Warning! There are spoilers contained in this chapter for the series.
Gwen's mind flies into consciousness like a car hits a wall. Abruptly she realizes she is not dead. But her body weighs heavy. Her limbs do not move, not even her eyelids open. But Gwen's ears slowly absorb the sounds around her; car horns shrieking, children crying, the heavy whoosh of wind. She feels it biting into her bare skin, and the few uncovered parts of her arms dimple with goosebumps. And despite the rapid thud of her heart against her ribcage, Gwen cannot help but wonder: Is this Heaven? This unseeing sensation of flying above the world's troubles? And then laughs in her head about her pretentious metaphysical ponderings.
Yes, Gwen knows she should be more concerned, that this situation is not the least bit normal. The idea that she has given up hope has alarm crawling along the edge of her spine, but she is so removed from it all, as if her soul hovers just above her trapped body. Maybe it is that Peter's voice is so prominent in all the cacophony that keeps her calm. The soft whisperings of: "It's alright, I'm coming for you, don't worry Gwen, don't worry" whirl around her in a continuous, nonsensical loop. And that is when she realizes, with a sickening drop of her stomach, that she is not in the familiar webbed clasp of Spider-Man, but the nails of the hand around her ankle puncture her skin. Her hair does not hang in its customary ponytail, but flows free and pulls her head even farther backwards with its weight.
Gwen now understands that she is upside down, blood pooling to the top of her head. It's a heady rush, reminding her of the first night she had gotten drunk-the night that had brought Peter back to her.
He had told her that he did not want her, that he "couldn't do this anymore," as tears for his absence left tracks down her face. Gwen had been so mad, so impossibly angry at both Peter and her father, the two most important men in her life promising to leave her. And how silly was a promise to a dead man, she had fumed, when he's not alive to know the difference. It was so easy to hide her pain in her fury, to blame Peter for the emotions she could no longer control. It was also easy to call Flash and ask him where the next party was. He happily gave her the address, quietly saying how brave she was. All of it made her sick, the pity leaving a sour taste in the back of her throat. So she drowned that, and everything else, in a bottle of vodka the size of her face. But even 90 proof liquor could not erase the pain of the last few weeks. Gwen just became more sullen, though certainly more irresponsible. She held onto the railing of her fire escape and tipped half her body forward until she balanced like a human teeter-totter. Then she screamed. And screamed, and screamed, and screamed until her voice gave out and all she could make was a hollow whine. That's how Spider-Man found her, tears dripping to the pavement way below, only her tiptoes grazing the iron landing.
"G-Gwen? What the hell are you doing?"
"Like you care." Okay, so maybe that was the vodka talking. But the folding of the mask over his too-large eye-lenses, like he was hurt, really pissed her off. He had no right to be offended, no right to even be there. "What do you want Bug Boy?"
"I was worried about you." He rarely stammered in the mask, suffused with hero confidence.
"How sweet." She leaned farther forward, placing her weight in her hands, letting her hair fall in front of her face. Gwen did not want him to see her cry anymore. She had been strong for her family and stoic in front of her friends, she could certainly keep it together around him. At least, she could certainly hide how much he still affected her.
"Can you please get down from there?"
"No thanks, I prefer this view to the one behind me."
"Come on, Gwen, this isn't funny anymore."
"I'm not here for your entertainment, Peter." The word play was getting on her nerves, though more likely it was his proximity. She could the heat of his breathe when he huffed in frustration.
"Don't touch me!" Her body whipped around, arms lashing down on his hands that had grabbed her hips. But he was like steel, his grip unbreaking. So now they were nose to mask, her hands resting on his spandexed forearms. It was too intimate, too familiar, and yet too foreign after all these weeks apart.
"I swear I never-"
"I don't want your promises, Peter." With that, he released her, lowering her bare feet onto the cold metal. Gwen normally would have shivered, have pressed closer to him out of instinct, but the part of her that still yearned for his touch was denied by her more logical hurt.
"I miss you."
"Please. Please don't say that to me. I can't-Oh god" Gwen choked on her own voice and covered her face with her hands.
"I can't stand to see you like this. To know that I haven't even tried to give you the comfort you gave me when Uncle Ben died. Gwen, I am so, so sorry. And I know that no apology can ever make up for what I did, but I can't stand this anymore."
She didn't even look up at him, refused to lower her hands or raise her head. Her heart punched her angrily, telling her to trust what she so desperately wanted to believe.
"It would have been so simple, you know. But you broke my heart. And not when you left, but when you gave me hope that this was all over and then nothing changed. 'But those are the best kind' broke my heart, Peter. I thought that your guilt was over, that we could be together. But you just walked away and pretended that it never happened-that I didn't exist. And out of everything, that's the worst. It might be selfish, but I hated that you both felt I didn't matter. You two made a decision without even consulting me, not really thinking of me. And no matter what I said or did, I was just...inconsequential."
His hands were overheated, a little sweaty and sticky, as they pulled on her fingers. Gwen resisted, but Peter persisted until she was staring into his dark lenses.
"That's not fair, you know. You get to wear a real mask part of the time. I have to work so hard to hold together, and then everything just unravels in front of you. You make so angry." Gwen's voice held no heat, only exhaustion.
"Not to be cheesy, but you're the only one who knows everything about me too." He let Gwen pull at the edge of his mask, and then off his face, revealing a wry smile.
"You're not allowed to make me laugh right now." But the corners of her mouth quirked up, and her eyes were less guarded than before.
"You don't make staying away from you easy, Gwen."
And with that he closed the small amount of distance between them, laying his lips gently against hers. She was frightened by the kiss's reverential quality, as if he was praying to her for strength. Well she was damn sick of Peter being strong; she wanted him as useless and upset and hormone-addled as she. So she pressed into him, locked her fingers into the messy curls at the nape of his neck with her palms against the underside of his chin, and yanked. Peter fell into her. Together they fought, all teeth and tongue and never satiated hunger. Then he planted small kisses along her neck as his sticky fingers snuck under her button down. She let him cup her breasts, allowed him a single hiss of satisfaction before whipping away. In the seconds Peter took to blink in confusion, Gwen had opened the window to re-enter her room and only turned to snap out:
"And those are the best kind."
But Peter would not let her go. He hustled to the window, pressing upwards on the casing before she could close and lock it. They wrestled for a moment, never breaking narrowed eye contact. But Peter called on his Spidey strength and jammed the window upwards, hitting the top with a clang. Gwen refused to cede ground, not giving Peter space to enter the room. He pressed on, crouching in the open portal before slowly stalking forward. She watched him warily, a prey eyeing its hunter for the moment to run. Peter never gave her the chance to escape, again placing both piano hands on her hips. This time his grip was iron.
"I made the mistake of giving you up once, Gwen. I'm not stupid enough to do it again."
And so despite her multitude of regrets, never going to college, never inventing or discovering something to rock the scientific community, never getting married, never having kids, never growing old with Peter; Gwen,in her prone state, feels unbelievably lucky. She has loved and been loved more than she ever thought possible. And though it is all so cliche, Gwen is no longer frightened of death. She hears the roar of the water as it slams into the side of the bridge (she wonders if it's the Brooklyn. She hopes her family cannot see this), and the screech of the wind as it rushes past her ears. Her stomach is in her throat as she falls, Peter's calls follow her down: "Gwen-No! I'm going to stop you before you hit the water-" His mumbles: "I've got to, I've got to-"
Impossibly, ridiculously, her love swells inside her for this boy who talks to himself and it is enough.
And Gwen knows nothing anymore.
Sorry if there are typos. I was just so happy to finally complete a story!
Thanks to all those who stuck with this story, and to those who reviewed. Much love- RR
Reviews would be very, very appreciated