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the long way down

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Really, Peter just wishes that grief would regulate itself. 

If he has to do this again and again, lose every single person he’s ever loved to terrible unrelenting tragedies, he should at least be able to know what he’s in for, to follow a familiar path through this darkness to some awful sort of normal on the other end. Really he wants anything to hold onto, touchstones, markers, guideposts, a light at the end of the tunnel, like: it’ll be two weeks before it’ll stop hurting to breath every second of every day; a month before he stops having that moment every morning when he wakes up and forgets, reaches for his phone to text her, before crashing back down with the wound opening anew; five months until he can stumble across a picture of her in his phone, an old book of hers on his dresser, a woman colored peacoat in the grocery story and not feel his knees go weak and his entire soul ache. 

Just have it be the way it was after Ben. The same steps and phases timed out in the same way, because even if he still isn’t over that, still stares too long at the bowling trophies in the dining room cabinet and flinches at the sight of someone with medium length blond hair, he knows now that it’s something he can survive. 

But this is nothing like Ben and nothing like his parents. Not better or worse, same pain, different shape. 

After Ben, time had been so finite, so exact, 24 hours since, 72 hours since, a week, a month, a year four months seventeen days and eight hours. Every second ticked on, pulling him further and further away from Ben and those final moments. Now, after— and he still can’t bring himself to think it, to think that there can be an after her, not even to mention having to accept that he’s in it— but now in the aftermath of Gwen, he can’t feel time at all. Days don’t pass, his eyes glaze over the electronic alarm clock in the corner of his room, it’s all stuck solid, stuck still, and he’s still right there in the very moment she hit the ground, heart racing and gut-churning and brain buzzing with pleading white noise, a helpless futile hope that everything would turn out fine. 

Where Ben's death left him rattled with guilt aimed at the center of him, the knowledge that it was his fault, and the incessant replaying of everything he could have and should have done differently all the time, now he can only remember Gwen in one of those chaotic final moments, the details of it all fuzzy in the adrenaline rush, pointing her finger and scrunching her eyebrows and demanding that he recognize this as her choice. He wants to blame himself because at least he knows that pain, but how can he, how can he take this from her, her bravery, her own heroism that puts his to shame every time because he has powers and webs and a goddamn mask to hide behind always while she has none of that, just her brain and the steel in her spine and the ability to face the universe unflinchingly as Gwen Stacy. 

So he’s left with nothing, left in spirals and freefalls and the sort of grief that’s both too much to feel but also too painful to be able to numb. 

If there are phases he’s supposed to follow, some cycle towards acceptance, towards a life in the after, he can’t find it and he can’t follow it because he’s still trying to find a way to follow her. 

(It was the easiest promise he’s ever made, which should have been a warning sign since all he’s been good for lately is breaking promises.)

The problem is he doesn’t want to stop following her. He barely even started, just found the goddamn path and had it made sense for the first time in a long time, finally stopped feeling adrift, like his future and all the things he was supposed to be went down in a plane a dozen years ago, and just as quick as he found solid ground, he was falling again. He wakes up each morning now and when the ache subsided enough, he’s trying to figure out how he can make this work still, where her path is so he can put himself back on it. 

He ends up at the cemetery a lot. 

This is where she is and so this is where he should be too, right? He’s trying really hard not to think about what other interpretations following her anywhere, following her forever, has right now. Because there’s this thing beneath his chest that still believes this isn’t over, that they can’t be over. How can they be, how can he give up on them, she’s gravity, she’s the sun, she’s Gwen. The way he feels about her, the way he loves her, that’s not something that ends. She’s not something that should end. She’s too brave and smart and funny and alive to ever be anything else.
 
The worst case scenario his brain could even conceive of was her leaving for London, her being Gwen but out of sight, on her own unstoppable trail to the top of the world. If there was a tragedy here that should have been it, that he was too messy and unkempt for her and all her neat put-together glory. That he was dangerous and promised he would stay away. That she was headed for bigger and better things than him. 

Not this. 

Not her in the ground, not her path cut short, not her not being anymore. 

He’s not sure how long it’s been because time is as inconceivable as anything else about this, but one of the many many times he ends up at the grave again, staring blankly, waiting for something, some miracle, some answer, some fix to this deep deep mistake in the universe, something starts to shift. 

He can’t bring himself to stand anymore, like he always does, to be brave for her, to hide the face that his legs shake, to hold onto something even as small as being upright. But it crashes over him like a wave on the shore, and his knees give out and he drops to the dirt. There aren’t tears or sobs because any of those things make it all too real, any outward grieving means admitting to the world there is something to grieve and makes it all the more permanent. 

He just feels weak, deep inside, fragile as glass and empty as air, and he digs his fingers into the soil, and he bends even further, pressing his forehead into the ground, feeling it itch against his skin where small patches of grass have started to grow. 

Because it’s been that long. Because he’s been stuck still in this horrible horrible moment for that long. 

“Please,” he says. It’s choked and weak and maybe if he could just say it a little clearer, a little stronger, maybe… “Please, please, I’ll do anything, I promise. I just… I can’t do it, I can’t do this without you.”

He has more on the tip of his tongue, every argument for why this is wrong, for why she should be here, for why he should be allowed to bargain, to give up any number of things if it means her being alive again. But his chest is tight and his throat is dry and it all gets tangled up and refuses to budge like every single other thing. 

He stays there in the ground for a while, curled up, grasping at the dirt until it burying itself beneath his fingernails, trying and failing to avoid thinking about how this is the closest he may ever be to her again. 

*

Watching Gwen work was like staring at a work of art. Or… maybe that’s too ordinary, because he always got bored in museums and never spent too long looking at whatever classic paintings the MET was offering in their monthly special exhibits. He could watch Gwen work for days, for weeks, and still find more and more and more to love about it and her. The way she doubles up on pens behind her ear, the way her pinkie skims across the page, light enough not to smudge any ink, the way she blinks out patterns as she stares down at her books like Morse code invitation into her brilliant, brilliant thought process. 

And he knows that watching her like this is a privilege so very few have earned. The first time he swung by her room to hang out, she shut the window in his face, shaking her head. 

“Nope,” she said. “Midterm season; no distractions.”

And he had laughed, because it felt like a joke.

“Are you admitting I’m a distraction?” he teased, but she hadn’t even paused to get defensive or blushy just turned back to her desk with an apologetic grimace. And he had still been out on her fire escape. “Gwen?” He tapped on the window a little more frantically. 

“Sorry,” she mouthed, gesturing towards her open laptop and textbooks and making exaggerated upset faces even as she sat down at the chair and turned towards her work. And left him out there.

It also turns out to not just be a midterm imposed ban. Anytime after that when there was a test coming up or a particularly heavy workload week, he’d be locked out on the fire escape again. 

It takes months of their relationship before he’s allowed to be around her while she’s studying, after swearing on half a dozen religious texts that he will keep his hands to himself and limit to under ten funny comments per hour. He abides by the rules because he quickly realizes that it is a gift to see her like this, in her element, Oscorp’s brightest intern, Midtown’s valedictorian, his girlfriend, Gwen Stacy, slamming through chemistry homework like it’s her superpower. 

It’s wonderful. Not for his GPA since he never gets any work done around her. But how can he even care about that when he has a front row seat to Gwen in action, foot shaking at a steady silent rhythm, pen dashing quickly across the page, eyes lightening and nose wrinkling and all the other million little things her face does when she’s deep in it. He sits up against her wall at some incredibly comfortable yet ridiculous angle with some book that he won’t get a page into, and studies her, stores all the amazing little details away. 

So he’s used to her hair loose around her face and her socked feet tucked underneath her and the twist to the corner of her mouth when she boxes in an answer, but she still can surprise him, like when she makes a deeply guttural noise and chucks her pencil across the room. 

She follows it with a cheek-puffing exhale that sends her shoulders heaving. 

“Nice aim?” he offers, tilting his head so the room is mostly right side up. 

She spins to him with fire in her eyes like she’ll throw him across the room next if he’s not helpful. So he decides to make himself helpful, carefully extricating himself from space between her bookshelves and dropping down next to her by her desk. It’s a bit of a risk since she has her strict, strict rules about distractions and there’s like a radius around her that once he gets into is near impossible to get out of without crashing into her for a little while. But as he leans against her chair, feels something unfurl in his chest when his hip connects with her forearm, she doesn’t complain. Instead, her head buries itself into his side as she sighs deeply, which unfortunately is a sign that things are bad because usually they aren’t allowed to be on the same side of the room until she’s done. 

He peeks down at the desk at the textbook propped against the wall but for the life of him can’t make sense of it. 

“That is not English,” he says. 

“Ovid,” she says with a disdain usually reserved for the low-fat ice cream in the cafeteria at school. 

“Right.” Because among the slightly horrifying number of things she’s able to accomplish in a week, AP Latin is one of the most intimidating. 

“Who apparently thinks that grammar rules are a suggestion,” she says, waving her hand at the open textbooks. “Which is super fun for me.”

He nods. “Well…”

“Don’t say it.”

He shouldn’t. But he does. “If you had taken Spanish with me—”

“Peter,” she groans. 

“It’s one of the most prominently used languages in the world,” he says. “Which you know is helpful... for a doctor.”

“Yeah well I’m trying to be a researcher not a clinical physician,” she says, rolling her eyes. “Only I think I’m not getting a PhD anymore because I’d rather drop out of high school than continue translating this stupid poem that’s already been translated a thousand times.”

He peers back at the page even though she’s fully pouting now and that’s unbelievably adorable. 

“Orpheus,” he reads out. “Is he the one who, uh…” He hisses through his teeth. “You know… with his mom?”

Gwen’s eyebrows shoot up as she blinks at him. “Oh my God,” she breathes but starts to smile again that unique one she has for his ridiculousness so he’s obviously doing something. “That’s Oedipus.” She bats at the textbook. “Orpheus was this son of a Muse who played the lyre, and his wife Eurydice died on their wedding day.”

“Jeez,” he grimaces. 

“So he goes down to the underworld and talks to Hades and shreds so hard on his lyre that Hades lets him leave with Eurydice. Only he has to lead her out and not look back at her until they get to Earth and—”

“He totally screws the pooch,” Peter finishes. Gwen gives him a look that’s really too unearnedly fond. 

“Yeah,” she says with another little sigh. Her eyes are back on the page and glazing over a little, and it’s unclear whether that’s a reflection of her stress about the work or something deeper. He slides his hand down the soft sleeve of her cardigan and tangles his fingers into hers. 

“Hey,” he says softly. Her chair swivels as she turns into him and he’s hard-pressed to find anything half as gorgeous as her blinking up at him through her lashes, her hair soft around her face, worrying her lower lip between her teeth. It hits him in his chest like a blow, like he can barely breathe in the face of her like this. She raises her eyebrows in a silent question. “Maybe,” he starts, but then gets distracted again by how absolutely beautiful she is and can’t stop himself from tugging her hand up and pressing his mouth to the back of her hand. “Maybe you should take a break.” He kisses messily along the line of her knuckles, a soft additional pitch for his suggestion. 

She hums, raspy in the back of her throat, tipping her head to the side. 

“Should I?” she echoes, in vague amusement which means he should try a little harder at this whole distraction thing.

He shrugs and rubs his thumb delicately along the line of her pinkie. “I don’t know, if you want to.” 

Her nose wrinkles up and that’s… that’s too much, he has to hide his smiles against the inside of her wrist and pretends he doesn’t notice the way a slight shiver works its way across her shoulder. 

“You’re the worst,” she says, rolling her eyes, but she stands, pushing right into his space in a way that feels distinctly like he’s not the worst. 

“It was just a suggestion,” he offers, but her mouth is already on his and the rest falls away.

*

So once again Gwen had all the answers he needs. 

He does some research because she didn’t really get back to her work that night which at the time was extremely exciting at the time but now leaves him at a disadvantage and with the deep deep ache to have her there to explain it to him in her wry endlessly genius way. 

There are some pretty obvious issues from the start. 

He doesn't have a lyre. Doesn’t know how to play one and also he doubts that he could even find one at the Goodwill on Steinway so…

Gwen played the clarinet for ten years, he knows. Though she stopped in sophomore year, as she put it, “There aren’t a lot of practical uses for it outside of proving you’re the most precocious kid in the fourth grade.” It was still in her closet, at least the last time he was in her room, which was… god, months ago now. It might still be there but if he wanted to check he'd have to talk to Mrs. Stacy and that is something he still can’t bring himself to do. 


Anyway it’s not like the clarinet would help him, since he’s not the one who knows how to play it, but… it’s a straw-shaped fact and he is grasping. 

And grasping and grasping. He reads over a dozen translations of just the Ovid version of the story and takes nearly five pages of notes. He’s not sure what the point is, he’s not sure why he’s latched on, why this feels like the answer, like the way out, but it’s the only thing he really knows how to do in these situations, research, obsessive research, systematically searching for answers or closure. This seems like a path, a place where he was with Gwen and this story that he can go back to and move forward from. 

The issue is that it’s a goddamn myth, not science, not anything within the realm of logic and reason. 

He buys a guitar and spends a week following awfully along to YouTube tutorials in the garage before the self-awareness of what he’s doing hits him like a wrecking ball at three in the morning on a Wednesday. He spends the rest of the night curled in a corner, waiting for his chest to stop heaving long enough to get an hour or two of sleep. 

It’s a few weeks after that before he even tries to attempt the singing thing, in the bathroom while May is out at work, and it’s ultimately his voice cracking halfway through an attempt at a Taylor Swift song that he absolutely snaps. 

He grabs a shoebox from the back of his closet, tears everything off his wall and shoves it in, before tucking the box under his arm and heading out. 

It’s all so ridiculous. He feels it in every inch of him, how absolutely stupid this whole thing is, but he can’t stop himself because if it works, how could he possibly not try. 

But he’s no Muse’s son. He’s been a terrible singer his entire life and that’s not going to change, at least not fast enough, and if for some goddamn reason, Gwen’s life is somehow dependant on his ability to learn how to play an ancient instrument or hold a goddamn note, he’s lodging a formal complaint and fighting whatever god is behind that rule. 

He drops to his knees and drops the shoebox when he finally reaches her grave. 

It takes him a second to figure out where to start. He doesn’t know whether to look up or down, which feels like a heavy choice, but he also can’t bring himself to look at her headstone during this because this isn’t to her. He spares it a glance, a half-apology for how ridiculous this all is, how under-researched he is, how unprepared and unorganized. She’d be so much better at this. 

“What do I need to do?” he asks, letting his eyes dart around like maybe he’ll find the crack in the world that will lead him back to her. “Cuz I can’t play the lyre and I can’t sing and… I have so little, but is it- is it power, because I have some of those and you can fucking take it, I don’t care. Is it… a-art, because… I’m shit at that too, but--” He flips the lid off the shoebox and starts pulling out photos. “This is the closest thing I have.” His hands are shaking as he lays out the prints, trying so hard to avoid looking at them, looking at her, because he knows he’ll break. 

There’s so many, over years now, picture after picture of Gwen that he couldn’t help but capture with his camera because she is the art, because every expression of hers deserves to be cataloged because for as long as he has looked at her he’s never failed to find some new beautiful detail to love, because the light falls against her in a million ways and demand to be captured. 

He doesn’t know that much about Greek muses or if his stupid little photos should count as something artistic, but if he has a muse, it’s her. It always has been.

There’s no rhyme or reason to the pattern he lays out, and it’s hard to see because his eyes are misting over, but he eventually hits the bottom of the cardboard shoebox. He breathes in shakily and takes it in, the photos laid out against the dirt, Gwen everywhere, her eyes bright, her smiles wide, looking down at a book or off to the side or worst of all, right at him. 

He shoves his hands through his hair, struggles to find a steady breath, digs his heels into the dirt. 

“Fuck,” he breathes and goes to bury his hands in his face before he spots one of the photos towards the middle, her with that book on the lunch table from absolutely eons ago, sinks into the dirt. 

He swallows hard and blinks, almost missing the next one that disappears, and then the next and the next. 

He barely allows himself a second to hope before everything goes dark. 

*

And then he’s on his feet again in a narrow little cave that’s dimly lit. 

He exhales shakily, blinking into the darkness and glancing around. 

“Hello?” he calls tentatively, taking a half step forward. In the poem, there was this whole pleading-your-case-to-the-god-of-death thing, which he wouldn’t mind skipping since he’s always sucked at public speaking especially under pressure. Unlike captain of the debate team Gwen Stacy, god, she really would have been flying through this. 

He looks around again, and almost turns around like an idiot on instinct before catching himself quickly. 

“Shit,” he hisses and snaps back, eyes forward, eyes on your goddamn test, Parker. He takes another step forward and nothing happens, no one yells at him, no one jumps out of the shadows. 

“Gwen? Are you… there?” he dares to ask over his shoulder, as he starts moving forward. There’s no reply. He tries not to think about it too hard, and immediately fails and starts to think about it too hard. “Well, if you are… uh…” He doesn’t have anything to say actually. He’s spent long enough staring down at a gravestone trying to find any words to know that he doesn’t want speeches, he wants conversations, he wants her in front of him replying or laughing or arguing back. “Nevermind.”

He comes up sooner than he expects to a fork in the road, two different tunnels heading off in different directions. There aren’t any signs, no arrows or glowing neon EXIT in the distance. In fact, the two tunnels look basically identical. 

“Hello?” he calls, and his voice echoes evenly into the two. 

This is so obviously a test it almost makes him wonder for a second if it isn’t a test at all. But he’s still staring down a fork in the road in what might be the Underworld with what might be the ghost of his girlfriend behind him so obviously, there’s something here.

“Think they have a Phone a Friend option?” he asks, even though he still doesn’t even know if she’s there and she’s his only friend anyway. As it is, everything in him still wants to turn around, not just to see her, not just to check that she’s there, but for her help because surely she has some idea about what question is being asked here, since he doesn’t even know where to start debating these options.

He shifts his weight between his feet, shifts his gaze between the tunnels. There’s no difference. 

He feels sick to his stomach. 

“I’m gonna screw this up,” he breathes and kinda hopes she doesn’t hear that. And then hopes that she doesn’t already know that. 

He turns down the left tunnel and starts walking again, holding his breath, fighting against the knot in his chest. Nothing happens, nothing disastrous, but nothing good either. 

Then a minute later he comes up against another fork, just like the other, two identical paths forward. 

He squeezes his eyes shut for a moment and chokes down a scream. 

“Okay, well,” he says. “This is gonna fun.”

Left again, he decides, as quick as possible even though it still feels wrong in his bones. 

He gets it though. He understands what this is now. It’s hell. 

Like not even generic hell, but his own very personal hell. Because he made that promise however long ago now that she was his path, that he’d follow her anywhere because it was easiest that way. 

This is not how anything should be. He should not be trying to find a path out of this place because he is ill-equipped to lead anyone anywhere. She’s the one with the plan and the future, the goals and the direction. She’s the only thing he could conceive of as a path forward instead of spinning the same wheels in the same old places he has been for years, instead of circling back to the same mystery about his parents, the same guilt about Ben, the same mistakes he made with her over and over again. He is stagnant, he is directionless, he is a person who couldn’t find his way out of a paper bag despite being in it for the past decade. 

And Gwen Stacy should not be following anyone anywhere, especially if that someone is him. 

The forks in the road keep coming and they all look identical. 

And he hits every one and pauses every time, like anything changes, like it ever will. 

He stays on the left path because at least it makes him feel somewhat decisive, feels like some kind of logic. But the turns keep coming and he keeps walking left and left and he swears it must be hours, it has to be, the time is adding up somewhere cuz he’s losing count. 

And he’s really trying not to panic, trying to keep his cool, for her benefit he thinks, because she’s following him right now, if she’s there, she’s trusting him, she’s counting on him and he let her down once already. At a minimum anyway. 

If she is there, if she has somehow been following him this far, he doesn’t want to scare her off.

But he can’t stop himself after another fucking fork in the road from finally inevitably folding like a stack of cards, from pulling at his hair and grunting in the back of his throat and giving in, turning down the right pathway. 

It feels the same, it looks the same, but either way, for a moment, he holds his breath as he walks deeper and deeper into this new tunnel and barely keeps himself from crossing his fingers. He wants to say something, to make a joke for Gwen, just anything to cut through the stale tense air, but he can’t quite unclench his jaw. 

Time is like water in his fingers, so he’s not sure if it’s any longer or shorter before he comes up to the next split and feels whatever grasp on the situation he thought he had fade into the dark. 

He stops in his tracks, and also stops trying to hold himself up against the weight of exhaustion of however long he’s been walking, the past week of minimal sleep, and months of empty mind-numbing life-sucking grief. He drops to a crouch, ducking his head between his knees. 

The hard part was supposed to be not looking back. And it’s not like it isn’t already impossible to think that she could be so close and he can’t hear her or feel her or see her, like he doesn’t want to look back at her and exchange an embarrassed smile and switch places with her. 

He doesn’t even know what this is, just that he’s doing it wrong, that he’s probably already screwed it up dozens and dozens of times. 

“I’m sorry,” he chokes out. “God, Gwen, I… I’m so sorry.”

And there’s no response. 

She can’t still be there, if she ever was. He’s almost sure she isn’t because even though he knows she loves him, he can’t imagine she’d put up with this, with him ruining this for her, falling apart at something as simple as finding the way out of here, somehow making the wrong choices over and over again. 

He wants her here so bad though. He wants her hand on his shoulder and her soft eyes and teasing smile that always makes him feel like there’s nothing he can do that’s too stupid if it means she’ll laugh at him like that. He wants her rational thought processes and her steady voice and her inevitable smiling reminder of who was the valedictorian in their relationship. 

He closes his eyes, closes out the world, and, for a second, feels a breeze on the back of his neck, pretends its her breath there, the way it would be whenever she wrapped herself around him in her bed or on the subway, leaning over to whisper something to him in the library, at a dinner, throwing her arms around him in her freely given endless hugs and turning her nose into her neck. He feels a shiver down his spine, the twist in his stomach he felt the first time he threw himself off a building with his web slingers, the first time he threw a punch at some guy in an alley, the time on the roof that he caught her and kissed her and every time he leaned into her after that. 

He wants her here and if he still has a chance to make that happen, still has a chance to bring her back, the last thing he’s going to do is let some maze or puzzle trap him. 

With his eyes closed he stands again, even though his legs are still shaky and his insides feel like dust.

“Okay,” he breathes. “Okay, let’s try it again.”

He’s Spider-Man, right? That has to count for something still. Even if it wasn’t enough to save her that night, it has to give him something to work with here. 

He’s forged out paths that no one else has reached before, swinging over the city, trusting some deep guttural instinct when throwing out his next web at some unseen corner of some colossally tall building to catch himself. 

Trusting his gut, his instincts, some heightened thing in him that can find the way, the very part that knew and has always known that Gwen is a sure thing, that’s always tugged him back to her like a kite on a string. So he taps back in, he thinks of Gwen, he thinks of flying, he thinks of New York, of home and them. 

He starts forward and turns left. 

Then right at the next turn, and right again and right again and then left and on and on, keeping his eyes shut, focusing on one foot after the other, picturing Gwen on the other side in front of him, not behind, his future and his hope and the pull in his chest, the beat of his heart marching towards her. 

He doesn’t notice when the turns stop, he doesn’t notice when the little noises of the city return, he only barely notices that the light gets brighter from behind his closed eyelids before he’s falling. 

Because he’s been tackled to the ground, like full body, air crushed out of his lungs, hands scraping against the ground. 

“Oh my God.” And yeah, that’s another air-crushing blow. He hasn’t heard her voice in too long now, forgot how deep and raspy it was, how her words could run together like that, a sentence in the shape of a single breath. “I did not mean to do that.” There’s a wondrous laugh in her voice and for a second he thinks that this is a dream. But if there’s one thing he’s learned from all of this, it’s that he shouldn’t take dreams for granted if it means he can see her. 

The weight on his back shifts and lightens which is the opposite of what he wants right now, but it gives him enough room to turn, to face her and the sky and the sun, and catch her wrist before she can sit up. 

And there she is in front of him, her hair falling down around their faces, her cheeks flushed, her smile wry and wide as she blinks down at him. 

“Hi,” she says, slightly breathless, her cheeks dimpling. 

His eyes are blown wide, he knows, because he needs to take in all of her at once, every single inch of her face in its 3D moving glory. Her chest is rising and falling against his, her puffs of breath gust over the side of his face. 

“Hey,” he says back, not trusting this enough yet to smile the way she is, but getting there. He reaches up with his free hand, brushes her hair away from their faces, behind her ear and leaves his hand there against her cheek. She leans into him, her hand wrapping around his wrist, keeping him there. 

“Sorry about that,” she says, gesturing vaguely to their position sprawled across the grass in the middle of a graveyard. 

He knits his eyebrows together. “It’s fine,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to know what it’s like to lose a WWE fight.”

Her nose wrinkles in mock offense. “Well I am readjusting to having a body again so sorry if my motor skills are a little off.” Her voice dances and her eyes are sparkling but once the words are out there’s a slow building realization that she does have a body again, she is right here, alive alive alive and he’s not waking up. 

“You…” he starts, mouth opening and closing around the air. “You’re… And I…”

She presses her lips together and nods, her bangs sweeping out across his forehead. 

“You did,” she says, the corners of her mouth turning up as he starts to lean in, straining his neck against gravity because what is gravity or the odd angle of his neck against Gwen, here smiling, still talking even though he should have been kissing her ages ago. “Never doubted you for a second, bug boy.” 

And it suddenly feels like if he doesn’t kiss her right this second, he’ll die. And like every miracle she is, she leans down to meet him, her lips soft and parting against his without hesitation. He settles his hand against the back of her neck, his fingers twisting in the soft strands of her hair, his thumb brushing against her pulse point, feeling the steady beat of her heart against the pad of his finger. 

And he really thinks that if it meant having her alive, he’d be willing to never kiss her again, but oh God is he so glad to be kissing her again. It’s like the first gasp of air in his lungs after months of drowning in the ocean. 

She still tastes like her vanilla chapstick, still presses her nose into his cheek, inhaling and exhaling heavily in a rhythm he wants to match his pulse to. 

“Gwen,” he whimpers against her open mouth. There’s the remains of a desperate itchy feeling in his chest that demands to be closer, to never let her go, to stop closing his eyes right now so he can take her in still. He balls his hand in the loose fabric of her shirt by her side and keeps pressing himself up towards her. 

“Peter,” she breathes and he can feel her smile against him, feel her sigh in his chest. “I love you.” It’s quiet but he feels the shape of every syllable. 

He pulls her impossibly closer, and hopes she can feel him say it back. 

“Don’t ever do that again,” he says when he comes up for air, because he needs to establish new rules for this miraculous reality and that’s number one on the list. 

She blinks for a moment before her eyes narrow. He lets his head fall back against the grass so he can see her better. 

“W-what? You mean, die?” she asks incredulously.

He nods. “Uh… yes.”

“Okay,” she says, laughing breathily. “I’ll try not to.”

“I am serious,” he says, tilting his head to better meet her eyes. “That was bad. I was very bad at that, I don’t know if I can do it again.”

Her smile slowly drops into something more solemn. She nods, her fingers, cool as they always are, trailing gently along his hairline and down the side of his face. 

“Promise,” she says, pressing her forehead into his. He wraps his arms loosely around her waist, cradling her against him, and swears to whatever god let this happen that he will never let her go again. 

*

He does have to let her go a little when they get up, since making out on the ground in a cemetery near her now empty grave isn’t a sustainable position. But it’s a worthwhile sacrifice because he gets to hold her hand again and rediscover the way they sway into each other as they match strides. 

He has questions. Like, did it hurt? She doesn’t remember. Does she blame him? A resounding nope. Is she hungry? Absolutely starving.

She has some, too. How long has it been? He doesn’t remember. What do you mean you don’t remember? And, what day is it? He’s not sure. It’s been a rough time, okay? 

“Well, where are we heading?” she finishes, her shoulder bumping into his as they turn down the road towards the exit gate. 

“Uh… I figured the subway. I think we can get to your apartment from here if we take the R--”

“No, I meant, like, after that,” she says, raising her eyebrows at him. “Like in an existential grand-scheme-of-things way? Where are we going next?” She tugs their hands up, pressing her mouth to his knuckles. 

He almost laughs. “You… should not be asking me,” he says, shaking his head quickly. “I-I don’t know.”

She bumps her shoulder into his, a little harder. “C’mon, Parker. We’re Midtown’s brightest, we should be able to figure this out.”

He glances down at her, and she blinks up at him unflinchingly.

“Yeah?” 

She nods. “Yep. Our path, right? Where’s it going?”

He smiles and stares down the gravel road, the large gated exit slowly growing closer. He still doesn’t have a good answer for the grand scheme of things, but he’s sure once he and Gwen start batting ideas around they’ll find something. 

For now though, he puts one foot in front of the other, knowing before all else that they’re going home.