Peter stood on a street corner somewhere in the lower Bronx. The street lamp behind him illuminated his back, gave a wobbly halo to his brown, greasy spikes of hair. His arms were wrapped around his torso, not so much because he was cold than because he needed a concrete action to help keep his life from finally shattering around him. It might have looked at least a little bit like he was trying to keep warm in the stinging chill of the night, because at this time of year, while the days were balmy, the nights had an edge, but to tell the truth, Peter could barely even feel the wind, though it nipped at his nose and whipped his baggy hoodie around his lithe frame.
He was too much in his head to think of anything as unimportant as the wind. It was cool, yes, Peter would have realized if he’d thought to be conscious of it, but it wasn’t important in the face of his current conundrum.
It was late, too, but when Peter looked out at the darkened street, he did not see the shambling cars that passed, headlights illuminating empty storefronts, brick and mortar, flashes of light reflecting on glass. He did not see the all-night diner waitress making her way home after a long shift, tired, pulling her too-large, threadbare jacket tighter around her against the cold, her feet moving swiftly, the plastic soles of her grease-stained work shoes slapping against the concrete. Peter did not see the huddled masses of clothing and hair that would have passed for garbage except they shivered in the cold, and the girls and boys, in clothes to thin, too small for the weather who strutted and posed and who got into cars with strangers and came out with more money than they had before.
Peter’s eyes saw these people, but he didn’t notice them or even realize they passed. He was aware of nothing outside of him, not the cold or the cars, the dark or the people. All he could think of, all he could process, was that for the first time in his life he had nothing. Or maybe more accurately, he had no one.
He’d known for a while. For months. He’d known ever since the ambulance had taken Aunt May away from him, screaming into the night, that he was going to be alone, but it had only hit him just then that he had truly nothing and no one. The Hospital bills and years of debt had taken all the money that Peter would have inherited, not that there would have been much anyway, and then had taken the house, and Peter might have been able to salvage more than he had (a photo album, his garish suit of red and blue, his beaten but trusty camera, the clothes he was wearing) if he’d had somewhere to put them. Or somewhere to put himself.
The bank took the house and everything else went to the auction block except what Peter could stuff into his backpack. His wallet held an ID, a library card, and two dollars in change. And cancer took Aunt May.
So Peter stood on a street corner, ignorant of the cold and the dark, and came to the startling revelation that he had nothing, and could go nowhere, and maybe if he hadn’t gotten Gwen Stacy killed, or caused Harry Osborn’s mind to break, or encouraged (in an act of selflessness that always ended up blowing up in his face) Mary Jane to go west to follow her dream of being on the silver screen, he’d have a place to sleep for the night. And maybe if he had been a few years younger, he’d be young enough to be a ward of the state. But he was 20 years old, and he’d skipped too much of the previous year of college visiting Aunt May in the hospital and bussing tables to keep his scholarship with which he couldn’t afford his books let alone his classes, and he’d skipped out too much on his busboy job to visit Aunt May when she’d gotten worse, and now he was unemployed and hadn’t been able to sign up for classes when they’d opened, and he was homeless. And all he could think, besides the spiraling depression of having no one and nothing, and besides his internal hysterics of the irony behind his dual role now of being a superhero and being homeless (not that he’d been out stopping bad guys much lately), was that at least he had New York.
Which was dumb. New York was nothing, had nothing to give to a too-skinny boy with nothing but the clothes on his back, an aging photo album, and a beat-up camera. And a suit which Peter didn’t even know he deserved to put on anymore. New York didn’t care about him any more than it cared about the shuffling piles of people curled on door stoops and below fire escapes that Peter tended to join when the apartment building roofs and central park tree branches were too far for his tired limbs to carry him to.
A spark caught his eye, a glitter of refracted light that kaleidoscoped through the shadowy night just long enough to register as not-normal-night-lights before it disappeared. Peter’s head jerked up, and his thoughts, thoughts of nothingness and a lack of future and a lack of love skittered away like pebbles from beneath the wheels of the bicycle Uncle Ben had got for him for his fourth birthday. He’d crashed that bike the next day and they hadn’t been able to afford a replacement till he was thirteen. That bike, Peter assumed, was to be auctioned off along with everything else he couldn’t fit in his back pack. Not the greatest loss he’d encountered.
His eyes searched the night for a nanosecond, seeing through the shadows, his eyes adjusting to the darkness in a way that still felt new, but only when he thought to be consciously aware of it, before landing on what had caught his eye. It was a shirt with a thousand golden sequins that glittered and reflected the light from a street lamp a block from Peter and across the street. The shirt was halter style, with no sleeves to speak of, and it ended well above the navel, though the wearer’s short skirt started at her hips. More glints and glimmers of light shone from the shirt as she, the wearer, bent over further, sticking almost her entire head through the driver side window of a dark-colored sedan. Light reflected again, a moment later, when she straightened up, and Peter could see glitter too around the eyes and glitter sprinkled in her hair. She slid around the front of the car, walking slowly, as if knowing that whoever was watching wanted to watch a little while longer, both the driver of the car and Peter, though for vastly different reasons, and then she opened the door and slid into the passenger seat, and the sedan pulled away from the curb.
Peter blinked and looked around, wanting to see if anyone else had noticed what he had. But no one else was looking, and no one seemed to care. Not the bundles against the sides of buildings that Peter knew were people, nor the graveyard shift workers coming or going to their graveyard shifts, nor the other women and some few men dressed scantily in sequins and glitter. No. No one seemed to care that a girl with a shirt like a billion yellow stars had just left in a strange car.
But then, Peter figured, and had to give himself a hard time about it, no one cared about the waitresses and construction workers and clerks and bellhops and chefs and taxi drivers who were all going this way and that. Just because it was night did not make her story different or special, and just because Peter was sinking in his mind, sinking into loneliness and despair and the numbness that comes with a lack of energy to deal with the despair and hopelessness, didn’t mean that anyone else should have to have to focus on a girl just doing her job.
And no one worried, Peter supposed, and that wasn’t fair, but that was reality. No one cared about this girl, young, too young, as younger than Peter, who was out at night getting into cars with no protection, and no one cared about a boy, though he was an adult, who’d just lost the one person who loved him unconditionally, and likewise had lost his home and his happiness.
And then the Sedan returned, and the girl stepped out of the passenger door, her shirt shining just as brightly as it had before. She leaned back into the car before she shut the door, and then she closed the door with finality, wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, and didn’t even watch as the car sped away. Her hands, long lacquered fingernails at the end of long, pale fingers, uncurled, revealing a wad of cash which she hastily stuffed into her bra. And then she returned to the corner she’d been at and stuck out a leg, popped a hip, and waited.
Peter’s eyes followed hers as she tracked passing cars, as she whistled at the ones who slowed, but his mind hadn’t left the wad of money.
It was at that moment that his stomach gurgled, weak and pitiful. He couldn’t remember when he’d last eaten anything more than a scant few fries from thrown away McDonalds bags or a donut hole dropped onto the sidewalk, and he felt hollow, carved out, an empty husk, and out of everything he wanted (Aunt May back, warm and alive; a warm place to sleep, preferably with a blanket; to bury himself in a hole and never come out till he was forgotten and the shame of being a hero and homeless and weak and pathetic could be forgotten as well), a chocolate milkshake was pretty high on his list. And a burger, god, he’d do anything for a burger.
His eye returned involuntarily to the girl with the sparkling shirt. She didn’t look like she was starving. She didn’t look like she couldn’t remember when her last real meal had been.
Peter gulped again, and pulled tighter on his book bag strap.
It wasn’t like he was inexperienced in sexual matters. He knew his way around the…er…genitalia. Of both…uh…of… yes.
The point was that he wasn’t a stranger to sex. But he was quickly becoming a stranger to readily available nourishment and as much as he just wanted to curl into a tight ball and never come out and live that way forever, curled tight, until the gaping and growing hole in his heart consumed him completely, something, nagging in the back corner of his brain resisted giving up completely. He was afraid that Aunt May hadn’t raised a quitter after all.
Another car drove down the street, slowing when it came closer to Peter, to the girl with the sparkling shirt, to the others. The car crept down the road, and Peter got the impression of perusal. Who would the car stop in front of? Who was showing enough skin to tantalize but not so much as to ruin any mystique? Who had the biggest eyes? The thinnest waist? Who was eating tonight?
Peter’s stomach grumbled, and the hollow gnawing feeling rose in him again like a tidal wave. He could often ignore his hunger (for sustenance, for friendship, for undying love) by thinking of other things (destitution, loneliness, the hopelessness of existence) but when it did cross his mind it seemed to bend him in half with the emptiness. He felt he would crumple, crinkle and flatten like a soda can beneath a boot heel. There was nothing inside him to hold him up, no core of iron, no pillar to raise him. He was hollow, and the hunger was a growl, growing in size, and roaring louder and louder until everything sounded like white noise beating at his brain, beating, beating until all he could do was hold onto his book back straps like it would keep him steady and lock his knees against the swaying, and it was really a simple decision.
Yes, he would suck a dick for a burger and a strawberry milkshake.
It was a no-brainer. He felt he would die of the hunger, and the nagging voice in the corner of his brains said, Of course, if you don’t eat you will actually die of hunger, and it felt like the displacement of weight on Peter’s bed, the slight shift, when Aunt May would sit on the edge of the mattress and keep watch over him when he was sick.
The roaring in his ears faded about the same time as a different girl, one with eyes made large through thorough use dark blue eye shadow and darker black eyeliner, crawled into the back seat of a silver SUV, and Peter’s mind was made up, and the hollowness lessened long enough for him to turn on his heel.
He was going to find a hiding place for his bag (a good one, high-up if needed, secured by synthetic web) and find a corner, and suck a dick, and then buy a burger. He had a plan, one that would get him fed.
And then he immediately ran face-first into a broad chest wrapped in a dark leather jacket that looked oily slick in the dim light of the street lamp.
“Whoa there, hot stuff. Steady,” said the owner of the chest, and Peter looked up to see a tanned man with whispy, curling blond hair bleached almost white by the sun. He had a strong nose and a wide smile, but when Peter tried to focus harder everything went a little fuzzy. No, not that extreme, it just felt like there weren't any solid edges to focus on. Peter blinked and blamed it on the lack of food. He was so hungry his eyes weren't focusing correctly. That had to be what was happening. But when Peter looked up into the eyes of the man, he saw the crisp clear blue of the iris. And he finally decided that his eyes were just playing tricks on him. The grin was easy, a little too wide to be anything but lewdly mischievous, but it wasn’t really predatory, and Peter’s shoulder’s immediately relaxed. He didn’t know this man, but he seemed kind, and Peter’s Spidey-sense wasn’t going off so he was probably safe.
“‘m fine,” Peter mumbled, embarrassed. He should be more aware of his surroundings, especially considering how vulnerable he was (Yes, physical strength proportionate to a spider, but he was weak with hunger and dizzy with thoughts of his future). But no, he wasn’t going to give in to timidity. Peter threw his head back in false confidence. This is what he was here to do, wasn't it? This is what he decided upon. He wasn't going to back down now that there was an opportunity presenting itself. And honestly, this man was not hard to look at. If he had to choose someone...
"See something you like?" Peter asked, and tried to make his voice light and sultry, like he knew exactly what he was doing. He wasn't quite sure he pulled it off, and he was still wearing a dirty t-shirt under a dirtier hoodie, a stained and old pair of jeans, and carrying his school book bag slung over his shoulder. He wasn't sure he was fooling anybody, but the man didn't seem to notice. He gave him another one of those appraising looks.
"Hmm," the man said, and made a show of looking down Peter's frame again. "Why, are you selling?"
Peter's chin went up, and then he dropped it because he wasn't sure if that was sexy or not. He had the feeling that 'defiant, dirty, college dropout’ wasn't an attractive look, but again, the man seemed not to mind. And in fact, it faintly worried Peter how easy this was, for the man to look past Peter's obviously troubled exterior, just to, well, get at what was beneath his clothes.
A sick feeling rose in Peter, but it was quickly suppressed by the overwhelming hollowness in his stomach. Some things you had to sacrifice, Peter knew, and doing what you had to to get a sandwich or a warm place to sleep for the night wasn't shameful. It was just creepy, thinking about what this man was seeing in him, and realizing that the man must honestly not care about Peter's gunky appearence in the face of well, getting some.
But that was an existential dilemma for another day. Peter didn't have time for that kind of worry.
Peter, ever aware of incriminating himself, said, "I'm not opposed to a little compensation for my," he paused to think of a way to say, "dick-sucking," without actually having to say those words out of his own mouth... "company," he decided on, and added it on tactfully.
The man leaned back on his heels and let out a chuckle. "What a polite street-walker you are," and Peter didn't even get upset because, well, yes, Peter supposed that that's what he was tonight, and what exactly was wrong with that? "Alright," the man continued, "I'm thinking that you are going to be perfect, you pretty little thing. I've made up my mind. I came out to hand pick the best of the best" (oh buddy, Peter thought, you could not be more wrong) "and you are obviously it. And you are smokin' to boot! Hot damn, have I hit the jackpot!"
Peter wanted to remind the man that he was buying sex with someone, so that wasn't actually some sort of good bargain. Many people have sex without any type of monetary loss, and it was that moment that Peter realized he didn't know what the pay scale was for this sort of thing. He was pretty sure there was one. Sucking dick, after all, couldn't be worth the same as bending over for the man. But, Peter hadn't exactly studied up for this pop quiz. A moment's worth of cold terror slid down his spine.
You're Spiderman, he reminded himself, if anything happens, just smash him over the head and high tail it! But that didn't make Peter feel necessarily as comforted as he hoped it would. He was strong, yes, but today he was weak, the weakest he'd been in a long time. He felt like he could sleep for ages. After the milkshake, he thought, after the milkshake and the burger, and much after whatever this man has planned. Then you can sleep.
"So," Peter said, "what is it you...desire?" Peter rolled that word around in his mouth. Trying to see how it tasted coming out. He wasn't sure about it.
The man looked suddenly serious, and until that moment Peter didn't realize how jovial the man had seemed. It was a worrying thought, but what about what was happening wasn't worrying? Exactly.
"I have a, mmm, proposition," the man said, and Peter didn't take a step back but he tensed to flee if the man said anything even close to dangerous. Or to punch the man in the face. "Feel free," the man continued, "to say no. You can walk away right now, and I'll just find another pretty little thing, though I doubt any of the other sex workers I'd come across would hold a candle to your booty's glory, Baby Boy. Can I call you Baby Boy?" He didn't wait for an answer. "But I have a proposition that'll get you a lot of pay out, sweet thang. A big pay out. Keep you off the streets for a couple weeks at least."
Peter found himself salivating at the very thought, and had to remind himself very firmly that he had standards, and he couldn't make his mind up about a thing just because he was starving.
Yes I can, he said, one part of his brain disagreeing with the other.
Peter tried to keep his expression calm. He could be cool and collected. He could be like stone. He could.
"Let me buy you for a week," said the man, with something close to caution, "and I'll pay you a million dollars."
"Sweet sassafras!" Peter yelped. "That's a lot of money! Holy cow! Where do you even get that kind of money?" With no regard to the idea that he was supposed to be cool, collected, calm, made of stone, Peter continued. "I've seen Pretty Women, I'm pretty sure no one is gonna pay a million dollars for a prostitute, even for a week of the most 50 Shades stuff you can think of."
"And I don't even require any Mr. Gray will see you now, shit," the man said happily.
Peter narrowed his eyes at the man and crossed his arms over his chest. "I'm suspicious of you. You don't look like a billionaire who doesn't know the value of a dollar."
"I'm not," the man agreed, "a billionaire. I have a few millions here and there, but they don't usually stick around for long."
"Because of stuff like this?" Peter asked. "Are you just spectacularly bad at money management?" Peter didn't even care that he was talking to a potential client (hah! Client) like this. A million dollars was a shit ton of money.
The man shrugged. "Pretty much. I think I spent fourteen-k on red-eared sliders last month and then had to dumpster dive for food for three weeks before I made it back. Of course, the dumpster behind Mario's has awesome dig after 10pm so I kept dining there past when I could pay for my own shit, but what's some garbage between your teeth?"
Peter found himself silently agreeing, but he was curious about another part of the man's statement. "Red-eared slider?" he asked.
The man nodded. "Turtles. Got little red diamonds over their ears. They go slide-slide pretty fast." He shrugged. "That's why I got them: to race. And of course some of that money went to airfare to get me to Florida to release them into the everglades after the race was over, but a round-trip flight to the orange state doesn't cost that much."
Peter choked. "You spent fourteen thousand dollars buying turtles? Which you then released into the wild after a single race?!"
The man tilted his head to the side. "Yep."
Peter let out a wavering breath. Maybe this was real. Maybe the man really had million dollars (doubtful) to waste on rent boys in the Bronx. But it wouldn't hurt to go with it for now. He'd just ask for some money upfront and then bail if anything turned freaky.
"Alright," Peter said, sounding way more confident than he felt. "Well, I can't say no to a week with a professional turtle-racer." The man snorted and grinned so wide Peter couldn't help but smile back. "But I'm going to ask for something upfront. Just to prove you're not pulling my leg."
"Sure," the man said, easy-breezy, his smile not even wavering, as if he'd been expecting this.
Right, he probably had been. This was probably a very normal safety measure. Peter really needed to start figuring this stuff out.
"Ok," Peter breathed out, trying to think of a number that wasn't too high or too low. Why? Why hadn't he re-watched Pretty Woman more recently?, "how about--"
"Ten thousand," the man said, and pulled a roll of money from the inner pocket of his jacket, "in cash."
"Holy shit," Peter whispered, eyes going impossibly wide. Part of him felt frozen in shock, but then he noticed his hand reaching out and the man dropped the roll into it easily. "Holy shit," Peter whispered again, because the number he was thinking of was still in the hundreds. He turned the roll over in his hands, and noticed that every bill was a Benjamin. "Holy shit," he said again, because really, that about summed it up.
"Perfect," the man said, "now you have that insurance you should probably put it somewhere you won't lose it, and we can go."
Peter wasn't going to lose it. "Sure," Peter said, still in a whisper, still in shock. He dropped his bag off his shoulder and in a moment the roll of cash was stashed in the dark recesses of his book bag, folded inside a part of his suit. He pulled the bag back over his shoulder.
"Now if we're going to be roommates for a week," the man said, phrasing what would actually be happening very oddly, "I think we should introduce ourselves. I'm Wade." He held his hand out for a shake and Peter grasped it.
"Peter," Peter said without much thought towards secret identities or hiding anything really. Ten thousand dollars was sitting in his book bag right now. Holy shit.
"Nice to meet'cha', Peterino," the man—Wade—said with a laugh. "Now let's get out of here. I've got a place all set up for us."
Peter gulped, but he'd made his decision.
A million dollars.
"Ok," Peter said with a confidence he didn't feel. "Let's go."