The echoing shrieks of pain still rang endlessly in his ears even after his eyes were open, wide, glassy with unshed tears.
He could still feel the crushing weight of steel tonnes and of shattered glass, he felt the water soaking into his clothing faster than he could bring his head above water.
A sigh, somewhere between a moaning sob and a whimper in agony.
The fifteen-year-old sat, shaking, on the roof of a high-rise building somewhere in the busy heart of Queens. His eyes were horribly dark, the bags aging him far beyond his years.
Another shuddery sigh.
The memories won't stop replaying like broken discs in his mind's eye. The ferry, the water, the building--
He closes his eyes for a few moments, the desperate urge to get some rest taking control for a split-second, before he's falling, falling, falling--
His mouth opens in a sharp gasp and his eyes fly wide open, right as he falls on his sore back to the gravelly top of the flat roof.
A choked sob.
That's what got him into it, wasn't it?
"If you're nothing without the suit, then you shouldn't have it." Mr. Stark's past words burned through him like white-hot acid, eating at the agonizing pang of his heart against his chest.
Trembling fingers tried to grip onto some part, any part, of his body. Yanking at hair, clutching at ribs, gripping knees -- it's ironic, really, that he's the one with the problem, that he needs to tell himself to toughen up, when even Mr. Stark seems to have everything in his life altogether at once.
Haunted coffee-brown eyes, without much of the energy that their owner usually exuded -- hell, without much of anything, really. Nothing but the ghosts taunting, jeering at him out of the corners of his vision.
He glances up at where the moon would be shining softly in the sky and instead sees only the faintest sliver of light painting the sky a lighter hue. Instead, all he sees is darkness and hundreds of tiny pinpricks in an ocean of black.
He promised himself that he would be strong. He promised himself that he would be better. He promised himself that he would be everything that he knew he couldn't be.
Spider-Man was everything he desired to be. Spider-Man was strong. Spider-Man was brave. Spider-Man couldn't be brought down by their date's maniacal father, or by boats, or by buildings.
Spider-Man couldn't be brought to his knees by the overwhelming emptiness that accompanied everyday life now. Spider-Man didn't succumb to a violent cycle of depression, of anxiety, or of wanting to die.
Peter Parker was weak. Spider-Man was strong.
Peter Parker couldn't have saved himself from being molested. Peter Parker couldn't have saved Ben from being murdered in cold blood. Peter Parker couldn't have saved Liz from the petrifying reality that her father could have become a murderer that Homecoming night.
All Peter Parker did was fail.
Everything and everyone he loved always died, or left, or pulled away.
The only question was when.
First, of course, Richard and Mary. His wonderful parents, the family he hadn't gotten a good chance to know before they were cruelly ripped away from his grasp. The only thing he could fully remember was the perfume that his mother had used, and even then it took him years before he fully recognized why that scent was so painfully familiar to him.
Next, Ben. His amazingly-patient uncle, the father figure he never knew that he'd needed until he was taken away, slipping away faster than Peter could hold him close one last time. The boy's agonizing screams still came back to him, almost two years later, in the dead of night when the only thing he begged for was a night without hearing Ben's voice, without feeling his gentle hand guiding him, without the memories.
Possibly, Tony Stark. The man of iron, and by far the best damn thing he'd had in a long time when it came to a mentor. He was unshakable, confident, and with an intellect that he just couldn't help but idolize. Of course, though, he hadn't heard from the man in quite a while, ever since he'd turned down the chance to become an Avenger. Was it his clumsy demeanor? The way he just couldn't go through a simple task without mucking it up? No matter the reason, it hurt almost as much as Ben, and he hadn't even known the man for a year.
And May. Caring, amazing, Aunt May. As much as he hated to admit it, he was just waiting for the first moment that it might seem that the world wanted to take her away from him, too. She was the mother he'd never gotten the chance to know and so much more, and the debilitating guilt of his guardianship thrust upon her still shook him to his core, made him want to beg for forgiveness and disappear from her life before he somehow ruined it even more than he already had.
He was fifteen. Only fifteen. Not quite sixteen.
Right now, sitting in the night, though, he felt as though he were fifty.
The months hadn't been kind to him at all. He still heard Toomes' jeering laughter, he still had that falling sensation, he still felt the bone-crushing weight of the building upon his back, and yet it almost felt good, in a way.
It almost felt like some sort of release; it gave him memories of the reason why he took the brunt of Flash's bullying instead of fighting back - because, deep down, he knew he deserved it. He deserved every harsh word, he deserved every scowl. He deserved the humiliating name of Penis Parker.
He deserved every punch. He deserved every stab wound. He deserved the whaling that the baddies of Queens dished out to him.
All that and more, simply for the crime of existing.
The dried tear tracks on his cheeks felt colder than usual in the wind that tousled his hair in a way not quite unlike the way Ben used to ruffle it up after an afternoon of play.
His cheeks burned when the images came back to his brain; screaming, sobbing, pleading, begging for help, like the pathetic wimp that he was. A pathetic wimp that was nothing without superior technology, nothing without his alter ego.
Peter Parker was nothing without Spider-Man.
And only for tonight, just for tonight, Spider-Man would allow himself to mourn for the boy whose innocence was snatched away before he had even begun to bloom.
Just for tonight, Spider-Man would allow himself to mourn for the boy who never got the chance to be.