Page 42

April 26, 2017:

Gwen Stacy gathers another fact about the strange dimension she's landed in. Here, some names are too dangerous to be spoken aloud.

The streets of NYC

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Phil Coulson, Cindy Moon, Matt Murdock, Jessica Jones, Peter Parker

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

It has of course been weeks since Phil Coulson came to collect one Gwen Stacy. He's checked in from time to time, saying that his scientist is planning a vacation and that he can't take her just yet. He makes sure she's alright, has given her very little to do, and has given her a caseworker named Brian Addy that has seemed like a pretty nice guy. He's given her access to a few facilities on the Triskelion, mostly the gym, the pool, and other such places. He assures her that he hasn't fogotten her, that he's working on her problem, and encourages her to make familiarizing herself with this earth her priority…looking up profiles on people she thinks she knows and finding out about them, reading this earth's articles and newspapers, learning what is and isn't the same.

That's a pretty big task in and of itself, he says, and really, is he wrong?

Tonight, though, Gwen's spidey sense has been buzzing on low levels all evening. There's nothing to identify why. The evening is quiet, there is nobody stalking her, nobody attacks, nobody's got a gun, nothing's going on at all. There's a nice Groupon for a pizza place down the way.

But her phone suddenly chimes, indicating she's got a text message. And attached to said text message is a video file. And attached to that video file is a bad, bad feeling indeed.

—-

As far as Gwen Stacy is concerned, being forgotten is fine. This is a new world and one that has some very strange and frankly disconcerting differences that she is not willing to face just yet. While she does what she is assigned, she is mostly listless. Every now and again, she opens the window and slips out in her Spider-Woman costume. There are teams of superheroes here and she is not strictly necessary, but she still feels the need to prove herself, to show that she is not some waste of space in this dimension.

On this new world, her spider sense has been a bit off. It's as if the air is different, which makes it harder for her own senses to calibrate. The buzzing in the back of her head that signifies danger is immediately acted upon. She searches, she looks out the window every now and then, she paces. But, it seems this is just another false alarm, but on the more annoying side as it keeps her from settling.

When her SHIELD issue phone buzzes, it's almost a relief. Maybe this meeans something, this is what she is waiting for. Her blonde hair is pulled back in a headband, her dress casual, but somewhat rumpled. She is not the put together type, it would seem, no matter the dimension. Picking up her phone, she opens the text and then the video file, already on edge.

—-

The video file shows a terrified 7-year old with a gun to her head. She has bouncing black ringlet curls and huge green eyes. She's so afraid that she can't even cry, her freckled face pale. She wears a little red t-shirt and a little jean skirt, and the gunman behind her has made her get on her knees and put her hands on her head like she's some sort of armed insurgent.

An electronically distorted voice on the other end of the line says, "You are watching this video mere seconds after it has been recorded. This is Hannah Musgrove. Hannah's mother is a nurse. Her father cuts lawns for a living. Just a normal kid who has nothing to do with anything."

There's a pause, as if the distorted voice is waiting for this to sink in. Then:

"You are going to leave your phone and any SHIELD tracking devices in your apartment. You will alert nobody at all. You will walk three blocks south. You will stand quietly in front of the Chase bank branch you find there. You will not bring a weapon and you will keep your special abilities under control. A car will arrive. You will get into the car, and you will do so peaceably."

Another slow, ominous pause. The gloved hand holding the gun strokes Hannah's face with the silencer. "If you fail to comply with these instructions, the Musgroves will never see their precious daughter ever again. You have thirty seconds to begin walking. You are being watched. Hannah will be punished for any deviations from these instructions. Text the word 'Yes' if you understand."

The number just says 'Unknown.'

—-

Whatever it was that Gwen was expecting, this was not it. Who knows about her presence here other than Phil and Cindy? This is a horrifying thought to bear and she immediately puts her phone down. Part of her wishes to put on the Spider-Woman costume, to find this maniac and put he or she down. But, that will not help Hannah. Instead, she immediately types, 'Yes' and sends it. That done, she puts down the phone onto the desk with the clatter of heavy plastic. Then, she grabs a wholly different nondescript black hoodie and pulls it on.

Following the instructions, her shoulders are haunched, waiting, wary and worried. Once in front of the Chase branch, she remains there, waiting for the car to arrive that she should get into. There are a few misconceptions. It's a busy street and quite a few cars stop nearby the Chase and she is not sure which one might be the car she should enter.

Despite her nervousness, the fear she feels for Hannah, her chin remains raised, her expression defiant as she waits for this 'Unknown' to make itself known.

—-

Five minutes after she arrives a long stretch limo pulls to a stop directly in front of her. The windows are tinted. A man in a suit gets out, his suit seams stretched over his muscles. He has a buzz cut, looks ex-military. The only thing that makes him look anything other than the stereotypical goon that he is is the little pair of glasses perched on his nose, actual corrective lenses that soften him up just a bit. But he's very armed and he's very cold as he says, "If you will simply slide in and sit down, Miss, to the forward facing seat."

There's another goon cut from much the same cloth with a gun that will end up pointing comfortably at Gwen's kidneys sitting all the way at the end of that seat. The idea is that they're going to sandwhich her between them, it seems.

Sitting in the back-facing seats are two more men. The smaller of the two is a hard-eyed grey headed man with clean-shaven features, wearing a lab coat over a shirt and tie.

The larger of the two is half concealed in shadow, a massive fellow whose presence would take up the bulk of the limo even if his frame didn't account for a good bit of that himself. He has a cane clasped between two meaty hands.

Some things, some people, are different in this world. Cindy Moon isn't a supervillian. Jessica Jones isn't a super-hero.

But some people are basically the same. Bad to the core, as if all but destined to be that way in any reality.

"Good evening, Gwen," Wilson Fisk says, his voice rough, commanding, and seething with an ever-present intensity just beneath its surface. "It is Gwen, isn't it? I'm so happy you could join us. We've got quite a bit to discuss."

—-

As the stretch limo pulls up and the goon steps out, Gwen bites the bottom of her lip. She has no choice, she follows. However, unable to stop herself, she mutters under her breath, "Yeah, great, good to see rich douche villain aesthetics stretch across dimensions." However, if this were truly her world, Matthew Murdock would be working for him instead of fighting against him. Another twinge of guilt at attacking the seemingly innocent lawyer settles in her chest as she moves into the limo and settles into the appropriate seat.

Once seated, she looks first at the smaller grey-haired man and then the larger one. She knows the Kingpin when she sees him. It seems he is the same between her world and this one. "How do you know my name?" she asks him. It's a direct question and could mean many things. There shouldn't be many people who know who she is here. She has been reticent to look herself up in this world. She doesn't want to know what the other Gwen Stacy is doing, especially if she is living a normal life. A life unmarred by vigilanteism and sacrifice. It would be too much.

Instead, she focuses on Fisk. "I'm not sure we do, but if you think we do, why don't you tell me what it is you want to talk about?"

—-

"How do I know your name?"

The question is quiet, ominous.

The thug gets in the limo and closes the door. Fisk tap taps the glass with his knuckles, and the limo goes rolling through the streets of New York, steady and slow, unhurried, like it doesn't even have any particular destination.

Wilson Fisk takes up his cane and stretches it out until the large, clear, hard diamond at the very end is directly under her chin, pressing uncomfortably at the hollow of her throat. It's warm, from his hands, but unforgiving.

A faint, hard smile crosses over his features. Beady eyes glitter as he leans forward a little, into the light of the cabin, so he can see the entire expanse of her face.

"Perhaps I will tell you. But first…"

Those eyes narrow, and there's no amusement on his face at all, now.

"I'd like to know how you came to know mine."

—-

Gwen knows the lay of the land. Fisk put himself on top by showing her the girl that he has at gunpoint. The naturally sassy and quippy Spider-Woman is at a disadvantage. She does not wish to put the girl in danger, but her general defensive mechanism is deflection through humor and insults. When a girl's life is on the line, it's not the best plan of action. Instead, her eyes narrow. The black hoodie that is a sharp contrast to her almost bleach blonde hair that spills down the sides about her shoulders.

Instead of going quippy, like she wishes, she bites her tongue. It takes some doing. In fact, there's a pause she she looks first at the cane and the gem. That's a good enough reason to pause, she hopes. Then, she finally responds, "Are you saying there are people who do not know who you are?" The Kingpin is a man already in jail in her world. The fact that this Fisk is out and about, threatening girls and coercing girls into limos would already suggest that the circumstances here are different.

After a moment, she looks up at him, blue eyes clear and almost innocent, though unable to hide the haunted expression she has held since Peter's death. "Maybe it's inside information."

—-

He stares at her without blinking. Measuring her, perhaps.

Or letting the silence stretch out as this vignette inside of the limo holds. Letting seconds tick by while the tension stretches out.

He slowly removes the cane and puts it down. He reaches over to pour himself a glass of red wine, unhurried. The smell of the vintage fills the limo, something dry and slightly sweetened, old, expensive. He takes a slow sip, savoring it. He then raises an eyebrow and the glass, for all the world like he's asking if she wants any.

Perhaps he is.

And then he turns his attention to the thug who ushered Gwen into the limo in the first place. "Claude," he asks, "how much would it devalue the girl if we cut off her right hand and gift wrapped it for our guest here?"

Claude takes out an iPad. He hasn't bothered to pull a gun, leaving that to his compatriot. He taps on it as if he's checking some sort of deep web, underworld stocks. Perhaps he is.

"14%," he reports instantly.

Fisk appears to consider that.

"Acceptable," he says at last. "Be ready to issue that order on my word."

Beady eyes turn back to Gwen. "I'm a very busy man," he says at last, cool despite that seething note. "So I'm going to do you the courtesy of setting the agenda for this discussion. You're going to tell me how you came by my name. Then we're going to discuss how you will handle that very sensitive information in the future, and why it will be in your best interests to handle it precisely in the way that I require. Then the good doctor here is going to take a few medical samples, because…why not? And finally, if you are a very good little spider, we will release you back out into the wild, and give you the girl whose life you will have purchased."

He takes a sip of the wine. "Or…you will choose to set a different agenda, whereupon you will become responsible for the lifelong suffering of a true innocent. Which option did you want to pursue this evening?"

—-

Gwen's eyes narrow as she watches Fisk make a threat toward the girl he supposedly has on the phone. "Don't," she tells him. It's a simple request, but the word comes with quite a bit of force and feeling. Then, it lilts upward toward the quipping that she is used to. This is a situation she has yet to really deal with and she is worried. As such, she falls back onto her trieds and trues: commentary. "I have no use for a dismembered right hand and it doesn't sound like you're keen on re-gifting."

Eyes narrow as she watches Kingpin. "It seems like you aren't that busy if you're picking up random blonde girls on the side of the road." He talks about her like a spider. That makes her blood run even colder. "I am not giving you my blood sample." As far as she knows, they could clone people from that. That's not something she's willing to have happen.

Gwen's fists clench as she watches Fisk. "I am not doing this, you are," she tells him flatly. Unable to let that hang, her mind continues to speak without the benefit of a stopper. "I know of you because where I come from you are a puppet. You are a man behind bars." She looks up at him, anger brewing behind those blue eyes. "If you know who I am, you know I am not from here. Where I am from, you are a patsy. That is how I know your name. You were caught and put behind bars."

—-

'Don't.'

He sips his wine, giving no sign as to whether or not he's heard her. But he is silent, still, as she speaks, and gives no orders which might indicate he's having the child maimed.

"An interesting cautionary tale," he rumbles at last.

The doctor narrows his eyes, tensing. He wants samples. Fisk just holds up a hand to stay him, almost annoyed by his presence. It flickers over his face. "That explains why so much information about you is sealed behind Clearance Level 8."

Claude speaks up. "It does track with the rant to the street lawyer and the private investigator, Sir."

"Yes. Yes it does."

He sets the glass aside in a little holder and gives Gwen a pleasant smile. "Welcome to our world," he says coldly. "In this one, I am the puppet master. Here, you can never be sure."

He takes up the cane, rubbing thick fingers over the surfaces of the diamond, a slow, steady ritual. He lowers his voice. "You can never be sure who is on my payroll, and who knows nothing. Who you can trust, and who you cannot. Who does my bidding, and who you can run to. You are a wildcard, but fortunately for you, I believe you are a wildcard who can be managed. Especially if you are a wild card who would like to get home, off to some NeverNever Land where I am behind bars."

He hits a button. A little table rises up from the floor in front of her. He pours her wine she never agreed to wanting and sets it in front of her.

"See? We're already on to the next part of the agenda. Was that so hard? Relax. Have a sip. Hannah is fine for the moment. I can be easy to deal with."

He flicks his fingers at Claude. Is he giving the order? But no. Claude brings out some expensive cheeses, crackers. They're all laid out on the table, as if he expects Gwen to have an appetite. Or, perhaps it's because he certainly does. He very deliberately whisks some Brie onto a little knife and spreads it across a high-quality cracker. He pops it into his mouth, savoring it.

"Mmm. You certainly can't get that kind of cheese in jail," he adds.

—-

Gwen drinks no wine, nor does she take any cheese. Who knows where any of these comes from. They could be blood wine or blood cheeses. This is Fisk, after all. Despite the fact that she never dealt with him directly, she is exactly reminded of the ruthlessness of Murderdock.

"Great. Thanks for the welcome," she tells him flatly. What else can she say in response to that? "I am just here. I don't care who is on your payroll or who is a wildcard. I'm just here." That fact is actually true. Her main goal is to get back to her father, but she is also not about to leap into an agreement with the Kingpin because she wants to get back home. She'd rather place her faith in SHIELD.

"I'm not thirsty," she tells him. "Nor hungry." Being in the limo with Fisk has completely robbed her of hunger and thirst. All that remains is worry and a large pit in her stomach.

"I mean, I guess that depends on what kind of jail you're in. I bet the white collar jails have some good cheese," She tells him. Some sass has to slip out. She can't help herself.

"What are we doing here?"

—-

Fisk lets this sass roll off of him. It isn't material sass. He's not an insecure man, it seems, and is able to deal with a bit of irrelevant defiance as long as the basics are dealt with.

She asks what they're doing here.

He smiles.

"Just this," he says. His tone is almost pleasant, now. "I'm giving you a warning, because I am, at my heart, a generous man. I don't expect you to understand my actions, nor do I care if you do. I simply expect you to be wise enough to heed this warning."

He lifts the cane slightly again, but this time it is only to gesture at her. "If, after we end our conversation tonight, you stay out of my affairs and choose never to allow my name to touch your lips ever again then I will ensure you are left alone. SHIELD will no doubt send you back to your own place and time, and you will get what you want. This place and time is, after all, no concern of yours. It is my domain."

His smile hardens. "But perhaps you will choose to be foolish. Perhaps you will begin using knowledge from your world to intervene in mine, as you so inadvertently did when you spoke my name on a crowded street. Perhaps you will choose to speak my name again, despite my generosity, my warnings."

He retrieves his wine with the hand not occupied with the cane and takes another long, slow sip, savoring every bit of the taste.

"And should that come to pass, I would like you to understand precisely what is going to happen to you. I will use my very long reach to ensure that SHIELD comes to believe you are simply an insane, deluded meta, not a…what is that quaint term they use? 084? Yes, I believe that's it. 084, from another dimension. I will see to it that you spend the rest of your days in an asylum, pumped full of drugs that suppress your powers and undergoing all kinds of unpleasant therapies, knowing that your chances of ever seeing your loved ones in your world slips away day by day. And if anyone in that organization or any other has the presumption to believe you, to try to help you? I will see to it that their careers and lives are destroyed beyond recognition. I will see to it that they come to curse your name as they watch their world burn."

He finishes off the wine. "I trust the fact that we are having this conversation at all makes my power and my capability very clear to you."

He smiles again, then. It's almost paternal.

"Now then. Are we on the same page, this evening?"

—-

"Yeah, from what I know, my knowledge doesn't really have much bearing on this world other than being in a creepy limo with some creepy goat cheese," Gwen tells Fisk with a look down at the cheese plate and then up at him again. However, after that outburst is contained, she frowns. "I won't talk about you again, okay? I didn't know what I was saying when I was saying it." That is honestly true, but she is certainly willing to speak it to ensure Hannah's safety.

As Fisk makes his threats, Gwen watches him. Her blue eyes follow the glass of wine as he takes a casual sip. There is a long, long silence as she lets that sink in. It's clear in her countenance, in her manner that she should fight this and his words. Instead, she responds, "Yup. Crystal clear."

This is a woman out of time, out of sync and supposedly with knowledge that Fisk wishes to know. For now, she agrees with him. She certainly wishes no harm on Coulson, who helped her out when she had nowhere to go. Instead, she agrees. Hopefully she'll already be gone by the time any of this comes into effect.

"Same page, yup. We're all on page 42. Glad we read the manual together." She stops. "I expect to see Hannah released? And her family compensated for the emotional trauma? I'd like proof of that, in fact. Before we deal with my own family tragedies that you're so willing to visit upon me. Call me old fashioned."

—-

"You have purchased her life. You'll see her in a moment," Fisk replies. Again, her sass is irrelevant to the transaction. She says his cheese is creepy; black eyes glitter and he has a little bit more.

"But now…demands! You've already tried to alter the deal. Still, everything is a negotiation. If you wish compensation for her family, you'll have to pony up a few blood and tissue samples for the good doctor. If you wish to keep your blood in your body, then you'll have to content yourself with taking her home yourself, and dealing with dear Mum and Dad's trauma however seems good to you."

He says all of this as if she should be noting just how reasonable he is, how easy he is to deal with. Deal and counter deal, even with a gun jammed into her side and a young life hanging over her head.

The doctor shifts eagerly beside him, as if catching the sent of the blood he would like to draw.

—-

"Great," Gwen tells Fisk. Her eyes narrow at him. "If I give you access to a blood sample - only one - I would need to know the compensation was transferred to her immediately," she tells Fisk. While she may be a superhero, she is a cop's daughter. She knows the way of back alley deals. "That is the only way it will happen. Enough money to ensure she goes to college without debt. That her family will never be targeted by you again. Once I see the transfer, I'll leave and never speak of you again. It was a mistake the first time."

Squaring her shoulders, she looks at him. "If you are not amenable, that's it. That is all I am offering."

—-

His chuckle is long and deep.

"I like you," he decides. "You're a good negotiator. You don't crumple under pressure. But neither are you an idiot. I can appreciate all of these things. Claude. Make the transfer happen."

"Yes sir," Claude says, with exactly the same level of business-like emotion that he used when he was calmly calculating the percentages of selling the girl minus a hand. He then turns the iPad to Gwen so that she can see that a $250,000 transfer is about to be sent into a UTMA account in her name. He then hits the button.

"We have no reason to target little Hannah again," Fisk adds. "She has served her purpose this evening."

And then the doctor eagerly leans forward with a needle and the little vials they use to draw blood at the hospital. A little rubber tourniquet. "I'm going to need you to bare your arm," he says, in his nasally, weasly way. Fisk watches the whole thing with the mildest of interest.

—-

Having the means to go to college without debt may not actually mean anything to Hannah. But, it's the only thing Gwen can do to try and soften the blow of being in the path of whatever destruction she has unintentionally wrought. That seems to be her lot in life.

Instead, she watches the transfer and then rolls the sleeve of both her shirt and sweatshirt to the doctor in front of her. The fact that he is so eager is something that will certainly worry her. But, for now, she's attempting to assure that her imprint on this world is as close to equal as she can make it. She's already made mistakes, as she knows she always does. However, perhaps she can fix it.

"Yeah, I feel great about this," She says, the tone very flat.

—-

The doctor wraps the tourniquet tightly around her arm, not bothering to make it less painful. He tests for veins with two fingers, then finds his. He draws the blood with swift efficiency. "Would be better with a biopsy," he complains, which causes a touch of impatience, even anger, to flit across Wilson Fisk's face.

His voice turns soft. Dangerous. "Make do, doctor."

The doctor takes the needle back, unwraps the tourniquet, and clears his throat as the deadly focus of Claude and the other thug are suddenly turned fully onto him. He ducks his head. "Of course, Sir."

Gwen might notice that they're going at about 30 miles per hour now, on roads that allow for that sort of thing, roads winding out towards the suburbs.

"I'm glad you feel good about it," Fisk says mockingly. "I like Win-Win deals. And now our conversation has concluded. Good evening to you, little spider. Remember, you know exactly what to do in order to make sure that I never have cause to intervene in your life ever again."

Claude opens the door.

He wraps one hand around Gwen's upper shoulder and tugs, sending her sailing right out of the limo and into the filthy street. It's a bad part of town, not the kind of place where one really wants to be stranded. There is seriously a crackhouse across the street.

The limo speeds off.

A few moments later, however, another car pulls up. This one actually does come to a stop. Hannah is shoved out of the car right in front of Gwen. That one speeds off too.

The girl falls on her hands and knees. She stares at the ground, panting, hyper-ventilating, nearly in a state of catatonic shock. And then the silent tears start, flowing slowly down her face.

She looks slowly up at Gwen Stacy, as if trying to decide if this is friend, foe, or someone neutral.

She struggles for words. And finds some, forlorn and frightened.

"I wet my pants."

—-

Having been stabbed by needles and then tossed out of a limo, Gwen is a little disoriented. However, as Hannah looks up at her, she reaches out, rolling the sleeve of her hoodie down over where her blood was taken. Instead, her attention is entirely on Hannah. Honestly, a part of her wondered if Hannah was a bluff. She's glad she went with her instinct that Kingpin would use an actual person to manipulate her.

Scrambling up, she moves to Hannah. "That's okay," she tells the girl reassured. "I almost did the same. Someone will be here soon that will be able to help us." She's not in her Spider-Woman gear, but that doesn't seem to matter here. Instead, she attempts to comfort Hannah. "I'm sorry."

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