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the streets I used to know

Title: the streets I used to know
Fandoms: Captain America & Spider-Man Homecoming.
Pairing: None.  Just a couple epic bromances.
Rating/Warnings: So very gen. A bit of violence later.
Word Count: 5600
Disclaimer: If I owned either of these, there would be more Bucky.
Summary: Bucky ends up in NYC chasing memories and forms an unlikely friendship while he's there.


Peter has been Spider-Man for exactly seven days and thirteen hours when he first meets James. The teen only notices the man because he looks kind of shady; no one stands still in New York City in the winter unless something weird is going on. Especially not in what looks like one flimsy hoodie and a pair of driving gloves.

However, Peter has been called a lot of awful names in the last week for jumping to conclusions – how was he supposed to know that that one mugging was actually Shakespeare in the Park? - and he's trying not to make assumptions anymore. So he approaches cautiously.

The stranger is standing on the sidewalk, completely motionless. He doesn't seem to notice as people walk around him and he barely even twitches when one woman stops to cuss at him for getting in her way. He's not on the phone or drinking coffee while looking for a taxi – those would both be normal. Instead, the man is empty-handed, staring at the buildings like he's never seen their like before.

“Hey, are you all right?” Peter asks, keeping a careful distance in case this guy is some kind of druggie out for a bad trip. One week as a New York vigilante has made the teen more familiar with quiet people going psycho than he'd ever planned to be.

However, this man's eyes are clear if tired when he turns to look at Peter and he shows no sign of flipping out. So if Spider-Man can't catch a criminal, maybe he can have a conversation and help another way.

“Do you need directions or something?”

“That's an... interesting... outfit,” the stranger says after a long moment, choosing each word carefully. “Is it... Halloween now? Who are you supposed to be??”

“What? No. It's December, dude. You're off by a couple months,” Peter answers, a bit more worried now. But the man just shrugs in answer. He looks both faintly amused and completely done with everything, like he wouldn't be surprised to go to sleep in December and wake up in October afterward.

“You're not some kind of addict, are you?” the teen asks. “I mean, no judgment if you are... actually, that's a lie, I probably would be judging and you better not be dealing in this here neighborhood. But there are places to get help. Or hey, are you hungry? I've got-”

Peter shoves one hand in the pocket of his costume and does a bit of rummaging.

“About six bucks. You could buy a sandwich if you want. I know a place with the best sandwiches in Queens and you shouldn't make big life choices when you're starving; in my experience that ends badly for everyone involved. At least, that's my excuse for a couple things I've done.”

He holds out the bill but the stranger doesn't take it. The man just stares at Peter for a moment before asking, “Why... do you... even care?”

This guy sounds completely baffled and his expression matches, what the teen can see of it beneath his baseball cap. Honestly, it's like no one has ever offered the man anything without a bunch of strings before. Which is really kind of sad.

“You seem to need help so I'm helping,” Peter tells him with shrug. “Friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, it's kind of what I do. Looking out for the little guy. At least I'm trying to.”

“How do you know I'm not a... criminal?” the man replies, still with those odd pauses like he's searching for the words. “You shouldn't go round handing... cash to strangers. What if you get... mugged?”

“I told you, I'm Spider-Man. I'd like to see them try,” he answers, fighting back a smirk. “And you don't seem like a criminal. I'm pretty sure a coke-head would have taken my six bucks.”

The stranger barks a laugh and then looks startled at the sound.

“I guess you're right,” he murmurs. “Though I could just have high standards. Maybe I don't work that cheap.”

Are you a criminal then?”

“Depends on who you ask,” the man tells him quietly. “I am... was... a soldier. I've... killed a lot of men.”

“My grandfather fought in World War II. I don't think that makes you bad.” Peter's not sure why he says it. This guy is just a stranger, lost though he may seem. “Look, if you don't want a sandwich, can I do something else? Cuz otherwise I should probably go see if someone actually needs Spider-Man right now. I just started this gig, you know, and I need to get my name out on the streets.”

“I was on my way to... Brooklyn but I got turned around,” the man replies, squinting up at the skyline. “This city doesn't feel... it doesn't look the same.”

“Well, that one's pretty easy,” Peter tells him, relieved to have an answer. “You can't get there directly, but if you take the N train to the city you can transfer to the J train after that. There's a subway stop a few blocks over th-”

“No,” the guy says flatly. “Not the subway. Nothing... underground.”

Okkaay, then. How about a taxi?” the teen offers. “You won't see many in this neighborhood but you can call one easily.”

“I don't have a phone,” is the reply.

The fuck? Peter thinks, gaping at the stranger. Who doesn't have a phone these days?

“Look, man, I'm trying. But you've gotta help me out here,” he says, throwing his hands up in the air. “I don't have a bicycle to loan you and you're off the easy bus routes, especially on Sunday. At this point you'd probably get there faster if you walked.”

“Walking would be... better,” the man tells him.

“This is New York City in the winter,” Peter says in disbelief. “No one freaking walks. I mean, the directions aren't that difficult. You just keep heading that way, walk along the water until you hit the bridge. But you'd probably freeze to death long before you get there. If you don't have a phone, can I call you a taxi? I'd feel better if I did.”

“That won't be necessary. Much obliged, kid.”

The man tips his baseball cap to Peter like some old-fashioned gentleman. Then he strolls off toward Brooklyn with his hands shoved in his pockets and all the teen can wonder is, What just happened here?

“I'm not a kid, I'm Spider-Man,” he calls out but the stranger doesn't even turn around. The teen watches him until he disappears into the distance, tempted to follow to make sure that he's all right. But Peter is getting kind of chilly and he doesn't have the time to walk to Brooklyn before Aunt May starts to wonder where he is. Besides, Spider-Man isn't here to babysit grown men, even ones that seem real weird.

So the teen heads back toward his house, hoping that he'll get lucky and have the chance to stop a robbery somewhere along the way.

---

Two days later, Peter is testing out some new gloves when he sees the man again.

He's in Brooklyn this time, taking a short break from patrolling – or, more accurately, running along the rooftops and hoping that someone else gets mugged. The teen feels a little guilty about hoping but no one ever said that being a superhero could be so dang boring all the time. He'd been expecting aliens and super-villains and what he got was shoplifters ripping off a bunch of whiskey or a two-dollar pack of gum.

So Peter is cold and frustrated and really freaking bored and when he sees a familiar stranger on the sidewalk, he decides that he has time to indulge his curiosity.

“Hey, man. How's it goi-?”

The teen doesn't have the chance to finish his sentence. Instead, he finds himself dodging a fist straight to his face.

“Hey! Whoa, easy!” Peter shouts, leaping up on the closest canopy. “I thought you were a good guy.”

He keeps on talking until the man finally seems to realize what he's doing, shaking himself like a wet dog trying to get clean. The stranger rises from his crouch and he seems to be done fighting, but the teen's instincts tell him to still tread cautiously.

“Sorry. You... startled me,” the guy says, looking up at Peter.

“Right, soldier. That was my bad,” he replies, smacking his hand against his face. “Next time I'll announce myself from far away, yeah?”

“That would be... appreciated.”

“Well, I'll try not to forget again,” Peter promises. “Anyway, I see you managed to reach Brooklyn without freezing. Did you find what you were looking for?”

The teen is both curious and worried. This man is hardly scrawny but Peter thinks he might be wearing the same clothes he was before and that hoodie doesn't seem like warmth enough if it starts to snow. The guy should have a scarf at least.

“I used to live there,” the stranger murmurs, pointing toward an old building on the corner. “Steve and I, we used to get in so much trouble back when we were kids.”

“You're a New Yorker? That's awesome, so am I!” Peter exclaims and then feels like a dumbass. Of course I'm a New Yorker, idiot. “I mean, I never would have guessed it from your accent.”

“I've been away for a long time,” the stranger tells him, sounding almost wistful. “And now everything is different. The New York I knew is gone.”

“That sucks, man. I'm sorry,” the teen replies. “But there are still some pretty nice spots in the city. Maybe you just need a local face to show you where they are. The hidden treasures, you know, not the major tourist spots.”

“I don't know. I always did like... Coney Island,” the man says with a faint smile. “But shouldn't you... be at home or something? Or maybe at school. You don't seem old enough to be out here by... yourself.”

“I told you, I'm Spider-Man,” the teen exclaims. “Superheroes don't have curfews. Superheroes fight crime at all hours; that's the point. You don't see Iron Man taking a day off.”

“Yeah, you do, kid. Bad example,” the man snorts and for one split-second, Peter can hear a hint of Brooklyn in his voice. “Even... Captain America knows how to have some fun. Honestly, kid, if you do catch a … criminal, what do you plan to do with 'em? You're kind of... scrawny for a fist fight. You'll get your teeth knocked out.”

“Hey! I'm stronger than I look and I've done all right so far,” Peter protests. “Besides, I've got something in the works that will make the whole thing moot.”

“Oh?” the stranger grunts and the teen can't resist the urge to tell him. Ever since he got bitten, he's been dying to tell someone about his awesome plans for Spider-Man.

“Yeah, it's gonna be fantastic,” he says excitedly. “I want to make a kind of web fluid, like from a real spider. It will be sticky and shoot out of my hands to catch the bad guys. I won't even have to touch them. Just bam and they'll be stuck while I leave and call the cops.”

“That sounds... somewhat useful,” the man replies after a moment and Peter has to grin.

“I know, right? I'm still working on the formula but it will be so awesome when it's finished. Criminals won't even know what hit them once I'm done.”

“Good luck with that, kid,” the guy replies. Then he tips his hat again and then turns to walk away.

“Hey, wait!” Peter shouts, running after him. “What's your name? I can't keep calling you 'that person from the sidewalk' all the time. Well, I guess I could, but that's kind of long and awkward, not to mention impolite.”

“... James. Call me James if it means that much to you.”

“Nice to meet you, James,” the teen says, giving the man a short salute in lieu of shaking hands. “You sure you don't need something? I've heard there's some decent shelters right around here if you want a place to sleep.”

“I'll be fine, kid, really. Worry about your criminals,” James tells him before adding, “And don't stay out too late.”

“Uggh, fine, grandma,” Peter groans. “Will you just get out of here?”

“All right, Spider-Man. Good evening.”

James walks about ten feet and then just disappears somehow. Peter didn't see him turn a corner but he's definitely gone now and the teen might have to ask about that trick if he sees the man again. But he still has about an hour before his aunt expects him home and he intends to make the most of it.

---

The next time, James finds him.

It's been a couple weeks since their last encounter, enough time for Peter to cook up some web fluid in his morning science lab. He'd brought the first batch along with him to test this afternoon and while there are still a few major kinks to work out – he's thinking water-soluble probably isn't the best plan and don't even get him started on the way it seems to clump – overall, it's been a successful trial run. So Peter feels quite justified in sitting on a fire escape and basking in his victory.

“You busy, Spider-Man?” someone calls from down below and when the teen looks over the edge, he sees James standing there.

The man still looks kinda rough but he's replaced his cap and hoodie with a thicker jacket and a new ragged beanie. Slightly less likely to freeze to death and Peter takes the change as a good sign. Maybe he managed to help a little after all.

“James! You remembered my name,” the teen calls back, grinning widely underneath his mask.

“Don't get too excited, kid,” James tells him. “I probably wouldn't have remembered, but I think I saw your... handiwork. A bunch of guys are... glued to a pole a few blocks over – that ring a bell for you? The stuff that they're tied with sure looks like... webs to me.”

“You saw that? Isn't it great?” Peter asks.

“It wasn't... bad. I'll give you that,” the man replies. “They seemed... stuck on there pretty good.”

“Yeah, the cops will probably have to cut them off. Unless it snows,” the teen admits. “But I'd feel guilty if they froze while waiting to be picked up by the boys in blue. I'm still tweaking the formula but I think this batch is pretty good for a first prototype.”

“I've definitely seen worse,” James tells him with a crooked grin. “Unless there was an... explosion that I missed somehow. Do you plan to... celebrate?”

“You know, I hadn't really thought about it. You want a sandwich?”

“Why do you keep asking that?” the man replies, sounding a bit exasperated.

But Peter simply shrugs. “I like sandwiches. Sue me. If you're not hungry, just say no. But you'll be missing out.”

“Best sandwiches in Queens, huh?”

“Damn straight. So are you in?”

“Sure kid, why not?” James says eventually. “But I'm buying my own sandwich. I don't need your... charity.”

That's not exactly a deal-breaker since it'll save the teen at least five dollars. So he hops down to the sidewalk and leads the man toward Delmar's.

Peter gets a few weird looks for the outfit but not as many as he used to. New Yorkers are eminently adaptable and the city is finally starting to get used to Spider-Man. If anything, it's the tourists who seem to find him stranger now, a few people reaching for their cameras until James glares at them.

“All right, here we are.” The teen stops in front of the bodega and rummages through his pockets for a five. “Everything is good so get whatever you want and grab me the same, if you don't mind. Just ask them to smush the bread down when they toast it. Sandwiches taste better flat.”

“Whatever you say, kid,” James replies, taking Peter's five. Then he pushes open the door to get on line, his shoulders set like he's going off to war as he disappears inside.

Peter contemplates the wisdom of sending a twitchy former soldier in to face the crowd alone before shrugging and deciding that Mr. Delmar can probably hold his own. Spider-Man will be close enough to hear the shouting if he's needed anyway.

While he waits for James, the teen hops up onto a nearby street light. Although most parts of being Spider-Man are so freaking cool, Peter thinks the climbing might be his favorite part. No one ever looks up and people do the strangest stuff when they don't realize someone's watching. Strange and gross, the teen making a face when one scruffy looking dude shoves a hand down his pants to scratch his ass.

I didn't need to see that, Peter thinks, flipping around the street lamp so that he's hanging upsidedown. He tracks one shifty looking woman until she gets into a taxi and then checks his phone for messages before wondering what the heck is taking James so long.

There's usually not much of a line this time of day and the other guy had been so insistent about not accepting Peter's money; it hardly seems possible that he would have run off now. Maybe he got... lost? the teen thinks, that idea even more ridiculous. He's trying to decide if he should risk going into the bodega in this outfit – Mr. Delmar might recognize his voice and the last thing he needs is someone telling Aunt May about his alter ego when she thinks he's studying.

“Hey, kid... Spider-Man!

James must have walked out of Delmar's while Peter was busy fretting and he's waving two wrapped sandwiches up at the teen now.

“What took you so long? I was starting to get worried,” Peter gripes, dropping down to the sidewalk.

“You told me to... choose,” James replies quietly. “There were too many... options.”

“Oh man, I get that. I guess I forgot what it was like the first time. But you can't have made a bad choice. Everything from Delmar's is fantastic,” the teen tells him cheerfully. “Unless you got hot peppers. I can't stand hot peppers. I probably should've mentioned that.”

“No. No peppers.”

“Then it's all good. Now, I'd usually just eat up on another fire escape since it's pretty warm today. But we can find an empty bench if you prefer. Something more accessible.”

“That will not be... necessary. I can manage.”

Peter has his doubts but James seems serious. So the teen just shrugs and leads him down a side street till he finds a likely spot. Empty, quiet, and out of the wind – good things for outdoor winter eating if you're not a polar bear.

He hops up on the fire escape and then turns to offer James a hand. But the man just tosses the sandwiches up to Peter before jumping for the rail. He pulls himself up hand over hand until he can climb onto the fire escape and Peter stands there gaping until he shakes off his surprise. James did say he was a soldier, but damn; the teen wishes he could have done that just as easily before his spider bite.

The guy settles down beside him and picks up a sandwich, unwrapping the paper carefully before taking a small bite. James chews and swallows before glancing over at the teen and asking, “Are you gonna eat yours? I doubt I can... ID you just from seeing half your mouth, but I can turn and face the other... direction if you want.”

“Huh? Oh yeah, of course,” Peter mumbles, grabbing his own sandwich. The pair eats in silence for a few minutes, neither pausing for more than a breath or two until their food is mostly gone.

“So, what do you think?” the teen asks as he sits back in satisfaction.

“Not bad. Not bad at all,” James tells him. “But I think that I've had better.”

“You must be joking! Where?” Peter demands, a little miffed on his favorite sandwiches' behalf.

“There was a... deli on the corner when I was growing up,” the man says, staring off into the distance. “It was a... Jewish deli. Saul's, I think. Or Reuben's. I can't quite remember. But it had the best corn beef and... pastrami of any place in Brooklyn. Man, Steve loved that fucking deli. He used to drag me there any time he'd saved up his pennies and we'd both get a meal. I preferred to mix things up, maybe get sauerkraut or some hot soup in the winter, but Steve would get pastrami on rye bread every time. Some of those sandwiches weighed as much as he did, but he'd always finish them.”

Peter listens spellbound as James pours out a memory, his accent growing more New York with every word. The teen honestly isn't sure whether the man remembers that he's there, but he can't bring himself to interrupt.

“I'd usually take Steve there for his birthday and I kept expecting him to get sick of it someday. But he never did and the owner loved him even though he didn't quite fit in. Steve was Catholic, you know, Irish, but he used to say that he was jealous of my family. All Catholics got was Lent and guilt and we Jews had better food.”

James stops talking suddenly, his expression completely pole-axed when Peter looks at him.

“Are you okay?”

“I... I didn't know that I was Jewish,” the man says quietly. “I think... I think it was a secret. The museum... my dog tags didn't say.”

“Umm, no offense, but how could you not know that?”

“There are... problems with my memory,” James admits after a long pause. “I remember more now, most of it, I think. But sometimes the... details take me by surprise.”

“I'm sorry,” Peter says for lack of something better. “Is that from being a soldier? Were you injured?”

“You could say that,” he replies with a slightly bitter chuckle. The man stares off into the distance for a moment longer before pushing to his feet. “Thanks for the company and the sandwich... suggestion. But I should be going. I need to... I need to write this down.”

James jumps over the railing of the fire escape and lands lightly on the ground. “I'll see you later, Spider-Man.”

“Yeah, okay. Sure, I guess,” Peter replies a little awkwardly. Amnesiac ex-soldiers aren't exactly in his comfort zone and he doesn't want to say something wrong by accident. But if the man notices his discomfort, he doesn't mention it. He just waves at the teen and walks off purposefully.

---

Peter doesn't see James regularly. The teen will go four days without a sign of him and then run across the man by accident three times in a row. It should be impossible considering the size of New York City but somehow the two of them always seem to manage it. When Spider-Man is chasing down a criminal, James just nods a greeting, but they usually stop and chat a while before both moving on – Spider-Man to his patrolling and James to whatever the heck he does when Peter's not around.

The teen knows that it's not a normal friendship – he's not stupid – and he knows that James has secrets. But it's not as though he doesn't and this seems to work for them. Peter likes having someone he can talk to about being a superhero, about the criminals that he's caught and his plans for his equipment, and in return James usually tells him stories about the New York he used to know.

The man always wears the same brown jacket – paired with a scruffy beanie or a cap – and he's taken to carrying around a notebook in the pocket so that he doesn't have to leave to record his memories. Now their conversations simply pause for a bit while James writes down his revelations, everything from the name of his first girlfriend – steady dame, he calls her – to the color of his mother's favorite scarf. Those are the happy ones and Peter isn't dumb enough to ask about the memories that make the man go silent, gripping his pen like a weapon in his hand.

The teen has learned to recognize the signs now, the cut-off words and vacant staring that usually signals another bout of scribbling. Honestly, the way James writes, he must go through a lot of notebooks and Peter has seen at least two different ones so far.

Soon to be a third since his friend is on the last few pages when he looks up from his phone. The guy has been writing for at least five minutes, so intently focused that Peter is almost surprised that the paper hasn't burst right into flames.

James always seems to write more when he's been talking about Steve and to be honest, he mentions Steve a lot. The memories are mostly happy but his voice is often wistful and Peter has to wonder why the guy hasn't searched his best friend out. If he just needs contact info, the teen can probably get that for him easily.

“Not that I'm complaining or anything,” Peter says when James finally shuts his notebook. “But don't you have somewhere else to be? Or other people you should see?”

“Not really,” the man answers with a shrug. “I'm... between jobs at the moment and you remind me of some friends I used to have. Dum Dum was like you, always... joking but a good man in a fight and your... stubbornness in being Spider-Man, that's Stevie through and through.”

“Right, so what about him?” the teen asks. “The way you talk about this Steve guy, I would've thought you'd hang with him. I know they took down all the payphones but there's ways to make a call.”

“That is not an option,” James answers flatly. He shoves his notebook into his jacket pocket and the expression on his face is either furious or devastated – Peter honestly can't tell.

“Oh my god, Steve is dead isn't he?” the teen asks horrified. “That's why you can't see him. I'm such an idiot.”

“What? No. He isn't dead,” James tells him and Peter slumps down in relief. Although he clearly put his foot in it, his friend doesn't sound that angry now. The man just sounds depressed by this whole conversation and the teen should probably apologize for bringing up the topic. But it's too late not to say it and Peter can't deny he's curious.

Thankfully, James continues without any further prompting. “It's all a little... complicated and you're not completely wrong. I thought Steve was dead for a long time and he thought I was for longer. I know the damn fool blamed himself.”

“But then you have to tell him,” the teen exclaims. “Once he learns that you're okay, then he'll probably be stoked.”

“Unless that word means... devastated, you're pretty damn far off the mark. Our initial... reunion didn't turn out very well,” James says with a sigh, cutting Peter off when he tries to speak again. “And that's my fault so leave it. Things will be better for everyone if I just stay far away.”

Everything about that statement sounds stupid to the teen. Even when they fight, Peter can't imagine his life without Ned in it and James clearly misses his best friend a lot. But maybe making yourself miserable for no good reason is one of those things that people call maturity. Adults always seem to be doing things that make them mad.

"Okay, man, chill. I was just wondering," the teen says, holding up his hands. He's learned that arguing with James on some things is like talking to a wall. "If you change your mind at some point, let me know and I can try to track Steve down. Until then, I won't bother if you don't want me too.”

“Don't hold your breath, kid, but I do... appreciate the offer,” the man replies and at least Peter hasn't screwed things up completely by poking at old wounds.

“Still friends then? Awesome,” he says, clapping his hands together before climbing to his feet. “Anyway, I'll see you later. I've got a new batch of web fluid that I need to test for traveling."

“Try not to die,” James tells him, obviously remembering the teen's first attempt at webslinging, the one that Peter really doesn't want to think about. If his friend hadn't been there to grab him when his line snapped, the teen probably would have hit that bus face first.

But Peter has reworked the whole system now and he's sure that he'll be fine. “You really shouldn't worry. I have everything planned out.”

“Yeah, sure,” the man says skeptically. “If you think you're gonna crash, aim for something soft and protect your head as best you can.”

“Sorry, I can't hear you. I'm too busy being awesome,” Peter replies. The teen gives James a cheeky salute before shooting off his webbing and despite his friend's dire predictions, this new batch of web fluid works even better than he'd hoped once he gets the hang of it.

---

Three days later, Spider-Man is trying to explain to this old lady that he's returning her purse not coming back to steal some more. The conversation would be easier if she spoke of a lick of English. Currently it's going something like, "Hey- stop- ow- damn it, lady," as she tries to whack him with her cane and yells in vaguely European sounding gibberish.

Peter is about ready to leave the purse and run when someone reaches over his right shoulder and catches the woman's cane on her next swing.

"," James says in the same language. At least, the teen assumes that he's speaking the same language because the lady finally calms down. Suddenly she's just a sweet old granny as she laughs and pats Peter on the arm.

"” the woman says and the teen thinks that was a question. “”

“”

The teen stand there gaping as James and the old woman chat a little longer, his friend ducking his head almost shyly when the lady pinches both his cheeks. Peter holds out the purse when the man nudges him and he's half expecting to get thumped again. But granny just hooks the bag over her elbow and gives the pair a nod.

“”

"" James says in reply before the old lady totters off and all the teen can think is, what the heck was that?

"Since when do you speak Russian?" is what comes out of his mouth.

"That was actually Romanian," the man tells him with a grin. "And I speak a lot of languages. They came in handy as a soldier and I've always had an ear."

"That is so cool" Peter murmurs, staring up at James with something close to awe. "I wish I spoke another language fluently... Hey, can you speak Spanish too?"

“I'm not sure," the other guy says with a shrug. "Say something in Spanish."

"Okay, um... Yo necesito practicar español por que hay un... una... una testa... uno testo mañana."

"Well, your accent is terrible and I think you meant un examen, but I guess I do speak Spanish," James tells him with another crooked grin. He's been smiling more the longer that they've known each other and he seems quite amused right now.

"Great. So... can you help me study?" Peter asks. "I wasn't actually joking about the test."

"You know I barely finished school, kid?"

"Yeah, but you speak Spanish," the teen replies.

James sighs and gripes and rolls his eyes but still agrees to help him and they spend the next few hours drilling Spanish vocab back and forth. They only pause when Peter has to go chase down a shoplifter and stops to scold a woman whose dog is not on leash.

Not the most nefarious of criminals but Spider-Man is still working up to bigger things. Just last weekend the teen stopped a car from crashing - which was awesome, by the way - and studying is important too. Aunt May will be furious if Peter flunks another test and getting grounded would put the kibosh on his superheroing. To be honest, his grades have slipped a little since he started this whole gig and as cool as it is to have superpowers, Peter still needs to graduate.

Thankfully, James is a good teacher: straightforward in his explanations and patient with the teen when he conjugates his reflexive verbs wrong yet again.

“Aargh, I'm never gonna get this," he exclaims, throwing his hands up in the air.

"Yes, you are," the man says calmly. "You just need more practice. Run through the set again."

"Why aren't you more frustrated?" Peter asks in irritation. "Share my misery."

"I've seen plenty worse, kid," James replies. “Hell, I spent a good decade trying to teach Steve how to talk to women and that was a lost cause. If I didn't give up on him after a score of... abject failures, I think I can spare one afternoon. At least I'm not back at war again."

That little speech does a bang up job of making the teen feel ungrateful so he lets out a sigh. "All right. Fine. Remind me when I'm supposed to use me and se again."

By the time Peter has to leave, he actually feels half ready and the test itself goes smoothly, none of the utter panic that he felt the time before. Indeed, the teen gets a solid B+ and he's happy for it, though an odd emotion takes him as he's staring at his grade. He finds himself wishing that his friendship with James wasn't quite so isolated, that he could show the man his test and celebrate as Peter Parker instead of Spider-Man.

The teen knows it's stupid and he shouldn't - he won't, he's not that crazy. But Peter wants to and he isn't sure what he should do with that. So he decides that he'll do nothing, except maybe drag James to another deli to say thank you when he runs into the guy next. The teen is still trying to find one that can match up to his friend's old memories.


Part II