Ducking out of the men's room, Peter moved along the dun-yellow hospital corridor, trying to piece together the events of the last few weeks...days...hours. Though he tried, no amount of scientific reasoning could summon "why" from the cracked depths of his psyche. No test tube could hold the entirety of his heart; no bunsen burner could flame high enough to touch the vast capacity of his rage...his fear.
He stopped at the threshold to MJ's hospital room, watching the procession of nurses and aids filter in, doing "medical things". Mary-Jane, face serene like that of an angel's, lie unfettered in the hospital bed, a tangle of IV lines flowing from her pale forearms. Her russet hair fanned about her on the pillow like a flaming halo, ginger lashes resting upon the arcs of high cheekbones. "She's doing well -- amazingly well," the Doctor had told him, as if any doubt to the redhead's ability to survive had been in question, "A few bumps and bruises, some weight-loss. Whatever happened to her, thank God that Spider-Man got her out of it. A few days of rest and she'll be fine...physically, that is."
Guilt set a pretty table in the young hero's heart; a banquet courtesy of one yellow-eyed devil.
Images floated before Peter's eyes, like the flared spokes of a pinwheel:
They had met in the shadows of "The Ruins". Like Rome, such a space once grand had met a harsh downfall laced with distrust and malcontent. The Goblin had been perched atop a great stone column, jade fingertips clutching the gray like the talons of some great predator.
"Looking for this, Spider-Man?" That chilling voice accompanied the trademark sneer, the Goblin's trump card displayed as he revealed Mary-Jane Watson: bound, gagged, and decidedly unconscious.
Anger bubbled up within Spider-Man's chest like some acid, eating away at his rationale. "Let her go, Goblin. This is between you and me."
"But of COURSE it is," the Goblin glossed, taking a step forward on the ledge, spreading his hands like a preacher to the masses. "But it seems you weren't exactly willing to come FORWARD without a little INCENTIVE, now were you!"
What followed was a storm of kicks, punches, and jabs; each man unwilling to lower his hackles for the other. Spider-Man managed to lift MJ from the ruins and web them both to safety -- Mary-Jane to Sacred Heart first and foremost. The Goblin loomed behind, smoke filling the hollows of his ghastly mask like a lover's caress. The voice still echoed in Peter's ear:
"Next time, HERO..."NEXT time."
Peter Parker moved around the medical throng that was jostling for the door, in turn stepping into the relative quiet of MJ's hospital room. A series of monitors kept pace with her heartrate and blood-pressure; aharmonic "blips" the only sound in the cool twilight.
He moved to the chair at her bedside and lowered himself into its supportive embrance. A few moments of pensive silence passed before he shunned the luxury of the seat for the floor, assuming a prayerful kneel beside the young woman's beside. His hand slipped along the crisp sheets to lay across her own, the warmth from that contact rising to his cheeks and stinging his eyes with tears.
"I'm so sorry..." his voice edged on a whisper, bordered on prayer.
The night nurse stepped to the threshold, her pale eyes weary from an evening spent battling for control over the territories of life and death. She was assigned to inform all visitors that visiting hours were over, the tart phrase turning itself over again and again in her mouth like a broken recording. When she saw the pale young woman and the man at her bedside, her voice faltered. Blending with the beginning rain upon the window pane was the soft sound of sobbing.
Sympathy, an unfamiliar hue, passed over the old nurse's face. Wordlessly she turned from the room, closing the thick door behind her.