Author's Note: Hey there, I'm sorry about the huge break, but you know how it is. You'll all be relieved to know that this is the final instalment. I sincerely hope you enjoy it. See you at the end!
When MJ heard the knock on her window, her body went completely still. For several long seconds, the only sound or movement she was aware of was the erratic pounding of her heart in the silence.
She knew who it was. She didn't know how she knew. Somehow she just did.
Straightening up, she took a deep breath and pulled her dressing gown more firmly about her. Crossing to the glass door that opened onto the small balcony, she pushed the curtains aside and flicked the lock aside.
She had expected to see Peter immediately, waiting for her in the light. She was surprised when the small balcony seemed at first glance to be deserted, but nevertheless, she stepped out into the cool night air. A moment later, a familiar red and blue clad figure moved out of the shadows, and her surprise grew. She had expected Peter, not Spiderman. A faint feeling of uneasiness assailed her, but she pushed it aside.
"Hello, Peter," she said quietly, gazing directly into the unreadable mask.
"MJ." The voice behind the mask was rough, as though from lack of use, but it was still Peter's voice and it made her heart jump painfully.
"MJ I've… come to say goodbye."
MJ just stared. The night wasn't so cold after all, she though numbly. It was actually quite hot. Her skin was practically burning. What a strange sensation.
There was silence for a long minute. He seemed to be waiting for her to say something, but MJ had no words at all. Goodbye. What did he expect her to say? How did he even expect her to survive this announcement without breaking down, let alone give a coherent response…
Finally, not knowing what else to do, she nodded once.
He seemed to hesitate, then added desperately, "I'm sorry."
MJ nodded again.
"So am I," she said coolly, and could scarcely believe how steady her voice sounded.
Another brief pause ensued, then she said, "Are you even going to take off your mask?"
His gloved hand went to his covered face.
– no. I – that is, I wasn't going
to. I shouldn't."
Again, MJ marvelled at her own composure. For two full days, her heart had been trembling on the brink of this terrible abyss, waiting to know its fate. To know if it was going to be shattered violently in all directions or pulled back to safety and spared. And now she had her answer, but when she examined her reaction there was only a strange hollowness. Clearly she had fallen into the abyss and was still completing the sickening plummet. When she turned and closed the door behind her – then would come the impact. Not before then.
"Because…" came his low, unhappy reply, "It's not who I am anymore."
Something in his tone sent a strange chill creeping over MJ's skin. Her forehead creased.
"Peter, what does that mean? Are - are you OK…?" How ridiculous it seemed to be asking him that question, and not the other way around. But there was something wrong here, something so wrong…
"I'm not Peter. Not anymore," the costumed figure seemed to sigh and began to pace jerkily on the tiny balcony. "Don't you see, I can't be. I can't be Peter and Spiderman, not both at once. It tears me in two. I can't … I can't go on loving you. To remain Peter means to love you, and to love you means we are all put in danger. You, Peter, Spiderman… all of us are caught up knots, left in danger, made painfully vulnerable. The only way I can save us all, and save the world, is to let you go MJ. If I can let you go, then Peter will follow. You are all he lives for. I am Spiderman now. That's … all I can be."
For a moment, MJ could only stare. She was barely breathing and barely aware of it. All of a sudden the blue and red outline before her, the image she had once associated with safety and righteousness, seemed to morph and became monstrous in her eyes.
She was afraid, actually afraid, of what lurked behind that mask. Whatever it was it wasn't Peter. It was a creature, a stranger she didn't recognise, and it was speaking of ... letting Peter die.
"Take off the mask," she said again, her voice nothing more than a bodiless whisper, only this time the words were not a request.
"MJ…?" Spiderman took a step towards her, reaching out in concern.
MJ cringed back from his touch. "Don't come near me, take off the mask!" She repeated, her voice shaking now in her urgency. "Please, Peter take it off!!"
In a single movement, Spiderman stripped the mask away, and Peter's expressive blue eyes, wide with uncertainty and worry, peered down at her.
Still shaking slightly, MJ struggled to calm herself, and failed.
She threw herself gracelessly into his arms and clung to him.
"Peter… Tell me you didn't mean what you just said… Please… You can't truly mean to…"
She felt his hands come to rest in her hair. She felt that they were trembling slightly and felt a sharp rush of hope.
"MJ, I have no choice…" Very gently, he put his hands on her shoulders and pushed her back.
"Of course you have a choice!" She snapped in response, her eyes swimming with tears that she blinked furiously away. "We all have choices. You don't seem to understand. I love Peter Parker. I love him! He is a good man. The best of men. And not thirty seconds ago some… thing… was standing in front of me and speaking with terrifying earnestness of killing him. 'Letting him go.' Can you imagine how that feels? I was frightened. Terrified. But not just for me, not even just for Peter…"
She took a deep, shuddering breath. She had to be calm. She had to be logical. Everything depended on this, everything… She had to make him see before it was too late.
"I was afraid," she said slowly and softly, looking steadily into his eyes, "Because what I could see was a man with awesome powers at his disposal speaking of his intention to give up his humanity. Do you think you can do that, and still be the superhero you envisage? Heroes are defined by their humanity, their empathy. If you let Peter Parker die - if you deny him the ones he loves and let all his weaknesses fade into insignificance - you don't just lose his vulnerabilities. You lose his kindness, his gentleness, his memories, his motives for trying to do good. Peter has an aunt who loves him, and he wants to make her proud. He once said that looking at me made him want to be a better man. What reason will you have to be a better man when Peter is gone, and there is nothing inside you at all?
"If you let me go, you will lose Peter, and Spiderman will become an all-powerful, unstoppable, invulnerable machine. Without feelings. Without humanity. Without anything to live for except some vaguely defined notions about what is right and wrong in this complicated and largely screwed up world. How long will it be before he stops caring? How long before he forgets what it's like to love, forgets why he wants to help people at all?"
Peter stared. MJ's voice began to shake. She couldn't hold on to her control much longer. The floor of the abyss was rushing up fast, and there was so much at stake. Why didn't he say something? Was he going to leave her again? He couldn't, he just couldn't…
"Please don't push me away now, Peter… Please… If I'm Peter Parker's reason for holding on, then for God's sake, hold me. Not just for my sake. Not just for your sake. Do it because, God help me Peter, if the man beneath the mask isn't you, then I'm afraid of Spiderman, and I'm terrified for the people of this world. I'm afraid of what he might grow into if you aren't in control.
She paused, and drew an unsteady breath. Her tone dropped, becoming little more than a whisper in her throat.
"You can be both. You can. Let me be your reason for living. Let me be the one who keeps Peter Parker alive within you. You can keep me safe from the dangers outside, and I'll keep you safe from the dangers within. We can help one another. It can work, Peter, if you'll only let it, if you'll only trust in this… in me…"
He was staring at her like he had never seen anything like her before in his life.
He didn't move.
MJ was too afraid to breathe, too afraid to even shift her weight. If she moved she might break this moment, and then he would be gone, she would have lost him, lost everything....
The silence dragged on.
She had to do something. In a move that was possibly the bravest thing MJ had ever done, she gathered together every emotion that was ringing inside her at that moment.
One last chance…
She leaned forward, closed her eyes, and kissed Peter very gently on the lips. Every molecule of pain, adoration, fear, love, uncertainty and hope that wracked her mind and body, she channelled into that kiss.
…And then pulled slowly away, but not too far. Unable to open her eyes, she whispered almost inaudibly, "Say you will…"
"I - "
But she kissed him again, stopping his next words.
This time the contact lasted longer as desire came flooding into the equation. And then, once again, she pulled away.
This time she managed to open her eyes and meet his gaze as she whispered, "Say it…"
Peter did not look away. He drew a long, silent breath. "I trust you, MJ…" He said clearly.
MJ stared, scarcely daring to believe him, to believe in them. "Do you mean it?" She asked quietly.
He reached out and took her face in his hands, looking directly into her eyes. "I mean it," he said, matching her serious tone. "I do. I love you. And I think you just saved my life."
MJ closed her eyes, and threw herself into his embrace. His arms closed tightly around her.
"Well," she murmured, her voice only slightly muffled against his red and blue-clad chest, "I figured it had to be my turn."
And she didn't have to look at his face to know that he was finally smiling.
A/N: So did you like it…? Were you convinced by it? Please review and let me know. Criticisms are fine. I've had my fun in the writing of it, so that can't be taken away. : ) Right, I'm off to catch up on my reading. Ciao!