of far-off.
“That is why we have escorts,” Ms. March exclaims. “Your fathers—”
That snaps him out of it pretty quick. “I'm back, I made it back, I didn't get in trouble, so can we please, please not involve them, I mean, they have enough stress in their lives, don't you think?”
She glares at him. “If you step so much as one toe away from this group, your field trip privileges will be revoked. I will not deal with your parents wrath because you have itchy feet!”
He knows she won't tell them, though, because that would mean having to answer questions like, How did he get away in the first place? Isn't this your job? And Tony's been known to be a little litigious in this area.
“I had to go to the bathroom!” Peter protests.
“You know better than to go without letting someone know where you are going!” Ms. Marsh barks. A cluster of the students behind her back are snickering and miming spraying him with water like a bad dog.
Peter hunches his shoulders and says, “Okay, fine. I got it. Don't go pee anymore.”
“Detention,” Ms. March hisses, followed by a chorus of oooooh. “Quiet! Now does anyone else need to use the restroom? No? Good. Let's go on.”
As they resume walking, Gwen whispers, “What happened to you really?”
Peter makes puppy-dog eyes at her and pulls his sleeve down over the Band-Aids on his hand. “I ran into Doctor Sibbel on the way.”
Gwen huffs, arms crossed over her chest, but all she says is, “You owe me, Mister.”