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At Last the Rain Will Surely Drown Me

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She was out of ideas.

For the first time in what could very well be her whole life, May Parker couldn’t find a way to make a situation bearable. Which was unimaginable considering there had been times when she had gotten Herself and Piper through the month with nothing but a hundred bucks and a couple of coupons, and there were countless times when she had sacrificed a meal or two to make sure her baby was fed. In fact, there hadn’t been a single instance in her life – though Ben dying came close – where she had absolutely no idea what to do.

But today was a new day, and it was an understatement to say that the one hope she was clinging to was very easily slipping through her fingers. If it had ever been within her grasp at all.

She would trade today for a thousand months of bagged cereal and ramen noodles.

God, how she hated ramen noodles.

Because anything was better than having to resign herself to the fact that she was dying: She was dying, and she couldn’t figure out for the life of her how to take care of her baby when the inevitable happened.

Needless to say, May’s only thought was to find Piper a home – one that didn’t involve sixteen other kids in a cramped house, and a nanny who smoked as much as she screamed at them.

Okay, maybe Annie wasn’t the best example of an orphanage, but it didn’t change the fact that Piper would spend the remaining five or so years of her childhood in between families – and May had to calm herself before she thought of all the terrible people that she could be placed with. Piper had been in foster care for not too long before Ben had finally gotten too her, and it had treated her fairly well, but the poor girl had seemed lost for ages afterwards.

A foster home was the worst scenario that presented itself to May, and she was now considering possible friends that would take her in. Piper was particular when it came to people, and though she could get along with almost anyone, it wasn’t often she wanted to spend her time with someone. May had a suspicion that being around people who weren’t those certain few that she excited for drained her; and that meant the only people Piper would want to stay with was the Leed family. Maybe even the Jones’s, but it was a single parent household and May knew how hard it was to provide for one kid by herself – she couldn’t imagine two (though Piper certainly ate enough for two people).

As for Ned and his family; between his brothers, grandfather, and parents - there wasn’t much room to spare.

May sighed brokenly and shook the head she had resting in her hands. She absentmindedly ran her toes over a large dent (groove – Piper had insisted) at the foot of her stool, and found herself smiling despite everything at the memory that accompanied the imperfection.

“Aunt May! – Aunt May, Look!” A girl stood tiptoed on the shining surface of a bar-stool, jabbing one small hand above her head and gripping her uncle’s shoulder with the other. The newly proclaimed ‘Aunt May’ smiled lovingly at her husband (who to her great relief had his hands wrapped protectively around the bouncing child) before she laughed delightedly.

“You’re so tall!”

Piper nodded her head enthusiastically, “I’m just as tall as you! See?” She reached clumsily forward towards the woman’s head, supposedly trying to compare heights, when the abrupt tip of the stool had the child falling forward with a yelp. The chair collided with the floor and its counterpart with a rough clatter.

“Whoa!” Ben recovered from his shock and laughed at the child holding on to him for dear life. May clutched her chest in relief. “I got you, Sweetie. I got you.”

Piper looked at May with wide eyes before muttering a precious, “thank you, Uncle Ben.”

A feeling of warmth began to make its way through May’s broken chest; but it was quickly replaced by the cold hopelessness that was her reality, and she fought the unstable beat of her heart.

A breath.

If only Ben were here.

In and out, and the pain was subdued again. Sure to be back, no doubt, for her heart was failing not only her body -

Her damned heart was failing her baby.

The woman, too young for such a stark scene, reached with a trembling hand towards the tank beside her, grasping the mask and holding it to her face.

In and out.

A breath.

One after another, the thought of just how few inhales her body might have left chilled her. Someday, someday soon her last exhale would come, and she just –

She let out a shuddering sob.

-She just had no idea what to do.

But before that hope: that tiny half-assed hope (really, was she asking for much?), slipped through her aching fingers – there was a knock on the door.

And fate delivered her an idea.

Chapter Text

To say that he was grasping at straws was a statement. It wasn’t necessarily an over-statement, because really in a handful of straws, this idea was the short one (more so physically); but it also wasn’t really an under-statement.

Because this was… this was definitely grasping.

So, Tony elected to call it a statement.

Swallowing a sigh that would surely ruin the whole – I know what I’m doing all the time, 24/7 - character trait he had going on, the billionaire rapped confidently on the rugged door of apartment nineteen.

Faintly, small noises grew from inside of the abode.

Had his mind not already been preoccupied with a thousand different issues, he might have felt a little uncomfortable at the prospect of visiting such a humble place in his standard suit wear. He did have a reputation to uphold, however, so through years of training he threw any self-awareness out the window. Just in time for the door to open cautiously: presenting the supposedly prepared and emotionless man with a conflicting range of responses.

He settled on, “Hello, Mam. I’m Tony Stark.” The familiar declaration seemed to distract him from the obviously fraying edges of beauty accentuating the worn looking woman.

May Parker parked her brow high above its home in disbelief, both completely unimpressed and unsure at the same time.

“Yeah… that’s great,” She intoned in mock apprehension, before firmly shutting her door without another look at the presumed billionaire.

Tony blinked in surprise, paused a split second before knocking again, and began to seriously think that the Spider-kid didn’t get her spunk from just anywhere.

The door slid open abruptly, and the annoyed looking woman appeared again in the threshold. She asked in exasperation, leaning on the door as she did so, “What? I didn’t order… whatever cosplay thing this is.” She gestured vaguely at him in mild disgust, and Tony honestly was beginning to wonder if he actually looked so different from his usual self.

He wouldn’t be surprised.

“Not gonna’ lie, not being recognized hurts but I think I can get over it,” he smirked coyly. “This isn’t a cosplay gig – and I really hope there aren’t too many of those – but, Mrs. Parker, I’m here to discuss something with your niece.”

A flash of awe that Tony had expected from the very beginning had finally made itself present on her face, overshadowed by a fierce wariness that grew sharp at the mention of her niece.

"You mean…” May uncrossed her arms and looked at the man limply. “You’re actually Tony Stark?”

He nodded, stating matter-of-factly, “The one and only.”

“And… you’re here for Piper?”

Tony nodded again, “That would be correct.”

“Why?” She narrowed her eyes considerably.

The mechanic nearly groaned at the same simple questioning that he had endured not two weeks ago from the woman’s niece. “Can we talk inside?” He requested politely, though it was obvious he wasn’t going to answer until they did.

“Uh,” she opened the door for him carefully, “Sure, I guess.”

And that was how his grasp at straws had begun.

He told himself that he hadn’t had any other options, and that if there were any other (sane) enhanced individuals running around New York he would have most definitely gone to them first. Especially if they hadn’t only just learned to form proper sentences and tell time a mere ten-ish or so years ago.

Yes, that thought was weird.

But, he didn’t have that luxury. And so Tony Stark took an ecstatic, although slightly hesitant, Piper Parker to fight war criminals in another country. It was comforting to know that she had fought them before (on a very small level) and it was very easily one of the few things Tony felt he didn’t really have to worry about. There was no way they would hurt a kid, and it also wasn’t as if Tony would put her in a real fight with them anyways.

(It wasn’t even supposed to be a real fight)

It was also slightly concerning that the kid was hesitant at all, but given the circumstances; Tony could understand.

“You do know this has to stay secret, kid. No telling all your friends - even if this is the best day of your life,” the billionaire warned without much heat. He was sitting relaxed in the passenger seat of his jet, the spry teen across from him. Not actually expecting the kid to be so stupid as to shout their actions to the world. However, when she wasn’t running her mouth and practically bouncing off of the walls, she was pulling out her phone and typing away.

This action, which Tony had originally just pinged as checking the time, was now becoming a pattern. Every freaking hour.

Piper looked at him confused for a moment before it dawned on her. “What? No! No, I wasn’t – I would never do that! I was just checking on my aunt. Uh – Is that not okay?” Her skin paled, “Are people tracking my phone? I didn’t think they-“

“-No,” Tony interrupted, mentally slapping himself. “No, they aren’t tracking your phone.”

Piper moved her legs out from under her on the white leather seat. “Oh. So… it’s okay then, right?”

The mechanic rolled his eyes at the kid’s unnecessarily polite question. “Of course.” He teased, “As if I wouldn’t let you text Aunt Hottie. She’d kill me otherwise.”

Her nose crinkled comically in disgust. “Please don’t,” She begged.

Tony grinned, perhaps too engrossed in the amusing conversation to remember the terrible mess he was in. “Can’t help it if she’s hot, kid.”

“She’s not hot, Mr. Stark.” The kid leveled him a glare that Tony almost dared to think was serious, “She’s beautiful.”

He blinked in surprise. That was… oddly touching. He’d be damned if that stopped him from making jokes, though. “For sure, but hot – beautiful, same thing. Still hot,” he watched in interest as she straightened and leaned forward.

“No way!” Piper moved her hands in small, useless gestures. “No way, Mr. Stark. Hot is like,” she frowned and crinkled her nose again, “a… sexual attraction.”

Tony had to stop himself from snickering at how hesitant and juvenile she said “sexual.”

“And Beautiful is like… like the sunset. And Aunt May.”

Her tone softened appropriately, and Tony suddenly wished he wasn’t dragging a kid all the way to Germany to fix their mess.

“You know…” She urged, as if he was supposed to know. “You don’t just look at it. You feel it. It’s like… I don’t know. I think beautiful is when, on your worst day, you can look at something and it still makes you feel something good. Then you know that something is beautiful.” Piper crossed her legs again and looked between her idol and the torn seams of her converse. Tony noticed that she never seemed to stop moving.

Something that could make you feel good on your worst day. Tony wasn’t sure he had ever seen something so ‘beautiful.’

“I’m sorry, kid. I’ll call her beautiful from now on,” he apologized sincerely. After a minute or so, he indulged his curiosity.

“Your Aunt… has she always been sick?”

Piper stared at him in surprise before fidgeting uncomfortably, and Tony could immediately tell it wasn’t good. But he had guessed that the second he saw the oxygen tank – and had his suspicions confirmed when the kid had said goodbye to her Aunt as if it were the last time she’d see her.

“Well,” said kid started tightly, “Not really. But I guess sort of… It’s hereditary. Everyone on her mother’s side of the family had heart problems. We just say it’s part of the Parker luck – but, no. It only started about a year ago, only it wasn’t as bad, then.”

Tony nodded solemnly.

“But, she’ll be fine!” Piper nodded enthusiastically and gave a smile so genuine, Tony almost thought she believed it. “She’s stronger than anyone I know.”

He wondered vaguely in the back of his mind what it felt like to have someone believe in you like that - to have no doubts in you whatsoever. Though he didn’t envy the role her Aunt had to fill. The faith a kid like Piper seemed to have; from trusting her kidnappers to helping them fight each other, was scary.

Resting his foot on one knee, he crossed his arms. “So, you have any problems with your ticker? Since… it’s hereditary and all – or I suppose your Spider-bite might help.” He certainly hoped so, and if it didn’t, Tony might find a way to help himself.

If his life ever settled down again and he could think properly, that was.

She tilted her head for moment, so much like a puppy that Tony could practically see floppy ears, before responding. “Oh, no - I don’t. I’m fine, “something about the way she said it grated on his ears. “I’m not…” Piper’s cheerful manner vanished, and Tony knew he shouldn’t have asked. “May and I aren’t actually related.”

No one could have guessed, but Tony was honestly kind of flabbergasted. He had thought their personalities seemed pretty similar, but then again, he had only spent a solid day with the kid. Not to mention, Tony wasn’t really sure where that left her on blood relatives. Well, he had an idea, he just didn’t like it.

But if anyone knew how cruel the world could be, it was him.

“Yet, you call her ‘Aunt May’?” He questioned, probably inappropriately, but Tony Stark never really cared for falsities. He was also sincerely interested in the kid – there weren’t many others with a life as interesting as hers, after all.

Her response was short, and Tony could tell he was breaching a tough subject as soon as she started speaking. There was something cold, lurking, and strangely familiar to him in her eyes. What it was, Tony could only guess as sorrow, but time would reveal much more.

“Well, I’ve always called her Aunt May,” she shrugged in apprehension and frowned. “It was… My Uncle Ben took me in after my parents died, and they were already married at that point. I was, like seven, so to me they were both my Aunt and Uncle…” Piper shifted in her seat and wrung her hands clumsily, gazing periodically from the window to Tony.

She squared her shoulders, a gesture Tony was able to recognize from her interrogation.

“Then Uncle Ben died last year…. And I don’t have any other family, so May kept me. But I already loved her like a mom at that point, so it wasn’t too bad.”

Wow, okay. Shit - Tony wasn’t sure what part of that wasn’t too bad.

“I also have friends,” she continued, now in a light tone of enthusiasm.

He slumped in shameful relief at that change of topic. He had no interest in dealing with someone else’s emotional trauma at the moment, even if it seemed like the kid in front of him had plenty. Though, from the kid’s babbling, Tony guessed she turned out just fine after all.

“They’re both incredibly smart – well, of course they are, they go to my school – and like, Ned is super good at computers. That’s why he’s my guy in the chair. And then there’s MJ, and she’s kind of scary, I guess. Especially if you don’t know when she’s kidding. There was this one time…”

At that point, the weary mechanic closed his eyes, nodding along mutely to the girl’s babbling. Perhaps if he had the energy, he’d ask her to shut up; but at the moment, all he could do was think about the long battle ahead. And the terrible, never-ending headache budding behind his eyes.

After that, Tony decided that engaging in any more personal conversations would only land him neck-deep in the land of caring. One he had personally exiled himself from after the absolute shit-storm that was his life.

Or more recently, an overarching battle for the freedom of people who – evidently – never reserved him a spot on their own ‘land of care.’

One person had, though - always had. He was the reason why, after scraping himself off the ice in Siberia, Tony had flown straight home and left Spidergirl in the care of Happy (who – to his credit - had always had a place on Tony’s land of care.)

He had watched as Rhodey fell. He watched and did nothing as the person who was always there for him plummeted to the black tar of an airport too far from home. Tony had been happy for a moment, when he realized he wasn’t dead, but it was short-lived when reality set in.

Rhodey couldn’t feel his legs.

It was at that point that he realized his team, his friends, weren’t going to stop. They weren’t going to come to their senses, and they definitely weren’t going to listen to him.

Because they weren’t friends. Evidently.

They weren’t family, either. Evidently.

Dealing with that realization was tough, and so Tony decided he didn’t care. He didn’t care that they made a mistake, and he didn’t care that they didn’t care. All he cared about was fixing said mistakes, and hopefully not making anymore – because he knew. He knew it was partly his fault for not trying to compromise more.

He should have been better.

But he wasn’t.

Somehow, his mistakes always seemed to cost the most. He was a genius, and yet he wasn’t smart enough to have fixed this: it was like every time he made even the smallest mistake, other people paid the price. Tony supposed he just sucked at keeping things together, alive, and maybe that was why he loved his AI’s so much.

They couldn’t die. Or leave. Or betray him. In fact, they couldn’t even be disappointed in him: which was what everyone was in him these days apparently. Completely and utterly disappointed.

But that’s okay. He’s never been good enough – not to his father, the world, and not even his friends.

But he could fix things. That’s what he’s good at. If he couldn’t prevent the bad things from happening, then Tony Stark would fix them; and he could go back to disappointing people with a clear conscious. It’s what he does.

For a while, though, the team had been enough to make him feel like enough. As if his efforts actually mattered in the long run. But then he failed them (and they wouldn’t understand), and then he failed Rhodey, too. It was a painful cycle that Tony was fucking sick of repeating, and now all he wanted to do was fix it.

He would start with Rhodey’s legs. And while he was doing that, he would make some calls. The accords would be rewritten, the Avengers reformed, and his best friend would walk again.

Yes, if all went well, things would be fixed. Soon.

He just had to keep tabs on a certain vigilante while he was at it, and he was almost 100% sure Happy was really not going to like it.

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“Is this a joke?”

Tony looked at the man amused, “I thought you loved kids!”

Tony most certainly knew he did not like kids.

“Right,” Happy crossed his arms grumpily, not buying a word of it. “So, what? I’m a full time nanny, now?”

“You don’t get paid as much as them.”

The bodyguard started –

“- I’m just kidding! Jeesh, Hap, lighten up. You just have to make sure she’s not getting people killed – and deal with the paparazzi. You’re used to that.” Tony grinned apologetically, not really having the energy to argue any further.

Sensing his tone, Happy conceded. “The kid talks a lot. Nonstop. In fact, I’m going to have to buy ear-plugs now,” he complained half-heartedly. The bags under his bosses’ eyes were enough to earn the man some sympathy.

Tony clapped his friend on the shoulder, letting go so that he could fall down onto his office chair in a heap. “Not gonna’ lie, she’s a tad annoying. But she’s a good kid - smart too. Admit it, she’s cute!” Tony wasn’t lying. As far as snotty teenagers went, Spidergirl was rather charming. “I bet you’ll like babysitting her,” The mechanic chided playfully. He honestly thought that someone as outgoing as Piper might be good for Happy, because the man really could use some fun. His job was usually just a whole lot of stressful inventory work, and if not that, then it was stressful body guarding work.

Tony didn’t feel too great about working him to the bone, but at the moment, the best he could do was offer him something a little more entertaining.

The body guard scoffed thickly, “Kids don’t like me, and if our stay in Germany was anything to go by, then babysitting is not my gig.”

Tony raised a brow, “Oh yeah? Why’s that?” He looked at him fully to show he was willing to listen. For now – he tended to lose interest quickly.

Happy sighed and looked out the large window of his bosses’ office, recalling a certain event.

“Stop.”

Piper looked up from where she was on the bed. “What?” She asked in surprise.

Happy stood in the doorway of the hotel room, sweatpants on and shoes nowhere to be found, frowning. Or scowling, so it appeared to Piper.

He supplied gruffly, “Bouncing. Or whatever the hell you’re doing that’s making the bed squeak so loud I can’t hear the Tv. Stop doing it.” The tired body guard was trying not to sound mean, but he was tired, and well aware that he wasn’t ever good at sounding nice.

The teenager flushed in understanding, package of peas leaving her bruised face to rest on her pajama covered knee. “Right, sorry. I didn’t realize it was that loud,” she looked at his still annoyed expression and went on, “I was just excited, you know. I can’t stop moving – or sleep. Or… yeah. Sorry, really. I’ll stop bouncing.”

Happy’s irritation softened, and he noticed the camera laying on the bed. It seemed like the kid really enjoyed taking pictures and filming, but he assumed she knew that it was a bad idea to tell anyone what happened. So, he didn’t say anything about that. Lowering his frown, he looked at her one last time before turning to leave, “Yeah… well, it’s okay. Just settle down.”

“Wait.”

Happy stopped abruptly.

“You have Tv in your room?”

Damn. “No.”

Piper frowned in confusion, “But you just said – “

“-I said nothing. Besides, they don’t have cartoons,” Happy interrupted, now facing the kid again. She was still sitting criss-cross on the rumpled bed, albeit wide eyed since her new discovery.

“Why’s there no Tv in here?”

Happy sighed, “Because my rooms better.” He turned, closed the door, and spoke before she could answer, “Goodnight, kid.”

Back in his room, Happy made himself comfortable on the bed and watched as the commercials ended just in time for his return. This was true relaxing.

Then, not five minutes later, he heard it.

“Damn it,” he grumbled to himself, climbing out of the pasty colored sheets and marching out the door. He heard the squeaking stop as soon as he made it out the door, and he immediately knew that the kid heard him. Of course she heard him.

“Piper,” he called through the door. Feeling strange for talking to someone in another room.

He heard a sheepish voice bounce across the room, “Sorry!”

He opened the door, and was greeted by an even messier bed, an open camera, and an apologetic looking teenager.

“I forgot,” she sputtered.

Happy didn’t know quite how to feel, because obviously the kid was anxious or something. Had he given her coffee? Happy didn’t think he was that stupid.

“Seriously, I was just thinking about everything else and then I just forgot, and I guess when I forgot I started to bounce again. Like, how can I not bounce up and down after just fighting with Ironman against Captain America in Germany, it’s imp-“

“Okay,” Happy stopped her rambling. “Okay. Do you want to…”

He sighed, Gosh, was he really doing this?

“… Do you want to watch Tv for a while?”

She stared at him perplexed. “But I don’t have a Tv…” she trailed off unsure, looking around the room subtly to check.

“Yeah,” Happy rolled his eyes. “I know. I mean you can watch in my room for a while – If you don’t say a word.”

Happy knew he made a mistake as soon as he saw the kid’s eyes like up brighter than stadium lights. “Really? I’ll be quiet!” She declared, in a definitely-not-quiet tone of voice, “I can be so quiet. Like so, so quiet.” She leapt nimbly from the bed, forgetting the frozen bag of peas, and trotting towards him. “Thanks, Happy.”

“Sure,” he turned away from her beaming face, “and don’t let those icey peas melt all over your bed. I’m not finding you a new one if it gets soaked.”

Scrambling over to the bed, she tossed the bag off of it and rushed immediately back to the door, seemingly afraid he wouldn’t let her come if she took too long. They closed her door, and Happy let the kid sit on the bed once they were back in his own brightly lit room.

“So,” Piper drawled once they were settled – both on opposite sides of the bed. She once again sat cross legged, while the man across her leaned back against two peach colored pillows. “What are you watching?”

Happy looked at her calculating for a moment, before deciding that the question was excluded from the no talking rule. “It’s called Downton Abbey,” he answered.

She nodded as if she had heard of it, before asking what it was about.

Happy sighed, not wanting to explain the extremely long series at the moment. “Just watch, and if you have any questions I’ll tell you.” He was hoping, as she hmm’d in confirmation, that she would be too disinterested to ask any questions whatsoever.

He was so, so wrong.

Tony bit down on his grin, “Did she not like your show, Hap?”

Said man shook his head with a haunted look in his eyes, “No, it was the opposite. She couldn’t stop asking questions! It was a nightmare, Tony. A nightmare.” As it turned out, the kid wanted to know everything about the show. Like why some characters liked one person, why they hated another, and why that one woman never seemed to blink.

Happy still couldn’t un-see it, and now all he could do was stare at the women’s face – hoping to God she would blink.

“I’m glad you guys are friends, now. I knew I had nothing to worry about! You even like the same shows. Who knew?” Though Tony was willing to bet that the kid was only asking so many questions in order to impress the body-guard.

“Does he ever smile?” She had asked Tony on the plane ride to Germany as soon as Happy had gone to the bathroom. He had told her that, yes, he did smile; but not on the job.
After that, Piper had talked poor Happy’s ear off, and now that Tony had some time to think about it, she was probably just trying to make him smile.

But really, who knew with that kid.

Happy shook his head, “She fell asleep halfway through - at one of the best parts, too.” Happy had woken her up and watched her stumble all the way back to her room, not entirely sure she would make it there.

Tony mock gasped, “How dare she? Children these days, being tired. What is wrong with them?”

“Funny, funny,” Happy rolled his eyes and began to make his leave. He knew that Tony had work to do, and Happy didn’t want to be the reason he had to stay up any later than he already would. He was also pretty sure this conversation was over.

Tony began to shuffle through some papers, mind already shifting to the accords and what-not, before stopping momentarily.

“Thank you, Hap.”

The bodyguard paused and held the door open, looking at his friend with a smile. “No problem, boss.” Happy was glad to be able to lift a little bit of the weight from Tony’s shoulders, even if that weight was annoying and terrible at watching Tv shows.

He’d always have Tony’s back – even if that meant having the back of someone else, too.

Not to mention, Happy didn’t think the kid was that bad, so far.

She was okay.

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“Sorry, but you gotta’ go.”

Piper looked at the balding man in disbelief, “I promise it won’t happen again!” She pleaded, “I’m really sorry! School was just a little late, and then I missed my bus, and I just swear I’ll be on time next time!”

The man, her boss, shook his head and closed his eyes, not looking passionate in the slightest. He was standing in the lamely colored doorway of his office, which Piper would have loved to remind him didn’t really count, because he was only managing a convenience store. And he was crossing his arms, adding a few more wrinkles to his already crumpled white button up.

Now, it may just be because he was firing her, but she was also really starting to hate the way the moles covering his head moved several centimeters every time he so much as twitched his eyebrows. And to her small satisfaction, the rather large imperfection just above his brow line leapt football fields as he spoke down to her.

“Again, we don’t even really need the extra help. Especially late help,” he opened his eyes again. “Five times this month, each time more than thirty minutes late. It’s over, kid.” Turning around, the meaty looking guy closed the door in her face.

Piper wanted to seethe. Unfortunately, the only thing she was feeling was disheartened and slightly hungry. She had been late a lot; yes, but at least she could scan the items faster than Barbara (who was, like 200, to be fair). And it’s not as if she wasn’t late for a good reason! Today she had helped some guy find his keys, which took longer than expected because they we’re in his pocket the entire time, but he wouldn’t have gotten home without them! And last week she managed to stop a bank robbery, but of course, he had no way of knowing that.

Piper shuffled her feet over the pristine tiles, not bothering to look up as she walked through the automatic doors. She could get home on auto-pilot easily enough.

There was a feeling of nausea settling in her stomach, and she reasoned it was because she had just lost her job. Her only source of income now that May was sick. Now… she had to go home to her wonderful, amazing, perfect aunt and tell her that she was fired.

Fired because she was late so many freaking times. Why? Because she liked to web-sling to work. Could she tell May that? No. Last time she tried, the woman had laughed at her: assuming she was making a joke. Piper had been too discouraged to tell her otherwise, because it had taken her a full month to gather up the courage to even bring the topic up.

She still hadn’t found any more of that courage.

Piper groaned. She might be disappointed in Piper when she finds out about her vigilante gig, but for now she was definitely going to be disappointed in her for losing a job.

A job that they really, really couldn’t afford to lose.

Sure, it was a convenience store, but it was a nice one. They sold organic fruit and homemade mini-pies, and everyone seemed to prefer it over the one two blocks down the road. The pay was well-enough above minimum wage, and with some of May’s savings each month, it had been enough.

Now it was gone, and it was all her fault.

It was at times like these that she really felt like a little kid. The mistake was so stupid, so childish, that an adult probably wouldn’t have made it. And here Piper had thought she was a little smarter than most kids. Because, come on; she had seen more than most kids, done more than most kids, and been through more than most kids.

Surely, she couldn’t treat herself like a kid anymore. (She had gone to Germany and fought super-heroes for goodness sake.)

Only, it was hard not to when she screwed up about as much as one.

(Again, she fought superheroes in another country, but she also failed to catch one from a crippling fall. She was still finding ways that she could have gotten there in time. Every time she tried to sleep there was a new one, and she would be lying if she said that her guilt - coupled with that which she already held for May – wasn’t getting to her.)

At last her downward gaze fell upon the concrete steps to her apartment, and she dreaded telling May just how absolutely terrible she was. Her aunt deserved far better, and Piper knew that more than anyone.

Honestly, why couldn’t May have been given a less troublesome kid? Or no kid at all for that matter? Piper remembers, and bitterness swells within her at the memories, times when May didn’t eat anything all day – more often than she knew. She was too young to know back then, but it was because they could only afford to feed one person, and May had chosen her.

May always chose her, and sometimes, Piper wished she didn’t.

Worse than that, Piper remembers a time when May would smile everywhere she went, and laugh at every little thing. She remembers a time when May could walk up a flight of stairs without pausing for breath, and her worry lines were almost non-existent. She remember when Ben was still alive, and May was happy. Really happy.

Piper dreams of a happy life for May where she only had to worry for herself. Where she wasn’t sick, and a sad orphan wasn’t cruelly dropped on her shoulders. And where her husband hadn’t brutally died because of said orphan.

She wonders, sometimes…. If May would be happier without her.

Piper knows better, though, and she shoves away the intrusive thoughts. They seemed to be coming easier lately; and she wasn’t quite sure anymore (if they came to her so much) how untrue they really were.

(


)

Piper gaped – again – in disbelief, and a mix between shame and regret. She wished, futile and child-like, in the back of her mind that her aunt wasn’t sick. That they could be happy again.

“May, you can’t!” The hysterical teen looked at her Aunt pleadingly, receiving only a sad, knowing smile that only parents seemed to be able to give.

She had opened the apartment door to find her Aunt on the phone – hair done up nice for the first time in weeks – and talking about hours.

Hours per shift.

Instantly panic flooded the vigilante and she ran to May, desperate for her attention. Obviously, someone had told May about her unemployment before she could, and now her Aunt was going to try and work enough for the both of them. That was the first scenario that occurred to Piper, at least.

Her aunt, disturbed by the disheveled appearance of her niece and the words flowing rapidly out of her mouth, grew concerned.

“Piper, no, it’s okay – “she turned her face back into the phone for a moment, “- I’ll call you back, I’ve got to go.” May ended the call, touching Piper’s shoulder with a calm hand.

“What’s wrong? You said you were fired?” She asked eagerly.

The young girl nodded regretfully, spewing more panicked syllables. “Yes, but I can fix it! You don’t have to go back to work. I’m so sorry, May.” Piper wasn’t sure that she could handle watching her Aunt put herself through anything else.

“You don’t have to be sorry, baby. Why did you get fired?” Irrationally, Piper wished her Aunt wasn’t taking this as well as she was.

“I…” she hung her head, looking smaller than before. “I was late… again. I really screwed up, May. You shouldn’t have to pay for it.”

“You think that’s why I’m going back to work?” May asked, situation becoming clearer to her.

Piper nodded. Why else would she? Unless there was something she didn’t know…

“No… Piper, I’m doing this because I want to. I don’t think it’s good that you got fired, but I know you’re trying.” Her aunt laughed, stopping short when Piper’s frown only grew sadder.

“What?” Piper asked incredulously, looking at her aunt completely perplexed. Never had Piper expected her Aunt to want to go back to work in her condition, and it certainly wasn’t what she wanted to hear. She got the feeling that her Aunt wouldn’t listen to her, and that made her flush with new panic.

There was no way…. She couldn’t risk losing anyone else.

Her voice rose and she exclaimed sadly, “Why would you want to?!” There was no way her aunt could handle a job in her condition. Piper didn’t… Piper didn’t want her to work.

“May, you can’t!” The hysterical teen looked at her Aunt pleadingly, receiving only a sad, knowing smile that only parents seemed to be able to give.

She started again, gesturing with her palms face up and body shaken. May frowned deeply and listened intently, regarding Piper cautiously.

“I’ll get another job! Today! I’ll go out today, and you won’t even have to do anything. May, please…..” Piper trailed off, giving her Aunt what could only be the most desperate set of puppy known to man-kind.

“Piper,” the warm woman grabbed her shoulders, and Piper had to stop herself from turning away.

It was hard to look at May’s face when it got paler, duller, and a little more broken with each day.

“I know you think I can’t do anything, but I’m okay.” Her Aunt sounded confident, the way one learns to speak to their ‘children’, but Piper knew it wasn’t true. How could it be, when Piper’s enhanced ears could hear the long wheeze to her aunt’s breath? “I’ve had my fun when I was younger, okay? And I have to keep busy,” May looked her firmly in the eyes, and Piper wanted so badly to believe her. “If I don’t I’ll lose my mind worrying about you.”

“But…” Piper searched for the words, thankful that May always seemed to let her finish, unlike so many others who stopped her words because they assumed that they were pointless. “What if you… what if you work too hard? What if – if something happens? And your heart can’t take it?”

She shifted her feet on the old wooden floor of their living room. This wasn’t supposed to have happened. May was supposed to yell at her; tell her how utterly stupid she was, and then tell her to leave and not come back until she had another job. She was supposed to tell Piper that she wasn’t good enough, because that was the truth - wasn’t it?

May’s eyes softened, stiffening posture unnoticed by her niece, and Piper sniffled. Don’t cry like a little baby you stupid, stupid person.

“You can’t go back to work,” she decided, voice thick.

Warm arms, which reminded Piper painfully of Uncle Ben’s weak arms as the life left his body (a scary comparison), wrapped around her shoulders; and May placed a comforting hand on her head. Piper’s forehead fell upon her shoulder, and her nose was glad to smell the woman’s comforting perfume on her collarbone.

Piper was glad to know she was still trying, though she supposed that much was obvious.

“I promise you,” the girl wanted to scream at her aunt. Yell at her to not make promises she couldn’t keep, but Piper didn’t. She only held on tighter to the woman’s over-all clad back and hoped this promise was a real one.

“I won’t ever leave you alone.”

A feeling Piper hasn’t felt in a while returned to her, drowning her from the inside out.

“And,” May continued, Piper only squeezing her eyes and holding on. “If I feel like I can’t handle it anymore, then I’ll come home. I won’t over work myself, and I’ll let you look for another job, as long as it’s not on school nights.” Her aunt looked down her nose at her niece’s head on her shoulder, “Is that alright?”

Mutely, Piper could only nod tightly, gulping down the pressure seizing her throat. The deep, anxiety ridden goo was wrapped around her insides, and she knew - things we’re most certainly not alright.

A bad feeling, present only before her life’s greatest tragedies, weaved itself through Piper’s skin, heart, and soul.

The feeling had never been wrong before, and with those odds, Piper couldn’t find it in her to hope for happiness anymore.


That evening, May watched as Piper pried herself from her arms and offered to make dinner. Of course, May had said no, because she had always felt responsible for taking care of Piper in every way possible – and she didn’t want her niece to think she owed her anything.

There was quite literally nothing, or no one else, May would want to dedicate her time to.

But then, quite unexpectedly, the bright eyed girl deflated - as if all the energy had suddenly left her. May, who prided herself in cheering the girl up, tried to lift her spirits. She explained that she really, genuinely enjoyed doing what she was doing. No sickness could change that.

That only seemed to make her sadder at first, but May wouldn’t give up, and Piper seemed to realize that. She sat on the bar stool of their kitchen – the same one May had dwelled over the future in – and watched her make dinner with a smile plastered on her face.

It wasn’t great, but May appreciated that she was trying.

Going back to work had been an easy decision for her, though it wasn’t for the reason she told her niece that it was. She had been frightened at how panicked Piper had been, because she was sure that she had never let the severity of her situation slip. Granted, her baby was incredibly intuitive. Honestly, it was astounding the things Piper could pick up on.

For instance, there wasn’t a single time May had been able to get away with sulking by herself when Piper was at home, because she knew. She knew and she would clamber right on up to May and bury her in the softest hug imaginable.

It was like she had a sixth sense or something.

She knew that she would have to tell Piper sooner or later, because the effects of not telling her would be devastating. Though, it was still tempting to keep it to herself, if not solely for that fact that May wasn’t sure if she could handle the conversation herself.

For now, she was going to save up as much money as she could for Piper before… she went away. That was why she had talked to her old boss and, him being a longtime friend of hers, had gladly agreed to give her low stress work to do. Her workplace was a homely restaurant that had an eventful karaoke night every Friday and Saturday; and although May used to be a waitress there on the busiest nights, she was now going to work the calm mornings. They also discussed her managing the pantry and other small, non-labor intensive tasks that could be done. She was thankful for the opportunity.

The money she saved now – along with what was left of their savings - could be used in multiple ways to benefit Piper, but May was counting on a specific one. She had gotten the idea the day Tony Stark had knocked on her door, and May had never been so thankful to have a genius child.

Because, Tony Stark had to supply his interns with boarding if they need it, right? If not, May was going to see to it that he did, especially since Piper liked him. Stark seemed to be the answer to her cries, because it wasn’t unheard of for interns to stay at their workplace. To May, that was a better alternative then foster care, and the money would be Piper’s in case she needed it.

She still had enough money saved from her earlier years of hard work and Ben to help pay the bills while she was at it. Piper had gotten a job while she was in the hospital in order to keep up with things, and May hated that it was true, but it had really helped minimize the cut to their savings.

She didn’t blame Piper for losing her job, though she would have to speak with her about being late sometime, because that was not a habit she was going to let slide. May just wanted the poor kid to have fun, because goodness knows she hasn’t had much of it recently. Or ever, for that matter.

May wished Piper’s childhood had been happier. Less… traumatic, but here they were, and May would be damned if she let her baby out-work herself. At the fragile age of fourteen (practically fifteen – she could hear Piper say) none-the-less.

As she cooked dinner that night, telling terrible jokes and earning weak laughter from the young girl she cared about so deeply, May knew something was off. It could very well have been because of their earlier conversation, and Piper’s refusal to let her work, but she had been different the past couple of days. Not only had their conversations shifted from video games and movies to hospital visits and bills, but she was… more subdued.

Usually, Piper would follow her every move attentively when she made dinner, although May had no idea why. The girl seemed to take in every little thing, and it had become something May loved about her. The way she could feel those curious eyes follow her around the kitchen: it had become a source of strength for her. Because, everything she did
Piper saw, and May wanted to be a good role model. A happy one.

Piper shouldn’t have to smile by herself.

That night, however, was when May really noticed a different in the girl’s behavior. What once was a loving gaze appeared to now be no more than a blink or two in her direction. Piper’s head sat in her hand, and she looked thoughtfully, almost solemnly, out the window – turning to smile whenever she realized May was speaking to her.

Perhaps it was only a bad day. Yes, it had been a long one, and she was probably just tired. May wanted to push the girl for answers, but she always managed to come off as pushy and over-worried; a trait that she learned teenagers did not enjoy.

She had never been good with the talking part, though. It was Ben… When Ben was alive, he was always able to get Piper to talk. It was magical, watching them interact with each other. It seemed like he always knew what she was thinking, and it was something that made May miss him most. Especially on days like today, when it seemed like the only way to tell what Piper was thinking was to read her mind.

So, she didn’t push. She only hugged her niece like she was good at and covered her face in kisses before they went to sleep. Maybe… Maybe someday she could find a way to talk to her about everything. But May wasn’t good at talking, and it really seemed to be screwing her over.

She had a lot to think about, though, and so May got up early the next morning and went gladly off to work: packing her oxygen tank in the car just in case. She may not always be able to be there, but she sure as hell wasn’t going to leave her baby fending for herself, and saving up as much money as possible would help a little.

(She was really counting on paying off her hospital bill debt, too, but it seemed a hefty task.)

Her spirits were greatly lifted by Piper’s new internship with Stark industries, though. Piper had talked about him non-stop up until her mood change a couple of days ago, and that was really saying something. Piper hardly ever got excited about people, and from what May has heard (and she’s heard a lot of it), he’s been good to her.

There was no doubt in her mind: she was going to make sure that he continued to take care of her baby before she was through – or she swears she’ll haunt the rich bastard for eternity.

Yes, she just had to sort out a few more things, and then everything would be okay. Her baby would be okay.

They just had to hold on (and she just had to ignore the fear that comes with dying – preferably by thinking not-stop about her baby’s future instead).


“Hey! What’s up, dude?”

“Hey, Ned!” The sight of her grinning best friend was able to put a small smile on Piper’s face, and she quickly trotted up to him – glad to be free of her thoughts for a while. It had been a full week since she’d seen him, and that was an insanely long time for her. For both of them, so it seemed, as Ned wrapped his shorter counter-part in an equally tight embrace.

“Dude, you will not believe how much everyone talked about you while you were gone! You were like all Flash talked about at lunch last week… although it wasn’t very nice, but you can just tell he’s so jealous. It was great!” Ned gushed excitedly, as Piper shoved her books into her locker, pulling a week’s worth of late homework from her bag.

Piper laughed nervously, “Yeah, that sounds great. I’m sure he can’t wait to tell me that himself along with his posy of creepy girlfriends.” Piper shivered in disgust, though she was glad that Flash seemed to be the only one still harping on it. When she had texted Ned and exchanged experiences, it had mostly been about her time in Germany (maybe more than it should have – sorry, Mr. Stark), but apparently the whole world now knew about her internship.

Some photographer had snapped a picture of her boarding the plane with Happy, and a woman (her name started with a P, but Piper sucked with names so that was all she knew) had been forced to explain the situation to the reporters in order to avoid misconceptions. She had only returned last Friday, and because it was a rather private return, she didn’t think anyone had even known about it until this morning when Tony was reported to be home.

She hoped, and expected, that no media station would be interested in her. Though, Mr. Stark had warned her that it might be a thing.

Ned mimicked her grimace, “Yeah, I think Jade is, like, jealous of how much he bullies you or something. I mean, that’s pretty freakish, but she has every right to be jealous of you! You’re Spid-” he stopped abruptly, “– uh, Tony Stark’s intern!”

Jade was the leader of the snob posy, and Piper was positive she had a crush on Flash. Why? She had no idea, but they were basically demons from the same layer of hell – as she liked to see it. Ned was referring to Jade’s undying hatred for Piper, and they assumed it was because Flash paid more attention (oh how Piper wished he didn’t) to Piper than he ever had, or would, to Jade.

Piper gathered her English book into her arms and walked steadily next to Ned in the crowded hallway. “Nice save, dude, “she rolled her eyes at his slip up. It happened far too many times to count, and Piper hardly got angry at a small one like that anymore.

“MJ laid some sick burns on Flash while you were gone - it was the best. Like, literally the best thing I’ve ever seen.”

They walked into the classroom, and Piper took a seat next to Ned on the far right, laughing silently as she imagined their friend verbally abusing their… definitely-not-friend.

“What did she say?”

The teacher had yet to enter the class, and Ned checked to be sure before he started rambling again.

“Well, Flash said something about your internship being fake, because like no-one had actually seen you with Ironman, I guess. And then MJ said ‘if that’s true than Flash’s dick was either nonexistent or very, very small, because no-one had ever seen it, either’-“

Piper giggled suddenly, covering her mouth with her hands when students around them started staring.

“- and everyone was dead silent dude. Like, so freaking silent, and then they all - well, not Jade and the others, but you know what I mean - burst out laughing and I’m pretty sure Flash was going to have an aneurism. He might have, I don’t know. He was stuttering pretty freaking bad.” Ned’s face was split into a huge grin as he finished, and Piper mirrored him.

“Oh my gosh, I wish I had been there,” she finished giggling and sighed. She loved MJ, and she couldn’t wait to see her during physics. They shared nearly all of their AP classes together, some of which Ned didn’t take, and of course there was the mandatory classes. Piper was only alone in one class, and she was incredibly glad for that.

Ned looked like he was about to say something, opening his mouth only to close it abruptly, as their teacher entered and closed the door. Piper organized her stuff, speaking to Ned quietly as she did.

“Tell me more, later.”

 

Forty minutes later and class was finally over.

Before she could head to her next class she had to hand in all of her homework. She told Ned what she had to do, and he left with the rest of the class, telling her he would see her in gym as he did.

Piper held her book and Avengers pencil case in the crook of her arm, papers of identified predicate nominatives and direct objects in her right hand – slightly crumpled.

Well, a lot crumpled, but the homework had been to Germany and back, so Piper really wasn’t expecting much else.

As she walked up to her teacher: the graying Mrs. Pumperknickel, she paused at the suddenly sharp vibe coming from the usually laid-back teacher.

“Uhm,” Piper swallowed nervously and set the homework down in front of the unimpressed looking woman, “this is my homework, from, uh, last week…. Since I wasn’t here.” It came out as more of question, because Piper really wasn’t sure why a task so simple was becoming a nuisance, and she wanted to know just what the educator was thinking.

Was she angry? She had never been angry with Piper before, and if this was what that looked like than Piper did not like it one bit. Being alone with a teacher who seemed less than happy with her was increasingly uncomfortable, so she waited desperately for the woman to say something.

The ice-y eyed woman cut through the haunting silence of the high school classroom as soon as Piper had wished, but it was the exact opposite as she had expected.

Honestly, Piper wasn’t sure how this day could get any worse – what, with watching her Aunt practically sacrifice herself going to work this morning, and now this.

“I’ve said this multiple times, Ms. Parker. Late homework will not be accepted under any circumstances,” came the irritated reply of her teacher, eyeing the messy homework ruefully. “And crumpled none-the-less,” she added with disdain.

Piper froze, hearing this fact for what seemed like the first time in her life.

“W-what?” She stammered, mouth agape. “I’ve never heard – “ she stopped herself and tried to speak rationally, “I didn’t know - I don’t remember hearing that, and I thought it had always been okay as long as I told you…. Can’t I get extra credit or something?” She implored hopefully.

“Your grades are still too high to get extra credit, but if you miss any more assignments I’m sure that’ll change,” Mrs. Pumperknickel voice was like sand-paper, but she didn’t sound angry: more like she was exasperated.

But Piper honestly had never heard of that ridiculous rule until now.

Narrowing her eyes slightly in superior ridicule, Mrs. Pumperknickel reprimanded finally, “I’ve told every class the same thing since the beginning of the year, and I expect you to not forget it from here on out. You’ve been a good student all year, I don’t wanted that to change.”

The woman’s eyes seemed to soften a little at the end of her lecture, but Piper was too confused to care.

How could she have missed something so prevalent throughout the school-year? Did everyone else know about it? Did she seriously screw up… again?

“Oh, um, okay,” Piper conceded stiffly, picking her stuff up off of the desk in a robotic manner. She didn’t spare her teacher a glance as she left, and went right to her locker. She wasn’t quite sure how to feel at the moment; because all she could think about were the points deducted from her grade. It had to be at least five…. Which wasn’t too bad, but it wasn’t great either. She’d have to do unusually well in order to get it back up to its normal 96% (which was lower than her preferable subjects).

Before she knew it she was at her locker, and she realized with a start that no-body was in the hallway with her. Which meant…

She was already late.

Groaning miserably and hurriedly swapping out her stuff for the necessary books, Piper slammed her locker shut and half-ran to the AP class, hoping Mr. Tiber would understand.

A heaviness began to claw its way back inside her chest, and she wondered what else she would manage to screw up before the day was over.

The answer was: A lot.