Ned insists we rebuild the Death Star LEGO model for a fourth time. He reminds me that if we ever want to build it without the instructions, we need to continuously reconstruct it until it’s engraved in our memory. It’s easy to just agree, so that’s what happens. Two hours pass and we’ve only got fifty more pieces to put together. I can’t say I’m excited about taking it apart and building it again.
May comes in with a plate of fresh, hot pizza rolls and asks if I want any sour cream; she knows I love the combination.
I decline politely, without even thinking.
Ned nibbles away at the rolls, barely noticing how slowly they fade away without my help devouring them. If he notices at all, he doesn’t mention it. He’s far to focused on the plastic pieces to worry. I don’t blame him.
It’s normal. As normal as ‘normal’ could be, now-a-days. The days pass slowly, but nonetheless, they pass and soon the morning sun sets into blissful, horrifying darkness. The red of the sky in the morning and in the evening is sickeningly similar to that of the sky on Titan, though I try not to notice it. The darkness is far worse, though- far worse than the red. The darkness is dirt under my finger nails, tears in my eyes and my heart shattering. It’s shaking voices and a bright, warm light dimming into nothing.
Darkness is dark, ironically.
I avoid looking at the Iron Man poster taped to my wall.
“Hey, do you have... uh... 4A?” Ned asks with a raised eyebrow as he searches through the piled of legos.
I glance around. “No, I don’t think so.”
”Oof. Check under your butt, we can’t lose it! That piece finishes off the...” He drones on for far to long. I lift my body up and look where I was sitting, but nothing’s there. I frown at Ned, shaking my head. His frown somehow breaks my heart further. “Ugh. Okay, we’ll look for it later. Pizza roll?”
Ned shrugs and pops the pastry in his mouth, crunching softly and smiling at the taste. I glance at the poster- I re-read the motivational quote plastered on the paper a million times. Iron Man will always be there, I try to remind myself. Just like it says on the poster. He’s always gonna be there.
”No problem, man. So, have you heard about Mj?”
My frown deepens. What about Michelle? I hope she was okay, I had barely heard from her since we were allowed back to school.
“No.” I mutter, acting as if I wasn’t interested. I just wish she was okay. “What about her?”
Ned looks as if he doesn’t want to say it. Like he regrets even bringing it up. I’m sure he does, as his lips form a thin line and his eyebrows dip down in the middle and straighten on the outside. His eyes look wide, glassy. His eyes hold the single phrase, ‘I’m sorry’.
“Her and Brad are together. Everyone’s saying they’re the cutest couple in the tenth grade.”
As if I care.
I was dead for five years. I fought against Thanos- the Mad Titan- twice, felt every cell in my body being ripped apart, watched someone I loved die in front of me for the second time. The second time I could have saved someone and didn’t. I could have- should have done something. Mr. Stark would still be alive if I had done something.
Maybe. Maybe this is all my fault. Maybe this is what I deserve.
“Mm. Good for them.”
”Yeah, but, I just though you’d be more, like, I don’t know. I thought you’d care. You were kinda obsessed with her.” I shake my head, no. I don’t care. That’s the truth. “Oh. Hey, are you sure you’re okay? Like, dude, I’m being serious. Are you okay?”
No, I’m not okay, please don’t leave me like everyone else. Don’t say goodbye so soon, we just got back. He’s dead and it’s my fault, Tony’s dead and I don’t deserve to be the one who lived. I’m not okay, I won’t ever be okay.
“Yes,” I smile. It’s watery and not very convincing, but it’s something. “I’m fine, Ned. Just a little tired, man, now come on. Let’s finish this set!”
A smile comes back to Ned’s face and everything is right as rain once more. We don’t find piece 4A. Ned doesn’t, at least. I can see the piece laying isolated under my bed, taunting me. My mind is telling me to grab it, to complete the model. My heart tells me there’s something pleasing about having a gaping hole at the top of the ship.
Something’s missing, and it won’t ever be replaced.
“You think Betty will say ‘yes’ to going to homecoming with me this year?” It’s crazy that after all of this, all Ned can think about- of all things- is homecoming. The word alone sends a shiver down my spine. I don’t know how to answer him as, I don’t believe Betty will accept his invitation. She’s too refined, too preppy, despite Ned being a real nice guy. “I think I’ll ask her once we get back to school.”
I nod with a jerk, smiling as best as I could.
“She will. And if she isn’t, then, she’s just... just stupid.”
Ned smiles softly and looks me up and down, his eyes following my hand as I stick two pieces together tighter. Looking at his dimples, I make a silly face to keep the happy moment together. Ned only stares, almost as if he’s unable to move. I meet his eyes and my mouth forms a grim frown.
We stay like that for another hour.
Ned leaves after dinner and finally, I’m left alone in the confines of my room. School starts up again after the weekend, but I have no intentions of going. I have enough absences to give me detention everyday for the rest of the year; what’s one more? May threatens to take away the suit- take away Spider-Man- but I couldn’t care less. She can have it.
It’s cold in the room. Cold. Like dirt. Like his skin.
Cold like his cheek, the light in his chest as it dimmed from existence. Freezing, like the air that waft around me when I fell to the ground by his side and breathed in the smell of oak trees and expensive cologne from his suit. Like Rhodey’s hand on my shoulder, pulling me away before I was done saying goodbye.
I’m angry at him for doing that- for pulling me away.
A type of anger that was indescribable, a feeling I’ve never experienced before. Who was he to rip me away from Mr. Stark? I hadn’t said goodbye, I hadn’t said how much I love him, how thankful I was to...
I wanted to tell him that I would miss him. I’d miss the nights when it got so quiet, or far to loud, in the dead of night and I would call him because I was scared of what would happen if I didn’t. He’d know how I wouldn’t be able to hear the word ‘kid’ without freaking the hell out, and realize that he couldn’t just leave me. He’d realize how broken I’d become; he knew about Ben. He knew about how I felt after Ben, the guilt I felt.
I could have saved him. I was smart enough to think of something in time.
Or... maybe I wasn’t. That’s why I’ve been damned to spend the rest of my life in total and utter darkness and misery. That makes more sense.
Ned and I rebuild the Death Star the next day and he’s able to build half of it without glancing at the instructions. He grins from ear to ear and shakes my shoulders furiously. I smile back and congratulate him, though by the look on his face, I can tell my smile doesn’t quite reach my eyes.
I throw away the last piece so we can never find it.
Sometimes, in the middle of the night, I'll escape to the kitchen and silently make a cup of coffee, knowing that if I wake May, I won't see the light of day ever again. Tonight is one of those nights. The curdling sound of the coffee maker roars to life, but I know May sleeps way to deep to hear the sound from her room. I don't worry much now-a-days. That may be a lie I'm telling myself, considering my anxiety is constantly battling for ground between my depression. I rather not even call it that. Who am I to be diagnosed with depression when there's so many people struggling more than I am? I lost a few people, big whoop! I'm grieving, I tell May. She doesn't believe me, neither does my doctor, to an extant. Grief is different from depression, he tried to tell me. I beg to differ, I don't have depression, obviously, because I'm fine without taking my medication- I am! I am. The coffee maker jitters to a halt as fresh coffee drips into the mug, the smell sending me wild for caffeine. Anything to keep me up. Every time I close my eyes, even to blink, it's him, staring at me. Staring with those wide brown eyes and- and... I hate myself.
I drink my coffee black at the dining room table, and cry. I cry so much so, my coffee tastes salty and I'm actually worried May will wake up.
The next day comes around and for once, I’m happy to see the red glow of the sun rising. It’s an improvement from the overwhelming, surrounding darkness of the night. The sun doesn’t shine for long, because by the time I go head out, clouds have gathered throughout the sky and the soft pitter-patter of rain can be heard on my bedroom window. It’s the same everyday, mostly. I appreciate the routine, the simplicity.
Only, today didn’t stick to the routine. When May stops me from leaving this morning, all I want to do is throw up. She makes me nervous now. I’ve lost everyone else, so logically, she’s next.
“Peter, baby, can we talk for a second?”
I nod, my mouth unable to form words as I retreat from the door and find my way walking back to the kitchen. I expect a short chat from across the bar stools, however, May moves from the window opening to the living room and sits at the dining room table, gesturing for me to sit. My hands shake. I gulp and sit down across from her. My legs shake the table.
May smiles, briefly, but the sweet smile falls into a frown before long. “Are you and Ned okay? I don’t know, it just seemed a little... awkward yesterday.”
I give her a smile. She gives me the same look as Ned did and that’s when I realize that maybe, my smile never actually meant anything to them. “No, we’re fine. It’s just hard for us to act normal after everything’s that’s- uh- happened.”
It’s not a lie, mostly. Though, Ned was actually getting along fine. I was the one with problems- I’m the problem here. I always have been and this is only proof. He should drop me, I'm only dead weight at this point- a burden for him to haul around. A sack of dirty potatoes meant to be thrown out and never seen again. I don't want friends anyways. I only want to be alone (there's less pain in that).
“That’s understandable. You’ve been through a lot, haven’t you, baby?”
More than she’ll ever know. I used to think super healing was a blessing- something that made me more confident in myself. That was a lie. Standing there on Titan and feeling every cell of my body being ripped apart and put back together (in vain) was something out of a horror movie. Torture.
But nothing hurt more than watching Tony’s face turn flaccid, his body nothing more than a host for dirt and dust. Watching the arc reactor burn out into complete darkness. I hate the dark.
Tony made me a replica of his arc reactor (it shined just as brilliant as the real thing) and I plugged it into the outlet on the wall right by my bed. Sometimes, in the darkness, I’ll reach my hand down to the glowing night-light and run my fingers over the glass. It’s warm, but the light it gives off is cool and refreshing. Warm little butterflies sprout in my stomach when I see the real thing. I cry when I see the replica. But it makes the room bright enough to walk around in at night, so I do. I wonder around, stubbing my toes on various things without care, knowing they’ll heal within minutes. Maybe I liked stubbing my toe. It distracts me from the emptiness inside and that blasted arc reactor.
“Yes,” I mutter. She has no idea.
She looks just about ready to burst into tears. “Oh, my poor baby! Why don’t you take the day off? You look like you need it.”
Something inside me tells me I shouldn’t accept the offer. School was more important than anything I was dealing with, I couldn’t be selfish. Other people have it worse. Maybe I really should just get over myself. The other part of me says I will regret leaving the apartment today, the trek to school is too long, sitting in seven classes will make me bored, the scent in the cafeteria will make me nauseous. It’ll be difficult to make conversation. It’s not worth it. Nothing is.
“Okay,” I exhale, wishing I hadn't gotten out of bed at all this morning. “Okay, I’ll stay home.”
May smiles, making everything bright for a moment, before the moment descends into darkness. Darkness.
“Great! I made you some brownies, baby. Hopefully they aren’t too burnt, I took them out a minute or two late. I restocked your stash of gummy worms too, so take as much as you want. I have work tonight but we can spend the whole day together! Oh, it’ll be great, sweetie.”
My heart hurts. I can’t say no, no matter how much I want to be alone and wallow in darkness (so dark), I can’t say no to a face like that.
“Y-Yeah, sounds great, Aunt May.”
She rises, I stay put. Scrambling over, she plants a wet kiss on the crown of my head, he lips staying there for a moment. I lean into her thin body, relishing in the warmth she releases. I want to hold back my tears, I do, I swear. But there’s not much to do when the flood gates open and tears began to cascade from my eyes with no signs of stopping. May’s hand comes to pet down my overgrown hair and down the nape of my neck. Don’t cry, I scream at myself. There’s no answer.
“Peter?” I barely hear her sweet voice ring out. My cries turn to sobs. “Peter?!”
I refuse to answer. My arms, thin and vacant of any muscle or fat from weeks of starving myself, come to wrap around her waist as I shove my face into her flat stomach. Not worth it, I remind myself. I’m not worth anything. I don’t know what to do anymore. It’s empty, all of me- empty.
May goes to say something again, but I beat her to it. “May, prom-promise me you w-wont leave me. Promise.”
”Oh, baby. Peter, I promise. I’m not going anywhere, baby.”
They all said that, they all promised me they wouldn’t leave and they still up and left me alone. I’m starting not to believe them- maybe their promise will never be fulfilled. Maybe I’m destined to be alone forever. I deserve it, I think.
“You c-can’t promise me anything.” I clench my eyes shut, burying my snotty nose into her torso. She doesn’t even flinch. “I miss him.”
Apparently, she comes to a realization. Her body tenses then, the warmth she used to produce suddenly turning cold and unforgiving. She leaned away to look into my eyes, I miss the warmth. It felt good to feel something. May must think I’m pathetic. The fact that I’m still not over Mr. Stark’s death is pathetic. I’m pathetic. May must be tired of me.
“Is that what this is about? Tony?” There’s something about her voice. Patronizing, maybe? Her sweet, silky voice sounds nothing like it usually does, instead it just sounds like my ears have been replaced with cheese graters. I resist the urge to glare at her. She looks shocked, almost, like this hadn’t been what she expected. She didn’t know it was just grief. “You’re depressed about Tony?”
I want to scream.
”Honey, you can’t let this eat at you,” She sighs. This time, I allow myself to send an acute look her way. She retracts her hand from my shoulder, pulling it towards her as if I had burned her fingers. Her lip comes out in an awkward sort of pout. Her eyes hold tears. “Sweetie, I-I didn’t mean it that way. I just meant that maybe you should start thinking of something... else? Maybe? It’s just that, honey, he’s been gone for a while. You have to start worrying about school, college, you’re social life! I just hate seeing you like this.”
”I’m fifteen,” I defend, realizing that whole she was right, there were only a few things that made my life worth living, and Tony was one of them. And now that he’s gone, the will or need to survive is gone. “I don’t need to worry about college or- or my social- am I not allowed to grieve?!”
May cringes. She knows she’s made a mistake. “Peter, baby, no you’re allowed to grieve.” She pauses. I don’t like that. “Just, as long as it isn’t at the downfall of your health. At this point, it is. It’s time to move on, Peter! You can’t let this control your life.”
It isn’t, I insist. It’s the perfect amount of grieving and despondency. An equal amount of sleeping to much and not sleeping at all. A good amount of over eating and eating nothing at all. She says I need help. I need to get over it. I’m broken.
I can’t say I disagree.
”Well, I miss him, okay? Has it ever occurred to you that maybe I don’t care about myself or- god forbid- my health? May, it was my fault he died. How do you not get that? It was the same with Ben! How do can you say I deserve to live when I really- really- don’t?”
May frowns. I feel sick again. “How the hell could you say that, Peter? Have you lost your mind?!”
She thinks I’m insane. I’m shocked, really, because I always saw May as an understanding character, a natural care giver because she knows how to deal is stressful situations. Maybe she really doesn’t get me. Although, she knew exactly how I felt after Ben died, so why isn’t she more understanding this time around? What changed?
Oh, I realize. The only thing that changed was the person lost.
May had never liked Tony.
”May, I loved him. Like-like a father, Aunt May. I don’t know what you want from me. I loved him- he was the last person I saw before I died and he was the only one who didn’t move on!”
Her face scrunches into something nasty. “What do you mean? Of course he moved on! Tony had a family, got married, had a baby! If anyone moved on, it was him.” She sighs and sits back down at her original seat at the table. Her delicate fingers come to rub circles at her temples. “Baby, I-I’m sure he missed you very much the five years you were gone but... he did move on. He made himself a happy little family without you even knowing. And I’m sure he thought about you every day but he certainly didn’t go back in time just to save you.” He laughed. Laughed.
“Yeah, make him look like the bad guy. Like you always do. You have no idea what he did for the universe- for me!” I yelled, my fading anger rising once more at her disrespect.
May rolled her eyes. “It’s all over the news, Peter. He snapped his fingers and somehow the word was saved, whoopdy-doo! All I care is that you’re back. I understand you’re sad, but it’s really time to move on.”
”Huh,” I huffed, words not able to form in my head to answer her. It made me wonder what had happened in the five years I was gone. She had turned hardened, cold. Something inside her broke- she wasn’t the same. I don’t think she ever will be. “And here I thought you cared about me. Maybe I really should have stayed dead.”
The look in her eyes, the devilish scare mixed with regret and anxiety rolled over her irises. Jealousy, maybe, or the fear of being alone again. Her depression getting to her in the worst moment possible. The anxiety that I’ll leave her again coming out in the wrong way. I don’t care, really, because what comes out of her mouth next only makes me feel worse. Instead of being a broken sack of potatoes, I’m merely a sack of dirt. Absolutely worthless.
”Yeah, maybe you should have.”
My world crumbles around me for a fourth time in my life.
I can confidently say this is the first time I’ve lost someone without attending their funeral.