DARIA'S WEB: WHERE THE WILD THING IS (Part Two) A Daria/Spider-Man crossover

by Ranger Thorne

Leave it to Tom to tell them the truth, Daria thought as she watched the police wander through the trees. A blind made of webbing high in the trees kept her from being seen, but she was also unable to go after Jane.

"Shouldn't you be trying to find Jane?" Tom was admonishing the detective in charge.

"Look," he pointed at Tom to emphasize his point, "Jane Lane is dead. Her killer, according to you, is here somewhere."

Tom scowled, "Listen, mister, don't try to intimidate me. I told you both Daria and Jane are out here. If you don't believe me on one, you shouldn't believe me on either. Now," he leaned forward, "you either have your men looking for signs of both or get them the hell out of here."

To Daria's surprise, the detective stepped back. "Have it your way, Sloan." Turning, he lifted his radio and said, "Okay, boys, let's pack it in. I think we've been given a wild goose." Glancing at Tom, he added, "Again."

When Daria left the trees, she found Tom sitting on the hood of the Range Rover. "You have a nice chat?" he asked.

"Up until I asked her what she remembered," Daria said as she climbed next to him. "Someone hurt her, Tom. And trying to remember it caused her to freak out." Looking at her hands, she sighed. "I just hope I can find her again."

"You mind if I ask a question?"

"You just did," she smirked at him.

"How did you avoid the police?"

"Mt. Rushmore could avoid the Lawndale cops," Daria grumbled.

He chuckled, "They aren't the best trained force in the world, that's for sure. Hey," he nudged her with his elbow, "you hungry?"

"Yeah," admitted, "but we shouldn't be seen together. After all, you just said you saw the mad serial puppy kicker Daria Morgendorffer, remember?"

"I didn't know you were a puppy kicker," he told her as he slid off of the hood. Turning, he offered a hand, which Daria accepted as she joined him on the ground.

"Needed a hobby," she said as they moved to get in the SUV.

The view from the top of the giant strawberry was singularly unimpressive. Row after row of suburban housing was interspersed with small clumps of commerce. Dega Street, known for its commercial area, was still mostly housing. Off in the distance, Daria could see the real commercial area, as the factories no one ever talked about produced goods that were shipped all over the country. An irregular stream of semis rolled in and out as they dropped off or picked up their loads.

"I can't believe I miss this town," Daria shook her head before climbing down the back of the strawberry. [i]Much to do and little time to do it,[/i] she thought as she reached the ground. [i]But first, a detour.[/i]


The red brick house still stood. Somehow, she had always thought that it would look different when she came back. [i]The more things change, the more they stay the same,[/i] she reminded herself. As quietly as she could, Daria moved around to the back of the house.

There were changes there that surprised her. There was a child's swing, and a large tractor tire filled with sand. A set of patio furniture sat near a new gas grill. The signs of family brought a lump to her throat, causing her to swallow several times to clear it. Being careful not to set off a motion detector, she leaped to the side of the house.

She looked into what was once her bedroom just before a light came on. After ducking back to make sure she wasn't seen, she looked up to see what was going on. Her sister, with her hair in a single braid down her back, was carrying a young child into the room. After sitting the child in its bed, Quinn sat in a chair next to it and picked up a book. For the next fifteen minutes, she read to the child as her sister watched through the window. Finally, she closed the book and leaned over to kiss the child goodnight.

[i]Quinn has a baby?[/i] She wondered as she crawled around the edge of the house. From the side, she glanced into what had been Quinn's room. The walls had been painted a pale yellow instead of the pink they had been before. The furnishings were more subdued, looking more like a guest room than a place where Quinn had spent the night when not on a date or at a Fashion Club meeting. As she watched, a man wearing a bathrobe came into the room. His hair was wet and he had the relaxed look of someone had just taken a hot shower. As he started to remove his robe, Daria ducked away and blushed.

She checked the windows to her parent's room, but the curtains were drawn. She could make out the vague image of her mother as she worked in bed as she had done for years. Also, she could hear her father snoring. She smiled at the sound and found herself closing her eyes and listening.

"Jake," she heard her mother say as she nudged her husband.

"Eh, what? Daria?" Jake sat up in bed.

"Easy, Jake. No, Daria isn't back. And she's not being held hostage by your father. I just thought I heard something outside. Would you mind taking a look? I'd ask Joseph, but I think he just took a shower."

"Outside? O-okay. Are you sure you heard something?"

"Just check, please? I'd go but I'd have to unpile all these papers and have to start over."

"Sure thing, sweetheart. I'll be right back."

Climbing to the roof to keep out of his line of sight, Daria watched as her father stepped out of the front door. To her surprise, he seemed to be in better shape than he had been. And, he was wearing glasses. The silver frames fit his face well, giving him a distinguished look. He looked around a few times, then went back into the house. As the door closed, Daria sighed and headed down the back of the house.

The other house she stopped at was the yellow house Jane had lived in. A quick peek showed that the window that had been busted out two years ago had been replaced. The lock, however was old enough for her to pick with a stiffened piece of webbing. Sliding around the heavy curtains Jane had always had hanging to keep out the light, she found herself in a room that had been unchanged in years. The bed was still unmade, and the papers she had scattered on the floor were still waiting to be picked up. With a smirk, Daria did notice that the clothes in the closets had been cleaned and were now seemed to be on hangers.

Daria wandered around the room as memories rushed over her. With more grace than she'd had at the time, she imitated the pose she had been in when Jane had asked if something was eating at her soul. Smiling, she leaped off of the bed to stand in front of the blank canvas that rested on the easel.

"How many times did you stand here, Jane?" she asked aloud. "The artist and the cynic. Dammit!" Striking out, Daria punched a hole in the canvas. "Oh, no," she muttered, "she's going to kill me. She's going to be . . ." Stopping, she looked around. Then, she moved to the dresser, opening the bottom drawer. As she looked at the art supplies stored there she smiled. "This is how you get Jane Lane back," she told herself.


As the library opened the next morning, a young woman with red hair came in and headed to the desk. "Uh, like, excuse me," she said, "but do you have any computers with, you know, the web in them?" She played with the strings of her green slacks as she waited for the answer.

Trying not to laugh, the librarian led her to a bank of computers. "Oh, cool beans," the girl said.

"We just need you to sign in here," the librarian held out a form.

"No problem," was the reply. A moment later, 'Harmony Wayne' settled in at the computer. The librarian was watching over her shoulder as Harmony went to a series of designer magazine sights. She 'ooh'd and 'ah'd over the designs until the librarian finally left the room.

"God," Daria shook her head, "I thought she'd never leave." Pulling up a second window, she began her real search.

Three hours, and a trip to the courthouse later, Daria sat in her hotel room tapping her chin with a pencil. A knock at her door brought her out of her thought process. "Who's there?" she asked.

"Tom Sloan," came the reply. "I have donuts and coffee."

"You do know it's afternoon, right?" she asked after opening the door.

"Better late than never?" Walking in, he deposited the 'gifts' on the table then sat next to where Daria had been. "You've been busy."

"You're being nosey," she told him as she returned to her seat.

"You find out anything useful?" He stood and went to the table. He returned with the coffees and set one in front of Daria.

"Remember the farm?" When he nodded, she continued, "It seems that the owners died about six years ago. Guess who bought it?"

"I'm guessing who bought the farm?" He smirked.

"Never mind," she rolled her eyes.

"Tell me."

"Charles Ruttheimer II."

"What would he want with a farm?"

"A question I would [i]love[/i] to ask him." She sipped the coffee, then set it back on the table. "It would seem, though, that Upchuck senior has his fingers in more pies than I thought." She held up a sheet of paper, "He's got government contracts for things that are so classified I don't think the CIA knows about them. And this," she switched papers, "is just a list of the universities he's working with." Sighing, she added, "You don't want to see the list of ones he's worked with in the past."

"So where does this lead us?"

"To more searching for clues. For instance," she dug for another sheet of paper, "this sight contains information on rumored government programs."

"You mean one of those conspiracy theory sights?" He frowned at the paper.

"All myths have a basis in fact," she reminded him. "I figure that most of these theories are simply perversions of simple programs that have nothing to do with the rumor they became."


"But, some of them sound suspiciously familiar." She handed him the paper. "This one, for example, is of a secret program to study artificial mutations in humans."

"Artificial mutations?" Shaking his head, he glanced at the paper, "Aren't there enough of that kind of thing running around these days? Besides, who's to judge what a mutation is, anyway?"

"Hopefully not politicians," Daria replied. "You up for another round in the woods?"

"What's the plan?"

"We stake out the past two places she's been seen."

"Two places?" He asked, raising an eyebrow.

"You drop me off, then hit your spot. I'll take where we were last night. You go to where she was hit by the car." With a sigh, she added, "I think she's probably through those places more often than people think."

"Just at night, eh?" He smiled a little.

"You guessed my big surprise."

"I've been thinking that she must be moving mostly at night, or she'd be seen every day. So, it only makes sense to look for her then." He leaned back, "I guess we should try to get some rest, eh?"

"Yeah." Standing, Daria moved to look out the window. "Go home and get some sleep, Tom. Pick me up about an hour before sundown." Looking back at him, she added, "Maybe we can get Jane home tonight."

"God I hope so," he replied, standing. He followed Daria to the door, then stopped in the doorway to look at her. "Daria, if you get to talk to Jane, would you tell her I've missed her?"

"I'll do that. Now go," she gently moved him out of the hotel room. She watched through the window as he climbed into his Range Rover and drove away. Then, she grabbed her backpack and left the room.

Afternoon activities at the Zen were, to say the least, slow. This gave Trent time to think about the past few days, and what he had learned. He was thinking about the waste of time he and Wind had had driving around the countryside as a pretty redhead in a light blue sundress sat at the bar.

"Welcome to the Zen. What can I get for you today?" he asked, smiling.

"Something fruity?" she asked. Her voice was cheerful, but not perky. "Maybe a piña colada?"

"Sure." As he pulled the small pre-mixed package from its slot and began to mix it under the bar, he asked, "You from around here?"

"No," she replied, "I just came in to see the wild woman." She shrugged and smiled, "You know, kind of a last minute excuse for a vacation. You ever seen her?"

"No," he said, trying not to sound brusque.

"Well, ever since I saw that video on tv, I've just been dying to meet her. But," she looked thoughtful, "don't you just wonder about her family? I mean, oh, thank you," she nodded as he set the drink in front of her, "they must feel awful about her running around the hills."

"Yeah," he looked away, "awful."

Daria tried not to laugh as Trent and the redhead talked. As she sat three stools away, she wondered how long it would be until he either walked away or strangled the woman. Glancing at the mirror behind the bar, she wondered again what it was about just changing your hair that made so many people blind to who you were. She ran a hand through her short sandy-blond hair as she watched her reflection.

"Excuse me," Trent said, finally, "but I need to see to my other customers." As the woman sipped enthusiastically on the rum drink, he walked over to stand in front of Daria. "Was everything okay?"

"Oh, yes," she nodded and glanced down at the remains of the sandwich she had eaten. "It was very nice."


She looked at him closely, "Do I know you from somewhere?"

"Uh, I don't think so."

"You were in a band, right?"

His soft smile appeared, "I was, yeah. Mystik Spiral."

"What happened to you guys?"

"We broke up about a year ago. Max, our drummer, joined the police force."

Almost choking on her beer, Daria looked at him. "The criminale joined the 'man?'"

The smile grew as he said, "That was kinda my reaction. Yeah, he did. We were drifting apart, anyway. It was right after that, though, that the Zen came up for sale." He looked around, "I was able to get a loan and bought it."

"From entertainment to owner, eh?" Being careful not to give the faint smile she had once been almost famous for, she added, "Not a bad way to move up."

"It takes a lot of work to keep the place running." He was about to go on when a couple came up to the bar. By the time he'd taken their orders, the woman had gone, leaving a nice tip behind with the tab.

"Ready to go?" Tom asked as she climbed into the SUV.

"As I can be," she told him.

"You sure you want to be out here all night by yourself?"

"I brought a book and a flashlight. I'll be off the road itself, so I'll be fine."

"As long as you're sure." He grinned, "I'd hate to get Jane back, then have to explain that I left you in the wilderness to get eaten by a bear."

"She'd love the irony of it," Daria told him.

"Probably," he agreed. For the rest of the ride, they were silent. Finally, however, he stopped and let her out. "I'll be just a few miles down the road."

"I'll be fine," she told him. She waved as he drove away, then headed into the bushes.


A short time later, the Scarlet Spider was again traveling from tree to tree in an attempt to find Jane Lane. Every once in a while, she would check a small device from her belt. As she landed on a branch of a tree, however, she put the device away. "About time I got in range of that spider-tracer," she mumbled. Then, with a shot of webbing, she was gone.


Jane walked through the woods, sniffing the air around her. Every so often, she would kneel down to sniff at a track or get close to a tree to catch a scent. As she stepped around one such tree, she saw a figure hanging upside down from a thread.

"Jane," the masked woman said in a familiar voice, "we need to talk." When Jane stopped and stared at her, Daria continued, "It's all well and good that you like the outdoors, but we need to take you in for your shots." Daria slowly lowered and turned herself so that her feet were on the ground. "It's me," she said, pulling back her mask, "Daria."

The growl was not friendly. "Remember yesterday?" Daria stepped forward, "I gave you the clothes." She took another step forward, "Let me help you, Jane."

[i]"Hurt,"[/i] Jane growled as she launched herself at her best friend. Warned by her spider-sense, Daria leaped into the air and over Jane. As she did, she also pulled her mask back into place. No sooner had she landed, than she had to again avoid the metal claws wielded by the woman she had come to rescue. This time, she ducked and rolled to the side.

"Jane!" she called out as she stepped back. She backflipped several times as a flurry of slashes came her way. "Dammit, Jane, don't make me hurt you!"

[i]"Hurt!"[/i] Jane cried out again.

"Fine," Daria said as she ducked again. "Have it," backflip, "your way." Leaping straight up, she adhered to the bottom of a branch and brought her feet up into contact with Jane's jaw. The impact sent shockwaves up Daria's legs, and sent Jane flying ten feet through the air.

"You okay?" Daria asked as she rushed to her side. "Oops!" she called as she again narrowly avoided being skewered. "Jane, think! Who am I?" Jane dove at her, causing the woman in red and black to leapfrog over her. "Why do you want to hurt me?" She ducked another swipe, then shoved Jane backward.

Jane slammed into a tree, shook her head, and started after Daria again. With a grunt of frustration, Daria fired webbing at her friend's feet before leaping over a thick branch. Jane yelled in surprise as she was whisked off the ground to hand upside down.

"You're heavy," Daria told Jane as she secured the web line. She jumped down in front of her, being careful to stay out of range of the deadly claws. Daria reached up and pulled off her mask. "I'm your friend, Jane. Remember Lawndale High?" When Jane growled, Daria shrugged, "Okay, maybe bringing up high school wasn't a good idea. How about [i]Sick, Sad World.[/i] Remember that?"

Jane swung at her again.

"You always were hard-headed." A sudden intense buzz from her spider-sense distracted Daria as it warned of an approaching danger. Daria leaped into the tree and freed Jane. "We have to get out of here," she told her friend as she landed in front of her.

With a growl, Jane came at Daria again. Annoyed and concerned, Daria grabbed Jane's arm and tossed her back against a tree hard enough to shake it. Jane staggered, then turned and glared at her.

"Let me . . ." she trailed off as Jane turned and ran into the trees. "Damn." Leaping into the trees, she started to follow. She heard the fight before the saw it. By the time she reached the scene, three men lay still on the ground, with five surrounding Jane. They were dressed in the black and green camouflage of hunters, and carried metal staffs that had black handles on one end. As she watched, one of the men touched the end of his staff to Jane's leg. There was a spark, and Jane howled with pain. Her claws severed the staff just before she leaped onto the man. She raised a hand to drive her claws into him just before three staffs reached her at once. The forest was filled with her agonized cry just before she collapsed.

As she watched them carry Jane away, she swore dark vengeance on the people responsible. The Scarlet Spider was preparing to follow them when she heard one of them speaking. "Let's get her back to the farm before she wakes up again. Henry," he looked at one of the men, "you wait for the clean-up crew. The boss isn't going to like that she got three of us this time."

[i]He's really not going to like it when I trash all of you,[/i] Daria thought, grimly. [i]But, at least you told me where you're going. [/i]

Tom was surprised when Daria came out of the woods in front of him. "You okay?" he asked.

"I'm on the run from the law because they say I killed my best friend. Who," she glared at him, "thinks she's a refugee from a Tarzan movie. No, I don't think I could be considered fine." Climbing into the SUV, she buckled her seat belt before crossing her arms and closing her eyes.

"Melody," Tom followed her into the hotel room, "you've been acting different since you got in the truck tonight. What happened?"

Wanting to tell him something so he'd go away, she leaned against the arm of the sofa and said, "I saw her, Tom. She didn't recognize me. She even tried to kill me before a passing car scared her away."

"Oh, no." He leaned his head to the side and asked, "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine. I just," she sighed. "I just need some sleep and time to think this over. I'll call you when I'm ready to try again."

He gently placed a hand on her arm, which she kept herself from removing. "Get some rest. We'll get her back, Daria." Turning, he left her alone in the room.

"No," Daria said after he was gone. "[i]WE[/i] are doing no such thing. She'd cut you into pieces before I'd be able to stop her. Sorry, Tom, but you're are now out of the equation." Pulling the small tracking device from a pocket, Daria sighed, "It looks like it's up to the Scarlet Spider."

[i]The problem with leaving Tom out of this,[/i] she thought to herself as she stood on the roof of the bus station, [i]is that he has the transportation. After all, it's kinda hard to web-sling from fence posts and road signs. Good thing I checked the bus schedule.[/i] Waiting until the bus pulled out from under the lights and into the darkness of early evening, she leaped onto the roof. Making sure she had a good grip, the Scarlet Spider settled in for the trip.

"Well," she told herself a few minutes later, "it's slower than the subway, but the turns are easier to take. I'll have to remember this for my next vacation." A short time later, she saw her exit as the bus passed between two large oak trees. After firing a web line onto large branches on each side, Scarlet let herself slide off of the bus. The webbing stretched, allowing her to gently touch down on the empty road. When she released the webbing, it recoiled, pulling itself off of the road as the web-slinger ran into the trees.

Despite the absence of guards, Scarlet was cautious as she moved through the trees. Encountering a camera hidden in the trees enforced her determination for stealth. A quick study of the cameras she found informed her that they were pointed at the ground around the farmhouse and barn. She found an area where the lights were beneath the ledge of the barn, then waited for the moon to pass behind a cloud.

As the moon was hidden, a strand of webbing shot from the trees to adhere to a corner of the barn. Then, a slender figure raced from the trees to the top of the barn. The Scarlet Spider was climbing inside through a vent before the cloud had passed by the moon.

[i]The problem with these trips,[/i] she thought to herself as she looked around the pristine barn, [i]is that getting in is usually easier than getting out. Too bad I didn't have a spider to bite Tom. Backup is a big help sometimes.[/i] She smirked as she climbed down to the bottom and began to look around. [i]Listen to me, wanting someone around to help. Sure doesn't sound like the old Daria from high school.[/i] With a glance at her gloved hand, she thought, [i]I guess a few years of fighting crime while running from the law can change a girl. That figures,[/i] she thought, getting down to business, [/i]I'm picking up Jane's tracer below me. Why do these crazies always have to have a hidden lair under ground? Doesn't anyone believe in a room with a view anymore?[/i]

Close inspection of the floor revealed a seem around the center of the floor. The area inside the seem was large enough for almost anything smaller than a semi. [i]Great, they could have tanks down there.[/i] Spying a door in the corner, Scarlet made her way to the enclosed area. The door was unlocked, but had another door behind it. [i]An elevator door. How nice.[/i] A few seconds later, she had pried the door open and was climbing down the shaft.

After prying open a corner of the elevator car, Scarlet Spider clung to the roof as she reached down and hit the 'door open' button. A quick peek showed no one in the corridor, and no cameras. [i]Amateurs,[/i] she thought to herself a she made her way down the hall. Her spider-sense directed her to the left, toward a large set of double doors. She was almost there when her spider-sense warned her of danger behind her. Letting go of the ceiling, she spun in midair to land on her feet facing the way she had come.

"Don't move," one of the three guards said as they pointed rifles at her. Scarlet smirked and raised her hands.

"Sure. I'll wait right here." [i]Ten feet,[/i] she counted off. [/i]Come on, I don't have all day.[/i] They moved to about six feet away, then one of them pulled out a set of handcuffs.

"Put your hands behind your head," he ordered just before was shoved against the wall. The masked woman had used him as leverage to kick his companions in the face. He managed to turn just in time for a red fist to fill his vision. As bouncing off of the wall the second time, he fell onto the floor.

The room was dark and had the odor of a room in need of lots of ventilation. Directly in front of the door was a large cage. Twenty feet across and at least as deep, the cage had a metal back and ceiling. A small recurring hum, spaced seven seconds apart, was followed by the sound of a gasp. Following the gasp, Daria saw Jane. She was curled up in a corner of the cell, shaking.

"Jane," Scarlet whispered. "Jane, it's me. Come on, answer me." She started to place a hand on the bars when her spider-sense warned her otherwise. [i]Electrified?[/i] She guessed. Now that she was close enough, Daria could see that the floor of the cell had a mesh covering it. [i]Looks like some kind of window screen. But, what's it for?[/i] She heard the hum again, then saw Jane twitch slightly. She watched closely, and saw a slight spark from the legs of the cot. [i]They're running a constant current to keep Jane docile? I'll mangle every one of them. [/i] Standing, Scarlet Spider studied the situation. Then, she reached through the bars and sprayed a layer of webbing over the mesh next to her friend.

"Hey, roll onto the webbing. Jane," Scarlet Spider sighed. She shot a web line to her friend, then gently rolled her onto the webbing. Now, instead of facing the wall, Jane was facing her.

She knelt down to be closer to eye level. "Jane, I've come to get you out of her. But, I need you to help me. Wake up." Jane's eyes remained closed. "Damn," the wall-crawler whispered. Quickly, she made a few small web balls. Then, she began to pelt the frightened shape in front of her.

After the third one, the blue eyes opened to glare at her. "Hey, Jane," Scarlet Spider said. "I brought you something."

The woman continued to glare.

"If you stay on the webbing, you'll be fine for an hour. But," she told her friend, "I should have you out of there before then." Still not receiving an answer, Scarlet pulled an object from her boot. "Catch."

Out of reflex, the troubled woman snatched the object out of the air. Confused, she stared at it. It was six inches long, with a soft end made up of some kind of hair. As she looked at it, Jane shifted her grip on it to one that felt more accurate.

"That's it, Jane. You above all people know how to hold a paint brush." She saw confusion in her friend's eyes as she began to look around. "No, you don't have any paint."

"How touching." Turning, Scarlet saw a figure clinging to the ceiling. The light was dim, but she could make out that he was wearing a black outfit with orange stripes down the arms and legs.

"I'm taking her out of here," she told them.

"No, you're not." Dropping into the light, the figure grinned. "In fact, you're not leaving either." He bowed, "I am Charles Ruttheimer III, and you are, if I read your outfit correctly, the superheroine known as the Scarlet Spider."

"Since you know who I am, you must know that I [i]am[/i] going to take her out of here." [i]Upchuck is alive? Hmm, I take him with me and maybe Daria Morgendorffer can return from the dead.[/i]

"My father would not like that," Charles told her. "You see, he thinks of her as a pet, of sorts."

"Your father is sick."

"Perhaps. But he's smart. Smart enough to have me come down here and check on the dear Miss Lane several times a day. Especially when someone discovers the elevator has been damaged." He leered at her, "Your attributes are quite enticing. Are you sure we can't find another way to occupy ourselves other than a fight?"

She fought down the sick lump that tried to rise in her throat. "I'll pass, pervert."

With a shrug, he said, "Too bad." Then, he launched himself at her.

Leaping straight up, Scarlet avoided his attack. Ricocheting off of the ceiling, she rolled to her feet across the chamber. Again, she had to avoid him as he rushed her. [i]He's sure enthusiastic about getting me in his grip,[/i] she noticed. [i]Time to try something.[/i] She clung to the wall next to the door with her arms stretched behind her. As she suspected, Upchuck concentrated on her chest as he closed to attack again. She waited until he was close, then leaped out and kicked him in the face.

His reflexes enabled him to avoid most of the kick, but he was still knocked backward. Coming to his feet, he glared at her. "Okay," he snarled, "enough playtime." This time, he moved faster, leaving Scarlet barely enough time to dodge. His first punch connected, however, sending her sailing toward the bars of Jane's cell.

[i]I guess he finally got that serum right,[/i] Scarlet thought to herself. [i]This is going to be a long day.[/i]

As Upchuck and the Scarlet Spider fought, Jane stared at the object in her hand. Realizing it was incomplete, she glanced around a few times before sitting up. Finally, a word came to mind.


The confused look began to fade as Jane concentrated on the brush in her hand. She looked down at the webbing she was sitting on, then at the cell. "The cage," she muttered, feeling her terror trying to rise again. [i]NO![/i] She told herself. [i]I'm not losing control again. Dammit, I'm Jane Lane, not some animal![/i] Standing, she noticed the fight outside.

Upchuck's lip was bleeding, but he seemed to ignore it as he put a boot into Scarlet's midriff. With a gasp of air, she tumbled toward the bars of the cage. Standing, she faced him.

"This is a forgone conclusion," he told her as he leaped to the ceiling. "And," he shook his head, "even if you did get by me, there's still my father. You're not getting out of here alive. You can't carry Jane and fight, too."

"No one carries Jane Lane." Scarlet turned to see her friend standing on the webbing, but glaring from the cell at Upchuck.

"Oh, so you still remember how to speak? Father will love that." He grinned, "Maybe he'll even let us play together."

"I'll play with you all right, Upchuck. Just as soon as I get out of this cage."

His grin grew even larger, "Like that will ever happen."

"Watch and learn, loser-boy." She stepped onto the mesh, twitching slightly as the shock hit her. Standing in front of the gate, she extended her claws and slashed at the lock. There was a massive flash as the electricity arched from one metal to another. Jane cried out as the energy shot through her. Then, as the gate swung open, she fell forward to land outside of her cell.

"Oh," Upchuck muttered, "I guess we'll have to start over."

"Start over?" Daria's rage filled her. "You watched someone fry themselves and all you can say is 'we'll have to start over?'" She leaped at him while swinging a punch toward his midsection.

He dodged her first attack, then her second. The third was a kick similar to the one he had used on her. He bounced twice as he crossed the room, coming to rest near the door. Scarlet now stood between him and her fallen friend.

As he stood, the door opened to reveal a middle-aged man in a pair of black slacks and a white polo shirt. His hair was darker than Upchuck's, but there was a strong resemblance.

"What are you doing, boy?" He snapped. Then, seeing the scene before him, he grinned. "Well, we [i]do[/i] have company." Glancing at the younger man, he said, "Are you going to introduce us?"

"Uh," Upchuck looked surprised. Then, he gestured, "Scarlet Spider, this is my father, Charles Ruttheimer II. Father, this is the Scarlet Spider. We were just discussing Miss Lane's departure from the premises."

"Well, then," Ruttheimer said, directing his words toward Scarlet, "perhaps you should talk that over with me."

"Father," Upchuck protested, "I was handling it."

"I was thinking it would just save time, boy," he told his son. "But, instead, how about we both give her a going over. Maybe that way there will be something worth saving."

"Overwhelming force," Upchuck nodded.

"What a bunch of family bonding crap." A hand landed on Scarlet's shoulder as Jane stepped beside her. "I want the old guy," she grumbled. "You don't want to know my reasons."

"Well, well," Ruttheimer leered, "my old friend, Jane. It seems I probably should have upped the voltage. But then," he flexed his muscles as claws shot from his hands, "I wouldn't have the pleasure of disciplining you. Again."

Jane charged across the room as her claws also came out. The two collided, sending them into the corridor outside. As they heard the sounds of the fight, Scarlet and Upchuck looked at each other.

"This is the part where you get to change sides," she told him.

"No," he shook his head, "this is where you surrender."

"Not going to happen."

"Didn't think so."

Jane rolled to her feet and slashed out with her claws. Ruttheimer had used his superior weight and strength to keep her on the defensive as he drove her steadily down the corridor. The feral part of her mind kept trying to escape, but Jane held it in check as she tried to stand her ground. [i]Going wild is only going to get me killed or captured again,[/i] she reminded herself as she ducked a kick aimed toward her head. [i]But fighting both him and myself is not helping matters.[/i]

As Scarlet dodged a web line, she had to twist to avoid hitting the bars of the cell. This left her open to the punch to the jaw Upchuck hit her with as he dove into her. Gritting her teeth under her mask, Scarlet Spider counterpunched, knocking him back far enough for her to backflip out of his reach. [i]He's still so grabby,[/i] she noticed. [i]But he's also still got size, reach and strength as an edge.[/i] As they exchanged a quick series of blocked punches and kicks, she tried to evaluate his attack strategy.

Jane sailed through the door and into the room beyond. Pulling herself to her feet, she looked around and shivered.

"Remember this room, pet?" Ruttheimer asked as he stepped inside. A few tears on his shirt that were lined with red were the sole signs that he'd been in a fight. Jane, on the other hand, had long rips in her outfit from where he'd cut her. She stepped back as she took in her surroundings.

The room had implements of torture in it. From a set of poles with chains hanging from them to whips hanging on the walls. Several pointed weapons hang next to them. A large raised surface with everything from leather straps to needles were in cases behind it.

[i]He led me here on purpose,[/i] Jane thought. [i]I was brought here so he could torture me. The sicko played with me like a toy. He'd beat me to a pulp, then used this stuff on me when I couldn't fight back anymore.[/i] She began to shake as she looked around the room.

"You've never been able to beat me, pet," Ruttheimer told her. "Not once have you ever beaten me." He smiled, "Time for some more fun. But, first" he continued, "wouldn't you like to know how you became the woman you are today?"

"You operated on me," Jane said as she circled him.

"Oh, that was the last thing we did. Do you remember your treatments?"

[i]She was strapped to a table as needles were stuck into every part of her. Her veins burned as fluids that should never be in a human body were pumped into hers in quantity..[/i]

"Oh, I remember. It hurt like hell."

"Yes, it does. But," he gestured with one of his claws, "it has its benefits. You see, we boosted your ability to heal a thousand fold. Without that, the operation would have been fatal."

"Too bad it wasn't for you."

"Now, now, pet," he admonished. "You have no idea what you are, now. You can heal from almost any wound. Your skeleton is coated with an unbreakable metal." He raised an eyebrow, "Adamantium is so strong it won't even scratch itself. A fun fact for Trivial Pursuit game, eh?"

"Is my skeleton as unbreakable as your ego?"

"Obviously," he replied, annoyed, "you still retain some of the attitudes of a wild animal. And wild animals are there to be tamed."

"Bring it on," she replied.

[i]He's slowing down,[/i] Scarlet noticed. Indeed, while his punches were still stronger than her's, Upchuck's speed had dropped. [i]He's not used to doing this all the time. I guess web-swinging through town is a better exercise than I thought.[/i] Pushing herself to move faster, the web-slinger got in a kick that sent her opponent out into the corridor. He slid almost halfway to the elevator before standing again.

Jane could feel her wild side coming to the surface as Ruttheimer's claws cut into her leg again. [i]It's going to win,[/i] she realized. [i]It's never been able to beat him.[i] But, she rolled to the side as he dug his claws into the floor she had just occupied, [i]maybe we can do it together.[/i] She stood and faced him. Taking a deep breath, Jane opened her mind and welcomed the wild side she had been fighting since taking the paintbrush in her hand.

"You can't," Upchuck gasped for air, "beat me. I'm better than you." He took a breath, "Stronger."

"More annoying." [i]God, have I always sounded like Spider-Man when I fight?[/i] She kicked him through a door, then followed. "What the . . ." She looked around in surprise.

The room was a gigantic warehouse of things she had never seen before. A tube in one side of the room held a creature that looked like something out of a bad science fiction movie suspended in liquid. Another appeared to hold one of the 'gray' aliens abductees had talked about. Crates with strange labels and what looked like forcefields holding anything from a glowing ball to what seemed to be a black fluid. Scarlet was so taken with the room, she allowed Upchuck to get in a kick to her ribs.

"That's enough of that," she said, flipping over him. Then, she kicked him across the room and into the machinery holding the black fluid. As it poured away, she closed on the redhead.

He spun and threw a punch at her face. She ducked, then hit him in the ribs. As he began to flail, she continued to hit him in the ribcage, slowly reducing his ability to breath. [i]Reading those 'Spenser' novels comes in good for something, after all. [/i]

With a last burst of energy, he dove at her, only to miss and sprawl onto the floor. Standing, he tried to keep track of her as she bounced from one object, wall or ceiling. Spinning to keep her in sight, he became disoriented. Leaving him wide open when Scarlet finally bounced off a wall and slammed into him. This time, he didn't climb to his feet. Shaking her head, she webbed him to the floor.

Ruttheimer could tell something had changed. Jane had leaned her head to one side, then the other as she prepared for the final leg of the fight. "Getting tired, pet?" he asked.

"I'm not your damn pet." Jane's voice was quiet, just above a whisper. "Your time of keeping me is over." She lunged at him. Ruttheimer went to block his strike, only to have her change it from an attack at his head, to one at his arms. As he cried out in pain, she raked both of his forearms with her claws. Blood poured from the bone-deep gashes. As he began to heal the wounds, she attacked again. As he blocked her swipe at his head, she again drove her claws into his arm. This time, she severed the artery along the armpit. She pushed her advantage by swiping at his legs. He struck her on the back of the head, driving her to the ground. As the blood flow stopped from his wounds, Ruttheimer drew back his claws as he prepared to drive them into her brain.

Jane rolled over and smiled at him. Then, she brought both sets of claws up between his legs.

Scarlet heard a long, mournful "NNNNOOOOOO!" echo through the corridor as she raced to find her friend. Coming through a doorway, she stopped as she saw Jane standing over the fallen figure of her former tormentor. Turning, Jane grinned at her.

"You know," Jane said as she stood and walked toward her, "I've always wanted to do that."

"Do what?"

"Feed someone their testicles." As Scarlet froze in place, Jane walked past her to the door. Stopping, she looked around and asked, "You coming, amiga?"

"Uh, sure." As they reached the door, Scarlet asked, "You didn't really, did you?'

"Yep. And he had it coming."

Stepping into the hall, they faced a large group of armed men. Rifles and electrified staffs faced them as they looked into the faces of Ruttheimer's employees.

Jane growled at them. "I'm not in the mood to play, boys. I just aced your boss, so you might want to run away now."

Leaping onto the ceiling, Scarlet Spider looked at them through her mask, "You know, I've fought tougher clowns than you so many times I've lost count."

"Last chance to avoid joining your boss." Jane extended her claws and smiled. When they showed no signs of running, she nodded, "I was hoping you'd say that."

Jane started to open the barn door, but quickly closed it again. "Blue light special," she told Scarlet. "Looks like the cops think they're the Marines."

"I wonder how they knew something was up?" Scarlet asked, adjusting a pack she had webbed together.

"Answers later," Jane said, looking around, "escape now."

"Hold on, then." Lifting her friend, Scarlet leaped to the top of the barn. "You're heavy," she reported.

"It probably has something to do with why I have claws." Leaning her head to the side, Jane smirked, "You think?"

"How good is your balance?" Scarlet opened the vent and climbed outside.

"Not bad, why?" A minute later, she looked at the Scarlet Spider and said, "You've got to be kidding me."

"Any better ideas?"

"Uh," glancing down to where men with lots of guns were running around, she shook her head, "no."

Scarlet went backward, holding Jane's hands to help her keep her balance. "Don't look down," she whispered. "I'll know if something goes wrong, so just look at me."

"Easy for you to say. For all I know you're sticking your tongue out at me." Jane took another few steps, then whispered, "Where'd you get that crazy costume, anyway?"

"Spider-Man helped me with it."

"Oh, so now you're cozy with the web-head?"

"Stop chatting and keep walking."

"Scarlet and Spider-Man sitting in a tree . . ." Jane grinned.

"I swear I'm going to let you fall . . ."

Helen Morgendorffer was sorting the morning mail when the phone rang. Out of habit, she picked it up and said, "Hello?"


Helen's world came to a stop. "Who, who is this?" she had to ask.

[i]"It's Daria."[/i]

"Daria?" Helen dropped the bills onto the sofa. "Where are you?"

[i]"Lawndale police station. Jane's here, too."[/i]

"Jane? How could Jane be there? Honey, Jane's dead."

[i]"Since she's just punched a cop for being a little too enthusiastic during their search, I don't think the cops are going to buy it. Look, I need an lawyer."[/i]

"I'm on my way, Daria. Don't talk to anyone." She hung up the phone, then leaped into the air, "Woo-hoo!"

The crowd of people watching as the farm was dismantled had long ago required the police to act as traffic control. One man, however, leaned on a fence post under the tree so he could be out of the heat. Trent watched as covered equipment was brought out and put into trucks, or trucks were taken into the barn, then driven out later. As he did, the frown deepened.

"Hey," a voice said from beside him.

"Hey, Jesse," Trent replied. As his best friend leaned on the fence post next to his, Trent felt his spirits lift slightly. "What brings you out here?"

"Road's blocked. Can't get to work."

"You still doing construction?"

"Yeah. It's not great, but it pays better." Jesse looked at Trent, "You ever think of starting a new band?"

"Nah," Trent replied as he shook his head. "I like running the club more than I liked playing on stage." He gave a lazy grin, "I kinda wish I'd known that years ago."

"I know what you mean," Jesse said with a nod.

Pulling a pocket watch from his pocket, Trent sighed. "I gotta go. Someone has to be there to open the Zen."

"Cool." The two friends and bandmates, as had been their long tradition, didn't say goodbye. Jesse turned to watch as another truck pulled away from the farm. So, he missed it when Trent walked through what looked like a black puddle. He also didn't see the black mass suddenly leap from the ground and envelope his friend. A few seconds later, the substance seemed to be absorbed by a stunned Trent Lane's clothing. Staggering, he made his way to his car and drove away.


"So then," Daria told Helen, "I walked to Oakdale and caught a bus to New York from there."

"Why New York?"

"Where better to lose one person than in the world's largest melting pot?" After taking a sip of water, she sighed. "Since Jane and Charles are both now known to not be dead, what am I facing?"

"You ran from the law, Daria. While the judge might take into account that the charges against you were false, he'll still have to sentence you."

"But turning myself in was the smart thing, right?"

Helen sighed, "You should have done that years ago, sweety."

"I know. But," Daria shrugged, "I was scared. And, I knew my defense would bankrupt the entire family."

"It would have been worth it, Daria." Helen reached out and put a hand over her daughter's. "We've missed you so much."

"Me too." Daria smiled, "So, what's Quinn been up to?"

Helen leaned back and grinned, "She's married and has a son."

"Quinn got pregnant?" [i]Daria did not see that stuff, remember?[/i]

"They named him Franklin Jacob White." Helen was beaming.

"White? Why does that last name sound familiar?"

Helen rolled her eyes, "Remember those three boys that were always following her around?"


"Well, after you ran away, the scandal ruined Quinn's popularity. Joseph White was the only one who continued to show any interest. Then, after they dated for a while, he proposed." Helen smiled, "I'm sorry you missed the wedding."

"So am I." Daria grinned, "You have any pictures of when she was [i]really[/i] pregnant?" The two shared a laugh just before the door to the room suddenly opened, allowing one person to enter.

"Tom?" Daria looked surprised. "What are you doing here?"

"Young man," Helen stood, "I am in a meeting with my client."

"Easy, Mrs. Morgendorffer," Tom said, holding up a hand, "I bring tidings of great joy."

"If this has anything to do with a star in the East . . ." The two women looked at each other in surprise as they realized they had spoken in unison.

After a laugh, Tom spoke again, "Actually, all the charges have been dropped. There's some paperwork being done, but after that you'll be free to go."

"I can?" She narrowed her eyes, "You had something to do with this, didn't you?"

"I can't say," he said as he darted his eyes toward Helen.

"Mom," Daria looked at her, "could you excuse us for just a moment?"

Looking from one to another, she stepped into the hall, "I'll be right here," she told her daughter, although she was looking at Tom.

"Well?" Daria asked as the door closed. She gestured toward the other chair. "You have something to say?"

"I really shouldn't be telling you this," he admitted. "But, I'm not just your ordinary rich boy."

[i]Please, god, no more spandex,[/i] she silently pleaded. "Okay, so what are you?"

Reaching into a pocket, he pulled out a leather wallet. Opening it he showed her his ID. "I'm an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. I've been working for them since I graduated from Fielding Prep."

"Don't you need a degree for that kind of thing?" she asked.

He smiled, "I've been taking college level classes since I was in junior high. I was just a few credits away from a degree, and they needed people who were young enough to help fight in the war on drugs. In time, though," he continued, "I got assigned to other cases."

[i]That explains why the cops listened to you,[/i] she realized. "How'd you end up on this one?"

"Actually, I was on vacation when the 'wild woman' thing popped up. Knowing how you and Jane had been involved with the Ruttheimer's I decided to do some digging. You see, he's been on our radar for a while. But he's good at covering his tracks. Now," he raised a finger, "it's my turn. Do you know how the Scarlet Spider got involved?"

"No. I was in my hotel room when Jane showed up. She told me that the Scarlet Spider had rescued her. The police showed up about five minutes later. It seems [i]someone[/i]," she scowled at him, "called in a tip about where I was."

"I had nothing to do with it, Daria. Or," he grinned, "Melody."

"You know," she shook her head, "I had just gotten credit under that name."

"Well," he pulled an envelope from his pocket, "you did help us out. So, I called in a favor or two."

Opening the envelope, Daria pulled out a New York driver's licence and a credit card. Both had 'Daria A. Morgendorffer' on them. "Cool."

"We just told your credit card company that you'd been working for us under a different name." He stood, "If you see Scarlet Spider when you get back to the Big Apple, tell her thanks from us." Tom stopped long enough to kiss Daria gently on the forehead. "That's for trusting me." Two knocks later, he was gone.

Helen smirked when she saw her daughter's blush.

" . . . So he and Vicki set off for Niagra Falls like they had planned," Jane said as she paced in her room. She shifted her shoulders a little as she tried to get use to clothes again. Though her hair was parted on the side as it had been before, it was still uncut. Her usual red shirt was draped over the chair, leaving her in her black T-shirt and the knee-length skirt she settled on instead of her old shorts. Her legs and feet were bare. "You about got that, Daria?" She asked a pair of feet that were sticking out from under her computer desk.

From under the desk, Daria mumbled, "Almost. Now give me more than five seconds before you ask again."

"Sorry, amiga," Jane shrugged, "I'm just a little anxious. I mean, that thing should tell us exactly what they did to me. Big Upchuck told me some of it, but I need to know it all."

"Well," Daria slid out from under the desk and sat up, "that should do it. But," she held up a hand, "you need to go slowly."

"Yeah," she agreed, "I don't want to fry it." She looked nervously at the computer screen, then at her friend.

With a sigh, Daria pulled up the chair and powered on the system. Her hair was still short, but had been dyed back to its original color. She had put on her old school outfit with the exception of the boots. Her sneakers were sitting at the foot of Jane's bed. "Here, I've been using computers all this time, so I'll see what I can do."

"Thanks, amiga," Jane said after swallowing hard. "I guess part of me is still in the woods."

"Hmm," Daria scowled, "I guess we'll have to add it to you other new problems."

"You mean like not wanting to be touched?"

"Or wearing shoes." Daria glanced at her and smirked, "You sure you're not from Kentucky?"

"Maybe in a past life," Jane replied, smirking back. She pulled at the shoulder of the T-shirt and added, "I just wish I could get use to wearing clothes again. It's damn frustrating."

"It's only been a couple of days, Jane," Daria said as she turned back to the computer. "You were out there for a couple of years."

"But I can't even stand the thought of wearing my boots," came the complaint. Jane looked longingly at the gray boots resting in the corner and sighed.

"If it's any consolation, I quit wearing mine, too."

"I noticed that." Jane moved to stand next to her as she asked, "What brought that on?"

"They were 'Daria wear' for one thing."


"It was something Daria did." Seeing that the computer was going to be busy for a moment, she turned to look up at her friend. "Jane, I had to drop everything that looked or sounded like Daria Morgendorffer." She lifted a lock of her hair, "Short hair, bleached a different color. Different clothes and a different way of talking added to the disguise."

"You didn't act," Jane leaned in close, "perky, did you?"

"Sometimes," Daria admitted. "And others I made the way I was in high school look perky."

"That's a scary thought."

"It took a while before I settled on how Melody should act, talk and walk." Looking back at the computer, Daria nodded, "Here we go. Now, let's see what we can find out about what they did to you."

A series of pictures, diagrams, and formulas came up. One text file, however, caught Daria's attention. With a glance at her friend, she opened it.

We received our 'volunteer' today. It seems the girl was in an explosion. With any luck, they'll think she was incinerated in the blast. If not, too bad. She's a runner, with a few track trophies under her belt. That means she's in good shape.

After the preliminaries, we'll enter Phase One. The mutation will be introduced and forced onto her DNA. Then, we'll run a series of tests to make sure she hasn't rejected the mutation. If not, tests will then begin to see if she has indeed incorporated the mutation. It is an irony that she will either be able to heal from almost any injury, or be eaten alive by her own immune system.

Daria noticed Jane was reading the file from over her shoulder. She waited until her friend stood up, then began to open the next file.

The subject has reacted quite well to the mutation. All tests show that she has fully accepted the mutation and can heal at a remarkable rate.

Phase Two will begin tomorrow.

"That was short," Jane complained.

"The next one is longer," Daria noted.

"Maybe it'll say how I got these claws," Jane hoped.

Phase Two went well. The adamantium was applied to every bone in her skeleton. Preliminary tests indicate that her bones are now virtually unbreakable. When teamed with her healing factor, she is now a rather formidable force.

Mr. Ruttheimer insisted on installing the claws as well. Due to the subject's small size, we have had to shorten them to eight inches instead of the foot long that he requested. The reconstruction of her hands, wrists, and arms went well. When the subject awakens, we will see if the claws work.

"They didn't even know if it would work?" Jane's eyes were wide.

"There's more," Daria pointed out. Opening a file, she leaned in close before commenting, "Hmm, according to this, they added thirty pounds of weight to you." She leaned back, "I would have guessed more."

"Well, at least I still have my girlish figure," Jane said, trying to sound amused.

"You should read all this," Daria told her.


Standing, Daria stepped away from the chair. "Look, I'm babysitting tonight. If you want to talk to someone, you know where I'll be," she added as she picked up her sneakers.

"Yeah," Jane muttered as she sat down in the chair. "I'll do that."

"You'll be fine," Daria told her.

"I hope so, Daria." She mustered a smile at her friend, "You go spoil the baby. I'll be fine."

"Okay. Later." Daria left the room.

"I'll be fine," Jane repeated. Then, looking at her hand, she added, "I hope so, anyway."

Daria's exit from Casa Lane and its one occupant was one filled with questions. Where do I go from here? Do I really want to keep doing the hero thing in New York? What am I going to do for a job? I can't keep temping the rest of my life, but I don't even have a GED in my real name.

As she walked away, she didn't notice the van stopping at the house she had vacated moments before.

"Is this it?" the rough voice of the driver asked. He had dark hair and what looked like permanent five o-clock shadow.

"Yes, Logan," came a voice from the back.

"That must be her friend," a smooth female voice added.

"I would say so," the other voice added.

As he climbed out of the driver's side, the man identified as 'Logan' grumbled, "No wonder she could stay hidden so long. She looks kinda plain."

The door on the side of the van opened, revealing a bald man in a wheelchair. "Oh, no," he said, glancing down the street, "she's a very special young lady, Logan."

"If you say so, Professor."

As the ramp lowered the wheelchair to the sidewalk, a statuesque woman with dark skin and long white hair appeared from the van. "Do you think she will talk to us, Professor?"

"Or, more to the point," Logan grumbled, "to me?"

"I think she'll be quite open to getting the answers she seeks," the Professor said, rolling off of the ramp. "And, to the opportunity that will present itself."

"I hope you're right, Professor," Logan replied as the ramp retracted. Glancing at the house, he smirked, "Although, I don't think we'll have much of a problem talking her out of this place."

"Better here than the Canadian wilderness," the woman teased. Logan's only response was a grin as they neared the door.

S.H.I.E.L.D. Headquarters was a massive flying structure above cloud level. Tom Sloan had only been there twice before today. Now, he stood before Nick Fury's desk, waiting for the head of his agency to notice him.

"So," Fury said as he looked up at him with his one eye, "you used agency strings to get the charges on the Morgendorffer girl dropped."

"Yes, sir."

"You mind explaining why?"

"If the case had gone to court, she would have had Jane Lane testify." Tom wanted to shrug, but kept himself at attention, "If Jane had testified, she could have talked about what she saw while in the Ruttheimer's care."

"Which would have been a whole new can of worms," Fury nodded. "Well, that makes sense. You ever figure out what happened to the computer?"

"It looks like the hard drive was removed. I can't prove anything, but I'd be willing to bet the Scarlet Spider did it."

"Hmm. Vigilantes are always causing problems. Why couldn't she have stayed in New York where she belongs?"

"She did beat the Ruttheimer boy for us, sir. It would have been pretty tough without her help." Tom swallowed as his boss glared at him.

"I'll give you that point, Sloan. Now, you mind telling me why the devil you fixed the Morgendorffer girl's name problem?"

"She's smart, sir. I was building a little good will in case we needed her for something in the future." Tom risked a smirk, "She was smart enough to avoid the police [i]and[/i] Ruttheimer all that time."

Fury nodded, "Good thinking. Not that we need an amateur's help, but you never know when she might have something we can use. After all," he looked at a sheet of paper in front of him, "temps sometimes find surprising things." He looked at something else on the page, "That's her IQ?" He grinned at Tom, "I wish the collective IQ of my staff was that high!"

"That's why I wanted her on our side, sir."

Smirking, Fury waved a hand, "Dismissed, Sloan. Good work."

"Thank you, sir."

Tom walked to the waiting shuttle. As he did, he noticed two containment chambers being unloaded from another ship. Smirking, he saw the unconscious forms of both Ruttheimer and his son. From what I read in the report, I hope I never get on the bad side of whoever got to Ruttheimer. Some things I guess you never heal from. Then, climbing onto the shuttle, Tom sighed as he waited to go onto his next assignment.

"And remember," Quinn told her sister, "if you need anything, just call. Our cell phone number is on the refrigerator."

Daria glanced at the bundle in her arms, then at her nephew's mother, "We'll be fine, Quinn. You've shown me how to change diapers, and his schedule is on the coffee table. Now, you two go have fun."

"Thanks for doing this, Daria," Joe White said, grinning. Putting his arm around his wife's waist, gently tugged her down the sidewalk, "Come on, honey, we'll miss the opening credits."

Glancing from her husband to her sister, Quinn allowed herself to be led to a small sedan sitting in the darkness of the driveway. "You sure about this?" she asked him.

"Very," was the last thing Daria heard as she closed the door.

Looking down at the brown eyes that gazed up at her, she smiled and said, "Looks like it's just you and me, kid." Not receiving a reply, she moved toward the couch as she continued, "I guess you don't really know me. I'm your Aunt Mel, uh," she rolled her eyes, "Da, uh, darn, I've got to stop doing that." Glancing down, she started over, "I'm your Aunt Daria. I was gone when you were born. You see," she sat down, "I was on the run from the law. Which is funny, because I've spent the past few years running around as a costumed vigilante." She leaned in close, "I'm going to tell you a secret no one else in my family knows." After glancing around, she said, "I'm the Scarlet Spider." She smirked, "You now know the biggest secret of my life. I guess that means we're bonding.

Setting him down on the couch next to her, she held her hands up, palms out. "Watch this." She gently curled her middle fingers on her right hand as she cupped her left hand over her wrist. A second later, she held a ball of webbing in her hand. "Cute trick, right?" She held the ball out to Franklin. The baby reached out and grabbed it with both hands. As he smiled, Daria shook her head. "Yeah, you're Joey White's son, all right. I'm just glad he turned out to be smarter than he acted."

"Gah," her nephew said, still playing with the ball.

"I couldn't agree more," Daria told him just before the doorbell rang.

Scooping up her charge, Daria walked to the door and opened it. She was nearly run over by Jane who almost danced into the room, tossing her sketch book onto the couch as she did so.

"What the he," she glanced at the child in her arms, "heck are you doing?"

"I know, Daria!" Jane grinned as she stopped to look at her friend. "I know everything!"

"Who did you behead?"

"Huh?" Jane stopped, confused. Then, with a roll of her eyes, she grunted. "Oh. Look, right after you left, some people came by. They're from a school just outside of New York. They take people like me!"

"Insane artists?" Daria asked as she closed the door.

"Mutants!" Jane began to quickly pace around the room. "It turns out that I'm not the first person this was done to. You see, the reason they wanted a girl was that they had already proven that it would work on guys." She stopped to look at Daria, "There's a guy, Logan, who had the healing factor to begin with. The DNA they used to boost mine was from him."

"So, you met this 'Logan' character?" Daria moved to sit on the couch as she watched her friend cut a frenetic path around the room.

"Yeah, and the guy in charge of the school." Jane vaulted over the couch and sat across from Daria. "They've offered me a place at the school."

"So you'll be able to get a diploma?"

"Ain't it great?"

"Wonderful," Daria told her, trying to sound happy.

"That's a ringing endorsement," Jane said, frowning.

"Sorry, I'm just a bit jealous."

"Oh. Hey," Jane grinned, "maybe they'll take you, too. I mean, after all, spinning webs isn't exactly normal."

"Uh, no." Daria held up a hand, "I think it's a little late for me to start high school again. I'll just have to get a GED when I can."

"You sure?"

"Jane," Daria told her, "if I did try to get into this school, I'd have to admit to being the Scarlet Spider. As of right now, the only people who know are you, me, and the smidget, here."

"You told Franklin White?" Jane grinned, them moved to sit next to the aunt and nephew. "I guess I can't blame you. He's a cute little fellow." She noticed the ball still held in the boy's hands. "Present from Aunty-Spider?"

"Hey, he's being quiet." Daria tried to scowl at her, but failed. Turning serious, she asked, "Are you sure you can trust these people?"

"Daria, I'm twenty-one years old, and I don't have a high school diploma. I don't have a hell of a lot of options available." Seeing Daria glance at her nephew, she smirked, "Sorry, I mean 'a heck of a lot of options.'"

"I know the feeling, Jane," Daria told her. "I got a GED as Melody Lane, but that's not going to be valid, anymore. I'll have to re-take it. Also," she sighed, "I'm sure my landlord is going to have a royal cow. My checking account I can clear before this hits the fan, I hope."

"Sounds like you've got some issues," Jane said.

"That's why I've got to get back to New York. God," she shook her head, "I bet I even lose my job over this." Seeing her friend frowning, she felt a slight smile come to her face. "But, you know, it was worth it."

"Finding me alive, you mean?"

Daria's voice dropped and she looked away, "I don't think I could have made it if you had really been dead." After a moment, she added one word, "Amiga."

"Finally got around to using that word, eh?" Jane nudged her, "I'm glad to hear it. And thanks for pulling my brain out of the woods."

"I needed your help to get out of that da, uh, blasted underground lab."

"How'd you know I'd come out of it?" Jane asked her.

"You are," Daria stated, "an artist. It is more ingrained in your personality than anything else. Animals do not create art. So," she shrugged, "I knew that doing something to bring out the artist would bring out the real you."

Nodding, Jane pursed her lips as she thought. "I can see that," she finally said. "Speaking of which," continued, "you think you'll have time to pose for me in your costume sometime?"


"Ah, come on."


Smirking, Jane played her other card, "You think you'll let me redesign your costume, then?"

"What?" Daria's eyes widened.

"Hey, I've seen your costume, Daria. It needs some serious work." Jane grinned, "I've done some sketches, if you'd like to see them."

"I like the simplicity of my costume, Jane," Daria said with a scowl.

"Will you at least look at my sketches? Please?"

"That's playing dirty," she accused.

"Hey, someone once said that 'Winning isn't everything. It's the only thing.'"

"You do realize that you're quoting a football coach, right?" Daria smirked.

"Da, uh," Jane glanced at Franklin, "Dang."

"You have got to be joking," Daria said as she and Jane sat at the kitchen table looking at Jane's sketch pad. A nearby baby monitor let them know that Franklin was still asleep.

"What?" Jane asked, trying not to grin. "Hey, you are a spider, so why not have some webs?"

"But that's all this outfit is, Jane," Daria protested, pointing. The drawing in question had a female figure clothed in what appeared to be red and black webbing. The color patterns matched the current pattern of the Scarlet Spider's costume, but gave the impression of being much more revealing.

"So, it's a little more risque," Jane shrugged. "It's not the only one, Daria."

"Hmm," Daria scowled, "it just doesn't bode well for the rest when this is the first one I see."

"Just keep looking." She pointed as she turned the page, "See, isn't that one better?"

This time, the black of the arms and legs had a silver web pattern on them. The hips were higher-cut, and a side panel of black made the figure seem slimmer and sexier. "I don't think so," Daria said.

"What's wrong with it?" Jane asked. "You don't like the black on the ribs, do you?"

Daria glanced at her, "I don't want to look like a tart, Jane. It's bad enough that it's so tight."

"Then why'd you make it like that?"

"Uh," Daria blushed a little. "I needed to move freely. And for that, I couldn't have any seems hanging down where they could be ripped during a fight."

"Bad childhood memory?"

"Ripped my pants in gym as a kid," Daria shrugged. "That's why I wore skirts all the time."

"Ooh, nasty."

"Comes with being a stick figure," was the reply. "Now, what about the next attempt at humiliation?"

Jane put a hand on the sketch book. "Hold on. While I think the rest are good, I just realized that I have one idea that you're going to like. At least enough to let me try it, anyway." She flipped a few pages, then pointed, "Find something wrong with that one."

The sketch was basically of Daria's current costume, but with the side panels. Under the arms, though, a red web seemed to stretch from her elbows to her ribs. The shoulders, on a second glance were now red, as the top curved to cover them. "The panels still make me look too . . ." Daria trailed off.

"Sexy? Daria, just because you're fighting the bad guys doesn't mean you have to look so stodgy."

Slowly, Daria turned to look at her. "Stodgy?"

"Well," Jane shrugged, "yeah. I mean, you're a good-looking woman, Daria. You've got a great, athletic figure, and this will show it off a little."

"Thanks for the endorsement, Jane." Daria blushed again. "But, if I've got such a hot bod, why should I flaunt it in front of the bad guys?"

"Because you can?" Jane sighed, "Look, you're costume is designed to hide what you look like, right?"


"Well, perception is reality. This outfit makes you look thinner, and draws more attention to your female assets."

"T&A," Daria said with a scowl.

"Not exactly," Jane said, realizing she'd lost a point. "But, it makes your boobs more noticeable and, therefore, bigger."

"And I know I want people in a dark alley to be staring at my chest."

"Daria," Jane sat down across from her, "they do already. You've got a bug right between your boobs. They're either going to stare at that or your eyes. Which, by the way, are cool."

"Thanks. Spider-Man showed me how to do them."

"You'll have to introduce me, sometime." Jane tapped the drawing, "This will change your look only a little. But, it'll make you seem sleeker. And, in a dark alley, more mysterious. They won't be able to tell where your body starts and where it ends. All they'll see is the red."

"It's already like that," Daria complained.

"No, they can see your entire torso." Jane looked at her with pleading in her face, "Come on, Daria. Let me make it for you. Consider it my way of saying thanks for pulling my bacon out of that pit."

Daria looked at the picture for a long moment. "Do we really the need web-pits?"

"It's a spider thing," Jane replied. "Trust me, it'll look cool when you're swinging through town."

Shaking her head slowly, Daria finally spoke, "Okay. But if I don't like it I'm never trusting your costume advice again."

"Fair enough." Jane grinned. Looking at the sketch again, her grin faded.

Seeing the change in mood, Daria asked, "What's up?"

"Just wondering something."

"Must be serious."

Sighing, Jane looked up at her, "I was just wondering why you do it. I mean, you go out and help people who don't give a damn if you live or die. And I've seen a few copies of the Daily Bugle since I've been back. You get a raking over the coals on a daily basis. So, why do you put on your costume and go out after the bad guys?"

Daria bit her lip as she thought. "At first," she began, "it was because of you."


"Yeah. You see, Jane, I beat Upchuck because I was lucky. And, I knew that when I was finally able to come after you, I'd probably be in for a fight. I couldn't trust your safety to luck."

"But how'd you get the idea to go web-slinging?"

"I asked Spider-Man how he learned to use his powers. He told me that he got better by being out on the street. He's picked up tricks and ideas from actually fighting the bad guys." Shrugging, she went on, "I decided that, since I'd be facing people of low moral character when I came after you, it would be good practice."

"And so, the Scarlet Spider was born," Jane smirked. "I'm responsible for the birth of a super heroine." Raising an eyebrow, she asked, "You said something about 'at first?'"

"Yeah." Daria looked away, "I'd been doing it for a couple of months when I had a really bad night. I broke up a gang fight, only to have the cops accuse me of starting it. Then, I managed to stop what I thought was a robbery, only to have the director of the commercial they were shooting start yelling at me." She stopped momentarily when Jane burst out laughing. "Oh, it's funny, now."

"Sorry," Jane said, controlling herself. "Please, go on."

"Well, the final straw was when I saw a little girl wander in front of a truck. So, in spider fashion, I swing down on my web and scoop her up out of the way just as the truck passes by. Well," Daria frowned, "instead of being happy that her girl was safe, the woman started accusing me of trying to kidnap her."

"You're kidding." Jane's mouth had dropped open in shock. "You save a kid, and her mother got mad at you?"

"Yep." Not meeting her friend's eyes, she shrugged. "I was fed up. I was going to go back to my apartment and burn my costume. But, before I got there, I heard someone screaming from the street below. Some guy had grabbed a woman's purse and was running off with it."

"Did you get him?" Jane asked.

"I didn't even try. I got a good look at him, though. The next day," Daria closed the sketch pad as she continued, "I was out on the street, and complimenting myself on the wise decision to not put myself through that particular wringer again. I was especially pleased when I saw the same man with a little girl in his arms." She smirked, "I remember telling myself that I'd done the right thing. After all, he was a father."

"Why do I hear a 'but' coming?"

"A big one. It was about then that the girl's mother starting screaming that her daughter was being kidnaped. They guy started to run away with the girl still in his arms."

"He was a kidnapper?" Jane sat back, "Damn."

"Well, I was close enough to give chase, but not close enough to catch him before he cut down an alley."

"Oh, no."

"Oh, yeah." Daria frowned and looked at the table. "Because I didn't stop him when I had the chance, he was escaping with that little girl."

"What happened?"

"I snagged him with a web line just as he reached the end of the alley. It the shadow of the buildings, I beat the stuffing out of him. If the girl hadn't started crying, I'd probably have killed him." She looked at her hands as she took a deep breath. "I carried her back to her mother, then went to my apartment."

"Well, you stopped him."

"If I hadn't been there he would have gotten away with that girl." Daria looked at her, "And it would have been my fault."

"That's a load of b. s., Daria," Jane replied.

"No," Daria shook her head, "I had the chance to stop him when he was doing something minor. But, because I did nothing, he almost got that little girl. You see, I found out later he was a serial child molester. I just happened to be where I could get a second chance to stop him."

Jane said nothing for a long moment. Then, "So, you went from someone going through the motions to get into fighting shape to someone out there to really help people."

"Well, yeah." Daria smirked, "Sounds kind of pathetic, doesn't it?"

Returning the smirk, Jane said, "Oh, yeah. You're just a cliche." A second later, her voice dropped slightly, "Thank you for saving me, Miss Cliche."

"Stop trying to put me in some of those costumes you dreamed up and we'll call it even," Daria offered.

With a laugh, Jane replied, "Okay. Deal. Hey," she suddenly sat up, "I just realized. With you in New York and me in Westchester, we'll be pretty close to each other."

"Oh, no," Daria muttered.

"Oh, yeah." Jane grinned, "Prepare to have your butt dragged out on the town. Even superheroes need a break."

"I'm putting you back in the woods, Jane," Daria said as she closed her eyes.

"Are you sure you can't stay, sweety?" Helen asked her oldest daughter as they stood by the loading gate.

"Mom," Daria smiled at her, "I need to get back so I can salvage some of my life. The longer I wait, the harder it's going to be. I might already be out of a job and my landlord has been trying to kick me out for months. This'll probably be the final straw with him."

"What?" Jake scowled, "Hey, if you need a place to stay, we're right here, kiddo."

"I know, Dad." Daria put an arm around his waist, "And now that I can come home to visit, I will. But, I'm a city girl, Dad. And I like living in New York."

"Hard to believe you like anything," Quinn said, grinning.

"Especially you," Daria said, grinning back. They exchanged a quick hug before Daria kissed Franklin on the head. "Take care of my nephew. I'm not done being a bad influence, yet."

"Oh, no," Quinn stepped back and held her son protectively. "You're not turning him into a geek."

"Actually," Daria told her, "I was thinking xeno-podiatrist." Seeing the confusion on the faces of her family, she picked up her carry-on and stepped to the gate, "See you soon. I promise."

Handing her ticket to the attendant, Daria felt herself torn. A quick glance showed that her family was still waving, even if Quinn and her father were still confused. Helen, however, was shaking her head as she smiled. Turning, Daria felt her homesick feeling for her family was fighting with her homesick feeling for the city she had come to love.

"Start spreading the news," she sang softly under her breath.

"I'm leaving today," someone in front of her continued. The voice, however, left something to be desired.

"Huh?" Daria looked in disbelief at the raven-haired figure in front of her. "Jane?"

"Present." Jane had her hair in her old style again, and was wearing a red dress that fit her slim figure loosely. Her feet were in loose leather moccasins. A familiar black bag was in her right hand, with her sketchbook in her left. "Miss me?" she asked as she tilted her head to the side.

"What are you doing here? I thought you hated crowds."

Jane swallowed as Daria realized that her friend was slightly pale. "I'm trying to get through that particular problem. And," she looked at Daria, "I figured having you here to keep me company would be a big help."

"Hey," Daria gently tapped her with a fist, "in the end, that's what friends are really for." The two shared a smile as they headed onto their flight.

As they door to the plane was closed behind them, Jane's voice carried out into the corridor as she asked, "So, you know any cute guys in New York?"

As the plane for New York lifted into the sky, a figure looked at it from the shadow cast in the early morning. Covered from head to toe, the only thing on it that wasn't black was a white spider emblem emblazoned on both the front and the back, a white square on the back of each hand, and large white eyes on the head. Eyes that looked exactly like those worn on the mask of the Scarlet Spider.

As if knowing who was on the jet, the figure sang softly as it watched it climb away, "You're an angel in black, and you sure have the knack, for putting my heart on a shelf in the back . . ."