Minutes later, they were walking back towards the university campus, it was a clear night so they decided to walk through Hyde Park. Ben always enjoyed this park, it reminded him of Central Park back home in New York, he loved the peace and tranquillity, and the lush green of nature surrounding him. Jubilee was a little less enthusiastic, she was never one for nature, and Kitty, well, she just looked tired out. They were about halfway through the park when Ben paused, he couldn’t be sure but he thought he felt a tingle from his danger sense, his spider sense. He dismissed it as paranoia and then nearly yelped when it flared in the back of his head.

Kitty and Jubilee noticed his discomfort. Kitty spoke softly, “What is it Ben? Are you okay?”

Ben scanned his surroundings and turned to the two girls, “I want you both to get out of here, just trust me and run.”

Jubilee looked sceptical, “Huh? What’s going on?” she asked.

Ben’s only reply was “Something’s coming.” Ben turned his attention to his surroundings, scanning the trees and bushes, searching for any sign of the danger he was being warned of. Then they appeared, moving slowly towards them out of the trees, Ben counted at least twenty, and all were dressed alike, with long hooded black robes and pale facemasks. Ben breathed the word as if it were a curse, “Scrier.”

Ben tensed his body and controlled his breathing, remaining calm, ready for the fight ahead. He knew that Norman Osborn had discovered where he disappeared to, and wanted him back, so he had sent twenty of his Scriers, enough to overwhelm even a clone of Spider-man. Ben also knew that if he were to survive, to escape, he would have to go on automatic, give himself over to his spider sense, let his instincts and reflexes control his body. It was a strange experience, when he fought using his danger sense; it reminded him of having an out of body experience, while he was still in his body.

He noticed that the Scriers hadn’t attacked yet, they were actually spreading out, c’mon, there’s only one of me, why don’t they just rush me? Then it dawned on him; he looked round and to his horror discovered that Kitty and Jubilee were still there, and worse, they appeared to be assuming fighting stances, what are they doing? They’ll get themselves killed. Ben had to do something, had to shield the two girls from these robed idiots. He quickly evaluated his attack plan, all the time muttering under his breath about how stubborn women could be. He launched himself at a small group of three Scriers; he landed in front of them and ducked to avoid a fist in the face. He leapt up into the air, performing a handstand with one hand on the head of the middle attacker, his other hand connected with the back of the man’s head, sending him sprawling to the ground. As the first man fell, Ben kicked out with both feet, performing an aerial splits. His feet connected with both men and they joined their friend. Three down.

Ben heard the distinctive whine of plasma weaponry, and turned to see two Scriers fire pulse blasts in his direction. Ben reacted instantly, throwing himself through a series of acrobatic moves, deftly avoiding the energy blasts. He landed in a crouch, his eyes scanning the crowd. He watched with mounting unease as a Scrier opened fire on Kitty. Ben yelled her name, alerting her to the danger. Suddenly, spider sense flared, and Ben stood quickly, pivoting on his right foot, driving an elbow into the face of the Scrier that had tried to sneak up on him. He felt the crunch of bone and the Scrier sagged unconscious. Ben whirled round and to his relief saw that Kitty was unscathed. What he saw next however was something of a surprise. Kitty flew at the Scrier that had shot at her and flipped over his head, she grabbed his hood and dragged him with relative ease towards a nearby tree. Ben was stunned when he saw Kitty pass through the tree as if she was a ghost, although the Scrier was not so lucky, with a sickening thunk, the man’s head bounced off the wood of the tree trunk.

Ben stood gawking, in complete disbelief of what he had just saw. Suddenly, Jubilee cartwheeled past him with a cry of “Less staring and more hitting” as she darted among the Scriers, drawing their attention. Jubilee had a height advantage, she was small and lithe, and boy, could she move at some pace. Like a gymnast, she ducked and weaved, delivering a punch here and a kick there. Ben started to realise that he wasn’t really contributing much to this fight, he didn’t have to, Kitty and Jubilee moved like consummate professionals, as if fighting was second nature. He smiled when he thought of the reaction that Norman Osborn would have when he heard two girls had trounced his Scriers.

Jubilee skidded to a halt as five of the Scriers confronted her. Ben moved to help her but found his way blocked. With an amused chuckle, he threw himself at his opponents, quickly dispatching them, confident that his spider sense and reflexes would protect him. He turned to see how Jubilee was faring, and saw her standing defiantly before the Scriers. The robed men were reluctant to attack, worried as they were by the bravado of the young girl. Ben watched as Jubilee spread her hands wide and suddenly, multicoloured ribbons of energy leapt from her fingers, dazzling the Scriers. Jubilee launched a roundhouse kick at the nearest enemy and knocked him flying. She noticed that the others were recovering far faster than they should.

A whisper of movement alerted Ben to Kitty presence. Ben looked at her, the expression of disbelief etched on his features. He spoke to Kitty in a hushed tone.

“Shouldn’t we help her?” he asked.

Kitty laughed, “Nah, she needs to loosen up a little, it’s been months since she last had a decent fight.”

Last had a fight? Ben filed that comment in his memory, there was obviously more to these two girls than either of them admitted. Jubilee did a graceful backflip and then stood with one hand at her side, the other pointing straight up. A corona of energy covered her hand as she let loose with her powers. A multicoloured blast of energy radiated out from her right hand and slammed into the Scriers. They were scattered by the blast, and thrown to the ground. The sound reminded Ben of that time one Halloween when Uncle Ben had set off a box of fireworks by accident. And here he was, standing beside a girl who could walk through objects like they weren’t there and watching as another girl generated fireworks from her hands. Ben shook his head, he was used to strangeness, after his years on the road and his time as Spider-man but he was still surprised by the casual ease that Kitty and Jubilee had defeated the Scriers.

The stunned Scriers rose unsteadily to their feet and Jubilee primed another plasma blast. She didn’t even have time to use it; the leader of the group looked prominently at Ben and then activated a control on his wrist. The twenty Scriers disappeared, spirited away by a teleportation device. Jubilee turned round, a pout on her face.

“Not fair,” she said, “I was just getting warmed up.”

Kitty walked over and looped her arm around her friend’s shoulders, “Maybe some other time.” The two girls looked over at Ben. “Well, cat’s out of the bag,” Kitty said.

Jubilee gave a little snort, “What were you doing in a bag?” Jubilee was referring to Kitty’s former X-Men codename of Shadowcat.

Kitty rolled her eyes, “Jubes, shut up.” Then she turned her attention to Ben. “If you want to run screaming “mutant”, feel free.” Jubilee butted in, “You’re a pretty good fighter, almost too good,” she said sceptically.

“We all have our secrets.” Ben replied. “Thanks for the assist.”

“Well, I’ve never seen those guys before,” Jubilee began, “Haven’t a clue why they targeted Kitty and me.”

“It wasn’t you they were after, it was me.” Ben said grimly, noticing the girl’s surprised look. “Look, we all have a lot of explaining to do, why don’t we go somewhere, sit down, and talk things out?”

“Sure, let’s go to my place, it’s closer.” Kitty said.

“Our place…” Jubilee began. Kitty cut her off. “Pay rent and it’s “our” place.”

Jubilee gave her a stubborn look, and then the moment passed. Ben followed the two girls back to the dorm and Kitty’s room. The room was dark and warm so Kitty flicked on a light and opened one the windows to let some fresh air in. Ben was struck by the contrasting style of the room. One half of the room was an unruly mess, with clothes and other items strewn over the bed and floor. The opposite side of the room was tidy and clean.

Ben was aware of a shuffling shape on top of one of the wardrobes. He gasped as a small purple creature detached itself from the wardrobe and fluttered down to Kitty. From Ben’s point of view, it looked like a small dragon, with purple scaly skin and small stubby wings. To be honest, Ben was hard pressed to think of anything he had seen that compared to the little lizard. It wrapped itself around Kitty’s shoulders, its long tail draped down the front of Kitty’s blouse. The dragon seemed to regard Ben with suspicion, if a supposedly mythical creature was capable of such an emotion. Ben offered the dragon a tentative smile, and watched as its ears perked up slightly. Ben gave a small chuckle; he had to admit the little guy did look funny.

Kitty gave him a strange look. Then she realised Ben was staring at Lockheed. She pointed to Ben and spoke in a slow motherly voice.

“Lockheed, this is Ben.” She pointed at the dragon round her neck. “Ben, this Lockheed. He’s an Acanti, an alien.” Then she whispered. “Don’t set fire to him.”

Ben responded, “I have no intention of setting fire to him.”

Kitty smiled an almost sinister smile, “Wasn’t talking to you.” Ben heard a strange snuffling sound and realised that Lockheed was actually laughing at him. Ben performed a mock bow and sat down on the tidy side of the room. Jubilee threw herself onto the messy bed with a grunt, and Ben guessed that was her side of the room. He was surprised, she may be untidy but he had to admit to himself that she was stunning to look at. Her hair and features were immaculate, her skin was like slightly tanned ivory, and her hair shimmered almost blue under the fluorescent light. Her eyes were dark brown, like Ben’s, but they seemed more like deep pools. Ben caught himself, and realised he was staring. Clearing his throat, he looked at each girl in turn.

“So,” Kitty began. “Who wants to start?”

Jubilee did, figures, she is a motormouth, Kitty thought. “Who were those guys tonight, and what the heck did they want with you, no offence but I don’t think you’re a mutant outlaw or a serial killer or something.”

Ben seemed to think for a moment. “They were members of the Brotherhood of Scrier, and they wanted to take me back to their boss.” He sighed, as if remembering something, “As for who I am, well, let’s just say I’m unique.”

“Unique?” Jubilee exclaimed.

Kitty hushed her roommate and motioned for Ben to continue. “Where to start?” he said. “My true life began eight years ago…”

For the next hour or so, Ben recounted his story, his life on the road, travelling across America, his return to New York and the confrontations he had there, his time as Spider-man and his “death”. He recounted his service to Osborn as the Green Goblin and his subsequent rescue by Sinister and Gambit. Kitty recognised Remy’s name when it was mentioned and was surprised to hear the Cajun was no longer in Westchester.

Returning the favour, both Kitty and Jubilee told their respective stories and their time with the X-Men and other various groups. Kitty told Ben the whole truth about her moment of grief earlier, told him how she had been connected to the people who had died. Ben sympathised with her; he had lost loved ones too. Jubilee was more upbeat, despite mentioning Everett and her own grief and after a very long three hours, the four of them were finally on the same page.

Nevertheless, they talked long into the next morning, exchanging stories and tales of great fights and great deeds, sharing their hope, their fears for the future. Kitty felt elated at having Ben as a friend, another person who understood her “heritage”. Ben was happy too, he had people to share his secrets with, something he had never really had in his life before. He felt he could be totally open with Kitty and Jubilee and not have to worry about endangering them. Jubilee was relieved that her life in Chicago was going a heck of a lot better than her attempt in Los Angeles. She also noticed that Ben had been looking at her, at first she thought she had smudged her face or something, but she was starting to realise that maybe Ben was attracted to her. She pushed that thought away for another time. They were a group now, whether they realised it or not, three, okay, four if you count Lockheed, individuals who were dedicated to preserving the lives of others, at their own personal cost. This was a new beginning, the first steps of their future.

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