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Becoming Hope

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She is falling, and she has faith. Gwen Stacy has always had a maddening amount of faith, not in Spider Man, but in Peter Parker. Though she is falling, and she is falling fast, with the concrete below rapidly approaching, she isn’t afraid. Because it has yet to occur to her that she might actually hit the ground. It feels like a thousand times she’s fallen, and a thousand times, Peter has caught her.

But the ground is close and he seems so far, so she closes her eyes and she prays—Gwen has never really believed in any God. She believes there might be a God, some being beyond their comprehension that played a part in how their lives turned out, but she was too rational to fully accept one without proof that such a being was there. But she prays anyway, to their universe itself, to her father who protected her above all else—and maybe to Peter, because for the moment, she cannot call out to him, the fall has stripped the air from her lungs, but she feels familiar arms encircle her and her entire body breathes a sigh of relief.

The ground is still too close though, but her eyes are still shut and she doesn’t see it coming, because the moment he had grabbed her, safety had been the only thing in her mind—he always saved her. Everything would be fine now, she believed that with every fibre of her being. Well, she did, until she hit the ground anyway, with his body wrapped around her, cushioning the fall, turning it from one of death to one of mere pain. Pain was not unfamiliar now. Nor was loss.

That would be important soon.

The shock of it forces her eyes open, and his arms slip from their familiar place around her, falling limp at his sides. So many times she’s seen him injured—hurt beyond belief, broken beyond what any person could reasonably or logically handle, she has seen him beat death time and time again.  He has danced across the palm of the Grim Reaper and walked away. She’s stitched him up, cleaned blood off his face, set bones for him. Peter always makes it. He limps for a few days, and Aunt May is worried, and Gwen helps lie to her about what happened—pretending her graceful boy is a complete clutz and it works.

But there is no groan of pain or witty remark about how much it hurts. There’s not even a scream. She pulls off his mask and his eyes are open wide and staring up at her, his chest is not moving, his body is warm but some rational part of her tells her that will not last. And then she notices the blood pooling behind his head and it all becomes painfully clear to her.

The sound that escapes the lips of the poised girl known as Gwen Stacy might sound animalistic, horrifying and twisted to those that don’t understand. But for those who do, it is the most humane sound a person could ever make, a shrill, blood curdling scream of utter agony and grief. She cradles his face in her hands and she begs. If there was a God, he could prove himself to her now, make her the greatest of believers, the strongest. All he had to do was provide one small miracle.

“Peter? Peter, no, Peter please. Wake up, c’mon, just walk it off, you always do. Peter. Peter!” She screams and she cries and she begs and she pleads, and eventually someone is trying to drag her away from his body—eventually someone sees her own personal tragedy unfolding in front of her and tries to remove her from it, but somehow that is worse. So she clings to his lifeless form and she sobs in a way that shakes her entire body, running her hands through his hair like she has done a million times before. And everything hurts. Her life is turning into waves of grief, dealing with one loss after another, trying to breathe, struggling to maintain whatever it was that held her together and it wasn’t fair.

How dare he leave her alone. After all those promises. After the promise of their shared path—of the life they’d have on the other side of the world away from all the ghosts that were haunting them. How dare he make her all those beautiful promises of a beautiful life together and then just abandon her like this.

They take her to the hospital where she’s treated for shock, and her mother turns up soon after she arrives, but Gwen seems to have checked out of her own head. By morning the entire city will know what happened—they will know who was under the mask that protected them, gave them hope, and they will not care.

The city didn’t know Peter Parker, but she did.

Three days and there’s a funeral. Aunt May is falling apart at the seams, but does a good job of hiding it. She’s the kind of woman who allows herself to cry in public without shame. Gwen likes to think her grief is private, but she is unable to control herself. She bawls her eyes out in front of the entire city—all of which turned out to mourn Spider Man, while Gwen mourns Peter Parker.

People offer their condolences—strangers she’s never met, treating her like a widow. Is that what she’s to be now? The world will forever know her as the would-be widow of the great Spider Man? It angers her for so many reasons. She is not, and never will be, defined by Spider Man. She is the girl who loved Peter, the girl who lost Peter, and the girl who will remember Peter.

But in the numbers that attend the service alone, it becomes clear that the world did not need Peter, it needed the mask he wore to protect them. The city, the world, needed Spider Man. It needed the hope he provided, the goodness that flowed through every part of his being. They need to feel safe, and he is not there anymore to provide that.

She likes to think that if all of New York had known Peter Parker, they’d have mourned him too. That they would have known him well enough to say something other than “He was too young” about his passing. They would talk of his intelligence, his bravery, his kindness, his compassion, his overwhelming capacity for goodness, they would speak of his big brown doe eyes and his dimples. But the world doesn’t need Peter.

She knows exactly what the world needs.

Gwen’s patched up Peter and his equipment often enough to know exactly how it all works. And so she sets to work, still wearing the black dress that she wore to the funeral—still covered in the apologies of hundreds of New Yorkers treating her as Spider Man’s widow. She’s no designer, but she knows well enough. His suit was built for him, perfectly for him, and she doesn’t think she could wear it if she wanted to.

So she makes her own, she learns to strap the web shooters to her wrists, she uses all she knows from Oscorp to make up for the abilities he had that she never could.

Her greatest wish will be answered, and she will become hope, because he is no longer there to. And she can see the headlines now.