Soli Deo gloria

DISCLAIMER: I do NOT own the Amazing Spider-Man. Or the Pickled Peppers quote. TASM IS LITERALLY TOO AWESOME. So yes, this is movie-verse, so please don't expect it to match up with all the different comics and worlds that Spider-Man is in.

Gwen sat in a booth in one of New York's many coffee shops. It was big, spacious, elegant, and smelled of freshly brewed coffee and cinnamon. Her booth was in a corner, right next to one of the windows showing the busy streets. She looked out, her eyes falling on all the fast people, people going about with their lives and their own worries, everyone else lost in themselves. Strangers.

She was searching for one person. She had picked a mutual place for them to meet. It wasn't school where they were trying to not look at each other, nor either of their small homes to where they could be traced back to. No. One large, busy coffee shop. It'd be hard finding Gwen Stacy meeting up with Spider-Man here.

"Hey," she heard, and she quickly turned and there he was. He instantly hit her as tired. He had bags under his eyes, a look of an energy drain behind his brown eyes, a look of weariness around his face. He put down a tray with two coffees on it and shrugged. "Heard your name being called at the counter. Got your drink."

"Thanks, Peter," Gwen said quickly. She nodded to the seat across from her. "Sit down."

He took his seat obligingly and noticed her notebook. He looked a little interested as he shifted and said, "Where were you?"

She noticed a couple of bruises near the bends of his neck, like someone had kicked him there, and quickly looked to her ID. "I was at Oscorp, finishing up my shift there."

"Things . . . going well, there?" he asked.

"Well enough, after everything," Gwen said. "There-there might be a mounting controversy over Dr. Rajit Ratha and the serum, but—the company's trying to keep it undercover."

"And yet you're telling me," Peter said, and he gave her a hint of one of his shy grins.

Gwen did not want to prod him on. Not after what he had promised her father. She merely straightened, frowned, and tucking her notebook into her large handbag, said, "You asked and I told you."

"Okay," Peter said, no longer sounding cheerful as he took his coffee off the tray. Using his nimble hands, he spun it around nervously. "I'll ask another question, then; answer me this: Why'd you ask to meet me here?"

Gwen straightened at that. She leaned forward, wrapped her hands around her coffee, and said, "Peter, we need to figure this out."

"Figure what out?"

Gwen scowled and raised an eyebrow. "Don't try to act innocent, Peter. This isn't working out. We keep looking at each other, we keep bumping into each other. We're trying but not really. We either need to not see each other at all, change classes and avoid each other at football games-"

"I don't go to football games," Peter said.

"Well, then I won't have to try to avoid you there." Gwen shrugged, but then turned serious once more. "It's either that, or we . . . you know . . . get back together."

Peter looked almost confused. "Together?"

"Boyfriend-girlfriend, Peter," Gwen said, shaking her head around as she took a sip of coffee to distract herself from his direct and sincere gaze. "We either get back together, breaking my dad's promise, or we avoid each other. We're not doing one or the other at the moment, and Peter, we can't go on this way."

Peter knew that. Part of him, the selfish, teenage part of him, wanted to continue this, to steal looks at her going through her locker, to whisper to her occasionally during class, to watch her leave school with a secret glance. The other part, the unselfish, promise-keeping part of him, the part who made a vow to a dying man, a dying father, Gwen's dying father, knew he had to protect her, and he couldn't do that when he was with her. He was not totally keeping his promise, and now Gwen had to face him with a reluctant choice.

He nodded slowly, and turned to look at his coffee, which he stopped twirling, to not look into her eyes. He could still feel her iron gaze burn him, though.

"Give me a couple of days," he said after a moment, looking up to see her eyes all rimmed in pink.

"I want an answer. Now," she said, and her voice sounded choked.


"Peter, come on. Don't make me feel any more torture than you've already left me feeling," Gwen said. She tilted her head slightly and whispered, "Please, Peter."

He gulped. There was only one thing to do, really, wasn't there? Captain Stacy had wanted Gwen's safety, even in his dying moments, enduring severe pain. That was what both he and Peter wanted, and no amount of flirting or getting to see her face would be able to make up for her ever getting hurt because of his hands and his work protecting New York. He protected his city, and now he needed to protect Gwen.

"I guess I'll rearrange my schedule. Shouldn't be too hard. It's our last year, after all," he said quietly.

"Okay, then," Gwen said. She cleared her throat and gathered her bag as she stood up, sucking in a breath. She slung her bag on her shoulder and turned to Peter. She said nothing about the large bruise she could now see on his hairline or the cut in a corner of his mouth and said, "Goodbye, Peter."

He didn't say a word, and looked back to his coffee as she shuffled past him. His heart silently cracked when he heard her sniff.

The coffee shop door opened with a ding. It closed with a thud.

Hearing it shut, he knew that it had been her keeping the promise and not some happy-go-lucky customer going out into the world again. She left the coffee shop hurt but intact, going out to face the world alone. He gulped and bent his head down, trying not to show how his eyes were becoming wet with painful tears.

That was his last time seeing her, wasn't it? And he just portrayed himself like he didn't care. Maybe it would be easier if he tried not to care. But he did, and that fact made him feel overwhelmed, angry, and almost annoyed at Gwen for getting a grasp on reality and making a decision like that when he was just trying to get by.

And so he couldn't help himself, really, if that was the last time he was to see Gwen, to look out the window, to try to catch a glimpse of her white-blonde hair, to see if he could catch a sight of her bag, her shoes, anything of her he could remember and hold fast to.

He did find her, but he suddenly straightened terribly and flexed his neck. He felt a tingling. His Spider Sense was telling him something. Danger was near. A new villain? He quickly turned and looked around the coffee shop. If there was danger, Gwen sure choose a spot with a lot of people to get hurt.

He felt it again and he got out of his seat. It was outside. The danger was outside, in the streets of New York. He wore his Spider-Man outfit under his loose clothes and hoodie, and he was ready to head into action.

He hurried out of the coffee shop, sprinting and pushing back strangers in line for their coffee, making them yell and go, "Hey?" "What gives!" "Watch it!" He ignored them, though, and rushed out of the coffee shop to the sidewalk. He looked around hurriedly, craning his neck to look over the walking people. Some threw him looks but he didn't care.

He gulped, and felt a feeling of dread. It looked so normal out here. There wasn't any muggings, robbers, murders, screams or anything indicative of danger. There was something, though, he was being warned, he needed to find it, quickly, before it was too—

He turned instantly to his left, having heard a car screech. He saw it, a yellow taxi it was bouncing slightly—the driver was hurrying out of his seat, yelling, moving his hands around—there was a large dent in the front bumper—a dent with dark, rich blood—

Peter instantly hurried through the throngs of people, fear coursing through him, his heart pounding.

Gwen had gone in that direction.

It could just be a stranger, might be a stranger, please be a stranger, Peter prayed silently as he yelled, "Excuse me, move! Move!" The scene was gathering a loud crowd together, murmuring and shifting on their feet. The driver, a light brown skinned man with black hair, looked frantic as he yelled, "Someone call nine-one-one!"

Peter pushed his way through, and before him was a scene that plagued him and haunted him for weeks and months after. This wasn't no gunshot, but Gwen was on the ground, sprawled out, looking pale and small, except for the bloodstain on her head and one on her side, creeping along her white blouse until it was more red than white.

Peter's breath was caught; he could barely breathe, but let out a choked sob as he sank down to her. Her face was expressionless. It was pale and white; she was out, and . . . dead?

He instantly reached out and caught her hand. He sighed at feeling its warmth and managed to find a pulse. She was alive. Only for now?

"Gwen." His voice was a hoarse whisper.

Policemen from around the corner came around, yelling for people to get away, back up. Peter barely heard them. His heart was pounding in his ears, his chest aching, a feeling of not being able to do anything until the ambulance came choking him. She had been fine, she had just walked out, she had talked to him two minutes before - he could have talked to her, he could have even argued with her, made her stay in the coffee shop just for a second or two more-

This was just like with Uncle Ben. What if she died from her internal injuries before the ambulance came?

He couldn't protect her even if he was away from her, and he felt powerless when he heard the sirens coming around. A police officer nudged his shoulder, and Peter looked at his face quickly before turning away and wiping at his eyes with his sleeve. It was one of the policemen he and Gwen had saved from the Lizard's mutation.

Peter stood mutely, watching as they took her up on a gurney, sticking things into her arms, putting something over her mouth. He ran a hand through his hair and barely kept back his tears as the ambulance engulfed her. Within two minutes, it was lost in the New York traffic, calling for all to move over.

Peter stepped back to the sidewalk as the police questioned the driver of the taxi; he was an immigrant, obviously, from his accented voice. He was clearly apologetic, looking miserable as he talked to one of the policemen, who was writing down everything on an accident report.

Peter didn't know what he felt toward the driver; he had hit Gwen, near a sidewalk, of all the people in the world. He looked desperate, though, knowing and pleading that it was just an accident.

But that didn't fix the hole in Peter's heart.

He gulped and glanced at his watch. 4:00. He let out a breath as he dialed his cellphone, trying to get a hold on his voice so it wouldn't crack. He couldn't help the urge to cry as he heard Aunt May's voice saying, "Hello? Peter?"

"Hey, Aunt May?" His words were fine here. "I'm going to be late. I'm heading to St. James's hospital." Another breath. "You know that pretty girl you asked about? Her name is Gwen, and she's-she's been in an accident."

That was when his voice cracked.

Peter looked up from where he was sitting in an old hospital chair. The clock showed it to be 6:03. She had been in surgery for over an hour. Peter gulped and looked to the ground, his hands clasped together on his lap, his feet tapping against the hospital floor impatiently. Around him were the quiet noises of the hospital, of the receptionist talking quietly and her phone beeping. The sounds of the nurses walking about, the kids in their seats playing with toys to keep themselves occupied.

It was quiet. Too quiet for a hospital, anyway. Maybe it was because this was normal for the hospital, to handle things quietly and keep things calm. Maybe it was because Peter expected the world to be filled with victims that came pouring in everyday. That was how it should be in his mind, with the amount of criminals he defeated each day and the amount of criminal activity and murders he heard on the police scanner.

Peter tried not to acknowledge that Gwen's mother and brothers were in chairs right near his. He didn't know what things to say to them to make them feel better. He was right there, he was within a few yards of her, he could have saved her. He was a damn superhero for Pete's sake, a wanted man for stopping crimes, for saving people, and why couldn't he save the people he loved? Why was it always them he couldn't save?

He looked up when he saw one of the surgeons, wearing his blue operating clothes, coming toward them, bearing a clipboard and grim face. Peter stayed in his seat as Mrs. Stacy stood up, and she and the surgeon talked in quiet tones. Gwen's brothers, Howard, Phillip and Simon, looked up from where they were sitting in their chairs.

While he knew he shouldn't listen in, Peter kept his head down and tried to hear what they were saying. Something about "ribs," "blood," "fragile," "weeks," and "heal." Mrs. Stacy nodded and said, "C'mon along, boys," and the four of them headed down the hall.

"Excuse me?" Peter said, standing quickly. The surgeon looked up from his clipboard. "Hi, I'm Peter Parker. How's Gwen? Did she-"

"Your friend's fine, Mr. Parker. Er, she is your . . ."

"Friend." Peter swallowed thickly and tried not to let it show. "Just friend."

"She's gone through the operation without complications. Her physical injuries are five broken ribs on the right side of her rib cage. She's suffered a ruptured spleen, Mr. Parker."

Peter gulped at that. Ruptured spleens meant blood, plenty of it. And it wasn't something you could heal, since it was a freaking important organ. "Okay."

"She'll take a few weeks to heal, and will have to take immunization for the rest of her life. Still, could have been worse. Her lungs look relatively untouched, along with her heart and liver. She had a minor collision with the ground after falling, but nothing to damage her brain."

"Okay, thanks," Peter said, though he didn't sound or feel thankful at all.

"She just came out from being under." The surgeon turned away to write something on his clipboard, leaving Peter to stand back and feel himself get overwhelmed.

He didn't say a word, just ran a hand through his hair, and turned when he suddenly heard, "Peter!" Aunt May came up to him and, seeing his face, his young, broken teenage face, instantly wrapped her arms around him. "Oh, Peter."

He wrapped his arms around her, tightly, almost as if this was his way of protecting her the way he couldn't protect Gwen or Uncle Ben. He set his head on her shoulder, looking back over the cold hospital tiles, and letting out a sniff, the tears that had welled up in his eyes fell down his cheeks.

It was a couple of days later when Peter finally got the courage to go see Gwen, despite the fact that she had wanted him to stay away from her. A nurse came by, calling for Peter in the hospital's waiting room. He followed the nurse and tentatively peeked into the recovery room and stepped inside.

The small room was lit with sun coming in from the clear window, falling on the white bed were Gwen lay, pale and white, against the standard sheets and blankets. Peter registered a beeping, and noticed the wire and tubes sticking out of her arms, which looked smaller under the blue and white hospital clothes. He saw her heart rate, steady and paced, against a screen, and she stirred slightly.

He held a fist to his mouth and stepped closer. Her bag was gone. Her mother probably took it. Without it, the room looked devoid of her personality, her brightness, leaving only white in her wake.

Closing the door and grabbing one of the seats, he drew the chair closer to her so that he was sitting by her side. She had a bandage wrapped around her head, and Peter could see the thickness of the bandage around her waist.

He shouldn't be here. She wanted away from him, didn't she? But he couldn't leave her, not after what happened. Knowing that he could have prevented it, that he was within range and that he was freaking Spider-Man and should have whipped out of the shop as soon as possible hit him again, and he didn't think he could ever apologize himself for it.

"This is my fault," he whispered. He straightened suddenly, though, when she opened her eyes slowly, grimacing at the pain, and she found and focused on him.

She frowned slightly, pain pulling at her every move, but she made out, "Peter?"

"Hey," he said, looking sheepish.

"You came down here," Gwen said. She gulped and winced as she moved her arm in an attempt to sit up.

"Don't—don't do that," Peter said quickly. Gwen nodded and fell back. He nodded and said, "How do you feel?"

"Well, I got hit by a car, operated on, bandaged because of my ribs and a head wound, and now I'm talking to the nicest boy I know that I'm trying to stay away from," Gwen said, though not too sarcastically. Her voice was soft, as if she didn't know what to say, and didn't want to cause more pain in her. She met his eyes. "I don't know."

"Well, you're going to be okay," Peter said.

"They took out my spleen."

"Yeah, well, it can be kind of replaced, though it'd be nice to have it."

"Exactly!" said Gwen. They both let out a tiny laugh, making Gwen suck in a breath and turn back to settle her head into her pillow.

Peter didn't know what to say to make her feel better; seeing her like that, looking off into space, it hurt him. She had been through a lot in the past month or so, through so much pain and lost, and he just wished he could take the pain away, but he wasn't able to do that. He wasn't a miracle worker. He was just a teenaged kid in spandex with homemade web shooters and a broken heart.

Gulping back whatever tears he had, he slowly reached out and grasped her hand. Once so quick and deft, it felt light in his hand, though it still felt like her. She turned her head slowly to face him, and he felt another tear of pain when he saw a faint tear in her eye.

"You're not going to leave me alone, are you?" she whispered.

He shook his head.

She squeezed his hand.

School was torture the next day. It was hard to think that life went on as usual while Peter was in his own torn up world. He was late, having slept in after staying up until 4 doing homework. His teacher threw him a look and he nearly got detention for mouthing off one of the football players who was bullying one of the younger teens. He looked at the ground when the teachers mentioned that Gwen was gone due to being in an accident, and felt the looks of several fall on his neck, for they had seen the two of them hanging out together. He ignored them. He slung his knapsack on his shoulder and didn't look anyone in the eye as he passed through the halls and went off toward his home.

Aunt May looked concerned as he came in through the back door.

"Any news?" he asked, slipping his knapsack on one of the kitchen chairs.

Aunt May shook her head, standing next to the stove, stirring a pot of tomato sauce. "There's nothing new. No news is good news, though."

Peter nodded, kissed his aunt on the cheek, grabbed a soda, and said, bounding up the stairs, "I'm going to go do homework."

Aunt May watched after him, but then turned back to see his knapsack still looking limp on the chair.

Peter quickly flicked his radio on, closing the door as he settled into his desk chair. He instantly adjusted the radio and searched for NYPD on the Internet, looking at the newest news stories. Last night he had stayed at the top of the Empire State Building, watching, feeling, getting to be away by himself. It had rained, and his costume stuck even closer to him.

There was nothing but the usual buzz of a small theft in a mall where the thief, a teenaged girl, was arrested. Peter waited half an hour, forty-five minutes, and then finally reached over and grabbed a hoodie. Tugging it on as he headed downstairs, he called, "Aunt May?"

"Yes, Peter?"

"When are we eating?" he asked as he came into the kitchen.

She looked up from where she was assembling a lasagna. "An hour, probably."

"I am going to go see Gwen," Peter said slowly, looking to Aunt May for a reaction, see if she could somehow tell him if this was the right thing to do or not.

Aunt May smiled faintly and patted his shoulder. "Go to her, Peter."

A weight fell off of his shoulder and he nodded and said, "I'll be back for dinner." He dashed to the back door and grabbed his skateboard, which was against the wall.

"All right, Peter," Aunt May said. He turned to her, skateboard in his hand, and said quietly, "Thanks." She smiled and nodded, and letting out a breath, he rushed out of the house.

Gwen was sleeping quietly in her hospital room, the sound of her heart monitor calming her. On a table next to her was two unwrapped gifts; a radio that played soft music and a packet of cookies. Her family had stopped by, and she had asked her mother to drop off her notebook, which sat next to the gifts.

She stirred, though, when she heard a soft knock on the door. Her eyes opened and she said hoarsely, "Come in."

She winced and coughed slightly as a nurse came in, holding the doorknob still. "Miss Stacy, you have a visitor."

"Who?" Gwen asked.

Peter peeked his head over the nurse's shoulder and waved.

Gwen felt herself smiling at seeing his face. "Let him in."

The nurse let him in and then closed the door behind him. Peter took off his hood and said, "Hey."

"Hey there, you," Gwen said, and despite what she had said in the coffee shop, his presence was comforting. She waved over and said, "Take a seat."

"The pain awfully bad?" he said as he sank into the proffered chair.

"I've got painkillers and IV. That'll help," she said, letting out a breath. "What brings you here, Parker?"

"Here," he said, and he held out a small package. It was a little box filled with chocolates. Gwen smiled, her smile faint against her face, and meeting Peter's eyes and taking in his delighted face, said, "Thank you."

"Not enough to build a chocolate house, though," Peter said, placing it next to the radio playing classical music.

"I've given up on that endeavor," Gwen said, almost cheekily.

"You could have made one if you tried. I would have helped," Peter said, grinning.

Gwen shook her head quietly. "Did you come here, Peter, to build a chocolate house with me? With inadequate supplies, too?"

"I—I don't think I needed a reason to come visit you," Peter said quietly, his voice turning to concerned. "I just came around to see how you were doing."

"And there's no New York that needs saving?" Gwen said.

Peter looked at her a moment, taking in the ruffled bangs on her forehead and the slight bags under her eyes. He quickly shook his head. "Not now."

"You mean there's actual criminals out there but you're ignoring to come see me or—?" she said.

He shook his head, smiling. "No, no, I actually mean there's nothing on the police scanner—"

"Oh, good—"


"Wait, you listen to the police scanner?"

He gulped. "Um . . ."

"Since when have you started doing that?"

She was going to kill him. She didn't care nor did it matter that she was in a hospital bed, strapped to it, practically, she was going to get up and kill him.

"Um," Peter said quietly, scratching the back of his neck. He looked to meet her eyes and whispered, "Couple of weeks ago?"

"'Couple of weeks?' Peter Parker," Gwen said.

"Picked a peck of pickled peppers," Peter said, trying to appeal to her humorous side so that she might have mercy and make the murder painless.

"Don't do that," she said.

"Okay. The pickled peppers or—?"

"Well, both, I guess. I mean, with you being a superhero, I guess you need to keep an eye on the criminal activity," she said resignedly.

"Yeah," Peter said. Even though her dad had not shot him and had called for everyone else out to not shoot him, he knew that the police were still not too friendly to him at all and weren't just about to keep him updated with who did what and where. The police scanner was the only way to keep an eye on things while he was doing homework or trying to sleep or have a life.

She said quietly, "Made any enemies lately?"

"Not yet," he said quietly. He looked to her and said, "But, knowing this city, Dr. Connors won't just be the only threat."

"But, you have made enemies. You didn't just get those bruises by skateboarding, have you?" Gwen said, cocking her head, smiling slightly. He was too easy to read sometimes. She was able to creep in and see under the shell and walls he had.

"Well, a couple," Peter said, shrugging. Gwen didn't let it go and stared at him. He shrugged and said, "I've looked around, catching sight of people. Not too many are my enemies, per say, but I definitely don't think they like me!" He smiled and then looked away to the ground, the smile slowly fading. He had never told Gwen or even Aunt May who he was looking for out in the streets. The long, blonde-haired man with the star tattoo on his left wrist. Uncle Ben's killer.

He often went out at nights, telling Aunt May he was going for a walk or a ride with his skateboard. He'd discard his clothes and hide them in a dumpster in an alley where there was no gangs, and then he'd go webbing, swinging through the loud streets of New York, heading out to where the police scanner said there was robberies. Robberies, like the one the man had performed the night Uncle Ben died. Peter didn't know if the man did other crimes, but he knew he stole. So that was the direction he headed in.

He scavenged alleyways, arrived at grocery store robberies, and he didn't find him. Still, he was there, and so he strung up the thieves using his web shooters. It was actually kind of fun. It was like cat and mouse, and the cat always won out. Or, in this case, spider and fly.

He straightened and cleared his throat when he felt her looking at him. "Peter," she said quietly, "don't get hurt, or try not to, okay?"

He looked up to meet her eyes. "I can't promise anything."

Gwen sighed and leaned back into her blankets. She whispered, "And that's why we can't make this work."

Peter could only look at the ground, absorbing her words and knowing that she was right.

And still, despite her words and the words of Captain Stacy's wish echoing in his ears, Peter visited her. Everyday during her week-long hospital stay, he'd rush home from a long and tearing day at school, kiss Aunt May on the cheek, grab a soda, and head upstairs, leaving his aunt to sigh quietly. He'd change and dump his homework on his desk to do later while listening to the police scanner, and then he'd rush out with his skateboard to St. James's.

Sometimes, he'd met Mrs. Stacy there with the boys. She was always nice to him, and he'd just stand there awkwardly, looking tentative as he smiled nervously. Gwen always found this amusing, since they always met in her hospital room.

And while she found him amusing, she found that he made her sigh with his persistence, and this in turn made her feel appreciated, and so she'd smile while he visited her. And their visits were enjoyable. Despite the fact that Peter Parker was the most awkward human being in the entire world, he managed to have conversations with Gwen. And since she was Gwen Stacy, she was able to talk to him about everything, making him smile, except, of course, when they talked in whispered conversations about Spider-Man. That made Peter clear his throat a lot and look up to face her, for he was always looking at the floor when he talked about it, asking himself if he should tell her about his personal vendetta.

But he didn't, because not only was it a secret he didn't want to spill, but also because he didn't want to pain Gwen. She was starting to walk around a bit, and sometimes doing his visits, he'd have to wait outside the hospital room when a nurse came around with medicines that needed to be poked everywhere in her. He'd lean against the wall next to the door, gulping and trying not to think about how much pain she was in. She never complained or let on or anything, but sometimes he'd see her grimace or bite her lip, and not in the adorable or flirty way either.

He'd also bring her her schoolbooks so she wouldn't fall behind or get bored.

"Like I have anything else to do," she said as she flipped open one of her history books.

Peter could only nod at that, and so he was only mildly surprised (but surprised nevertheless) when he came around the next afternoon and came upon Flash Thompson shaking Gwen's hand, his other hand holding his schoolbooks. Both turned to see Peter in the doorway, and Flash gave him an acknowledging nod.

Peter instantly saw the schoolbooks, and remembering what Gwen had once said about tutoring, said teasingly, "Still need help, Flash?"

"Hey, I'm working on it, Parker," Flash said, though he didn't sound too annoyed. He nodded to Gwen and letting go of her hand, left, both hands holding his schoolbooks.

Peter turned back to Gwen, who was gathering her books together.

"Hey," he said.

"Hey yourself," she said.

Peter pointed behind him. "How's it going with him?"

"Well, considering he's probably getting into college on a sports scholarship, he's not doing too bad," she said.

Peter couldn't help himself. "What's he the worst at?"

"That's confidential, Parker," Gwen said with a smile.

"I see," he said as he took his seat.

"Guess what?" Gwen said, looking cheerful as she straightened. "I'm getting out of here."

Peter let out a sigh of relief, saying, "Wow. When?"

"Tomorrow. Isn't that great? I'll be staying home for a week, getting my strength back and all that. Still, can't say that I'm complaining." Her face looked brightened, and she gave him a big smile as she leaned back against her pillows.

Peter nodded and looked down. While he was happy, more happy than anything to get her out of this place and back to her apartment to heal, he felt a pain in his chest. Would she let him visit her there? She had allowed him this, but she had practically set an ultimatum at the coffee shop. And he didn't know if either of them were still behind that decision. And he needed to discuss it with her, but he didn't want to. He wanted to see her bright smile everyday, revel in her presence, see her light up about things she was talking about, to see her talk and be alive and acknowledge him.

He looked up to meet her eyes, and she tilted her head, looking concerned.

"What?" she said.

"What? Nothing," Peter said, shaking his head.

"No, there's something, and you're not telling me what it is. And THAT'S scaring me, Peter," Gwen said sternly. And despite the fact that she had needles in her arms and bandages all around her body, she looked fiercer than Peter had ever seen her.

He shrugged, not sure what to say that wouldn't make her even angrier than she was right now.

"Peter, please."

"Will I get to see you again, or—or will I have to avoid you, again?" he said quietly, looking up.

Gwen looked a little stunned. She opened her mouth to speak, but no words came out.

"'Cause, I'm—I'm not going to lie," Peter said, straightening his shoulders. He gulped but continued slowly, "I've enjoyed visiting with you, and I—I like being with you—gosh, I—I love being with you, Gwen."

"I know you do, Peter, and I've—I've liked being with you too—"

"See? This—this is why—"

"I know—"

"—this is so hard—"

"But Peter—"

"I—I can try but I don't think—"

"Peter, we're not honoring my dead father's wish," Gwen said loudly, overwhelming Peter's weak arguing response.

He bit his lip and met her eyes, and she said, "And . . . we're just going in circles. And we need to stop, like, REALLY stop." One of her fingers darted up to wipe at her eyes and sucking in a breath, she said, "Peter."

He shook his head and standing up straight, shifted slightly, looking away from her eyes. She looked up, trying to see his eyes, see if she could see what he was thinking, when he said, facing her, "All right, then. We-we've got to go our separate ways. And-and I respect that we—we need to keep your father's wish. So, um, Gwen"—he let out a breath, and looked regretful—"goodbye. Good—goodbye, Gwen."

He crossed the room and grabbed his skateboard. Holding it to his side, he opened the door, ready to walk out, when he heard Gwen say, "Peter."

He gulped slightly, and the run of adrenaline he was moving on to get out of her presence ran out, and her soothing voice made him turn his head slightly.

She looked even more frail against the white bed, but her voice, despite quavering slightly, sounded like her usual firm voice. "Goodbye, Peter."

He nodded slightly, and taking in a breath, turned back and closed the door behind him with nary a sound.

The next day, the absolutely terrifying doorman to Gwen's apartment building kindly opened the door as the two youngest Stacy boys darted inside the lobby. They turned to watch as Mrs. Stacy, carrying Gwen's bags, got out of the cab along with Gwen, who was supported by her oldest younger brother Howard. Gwen looked a mite better without looking like she was dying in that bed, and looked rather relieved to be back in the loud, horn-honking, fast city.

She looked around, taking in the mess she had somehow missed for the last week or so, taking in the looks of the skyscrapers and dozens of taxis.

"Nothing much has changed, has it?" Gwen said.

"No, not much," her mother said.

"Well, I can live with that," Gwen said, and she was about to turn to enter the apartment building when she spotted something out of the corner of her eye. She instantly told her brother to stop, and she craned her neck, and she spotted it again. It was a speck, something sticking to a string, flying through the air. And she knew who it was. And there was nothing she could say. That boy . . . to say the least, was devote.

He landed on top of the apartment building, and Gwen smiled. He probably had an idea of trying to be subtle. He failed miserably in doing so, for Howard immediately pointed up to him, "Hey, look, it's Spider-Man!"

Gwen nodded slowly, and Peter looked to her, and she could feel him looking at her through the thin spandex mask.

"Yeah, there he is," she said quietly.

"He was there with Dad, wasn't he?" Howard asked.

"Yeah." Gwen said. She took a deep breath, and said knowingly, looking directly back at Peter, "Sometimes, you just can't get rid of him."

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