Mary Jane’s eyes didn’t leave the TV screen for a second. She had her heart pumping in her ears, and she felt sick to her stomach. Spider-Man was taking the worst beating of his life.
It was live to the whole country to see how he dragged himself on the terrace of a high building after Wilson Fisk had punched him mercilessly several times.
“It looks he has many broken ribs, folks,” said the newscaster. Then he interrupted himself to add, “Oh, it looks like he’s going to take off his mask for the first time in history... Hold on. No, he just lifted the mask to spit out some blood.”
“It was a lot of blood, Milton!” his partner added.
Mary Jane felt even sicker to think that Peter’s suffering was entertaining to the rest of the world.
She considered going there, to the foot of the building, where a crowd of passersby and reporters followed it all from the streets, but she was welded to the floor, unable to move. A helicopter captured the images seen on TV.
“Come on, Pete! Get up and run away!” She pled with her hands twisted against her chest as she stood behind the coffee table in her living room.
“Oh no, Karla! It seems Kingpin is putting the hostage’s life in danger. What do you think he wants from Spider-Man?” Milton John spoke to Karla DeBianchi as Fisk dragged a little girl to the edge of the building where Peter Parker tried to hold on to his life.
It wasn't possible to hear what they said, but the newscasters had their opinion on the matter. An opinion that Mary Jane couldn't care less about. All she wanted was Peter to shoot his web and flee the situation. If he came directly to her it would be even better.
Peter and Mary Jane were separated for a little more than a year, but she never stopped loving him. She told him that when he brought her flowers and they sat down to talk. He said he was sorry, that he was on a path to make his life better accommodating of her needs, and the “whole kids thing” was getting a new light under the last happenings. And then he proceeded to tell her the crazy story about the multiverse and the other spider-people, and Miles. If she wasn't so close to him on the couch she would’ve missed the glow in his eyes when he told her about Miles Morales.
But now, all the opening she had left in her life for him to come in again was threatening to shut by the imminent danger to his life.
The camera crew in the streets captured the exact moment when the crowd gasped in unison to see that Fisk had thrown the little girl down the building. And Mary Jane gasped to see that Peter was too beaten to follow right after.
“Look, Karla, it seems that Spider-Man is out of the game! Could we have a big trag-- Wait! NO! HE’S GOING FOR HER, KARLA!
Peter threw himself after the hostage, rolling off the edge. His hands were stretched in front of him as he dove. He shot a web that got caught on the back of the child’s hoodie and pulled. She flew right into his arms as he turned and shot another web on the wall of the building. They hung there for a few seconds, just enough to get everyone relieved until they dropped again.
What else dropped was Mary Jane’s stomach as she watched their fall. She saw Peter trying to shoot his web again but his web-shooter was damaged by one of Fisk's bullets. The Kingpin was the one who made them fall and now he kept on firing in their direction as Peter turned again to shield the girl against the bullets. He switched the arm that held her and shot a web to the next building, but they were too close and hit the wall. The child went first, crushed between the bricks and Spider-Man's body.
The impact was too much for his battered body so he dropped, still holding the girl. He fell on his back from thirty feet high.
Mary Jane’s trembling knees forced her to sit down on the couch.
“Pete... Please, be alive,” she whispered to herself.
The image seemed frozen on the still bodies laid down on the sidewalk. People started to gather around them as the police and the paramedics tried to pierce through the crowd.
The screen was split in half and there, disputing attention on her TV, was the horrendous scene of a possible dead hero and the shocked pair of anchors.
“Milton, I don’t know what to say. It could be the end.”
“I don’t know Karla, Spider-Man has seen his share of hardships and he’d always managed to get himself around them.”
Mary Jane realized they weren’t talking about the child because she had already been tended to by the paramedics, leaving a motionless Spider-Man behind.
Time stopped for Mary Jane. Aren’t they gonna check on him too? What are they doing, looking at him like that? Go help him! Her thoughts ran out of control as the tears started to pour out of her eyes. She was so immersed in her pain that the image changed and she almost didn’t see.
The police had fired their weapons in Fisk’s direction from the helicopter, which made him duck and go for the terrace door. It was too late, an NYPD police squad was already waiting for him carrying heavy guns. The newscasters celebrated, but Mary Jane jumped out of the couch and grabbed the TV frame.
“Show him! Show him, you stupid reporters! I need to see him.”
It was like it was on command. The camera flicked to the sidewalk to show people’s faces turned up and then to the sky to show a flash of red and blue turning around a building.
“He’s alive, people! New York's favorite hero is alive!”
"I hope he's well, Milton, because that looked like a lot of blood on the sidewalk there.”
The camera showed the sidewalk again and a big stain of blood was where Peter had hit his head. Mary Jane took her hands to her mouth and sobbed, feeling her guts churning inside her body.
She didn’t know how much time she stood like that, mere inches from the TV, crying and watching the repercussions of the event. A reporter had just approached a paramedic to know about the girl's condition when she heard a loud thud coming from her bedroom.
Mary Jane turned fast to the source of the noise and ran. There she saw the bloody mess that was Peter’s battered body on the floor, leaning poorly against the wall beneath the window.
His voice came strained and gurgling as he choked on the blood.
“Shh. Don’t say anything, let’s get you to bed.”
She went to him swallowing a painful lump. Her trembling fingers reached his armpits and tried to lift him just enough to throw him on the bed that was so close.
They managed to stumble to bed, where she fixed the pillows behind his head and removed his mask. It was soaked. She couldn’t believe how much blood stained the cloth of his mask on the backside.
“Oh my God, Peter, you hit your head pretty bad, didn’t you?”
He hummed low and closed his eyes.
“MJ... I’m sorry... I didn’t have anywhere else to go,” he mumbled.
"Don't be silly. This is the place to come. Whenever you need it, you come here, okay? You hear me?” She grabbed his face and shook it lightly so he would open his eyes.
He did and smiled faintly.
MJ got to work. First, she removed his costume and went through his injuries. It was clear he had a concussion, so she asked him to explain to her the whole multiverse thing again so he wouldn’t close his eyes and fall asleep. It worked, because as she cleaned the wounds on his head and face he told her again about the collider and the other Peter Parker being killed by the other Wilson Fisk, and how he was blonde, young and somehow richer.
“I bet it was because of the Christmas album, MJ. I’m telling you, people from our world can’t recognize my talent for music,” he was rambling in a groggy voice, and she felt grateful he was still there with her, alive.
She gave him a strong painkiller that made him even more out of himself, but he kept speaking.
“And what’s funny about that is that I’m the only Peter Parker I know!” He said as she turned him over on his good side so she could stitch the dash behind his head.
She applied a numbing paste on it and asked, “What do you mean by that, Pete?”
As she waited for it to work she listened to his drunken words with fondness, caressing his hair.
“Well. Gwen knew a Peter. Miles knew a Peter. But they're dead. I could’ve met any of them, but now I won’t. And now I’m the only Peter they know. How fucked up it must be to meet yourself?”
She came closer to his face to see if he flinched as she poked his scalp with the tip of the needle. Nothing. She was good to go.
“I don't think they were you, Tiger. You all share the same name and parts of the same history, but there’s only one of you.”
“You say that because you haven’t seen the other you,” he tried to turn to see her, but she pushed his face around again. “I gotta tell you, MJ. She looked just as hot as you were at twenty-six. I couldn’t tell the difference, really. Although she could never be as hot as you are now. No, that’s impossible. You’re the hotter MJ, that’s for sure.”
A light chuckle escaped her mouth. He rarely got drunk, but it was always fun to hear his blunt statements and pick up lines. Right then, he wasn’t drunk, but the groggy Peter was just as fun.
“If you say so, Tiger.”
He stopped talking and she didn’t notice being too focused on her task. It was only when she finished and turned him on his back again that she realized he was sleeping.
“No! Pete! Wake up! Pete!”
She called and shook his shoulders lightly. His lids seemed glued together as he tried to open them.
“I’m sorry... I know, I know, I’ll sleep on the couch.”
Her heart clenched and she reached his hair again to run her fingers through his messy locks.
“No, Tiger. You will sleep here tonight, alright?”
He raised a brow as his eyes opened slowly.
She laughed again.
“Yes, Pete. With me. Now let me take care of your ribs, okay?”
He smiled softly and closed his eyes again.
Mary Jane spent the night like she had spent many nights before, worrying about Peter. He tossed and turned in bed mumbling nonsense throughout the entire night. She considered it to be better than having him dead silent, as she hoped his concussion wasn’t too serious.
Sitting on the bed beside him, with her back against the headboard, she studied his body. It was completely battered. The place where Fisk had beaten on his side looked like a pool of old blood the size of a basketball under his skin, and seeing for the first time when she ripped his top open was shocking to say the least. She counted four broken ribs, but she feared it could’ve been all of them. The blood that he had spat earlier on live TV must’ve come from a bruised organ, she just didn’t know each one. Judging by the way his voice was coming out hoarse, she could bet it was something on the airways. Less problematic than the lungs or the stomach.
But that one wasn’t the only injury he had. She could easily perceive all the colors of healing wounds on his skin from several different bruises. They were days old, or weeks. He had more scars than she could count. MJ gritted her teeth. Without her care, he was not healing properly due to his disregard for his well-being.
Her hand hovered over his torso until she grabbed the blanket that rested around his waist and pulled it to his chin. She sighed. It was going to be a long and tiring night.
In the morning, after a sleepless night, she got herself busy in the kitchen making them breakfast when she heard the TV. She walked to the living room to find Peter dressed in the old clothes she still used as PJs standing in front of the couch, paralyzed.
“Pete? What’s wrong?”
She came to see what he was watching and her belly instantly ached.
“The doctors had just confirmed. The girl involved in the incident between Wilson Fisk and Spider-Man didn’t resist the trauma. She died at the age of ten.”
Mary Jane’s eyes followed his motion of sinking into the couch as he watched the reporters analyzing the scene where Peter’s body crushed the child against the building wall.
They were debating? How absurd was that? They shouldn’t debate whether or not he did the right thing! It was the right thing. Period.
“Turn off the TV, Pete.”
He shook his head and a silent tear rolled out of his eye.
“I wanna see it.”
“You don’t have to see it. And they don’t have the right to discuss your actions.”
Mary Jane tried to grab the remote from his hand but he hid it under his armpit, crossing his arms.
“Turn it off, Pete,” she pled.
His breathing was quick when the sobs came to his throat.
All she could do was to sit by his side and cradle his head as he cried. If she could punch each one of those sick reporters she would too. He cried, and cried, she didn’t know for how long. His tears motivated hers, and the sobs that shook his body were in sync with the sobs that sook hers. The sun was high in the sky when Peter finally moved in her embrace. He had cried himself to sleep, so she let his body rest on hers as she fell on her back on the couch.
“MJ?” His voice was low and hoarse as he lifted his head and rubbed his eyes.
“I’m here,” they both sat up and she ran a hand through his hair, “how are you feeling?”
She smiled and enlaced his waist with her arms.
“MJ,” he started as she rested her chin on his shoulder, “what happened last night is exactly what I promised would never happen again. Me, putting myself in danger, and then you having to pick up the pieces. It’s not fair to you. And I understand if you don’t want to give us a second chance.”
Mary Jane breathed heavily.
“When will you understand that we’re a team, huh? I don’t want you distant, I want you close, trusting me, telling me things, including me in your decisions. There’s no Pete without MJ, and no MJ without Pete.”
He turned his head to face her and she saw his watery eyes.
“You mean it?”
“I do, Pete.”
“How about all of the complaints about me missing important dates and... Other stuff?”
“You said you will be better. I’m counting on it. I want you close.”
His face lit up.
“You better, because I’m working on this device that classifies the occurrences by priority. It’s great, MJ. I promise that I won’t leave you alone on date night if it’s not at least a code red. The minor stuff, well, let the police do their job, right?”
She smiled and kept playing with his hair.
Peter breathed heavily.
“I missed you, MJ.”
“I missed you too.”
The reporters on TV still blabbered about the case for hours, but she couldn’t hear them, because Peter had so delicately pressed his lips against hers. It tasted like iron and longing. She grabbed his face and deepened the kiss to make him taste her love as well.
Peter was finally home again. Mary Jane could finally end her watch.