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At Last the Rain Will Surely Drown Me

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

Picture I drew of Piper! It used to be in its own chapter, but I moved it.

IMG_3371

“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.

Chapter Text

IMG_3591
"May and Piper"

This is a (very messy) drawing I made of May and Piper! It's from last chapter when May brings Piper into her arms. I also had no idea how to make it smaller, but I hope you like it!



Mr. Tiber, luckily, seemed too busy taking attendance to give her more than a few words of reprimand when she came stumbling into the classroom, papers nearly falling out of her trembling hands. Piper spotted MJ in her usual spot, relief flooded her immediately and her heartbeat dropped back into the atmosphere somewhat.

She wasn’t alone. She would be okay.

She repeats that like a song stuck on loop.

“Welcome back, loser.”

A small grin inched its way onto Piper’s face as she shoved her books into her desk, turning to MJ as subtly as her glee would allow and ignoring the snickering bully behind them. “Hey, MJ!” She chirped, “I missed you, dude.”

Briefly, the dark haired girl’s eyes lit up and her lips twitched precariously upward; but as soon as Piper saw it, it was replaced with Michele’s usual calculating manner. Which – to Piper’s credit – she could mostly see through by now.

“That’s lame,” Michele deadpanned. Her chin sat in the palm of her hand, and per usual, she watched the class finish role-call looking bored. “You went to Germany with your idol, and you spent your time missing me. What a nerd.”

Piper rolled her eyes as Michele flicked her eyes towards her. “Glad to see you missed me, too. I was worried you cared.”

MJ rebounded just as low with a smirk, “You worry too much.”

Their banter was cut short by their teaching abruptly shoving the HDMI chord into his laptop and flinging them all into a power-point that had way too many slides to be acceptable.
Why not just kill them now and get it over with?

Piper didn’t know. Instead, second period went by incredibly slowly – in the terribly bright class room with too much body odor, peanut butter filled lunch boxes, and roughly coated chairs.

Some kid’s nose just started bleeding two class rooms down, and someone - in the teacher’s lounge? – was having a very dramatic mental breakdown over their bad haircut (probably something deeper there, but Piper wasn’t there so she couldn’t exactly help).

And was that weed?

She sniffed.

Oh – yup, definitely weed. Probably the bathroom in the east wing – Ew.

Yeah, it didn’t help that she was having a ridiculous amount of trouble focusing.

Some days it was that way: hard to focus. Most of those days, however, she could push through. It was usually only caused by her vivid excitement left from patrol the previous night, or her obnoxious hunger gnawing at her; or simply choose any one of her stupidly sensitive senses. But, today was not that way. The past few days had been increasingly terrible, and she was worried it wasn’t going to get any better anytime soon. This wasn’t her… senses. At least not totally. And it was getting bothersome.

‘It’ being the abundance of nerves and metaphorical cinder blocks she couldn’t seem to shake off.

But it had to get better – she had to be better – for May, for Queens, for her friends, for Ben, for her parents…. For Mr. Stark, and for Happy….. She had to be better.

However, she had always felt the buzz of needing to do something, like all of the time; and sure, somedays (or weeks) went by when she felt a little weighed down. Heck, anxiety attacks were a common thing for her, though she was quite good at hiding them by now. The difference was: it had never felt completely hopeless. Close, but not completely.

Now, it was like a cloud of smog was covering her, and she couldn’t even snap out of it long enough to hear what that damn power-point was about.

All she knew was everything loud and obnoxious around her.

The ticking of the clock.

That nasty chalk on board.

The blood pushing and swooshing through everyone’s veins, and arteries, and capillaries.

And the grinding of that one kid’s teeth, two seats in front of her, grinding, and grinding.

The beat of her heart – there, but for how long?

It went like this; and then panic was about her, bigger than it had been. The overarching feeling of wanting, needing desperately to do something – only equaled by the weight pulling her down from the inside. It happens all at once, and she can shove it away. Pressure seizes her throat, and it’s hard – harder than any other time – but she makes it.

And when she tunes back in, they’re 10 slides into the power-point - everyone around her oblivious.

Things were fine, though. They were fine.

She couldn’t screw up any more than she already had.

The beat of her heart – there, unlike so many others.

She shook her head and tried to breathe.


Second period ended and before any joy could make its way to her, it was replaced with the bitter feeling of facing her teacher with late homework, again.

Michele didn’t even have to ask what Piper had to do, already seeing the - probably tear soaked - papers in Piper’s hands. As the bell rang and they all left their seats, MJ stood with Piper until the person behind them left.

Flash waited, and upon realizing that MJ wasn’t going to leave anytime soon, he shuffled grumpily past them. His shoulder hit Piper’s with purposeful force as he did, and Piper reminded herself to stumble.

She rocked slightly.

“You good?” Michele put a gentle hand on her shoulder, not all that concerned about the shove, more so with the fact her friend was sweating bullets in the icy coolness of ‘rich-school’ AC.

“Am I that good at acting?” Piper asked jokingly and looked up at her tall friend in amusement. It’s not as if Flash could ever actually move her.

MJ’s eyes narrowed and Piper’s smile turned to a frown.

“I don’t know,” she stated plainly. As if she did indeed know and simply thought Piper wasn’t telling her what she thought MJ did not know.

Only problem was, Piper didn’t know what Michele seemed to not know. Or did she know? And she just forgot that she was hiding something?

Oh, crap! What was it? Is it big? Did she slip up?

Wait – That doesn’t make any sense.

Shut up, Piper. If you were hiding something you would know, idiot. That’s how thoughts work.

Stupid, Stupid, Stupid.

So, then what the hell?

If her head didn’t hurt before, it did now.

“What does that mean?” Piper asked with a crease in her forehead – Gosh, it was hot in here. She pulled at her sweatshirt collar.

Michele shrugged and eyed her suspiciously, a gleam of concern in her eye. “I don’t know. Just that you might be a great actress, and you might not be. What do you think?”

Piper stuttered, nervous that she was upsetting her friend. God, what was it?

What did she do this time?

“I- I don’t know, MJ.”

Michele squeezed the hand she had on Piper’s shoulder softly and conceded, “Alright, Parker. Just… chill out, I’ll see you at lunch.”

The teenage vigilante watched her friend leave; the small disappointment in her tone staying with her, though it was so insignificant it probably shouldn’t.

Chill out?

Did… She seem angry? Was she acting weird - stupid?

God, was she making them worry?

Piper shook her head, again, braids slapping her shoulders.

What was wrong with her?


Parker, in all of Michele’s extensive vocabulary, could only be described as one word: unimaginable.

Now, that’s not to say that she wasn’t other things. In fact, Michele saw Piper Parker as many things (annoying, nerdy, a weird sort of sappy, and some nice adjectives Michele wasn’t used to using; or one might pick any meaning of the word ‘sensitive’), and those things were all common in her friend throughout their days together.

One trait, however, was consistent throughout every moment and every second that Michele Jones had spent with peculiar Piper Parker, and that was: unimaginable.

She means this in every sense of the word. From the way her eyes seem to assess things with a vigor and effectiveness MJ had only read about in dramatic poems, and to the way she trips over absolutely nothing in the school parking lot; MJ could not fathom anything that girl did.

It was like watching a squirrel fall out of a tree – it wasn’t quite sure whether to reach out and grab onto something, or prepare for the fall. The squirrel, panic stricken, tries to do both. It falls flat on the grass and breaks its neck.

Piper was like that squirrel, except she would be teetering on the edge, four nuts in her tiny squirrel hands and a dog nipping at her tail.

Today, MJ saw the squirrel slip, but it didn’t even seem to notice. Instead, it was only clutching its food and swatting at the dog – it plummeted unwittingly towards the ground.

The dog a metaphor for whatever problems were ruining her, and the nuts everything she didn’t want to let go.

Today, MJ saw her friend slip, and she didn’t even seem to notice.

She was far too busy being okay, and too occupied with the noise in her head to notice.

She was falling, and neither she nor MJ knew how far.

The squirrel falls far – enough, or too much.

Piper falls –

And she falls,

And –

MJ hopes.

Wrong – one thing MJ was rarely.

Yet, she hopes.


“Where’s Parker?”

Ned looked up at her as she dropped her book on the table and sat in front of him.

“Um, I think she was going to try talking to her teachers about her homework again. That, or she was going to the bathroom,” he shook his head sheepishly. “She was talking really fast - it was hard to tell which, okay?”

Michele glared at him and pulled a fruit cup from seemingly nowhere and ripped it open, grabbing the spoon from Ned’s lunch tray semi-aggressively.

Honestly, had Piper not bothered to listen to the assembly on the first day of school? Teachers were assholes and they won’t accept her homework if it’s late.

Why were her friends – people so stupid?

“She’s acting weird,” the brunette suggested with a quirk in her brow, gracefully shoving a spoonful of cubed fruit into her mouth.

The Latino boy frowned, “I was thinking she might just be tired. She just got back from that awesome trip – with ironman,” He couldn’t help but gush as he said it. “And finals are coming up… “ he trailed off, looking to MJ for the words he didn’t dare to say. He had been thinking about Piper’s situation whenever he thought of her, and well… yeah, that was a lot.

“And May…” she provided.

“Yeah,” Ned nodded solemnly and looked at his spoon-less soup. He offered hopefully, “but Piper said she was getting better.”

MJ doubted it. Nothing like this had ever gone well for Piper before, and she didn’t think it would start to now. However, Michele had met May Parker, and she was pretty sure there was nothing she wouldn’t do for Piper.

That includes defying all odds and death while she was at it.

“I’ll just ask her,” MJ concluded. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Parker was worrying us over a bad night’s sleep.”

Ned chuckled in his pitchy way and stole the spoon from the girl’s half-empty cup, “Did you just say us? As in you’re worried too? Because ohohohoho, I am so telling.”

“You misheard, “she bluffed blankly.

Ned’s face fell in annoyance.

“Besides that, I don’t think we have to worry about her bouncing back. Bouncing is kind of her thing.” She stuck her fruit cup on Ned’s tray and bit back a laugh as his grilled cheese fell into his tomato soup. “Just like failing miserably appears to be your thing,” she joked with no sign that she was.

Ned only sulked.

“I just hope she tells us the truth – I don’t know what else to do.”

MJ didn’t know either. How… do you comfort somebody who may not even need to be comforted? For now, they hoped; and didn’t dare to worry more than they already were about the strongest of both of them.

Piper hated that, anyways.


Piper walked into the cafeteria, now much lighter school bag slung over her shoulder clumsily.

Her friends perked up when they saw her, more focused on her than usual, though she didn’t notice quite yet.

She was too busy trying to figure out just how she had become so stupid.

“Why the face, Parker?” MJ asked to Ned’s relief. It was either that or he would have to try and ask without giving away his small (large – very large) worry.

Tapping of nails on a phone screen.

The tired looking girl slumped on the plastic coated bench and dropped her forehead on the table with a thud. “I was born this way, Jones,” she answered with no passion whatsoever.

The snarky girl’s brow twitched, not liking how evasive she was already being. “No-one would take your homework, right?” She asked bluntly.

High pitched giggles.

Head shooting up and arms finding the air above her head, she whined pathetically, “No! They just – they were like: ‘you should have known, Ms. Parker’ - ‘you’re such a disappointment, Ms. Parker.’ And ‘You might as well give up, Ms. Parker.’ – ‘Please, for the sake of the universe, end it now, Ms. Parker.’”

“I don’t…” Ned looked at MJ horrified, “I don’t think they said that – the last two. Or three.”

Piper dropped her cheek back onto the table, and MJ looked at her calculatingly, not quite sure whether to laugh or tell her how forgetful she could be. Ned put aside what was left of his soggy grilled cheese.

“They were thinking it,” Piper concluded sadly in response to her best friend’s horror.

He disagreed, “I mean, maybe about some of the other kids who like, actually suck, you know? They like you way more.”

Piper silently knew that that wasn’t very likely anymore.

Air, in and out, up and down, all from the lungs. Like the smallest breeze – so many of them.

A phone just hit the floor – the screen must have made the crunch.

MJ flicked her friend in the nose, “You know that they told us all at the start of school, doofus.”

“Uh,” she flicked a piece of soggy sandwich at Ned off of his tray and watched him dodge it in mild humor, “now I do.”

So did her homework at the bottom of the trash – it wasn’t like she’d be needing it.

With a low sigh that shoved away whatever emotions she was feeling right now, she lifted herself limply upright and pulled a granola bar from her bag.

Ned considered throwing sandwich back at her, but decided he’d do it when she wasn’t sadly eating a dollar store snack.

“I can’t believe you missed that,” He deadpanned, referring to her lack of knowledge regarding school curriculum.

“I know,” Piper replied blandly.

Ham and cheese.

Expensive bread.

Some girl named Amy just got dumped. She isn’t crying –
Oh, nevermind.

“That sucks.”

“Yeah.”

An unsure silence filled the table, amplified by the busy hum around them made by other students yapping away. Piper could feel their uneasiness and she didn’t like it. Not one bit. She was sulking, and she knew it.

She was sulking again, and it was absolutely pathetic.

 

He let out a long, annoyingly stomach twisting sigh, and gave her a look bordering apathy and passive aggressive anger. “I don’t accept late work – No teacher here does,”
Mr. Tiber said with his weirdly shrill man voice.

It took all the self-control Piper had not to throw herself out of the nearest window.

“Nobody? None of them? Not even Mrs. Ladily?” She was full on begging at this point, and she didn’t care. Not a lot, anyways. Mrs. Ladily was the nicest teacher she had – she was hoping she’d be able to cut her some slack.

To Piper’s immense irritation, the teacher only rolled his eyes and crossed his arms as if he were SO FREAKING inconvenienced.

“No, not unless she wants to be fired. Now, aren’t you late for lunch?”

STUPID FREACKING TEACHERS – OH IF THEY ONLY KN-

“Fine, thanks anyways,” she muttered, not at all thankful.

She was Spidergirl – freaking Spidergirl and here she was losing her mind over a few pieces of paper.

She stomped out of the nearly empty classroom with an angry frown and immediately dumped her bag over the nearest trashcan in a fit of frustration.

- Forgetting that she had things other than useless homework in there.

Five minutes and countless frustrated cries later, she had dug out her pencil case, books, random crap, and (very subtly) her suit from the disgusting ass trash.

She decided to leave the stuff covered in a mysterious liquid – smelling like old milk but looking like the stuff that one garbage Pokémon was made of - behind.

Gosh, she wanted to cry. She always wanted to cry it seemed. How absolutely pathetic was that? She shouldn’t even be sad, not when she was perfectly healthy and her amazing, perfect, young aunt was probably fucking dying.

And working her butt off, too.

Because Piper ate a shit ton of food, and lost her stupid job, and can’t do anything right.

She was pathetic and was basically pitying herself. Always thinking about herself. Right now – she was doing it. Stuck in her own head thinking about how sucky she was when she should be helping May and other people, but she can’t because she sucks.

She sucks - Again, self-pity. Around and around and she always came back to herself.

Are you done, Piper? Are you fucking done, yet?

She screamed silently at herself and hit herself in the eyes.

No crying. No panicking. No anything.

Chill out.

Piper Parker picked up her bag and made her way to the cafeteria – absolutely exhausted.

 

“So, what’s new with you guys?” She asked with plastic energy, keeping what was left of her anxiety – or whatever the hell it was right now - somewhere safe and unescapable, where it won’t come out at unpleasant times. Or ever, if she’s lucky.

“Well,” Ned said, seemingly relieved,” I got some new Legos, and they’re Lord of The Rings themed this time.”

MJ snickered and Piper smiled widely, chewing her granola bar numbly. “Like the Shire set or what?” She asked, still fighting to focus on what her friend was saying, and not everything else.

Peanut butter – always so much freaking peanut butter.

Jelly – a couple kids with chips.

Blood, whooshing and swooshing.

“No,” Ned’s eyes flashed and Piper perked up immediately, “the Minas Tirith set.”

Food falling to the table and jaw along with it, Piper sputtered, “No way! No freaking way! How many pieces?” The sudden excitement coming off of her immediately brought their usual energy back.

“So many,” he shook his head fast, “So dang many, dude. It’ll take us at least two full sleepovers.”

“That’s so cool,” she breathed.

“I know,” Ned said, oblivious to the chuckles coming from Michele. “You should come over tonight and we’ll start it,” he suggested. It would be the perfect way to welcome Piper home, after all.

And just like that Piper came crashing back down.

“Oh…..” She tried not to flinch, “I can’t.”

Her friend deflated and Piper glanced beside her to see MJ narrow her eyes.

“Why not?” Ned asked gloomily.

Why not?

It was an easy question. She couldn’t because she didn’t want to – and she also couldn’t because she wanted to be there for May, but the first thing that came to her mind was that she just didn’t want to.

Why?

She was tired. That was probably it. Tomorrow she would wake up and not be able to stop thinking about it she would be so excited. Just like normal – that was it, right? That was her normally?

She was just tired – that’s the only logical answer.

“May went back to work today, and I want to make dinner for her and stuff. You know, make sure she’s all good.”

Thump. Thumping – hearts alive – healthy, surrounding her.

And yet she couldn’t bring herself to say it. For some reason, it didn’t seem believable. Maybe because they had pulled plenty of all-nighters together and Piper could always make time for Ned and MJ. Even if she was exhausted.

God, why was she so nervous about telling her friends that she was tired? That she didn’t want to? They were her friends, it wasn’t weird.

You might have fun – No… No, I’m tired.

“Oh, right. Sorry, dude.” Ned looked sad and almost guilty – for what Piper didn’t understand. MJ only continued her usual silent demeanor.

This was weird. Uncomfortable.

“It’s fine! Tomorrow, let’s do it tomorrow.”

Her heart – louder than the rest. Faster, too.

Her friends seemed to accept her answer just fine, and she watched as Ned took up another conversation about non-fiction vs. fiction books with MJ.

But things were weird, right? Or was she going insane?

Today was probably just an off day.

That was it.

Thump. Thumping.

How long?


That night when she got home, her Aunt wasn’t there. Piper had assumed that, in her condition, she wouldn’t choose to work long hours. Evidently, she was wrong.

She closed the door and flipped open her phone where she stood by the counter, grimacing at the scratches along its edges. Definitely from her keeping it in the suit.

Three clicks and she found the contact she was looking for.

May <3

Piper: Hey, I just got home. How’s work? Are you almost done?

She added, hoping to not sound as annoying as she was –

Piper: Love you!

She sighed and threw her bag off of her forearm and next to the door of her room, a couple of meters or so from where she was.

It felt absolutely terrible to be doing nothing while her Aunt was doing so much. But she just didn’t know what to do. Every-time she tried to do something, May insisted on doing it herself, and Piper tried arguing but it only got her riled up – which isn’t great for her heart. Piper wanted so badly to be angry at her; it would be easy enough.

But she couldn’t. Not when she knew the woman was giving her everything she had, and there was a chance Piper might make her feel sad. It keeps her up at night. The guilt – knowing just how times she treated May terribly and didn’t even care to apologize. Sure, she could do better now. But she would never get that time back.

It drowns her: when she think about Ben. How many times had she taken him for granted? How many times had she spewed incoherent things at him and locked herself in her room? Ignoring him when she could have been loving him.

How much time was she wasting? Of her own? Of theirs?

Frustration hit her, and suddenly there was just her. Standing there; doing nothing and thinking about how much time she was wasting.

Thump. Thump.

How absolutely pathetic.

May left the house before she did this morning, for starters (which is just insane in Piper’s mind). She completely botched school today, and maybe even her grade for the whole quarter. And her reputation for – what, forever? Then she was a sad jerk to her friends, who are like the best people ever. And now she was just – Standing there.

What could she do?

She inhaled sharply. What?

She could –

Her chest tightened and she rubbed at her eyes, trying to fight off the panic. What? What could she do? What was she even panicking about?

- God, she could make dinner? Could she?

Would that even put a dent in May’s exhaustion? She didn’t know. She didn’t know. She didn’t know.

But the room was starting to spin and it was all she could do to stop from falling away into nothing.

Focus.Mac and Cheese – she could do that. From a box, it’s almost impossible to screw up.

Whoosh – Swoosh

Here now, gone the next

With trembling hands she looked at her phone screen, seeing no new messages: she flipped it shut.

She could be better. She could help May and she could be better.

She could be better.

Could she?

Chapter Text

Monday

May had a surprisingly easy day at work. The restaurant opened at 7:00, but because she was now working wherever she was needed (prep cook and occasional dish-washer the main), she started at 6:00. It was different from her normal shift that started at 4:00 and didn’t let up until 1:00 a.m – sometimes 3:00, but it was a pleasant change from the blubbering drunks she often came across. Though they all knew her well and treated her kindly.

She was now subject to elderly couples coming in for their morning coffee (she noticed that they tended to tip more than they should), busy people trying to find some peace in their morning, and the occasional teenager franticly ordering an iced coffee or three for them and their friends.

It was calm – easy.

She thinks about how much she would have appreciated this – for how warm the morning was – when she wasn’t facing oblivion. When there weren’t flocks of birds pecking at her stomach, the fear and worry never letting up.

‘How would she tell Piper?’ They screeched at her. ‘How do you tell someone that you’re leaving when you said you never would?’

Would Piper be okay? She tells herself that she would, because Piper was always strong and fearless. So unlike herself. Little Piper marched right up to a criminal, in a plastic ironman mask, and practically dared it to hurt her. Little Piper watched her parents leave, and never once hated them for it. Slightly older Piper watched her uncle die, and she still smiles and laughs and makes people happy even though it must hurt to try.

Piper now? Surely she would prevail and be stronger than anyone else.

Even so, May had always been there to hold her. Sit on the bed in a heap and tell her how wonderful she was, and watch as that face came bursting back to life in a fit of embarrassed giggles.

Piper would be okay without her – she’d find a way to smile. But May? How was she supposed to go in peace, knowing what she would miss? The smiles, the moments – God, her first boyfriend? Her humble smile at Graduation? Her world changing successes?

What about all the questions she wouldn’t get to answer? The ‘What do I do, May?’’s that she hadn’t heard yet?

It was selfish of her, but she wanted to be there and watch her baby grow up and live. Piper would be fine – she always pulled through. But May couldn’t possibly come to terms with missing out on all that.

It was cruel, taking that away from her.

So work was easy, yes. And her chest was tight as always. But her heart was confused and upset and she wanted to fix it. She didn’t want to die depressed and sad like Edgar Allen Poe (Or so she thinks Piper said that one time).

She wanted to be there. God, she wanted to be there.

Thus, she decided that she would make Piper smile as much as humanly possible before she left.

And maybe, if her parents were right, she would watch Piper forever afterward from way up in the sky somewhere.


Monday Evening

“Piper,” May drawled with wide eyes. Her keys were still in her hands after unlocking the front door and stepping inside, when she was greeted by her niece dumping a bag of noodles into a boiling pot of water.

Which in hindsight didn’t seem so bad, but to someone who had been looking forward to coming home and surprising their niece with takeout; it was somewhat alarming.

Piper turned around with a sheepish grin, “May! You’re home! I was just going to make us some…” She trailed off as May suddenly rushed forward, grabbing the pot by its handle and Piper’s shoulder at once.

“I thought we’d order Thai for dinner! It’s your favorite!” She announced happily to Piper, before slipping her hand away and using it to carry the old pot over to the sink.

It occurred to her that Piper just wanted to help, and that was incredibly sweet of her, but May didn’t need help. Not when she was still breathing. May would have none of this ‘Piper taking care of her more than she had to’, nonsense.

It hurt to even think that she couldn’t do something so simple as provide for her. Especially in their last days together.

“O-Oh,” she heard the girl respond, “I just thought you would be tired… so I was just going to – “

“- Don’t worry about it, Sweetie. This is well-deserved, don’t you think?” She asked, whilst dumping the water and raw noodles into the sink and turning on the cold water briefly.

May received only silence as an answer, which was odd considering she was expecting a little bit more of an excited shout instead. She turned to look after placing the pot on the drying rack and digging macaroni out of the sink, and came face to face with a stone-still Piper, staring in to space as if she wasn’t actually there.

“Piper?” May questioned patiently, somewhat used to Piper being an air-head, but always ready to make sure it wasn’t something more than her unusual habits. Contrary to Ben, it was hard for her to tell.

Piper seemed to snap out of it and looked at May almost panicked. “Sorry, um, I just… spaced out,” she cleared her throat and May frowned. “Thai sounds good, though.”

The way she said it suggested that maybe this time there was something more, and May reckoned it could be about their borderline-argument yesterday over her going back to work. More than that, however, May felt disappointment creep up on her at Piper’s lack of enthusiasm towards their favorite take-out place.

They stood there unsure for a moment, May looking at Piper like a puzzle, and Piper clenching her jaw to keep whatever she was feeling from showing. Both seemed like they had something to say.

“Um -”

Neither of them said it.

“ - I have to go do some homework, I-I’ve got a lot,” Piper called unsurely, edging closer to her bed-room door across from the kitchen counter. She paused as if debating.

“Unless you need me for anything?” She finally asked, voice hopeful.

Though instead of hope or longing, May only heard a teenager that was worn down and busy, but too nice to say anything.

“No,” she shook her head, determined to provide Piper with everything she could possibly need, yet oblivious to the turmoil in the other girl’s head. “I’ve got things, Piper. You get your work done.”

Piper looked at her almost sadly once more before leaving, but again, May assumed she just didn’t want to work.

She let loose a breath and sat down on the grooved stool, hands in her lap, pondering what flavor ice-cream she could buy them tonight.

Whatever made Piper happiest was the obvious answer.

The thought came to her somewhat broken and sad. Like a firefly spending the last hours of its life in the daylight: its beautiful light wasting away where it can’t be what it lives to be.

She was a lot like that firefly, actually.

She started her life a baby, as everyone else did. She grew up into a wild teenager, doing things – and hanging out with people – she probably shouldn’t have. She didn’t know who she was, and she didn’t really care at that point, because she was young and free and that was all that mattered. Later on she met Ben, and she found a little piece of herself she didn’t know she had. A part of her that could love someone more than the world, and want nothing more than to be with them.

He did that to her. Gave her a warmth that stayed with her forever.

When her parents died, she was in her mid-twenties. It was hard, and Ben was still new to her, but they got through it. And she was more in love with him than she ever had been, growing a determination to follow him anywhere life took them. They lived simply and freely. Never wanting more.

They bought an apartment together, going out every weekend to restaurants and to small cafes and delis during the week. It was an uneventful chapter in her life, but she honestly thought it was going to be the best tone.

And then life gave them the best chapter of their lives, completely blowing her expectations to pieces.

At first, it didn’t appear that way. Ben’s sister and brother-in-law had just died tragically in a plane crash, leaving their daughter an orphan at the age of seven. It was hard to imagine anything going well after something like that. But, just like that, Ben had a niece to take care of, and it wasn’t as if May was going to ask him to give her up.

She hesitantly closed one chapter and opened up another.

May insisted that she wasn’t fit to be a mother – or aunt – because she had never imagined taking care of another life. She had never wanted the responsibility. Ben, though, he would look at her this special way that just whispered ‘You make me feel happy and at home’ and he’d say ‘you can do that for her, too.’ As if she’d made his world turn.

She decided she liked that.

Then, she actually met the little girl at an orphanage 30 minutes from where they lived. She ran into Ben’s arms as soon as she saw him and sobbed there for a good fifteen minutes. It was heartwarming to see her new-husband so sweet and affectionate towards the child, but it seemed he was the only one she would talk to. It wasn’t until after they were home that she was introduced as ‘Aunt May’, and her life changed forever.

She wasn’t just a teenager anymore, scared of responsibility and not understanding why she had to be anybody at all. Now, she was given this sweet little girl who called her Aunt May, and came to her when she fell down and needed her to make her lunch, and dinner, and breakfast. Now she was whatever this little girl – and her husband – needed her to be.

She was a mother, in everything but blood.

And it brought her a wholeness that she didn’t understand as a teenager, and one that was in her hands as a lover and wife.

It embodied her, from the moment she was deemed ‘aunt may’ and forever after.

Piper opened up May’s chest and touched her soul, like she seemed to be able to do with anyone. She discovered parts of herself that loved her family far more than she could ever love herself, and was happier because of it.

Piper did that to her. Gave her the person she had searched her whole life for. The person (mother) she was meant to be.

The years went by and their family only became closer. May found immense joy in watching her two favorite people interact and love each other, and she lived for the moments she got to have with them. She liked making them new, exotic meals that she knew were absolutely terrible when she made them; and making sure they always had clean clothes.

She liked the way their eyes sparkled when they looked at her, and the way they seemed to only feel at home when she was there. The way Piper would ignore everyone but her and Ben when she was sad.

They gave her life, love, encouragement in dark times, and whatever else she didn’t know she needed.

Now, the feeling was still there. The picture was crumbling – Ben was gone, and Piper was distant – but it was there. She had her baby.

For now, however many small moments they had left were still hers.

But, the sun was rising and her light as a firefly was dimming. Soon, she wouldn’t be able to be the ‘aunt May’ she lived to be. Her body would weaken and she would eventually leave, closing her final chapter.

That was why she was holding on to her baby so tightly - to caring for her like she was born to.

She wanted to make her bed and do her laundry. Braid her hair and buy her clothes. Dry her tears and teach her everything she knows about life and being a strong woman.

She wanted to come home after work and make her dinner. Because, for some reason, it was the only thing that could make her happy most days.

She wanted to be the reliable, loving Mom that Piper knew. Not the sick, increasingly dependent mother that she was quickly becoming.

She wanted to care for her baby in every way possible, for as long as her fire could still glow.

She wanted to be the ‘Aunt May’ that made her husband look at her the way he did.

Like she could keep their world turning.


Monday Evening

“O-Oh,” Piper inhaled sharply, “I just thought you would be tired… so I was just going to – “

May cut her off.

“- Don’t worry about it, Sweetie. This is well-deserved, don’t you think?”

May cut her off.

She interrupted her – Just like that – She had never done that before.

May had always listened to her, because, yeah, sometimes it took her awhile to say what she meant. But May was always so patient with her – because she’s too nice. And now, she was finally getting tired of Piper’s crap.

It had to happen sometime, Piper knows. Because she was annoying and useless – more so than she ever had been, obviously, since May couldn’t stand to even listen to her. She even tried to make dinner, which she guessed May did not like, and just wow was she a screw up –

“Piper?” May asked.

And now she was going to cry – great.

Lucky for Piper, she was able to get out of there before the tears started falling. Yes, of course, she was crying. What else would a pathetic example of a human being do when they should be doing something helpful and not useless?

Apparently, they would cry in their bedroom as silently as possible; so as to not alert anyone else to their huge show of pathetic-ness. Apparently.

Piper inhaled slowly and tightly, trying to suppress the shudder in her breath.

It would be so easy to sob right now.

It wasn’t even that big of a deal. So what? May interrupted her – Piper interrupted people all of the time. She deserves it completely. Does that mean she can stop thinking about how fast May’s heart was beating when she walked into the room?

The shudder, and the whoosh, and blood.

No. Does that mean she can stop thinking about how angry (presumably) she must have been for it to beat like that? Also no.

Does that mean Piper feels like any less of a waste of space?

She stifled a sob with her hand and tightened her chest, knees coming up around the pillow she had in her lap.

Double quadruple no.

It does, however, mean that she was upset over nothing. She doesn’t deserve to be upset about something so stupid. She was Spidergirl – she was stronger than this.

At least, that was what she thought.

Obviously, since the most she could do was drag herself off of her bed, clear her face, and hope to not look like a mess in front of May: she was not strong at all.

In fact, she was probably only getting weaker, because it sure as hell felt that way.

All she wanted to do was help May. Her aunt was doing so much for her that would be shameful to not do something in return, so: she got a job, and she tried to make dinner, and she tried to get good grades.

What she managed to do was: Lose her job, screw up dinner, and wreck her grades.

Typical Piper.

What was she good for? If she wasn’t angry at her parents the last time she got to see them, letting a war hero fall from the sky and get paralyzed, or getting her uncle shot and murdered – then she was definitely making life harder for her aunt May.

Oh! Don’t forget making her friends worry needlessly!

Blood. Pumping and moving and then nothing at all.

She looked at her hands and tried to school herself into a calm exterior – a happy one even. May would be asking for her soon, and she couldn’t see how much of a wreck Piper was. May didn’t need that on her plate.

Nobody did.


Tuesday

The next morning she walked out of the doors to her apartment building, mind focused solely on getting to the bus and through the day without falling apart, when her world truly started to just punch her in the face. Almost exactly like someone constantly ramming their fist into her face.

It started like this.

Shouting – lots of it. Bright lights and a crowd of people that had her stopping in shock. Amidst this, a hand is pulling at her shoulder and his gruff voice is telling her to ‘move it along.’

She recognizes it despite the din assaulting her senses.

“Happy? What- why are they here?” She stammered, allowing him to push her down the steps and through the crowd of people. There were maybe fifteen of them, all shouting questions at her and shoving microphones in her face.

What’s it like being Tony Stark’s intern?

How much does Stark pay you?

How smart would you say you are to be working for the Tony Stark?

He didn’t answer until they were both in the car and he was turning on the ignition.

“For you,” he answered bluntly, face blank as always.

Piper took a second to watch the car swing away from the people and onto the crowded streets of Queens. There were one or two vans parked along the side walk, and numerous other vehicles with journalist stickers on them.

She folded and unfolded her hands nervously in her lap to calm herself.

“Why would they care about me?” She asked.

Happy gave her a pointed look, as if to say ‘seriously?’ He elaborated flatly, “You’re Tony Stark’s first intern – a kid nonetheless. The media’s going to be all over you.”

Piper barely registered the fact that he had called her a kid. She was more worried about the media knowing where she lived, and waiting for her outside of her home.

“Is that why you came?”

Happy nodded, stopping behind a few cars at a red light. “Boss made it my job to keep the vultures off your back until they settle down,” he seemed to think of something as he said it, digging around in the passenger’s seat for a piece of paper. “Right,” Piper noted with discomfort that he didn’t sound too happy to be doing any of this, “You’ll be reporting to me after each of your Spider-girl… Patrols. Just record whatever happened, and make sure to include anything import if it pops up. This sticky has my number on it.” Piper took the number as he added,” And please, don’t make them long. I don’t want to hear about what you did at school.”

Piper frowned, “Why do I have to report what I do?”

Happy snorted, “Because you’re a kid running round with criminals. We need to know if there’s anything bigger than you can handle going on. Until you’re older, at least.”

So they think she can’t handle things, too, right? May didn’t even think she could handle dinner. But, of course, she had gotten people injured (Colonel Rhodes, that guy she accidentally swung into a while ago…) and killed (Uncle Ben – Practically her aunt May) before. It’s no wonder everyone already knows she’s useless.

God, she was so bitter about everything, and she couldn’t seem to lighten up at all. She was like a very, very broken light bulb in a shitty house with no working circuits.

In other words, there was no hope for her change in attitude.

“What else do they know about me?” She voiced one of her many questions, worried that they might make her private life public, which was bad news for both her and May. They liked their privacy, as everyone did.

Happy sighed, seemingly annoyed at her for asking so much. It didn’t seem like a whole lot to Piper, but she supposed he just didn’t like talking to her.

“Probably not much else, since they would have to access your private records for anything solid, kid. You’re fine.” He might have been trying to console her - in his own gruff manner.

It didn’t help Piper’s anxiety in the slightest.

He turned up the radio and Piper took that as her cue to stop bothering him. It was a jazz station, which was honestly very fitting of Happy from what Piper could tell.

She stared out the window and hoped this would blow over soon.


Her second metaphorical punch to the face came the second she arrived at the school - late and upset; because she had to drive in awful traffic, and be witness to more journalists waiting for her. The only small mercies she was granted were that Happy was kind enough to walk her to the door, which was reassuring regardless of the journalists not being able to actually step foot on the school’s property. They just sort of shouted and coerced her from the sidewalk.

Creepy.

Four days from now Piper would know that the real nose-crunching part about this particular punch would be the fact that the journalists would not let up at all - they would be there, wherever she went, all the time.

For now, however, Piper assumed that she just had to get through today (maybe tomorrow) and then they would leave. Of course, with her magnificent luck – which, to her knowledge was only good under terrible circumstances – she was wrong.

So… terribly wrong.


Same day

Ned asked her to come over again today. She didn’t.


Happy picked her up after school and met her at the door. All the students watched her as she left, hungry journalists doing the same.
She would wait until everyone was gone next time.


May came home earlier that night and made chicken and broccoli for dinner. It was good.

Piper tried to smile.

She didn’t feel it.


That night, the noises were louder.

The city was the same, but her heart beat was what made it seem like a percussion group was playing obnoxiously in her head. So many beating hearts, beating, and beating, and beating.

Until,

The whoosh.

The slowing thump.

A wheeze.

And it was silent.

Until Uncle Ben’s blood covered her – on the curb outside the convenience store, and right here in her freshly sheet-ed bed.

A whoosh.

A Thump.

Then –

Over and over again, night after night.

A wheeze.

Blood. And then nothing at all.

Chapter Text

Wednesday

The morning happened just the same as Tuesday, with journalists following her around and a restless happy chauffeuring her. It was in the afternoon, hours after she had safely evaded all of her friends’ worried questions and blanked out in class without any knowledge of what had transpired, that she was free to be Spidergirl. May wouldn’t be home until later because of some extra shift she decided to work (Piper hoped this meant she was feeling better), and she told her aunt that she would be with a Ned all evening.

Lying always made her feel bad, but until she could find a way to safely tell May that she was Spidergirl (without giving her a heart attack – literally) then she would hold onto her secret. Someday, she would tell her – soon, even. Just, not now. Not when she was already too much of a disappointment to begin with.

The late after-noon passed without much crime – a few thefts here and there, a tree with some guys cat in it. Nothing heroic enough to make Piper feel any better about herself.

And that was why she was out here right now, wasn’t it? She could be doing homework, or studying and fixing the whole mess she had at school, but instead she was out here. Helping people.

Or trying to.

The truth was, as Piper was grimly starting to admit (and her whole speech to the Avengers about ‘sticking up for the little guy’ was looking pretty ironic right about now – she was the little guy), that Spidergirl was kind of insignificant.

Even some police officers hated her, which was crazy to her, because she was basically doing their job for them.

Now, that’s not to say that Piper hadn’t helped anyone. She had. It was just in such small ways that it didn’t really feel like it. Anyone could get a cat down from a tree, or find some guys keys.

The difference was; she had crazy superhuman abilities, and what was she using them for?

Finding peoples keys and rescuing cats from trees.

So, yeah, in lots of ways, she felt pretty pathetic. Even as Spidergirl.

She could be a hero, using her powers in productive ways and saving as many people as possible. Like, right now: there were probably cases of human trafficking happening and what was she doing?

Nothing.

She didn’t know about those cases, and she didn’t know how to find out about them, but in her mind it only made her feel even smaller. How many people needed her while she wasn’t there? Completely oblivious?

While she was doing nothing?

Daredevil had lamer powers than her and he took down entire gangs.

So, as of now, Spidergirl was just as pathetic as Piper parker.

That was metaphorical punch to the face number three.

Number four came to her something like this:

After constantly kicking herself over not being useful, she finally had her chance. She was hanging out on the roof of this party – one Ned and MJ were surely going to – and debating making an appearance as Spidergirl. Maybe slip in a word or two about knowing Piper Parker.

Of course, she didn’t get the chance – and sure, that was probably for the best.

But, she was halted in her decision by some weird alien tech deal going on at the edge of the neighborhood, and she immediately decided that she should interfere. Like all teenage vigilantes would, logically.

This was her chance to be useful, so she had thought. Very naively, considering she had only been Spidergirl for a solid three months and had absolutely no prior knowledge about aliens, and gangs affiliated with them.

As it turns out, alien tech is a little more complicated than she had assumed, and before she knew it, she was falling from the sky tangled up in a parachute that was about as useless as she was - right into a lake that she wouldn’t be able to swim in because of said parachute.

So, yeah, she almost drowned.

But, (lucky her!) Mr. Stark was there to save her. Or really, one of his suits was.

Now this – this really rubbed her the wrong way. She didn’t understand why, but it did. She had just thought that – maybe – her favorite superhero in the world might have come to see her in person. You know, after she almost drowned.

Died. Left this world for good. Joined the mighty Lord in the sky.

But, what was wrong with her? There was no way someone like Tony Stark would care that much about someone like her. Sure, he had given her the suit. Why? She could only guess at this point. It definitely wasn’t because he liked her – that would be crazy.
It was probably because he felt bad. She was pitiful.

It’s not as if she even deserved to be saved. She should have saved herself like a real hero. Instead, she was flailing in a lake like a fish with epilepsy or something.

She wanted to say that she would have been fine on her own, but she was smart enough to know how stupid that notion was. She couldn’t even show up for a job on time by herself, let alone not die.

She wishes that she could have seen his face and truly known what he was thinking. Was he angry? Disappointed? Piper could only assume it was both. Heck, that was how she felt, among a variety of other negative emotions.

It really ruined how happy she had been to help him in Germany, because it was apparent she wasn’t that much help at all. She was an expendable resource. One that Tony Stark was kind enough to humor with his cool tech and awesome stuff that Piper loved. He even participated in her vlog and had full on conversations with an annoying kid like her. And for what? For her to turn out to be some huge disappointment?

…. Apparently.

Despite all of this, she still had some hope. As Spidergirl, she felt like the world was at her disposal. Nobody knew who she was, and nobody could see how scared she sometimes (usually) looked beneath the mask. She was practically invincible in the suit – Tony Stark’s or hers – and it gave her a little bit of blind courage.

She could stop these guys.

After all, Tony hadn’t believed her, and if he wouldn’t help then she was out of people to call.

Because, she was on her own.

No biggie, though. This was her second chance. She had nothing to lose, and a whole lot to prove.

Nobody else was going to do it, anyway.


Thursday

Now, at this point, school was something Piper had to fight tooth and nail to get through. She had her friends, though sweet, constantly looking at her like she was an alien that they just couldn’t figure out. Which she may as well have been, because no one ever seemed to understand her. This was incredibly annoying, if not more hurtful than anything. She kind of hoped they might have asked her if something was wrong, rather than tried to guess silently among themselves. It made her paranoid, wondering what they were thinking about her.

About how pathetic she was.

But, she had made it pretty clear that she didn’t want any help, and it was true. She didn’t. It made her feel bad.

The worst part, still, was how terribly oblivious May was to her intentions. All she wanted to do was help her, but May seemed hell bent on treating Piper like she was a toddler. Or maybe that was just how Piper appeared to her. Unable to help, and annoying like a toddler.

Either way, Piper could never blame her, because it certainly wasn’t her fault. Especially when she always had so much on her mind, and Piper couldn’t even understand herself most of the time.

Her friends definitely didn’t understand – or they wouldn’t, had Piper ever gotten the courage to try and explain her erratic state of mind to them. She was sure of it, because even she had no idea what was happening to her. It’s not as if her friends could help, either. By letting them know something was wrong – if there even was something – it would only make them worry more, and, of course, that would only make her feel monumentally worse.

And then, worse than everything else (she seemed to be thinking that a lot), they would dote on her and treat her like she couldn’t do anything. They would, in all likely-hood, treat her differently; when all Piper wanted was to feel normal. She wanted to feel excited about things again and be able to really feel alive again.

A year ago, that would have been easy. But that normal and last week’s normal were different. And last week’s normal and this week’s normal were vastly different. Right now, she wasn’t even sure if she had a normal. Or if this shallow, dark state of existence had always been it.

She was impossible. That was how she felt: Impossible, pathetic, dramatic, ridiculous.

The feeling of blood soaking her skin was constant; its vividness amplified by the sound of it surrounding her in the bodies of other students. It was guilt seeping through her skin, and no matter what she did to relieve it, she only seemed to be able to find more of it.

And she had tried to relieve it so, so many times. She had done everything she could think of, from running small errands, to jumping in front of armed robbers; and they had all led her here. To a place where she felt like nothing because she was nothing.

The only conclusion she could arrive to was that she deserved to feel terrible. She couldn’t take back her mistakes. She knew that, but no matter what she did she couldn’t seem to fix them. There was nothing redeeming about what she had done, not that she could find, or anyone else with a brain (so she figures) could.

Thus, it was decided that she should hate herself.

She should hate herself and live with it, because that was what she deserved.

Rather than a subtle, negative voice whispering to her amongst the good in her head, there was the opposite. She had one, pleasant voice among the bad; telling her to keep trying. ‘Try one more time, and you’ll redeem yourself,’ it whispered.

The others screamed - screamed relentlessly against every part of her skull, making even her teeth ache.

You can’t bring someone back from the dead and ask them to forgive you.’

But, maybe she could apologize to May for existing. For ruining her life with her constant stream of problems and money sucking needs.

‘May was dying and you can’t even help. She’s leaving and all you can think about is yourself.’

Maybe she could apologize to Mr. Stark and Happy for wasting their time. To Iron Patriot for not being faster when he fell in Germany.

‘You can’t un-paralyze someone.’

Maybe she could apologize to her friends for not being happy enough.

‘You can’t.’

Maybe they would forgive her.

‘They shouldn’t.’

How would it matter, though, if she only continued to ruin their lives and make horrible mistakes?

‘It wouldn’t.’

She would certainly never forgive herself.

Still, there was one thing she could do, and she would listen to that tiny hope and do it. Maybe, just maybe, it would do someone an ounce of good somewhere.

Maybe, she could be a hero for once.

So, tomorrow morning, she would ditch Happy as fast as possible and go searching for the weapon smugglers.

This way, she could be better.

This way, the blood just might wash off.


Biology class was always the hardest to get through; not because she sucked at it (she didn’t), but because she was alone with the people who seemed to want to suck her life away.

Even more so than the teachers did with their damn homework.

Flash sat behind her, his demon mistress right beside him, though he never seemed to care. Usually, Jade just followed him wherever, unless she had something better to do. Piper wouldn’t have thought that she did, if it weren’t for the girl’s exceptional grades and the fact that she never seemed to leave school without every single textbook she had.

Despite their completely different personalities, they were also somewhat alike. Neither of them were very well thought of in this school: Jade for her terrible character, and Piper for her intellect and ‘weirdness’. As well as the fact that Flash seemed to play a role in their lives, though very different, that brought them one form of suffering or another.

Even if Jade willed hers that way.

Flash had known Piper since they were children, and he always seemed to think that Piper thought she was better than him. It was never true, but the notion stayed with him all the way until now, as far as Piper could tell.

It seemed as if he were waiting for her to lash out, or throw away her grades because he had finally broken her. It didn’t work, because Piper told herself that she could take it. And if she didn’t, than someone else would have to, and that wasn’t fair. Not when Piper had super-human abilities and so much experience.

It was her responsibility. She knew that.

That was why she usually just threw a few jabs at their insults and took it. Usually, it resulted in his mild frustration, a weird fascination with her demise, and Jade’s sneer. This week, however, had been different.

This week, she stayed away from them at all costs in order to preserve what little strength she had left. She didn’t think that she could come up with any excuses to prove them wrong when she felt like death.

She had been lucky, so far, with keeping her head low. She left class as soon as possible and ran everywhere else, and their biology teacher was very observant.

This meant it was hard for Flash and Jade to get away with what they did in the hallways in class; like shove her into lockers and cry profanities.

She might have had the same treatment today, had they not had a substitute. One that seemed to think it was okay to just turn on a movie and forget about them for a while. In other words, the only thing keeping Flash off of Pipers back had just gone to the bathroom with his phone glued to his hands. Piper could have sworn she saw flappy bird on his screen.

The result was instantaneous.

“Hey – Hey, Penis Parker!” Came the obnoxious cry from behind her. She could feel his pestering gaze making her skin itch. Like sandpaper, just barely grating against her skin.

She ducked her head and tried to focus on the animals being dissected on the screen. It had her stuck looking at various disemboweled fish, though it wasn’t as messed up as the rabbit they showed earlier. The students around her either didn’t care, were giving Flash or Piper dirty looks, or laughing at Flash’s terrible jokes.

Most just didn’t care.

A pencil hit her back and an angry growl followed, “Hey! He’s talking to you, freak.” Jade joined in, probably sneering at her, and then turning to Flash and batting her eyes like Jessica Rabbit.

Piper ignored them still, not quite sure what she was supposed to say. Usually she just played along, but she couldn’t think of anything to toss back. This frustrated her more than it might have on any other occasion, and she ended up picking up her pencil just so that she could clutch it to calm herself.

“Wow, you’re just ignoring me? That’s awful rude, Parker.” Flash leaned forward in his seat and leant his forearms on his desk, getting as close to her ear as possible. “Do you act like this to your parents, too?” His lip tugged upward as he cackled, “Oh, that’s right! They’re dead.”

Blood. Whooshing and Swooshing.

Jade giggled terribly. “I guess that means they’re giving her the silent treatment,” she taunted, voice so high she might have been huffing helium.

Her pencil rubbed furiously against the table, no paper to stop it from marking the wood. Her hair was loose, lucky for her, it hid the conflicted expression marking her features.

The teenage menace laughed loudly, and some other students turned to look at him angrily.

No-one said anything.

“Seems like lots of people give you the silent treatment, huh, Piper,” he questioned, mock sympathy dripping from his voice as if he drooled it. “It’s almost like,” he repeated as his voice got loud, and everything else seemed to go away, “It’s almost like people are dying to get away from you! You’re like a fucking horror movie curse or something!” He jeered loudly, and the students around them finally shushed him.

Piper’s pencil snapped loudly against the surface of her desk, her hair a curtain so perfect nobody could see her breathing too fast. Too much.

Seven days!” Jade joined in hysterically, falling back in her chair as she laughed.

Piper was balking at herself. Smacking herself on the inside as hard as she could, because usually, this wasn’t a problem. Usually, she would tell them to ‘get a life’ or laugh with them, but she couldn’t.

Her mind was blank.

It was a white void, and all that existed there was –

He’s not wrong.

He wasn’t. He wasn’t wrong.

No, he was right. So right, it made Piper sick.

It made her numb.

Blood. Whooshing and Swooshing.

Flash and Jade laughed as the video played in the backround –

“There’s a special type of frog that bred so massively, it almost killed off an entire species of insect… This frog -”

The noises morphed and she was left struggling to breath, trying to find her breath.

He was right.

He was right.

She was a curse.

Blood. Whooshing and Swooshing.

Nothing else.


“I’m dying here, Rhodes. One second I’m sipping my margarita, as one does when they’re on a much needed vacation, and the next I’m fishing a dumb – incredibly dumb, here, Rhodes, really freakin’ dumb – teenager out of a lake.” Tony drops his arms clumsily, straight out beside him on the cool tile floor. He huffs, “I have never seen such recklessness. Never!”

A humorous ‘Mhmm’ echoes around the kitchen from the ceiling and Tony sighs before his best friend can even reply.

“Yes, this sounds nothing at all like anything you’ve ever done, Tones. Nothing at all. Like – let’s say – flying a prototype suit so far into the sky that it freezes, just to see if you could. Hmm?

“No! No –“he glared indignantly at his friend through FRIDAY, mouth open in disgust as Rhodey interrupted.

“- Or that time you flew into an alien worm-“

The rest of the sentence was unrecognizable over Tony’s protests, “This is nothing! Nothing like that! I,” he gestures to himself with a raised brow, regardless of their lack of visual communication, “am an adult.”

A snort reverberates through the speakers.

“And I had reasons,” He continues despite the insulting reaction, “Important, adult, avenging,” he thinks back to the first ironman thrusters launching him into a concrete wall,” and scientific reasons, Rhodes. I, also, knew what I was doing.” He nodded to himself, before abruptly shaking his head not a moment later. “Okay, that last one wasn’t true. But, I wasn’t trying to find trouble.”

“Listen,” his friend begins, and Tony wants to groan, “how many times have you called me about this, again?”

“Wow, I didn’t realize you hated my voice so much, Rhodes. This is honestly quite hurtful,” Tony chastises and looks at the ceiling limply, limbs spread out around him.

The voice continues in perfect clarity thanks to FRIDAY’S advanced speakers, “This is the third time, Tones. Third time today –“

“- I would have guessed like, thirty, but go ahead -“

“- Maybe, you should try talking to her about it. She seems pretty smart, given what you told me, and it honestly seems like you could use the peace of mind.”

Tony frowns like a child, sitting up straight with his legs crisscross in the middle of his kitchen. “I said she was dumb, Rhodes. Like twelve times, how are you not getting this?”

Before Rhodey can reply and re-tell him the conversation they had months ago where he says that the kid is like, a mini-superhero on vigilante steroids, he tries to listen to what his best friend has to offer. “And no-way am I having some kind of – of sappy, gross, sweet and concerned conversation. It would ruin my bad-ass, take no shit from shit-eating teenagers, image, Rhodes. I need that image fully intact.”

A sigh plays over the speakers, “She looks up to you, right?” He asks.

“Of course,” Tony deadpans as if it’s obvious. He was ironman.

“So, she obviously wants to impress you. Maybe tell her that she did a good job and stuff, you know, that you’re proud of her.”

He makes a sound and rolls his eyes at him, “of course I’d be proud of any kid who uses my tech to track down illegal weapons smugglers, but I’m not her dad, Rhodes. You’re making me sound like a dad.” Tony recalls a conversation he had with Pepper where she told him that they were about ten years too late to have kids, and he had only ever looked upon the subject with disdain forever afterwards.

“It’s called mentoring, Tones. You’re not adopting her. Just, do what I said. She might slow down a bit with some praise.”

Tony thinks, and he recalls the suffering he went through trying to get his father to acknowledge him, to love him. It if weren’t for his lack of praise, maybe he wouldn’t have hit the bottom of every bottle (drugs, alcohol, you name it) before he was twenty.

“And,” Rhodes continued, “it might help to get to know her a bit, because then we would know what she was thinking. Although, no-body really knows with teens, so I’ve heard. You’ve got your hands full, but you did decide to give her a suit and everything, so I feel no pity.”

Tony balks at the lack of sympathy. “She was going to kill herself, Rhodes,” he defends. “Now I can make sure a baby isn’t trying to fight – fight the fucking dark lord or something.” He rubs at his face angrily, “God, I am so glad I didn’t have kids. Her poor Aunt - her poor, poor aunt,” he finishes with a second thought,

“How do I even talk to a kid?” The last thing he wanted was a teenage vigilante with a vendetta against Ironman on the loose.

“I don’t know, what does she like? What makes her tick? Not all kids are the same, but since she likes you so much, maybe you just need to spend some time with her. That’s what you want, right? For her to come to you with stuff instead of almost dying. I mean, that seems like a good idea to me.”

Tony blanked. “Ummm,” he glares, “how the hell am I supposed to know what she likes? Again, I am not – I’m not her dad –

“- if you were she’d probably be locked in a tower somewhere –

“- And I’m pretty sure she’s got like, a death wish. Like one of those kids who just fucking jumps off of cliffs into the ocean for fun. And from what I can tell, she’s too brainy for her own good. Making spider-webs and shit and using them to swam-dive off of buildings, I mean what the actual fuck, Rhodes? How do I reason with that?” He’s panting at this point, the thought of tackling that insanity making his chest hurt.

“She’s a kid, Tony, not a wild animal. Although,” there’s a humorous lift to his voice as he speaks, “she does sound an awful lot like you. Maybe you should just say what would have worked on you.”

Bile rose in Tony’s throat at the absolutely horrendous thought. “Nothing would have worked on me, Rhodes! I was impossible, and I know for a fact I made it a goal to piss off as many people as possible.” He remembers those days very clearly. Well, as much as one could under the dystopia of an endless hangover. “The last thing we need is a mutant teenager who is like me. No way in hell do I want to have that on my hands, I like my hair gray free. So, no fucking way is she allowed to be like me.”

Rhodes was silent for a moment, and Tony knew he was probably holding back laughter at how distraught he was.

“You know what? I cannot wait to meet this kid. If she’s got you this messed up she’s got to be special,” he laughed out loud.

Tony muttered to himself and pouted, “Yeah, a special type of crazy.”

“Well, now you know.”

Tony would have looked at his friend incredulously had he been able to, “Know what?” He asked.

A deep chuckle echoed throughout the kitchen and tony squinted his eyes.

Rhodey replied,” Now you know what it’s like to care about someone as insane as you are. You deserve this, Tones. Totally and completely. I have waited for this day my whole life. And I cannot wait to see you suffer.”

Tony gaped, a small smile tugging at his lips despite himself. “Oh, I cannot,” he starts,” I cannot believe the words. I am ,em>wounded. You wound me, Rhodes. My own best friend wants me to suffer at the hands of some – some teenage monster. Wow –“

Rhodey cut him off with a light tone and more small chuckles, “I feel no shame.” Muffled movement is heard and his friend speaks,” Sorry, Tones, but I’ve really got to get going. See you in a couple of days, though?”

“Right,” Tony blinks, “Thanks for listening.”

“No problem, Man. Hope the advice works,” he laughs and adds just before the call ends, “for the most part.”

Tony huffs and leans back on his arms with a shake of his head.

Freaking Rhodey.

It wasn’t like he wanted to be freaking out over some kid, but he was, because she was a child. A child fighting criminals and getting dropped into lakes, and oh my God what if he hadn’t have made it? She would have died, and of course that would have been his fault, because he knew what she was up to.

He didn’t stop her.

He made the suit for her and was practically enabling her. The thought occurred to him that, maybe, that wasn’t the best thing to do to a reckless teenager. Then, once he was neck deep in thought, the notion dawned on him that, maybe, he shouldn’t have done it at all.

Why did he?

In the back of his mind he knew it was for a few reasons, but one of them was just so fucking cliché he couldn’t bare to even think about it. Of course, one was that he was a responsible adult who cares about the safety of other people, and she had saved his life, and maybe he still felt a little bad for kidnapping her that one time. But, the one thing he absolutely couldn’t stand was: he liked being a mentor. Not an idol, because that was easy and not worth a thing to him, but a mentor? Yeah, it felt nice. The niceness wasn’t what made him want to puke, though.

It was the reason for it.

It was unlike anything he had ever experienced, but it felt (God, he wasn’t even saying this stuff out loud and he wanted to shrivel up) like he was working towards something. His life was usually fighting off whatever infestation decided to pop up, day by day, and he knew it wasn’t ever going to end. Evil things and corrupted people would always exist, and all he could do was keep them from doing any real damage, and sometimes he could only take revenge, day by day.

He was happy with that. It was his goal. Save as many lives as possible and hopefully survive it.

But that was it. His influence ended the second he was finished, and it was disheartening to know that he wasn’t leaving anything behind. He couldn’t trust anyone with the ironman technology, which is why they’re rigged to self-destruct upon his death. Unless Pepper was still young enough to handle the stress of managing a company when he died, then everything else was going with it (excluding the medical advancements and such).

He didn’t have an heir to pass everything down to. He didn’t have anything to be proud of, not really.

An apprentice, though? Yes, as of today, he decided he had one. The thought of being able to retire and leave his legacy in the hands of someone he trained and trusted? It was fulfilling. Now, now, if that wasn’t cliché enough, mentoring Piper gave him the stupidly-happy-feeling for one other (agonizingly touchy-feely) reason.

He had always wanted kids.

Okay, not always, but no guy wants kids in his twenties.

He wanted kids that he could love unconditionally and protect and give the world to. It was common for him to spoil his friends with lavish things – his own children would have been treated unlike any other.

But, something about having someone who trusts him more than anyone in the world, and being able to be that person, is immensely satisfying to him. Being able to give everything he had to one person (who would appreciate it and not throw it away, like some had) was what he wanted.

He had never been irreplaceable to someone, not in the way it mattered.

He had lots of inventions, each newer and grander than the last, but his own kid? That surely would have been the best one. He could have protected them from the world and watched them turn into an amazing person, one better than he had ever been. And then, they’d have kids, and their kids would be better; and then the world would be better for it.

He would have left something behind. A little bit of redemption, perhaps.

Someone that mattered. Someone he could watch over from wherever the hell people went when they died (if they went anywhere, he mused).

These feelings, of living for something and someone greater than himself, of being able to teach, protect, and love someone who needs you as much as you need them, had been buried. He didn’t want them, and he certainly didn’t need them.

But then Spidergirl comes along, and she’s actually a baby with no idea what she’s doing, and she’s just so much like him. And now, by some miracle, or curse, or whatever, he’s a mentor, and just - fuck now he cares. More than he probably should for someone he barely knows.

And he thinks: this kid – this kid was something to be proud of. He wanted to be allowed that much, the freedom to feel proud of a kid he didn’t even raise.

Out of the pit of thoughts he reaches, and he’s back to freaking out, because there’s a crazy as shit teenager that he’s attached to, now, for the craziest of reasons.

He wonders why Spidergirl couldn’t have been some snotty, in your face, bratty, not-perfect-angelic-child-named-Piper Parker, demon. Keeping his distance and not ruining her life would have been a whole lot easier had she not been so… likeable.

Fuck him, that was definitely not the case.

Chapter Text

Thursday

That night, Piper ate spaghetti with her aunt and tried to keep a stale conversation alive. Everything seemed to be losing its meaning lately. Food was no longer flavorful, movies were no longer entertaining, and Legos were no longer pieces of a bigger picture that she could build anything with. They were simple pieces of plastic, useless and boring.

Life was anything but lively, especially when being around her aunt (and even her friends) was taxing, and their conversations seemed to constantly die.

She was so lost, and she didn’t understand why. No matter how much she tried to feel better, she couldn’t do it. There was a shadowy monster clutching her heart and pulling her away from the inside out. It was sticky and suffocating, and its hands might have well have been covering her eyes, because she couldn’t make sense of what was happening to her.

She wanted to laugh sometimes. Late at night, or early in the morning depending on who you ask, when her sheets are thrown somewhere beside her, the chest seizing want fills her.

She wants to go home.

And she almost does it. She almost laughs, broken and wretched, right out into the quiet of her bedroom at three in the morning, because that was just so absolutely ridiculous.

She wants to go home. A trembling grin coats her face, her arm rests lamely over her eyes, and she thinks about how she is home. This is her bedroom, and this is her bed, and this is where she belongs; but it’s not. The hysterical voice inside of her cackles, because it knows. It knows that whatever this place used to be, it isn’t anymore. Not when her insides twist at the thought of coming here - to this memorial of a house. Where-ever life still existed, it was dying, and it was taking Piper with it.

The sad sound breaks and morphs within her, and she’s breathing out short, jagged breaths of air. Her toes curl around the sheets, and she withers, because this is not home, and she desperately wonders when it started to become a graveyard.

Maybe it died with Ben, she thinks; because Piper can’t remember a time after that when she had stopped and really breathed. If she wasn’t trying to convince herself she was alright, then May was trying to do it for her, even though it must hurt her to pretend just as much.

Home is where the heart is, but May’s had surely died in Piper’s hands. Grossly laid out on the abandoned sidewalk, blood rushing, hot and cold, into the drain as he went.

Piper knows, like the voice trying desperately to reach out, that she has no home because she killed it. She stole it from May, and she stole it from Ben, and it’s gone.

There’s a place where she has a family. One who laughs, cries, and lives together, because they love each-other. They play board games on Friday nights – sometimes more than a few – and they watch movies together after dinner. They fall asleep talking to each other, smile if they’re awake to watch the other crash, and there’s left over pizza because they ordered too much. They argue because they love each other, but they forgive for the exact same reason. When one of them leaves, the other is there to hold them, and life is always beautiful because of it.

She wrecked that beautiful picture, and all she can do is laugh, because she wants it back.

In the dim blackness of her room at three in the morning, she wants to go home.

Chapter Text

Friday

Happy didn’t question her when she wanted to be dropped off a block from school, to avoid the prying eyes of her friends, and it was a relief to know that her day didn’t immediately turn to shit.

Like it often times did.

He must have assumed that she wanted a more private entrance to school, rather than be driven to the doors in a pristine Audi. He must have known that attention wasn’t a huge problem because the paparazzi had died off once they had realized they weren’t getting anywhere.

Or maybe it was easy because he practically shoved her out of the car, claiming he had a ‘plane load’ of crap to organize and didn’t have any time to waste (on her). Piper only assumed it was the ‘special’ tech she had heard him talking about through the divider, but she didn’t really care at that point.

He wanted her gone and she had to go – perfect.

From there executing her plan was easy.

She put on her freshly hacked suit (courtesy of Ned) and took a bus as close to the location on the tracker as possible. The tracker was something she had managed to put on one of the criminals associated with the Toomes guy (freak with metal wings) after she had tracked them down by using the city’s cameras to find suspicious activity. The tracker led her to a couple of other illegal-doers making an alien weapons trade, and through various screw ups she landed herself in a storage facility.

Stuck.

For two whole hours.

This left her with an insanely small amount of time, because her day (month) had been ridiculous. It went like this:

8:00 – She left happy and hopped into an alley and into her suit.
8:30 – She got hungry and stopped at Delmar’s – it was free, thank god.
9:00 – She searched the city or an old lady’s senile husband.
1:00 – She discovered that the old lady has no husband and was very confused.
1:45 – She managed to find the old lady’s very worried family.
2:30 – She had to find her phone that she dropped - again.
2:35 – Then she saw the new cracks on the screen and almost cried.
3:00 – She actually (somehow) managed to track down illegal-doer dudes.
4:00 – She gets stuck and almost loses her mind.
4:30 – She realizes she can get out.

And now she had to track down a large boat with a few criminals on it.

Going to the ferry (despite her inexperience) was Piper’s first thought, and honestly, it was the first thing to stir up an emotion other than self-hatred inside her emotional teenage-self; and she dared to think that it was her light at the end of the tunnel. Busting a bunch of high-level criminals, that no-one had believed her about no less, would be unbelievably cool.

Too cool to be easy is the fact that she would have realized had she stopped to think. However, the exhilaration of chasing down the next bad guy and keeping the lurking darkness bubbling within her at bay - behind the rush of adrenaline - was easy to succumb to.

They were the bad guys and she was Spider-girl. What choice did she have?

And so, off she went, catching a ride on the literal top of a train and ditching it for the water-side. The ferry was crowded, but Piper managed to remain unnoticed as she surveyed the people on it.

According to that guy with the ice-cream that she webbed up, something was going down. She just had to see where.

Thanks to Karen, it was easy to find the most secluded areas; and along with it, the assailants she was looking for. Moments before she had found them, Mr. Stark had actually called her, and god she would have been excited if it weren’t for the fact that she probably didn’t even deserve to talk to him. Not until she did this. Did something.

So, she hung up, not the tiniest clue as to what he was trying to say because of her pre-occupied brain.

She was going to do this. This was where she fixed things – or something. Whatever this was, it felt like her last hope. For herself? For Spidergirl? She didn’t know. Probably both. If she couldn’t stop a few measly smugglers… than there was no hope for either of them. Probably. She doesn’t know, but something is wrong with her and she thinks that maybe this can fix it.

Just – she sighs – don’t mess up.

It is approximately ten seconds after this moment, when the FBI are among the people she was trying to apprehend, that she realizes she messed up. It is approximately one minute and fourteen seconds after that, when the ferry rips in half and Ironman has to save her ass and countless others’, that she realizes she fucked up.

Moments after that, when Tony Starks steps out of the suit – the one Piper swears he’s never in, that she realizes she just royally fucked up. The shame was so intense that she couldn’t comprehend just how terrible the situation could have been, and all she knew was that she was a kid. She was just some stupid kid, and Tony Stark was so pissed at her, and she was just so –

Defensive? For some reason, the only thing her mouth was able to spew was childish slander, and despite how much she hated it, she couldn’t stop.

As her mind came down from its high, the thumping of heartbeats returned to her ears and she braces herself.

Thump

“Everyone else said I was crazy to recruit a 14-year-old kid.”

“- I'm 15.”

She cringes at the comment, because it sounded so stupid. But, it mattered – for some stupid, stupid reason it mattered. She can’t be a kid.

Thump – Thump

“- No, this is where you zip it, all right? The adult is talking.”

But she is a kid.

“What if somebody had died tonight? Different story, right? Because that's on you. And if you died... “

The words hit her straight in the chest, adrenaline leaving her reeling, and her heart hammering in her chest. She had almost… killed all of those people, hadn’t she? All of them, like Ben, dead because she was selfish and stupid. How would she fix this? Could she?

Blood, dripping off his shirt, her arms, and pooling beneath them.

The thumping stops.

Did she even want to?

“...I feel like that's on me - I don't need that on my conscience.”

As if it would have mattered if she died, she wants to say, but she doesn’t. Her brain isn’t muddled with excitement any longer, and she knows anything she argues will only sound like a toddler throwing a tantrum.

Dead weight hangs in her arms – the blood-soaked fabric of his clothes squelches as she moves.

And he’s right. She was stupid – but if she died, it would have been her own fault. She’s sure he must know this.

She wasn’t amazing like he was. Tony Stark was brilliant, and he was a hero, and he was brave and he could get through any situation with a smirk at the end of it all.

Piper wanted to be like that – A silly dream that her five year old self had made up.

Silence. Dead weight.

“Yes, sir. I'm sorry. I understand.”

“Sorry doesn't cut it.”

Of course it doesn’t, she wants to scream. It never does.

“I just wanted to be like you.”

“And I wanted you to be better.”

Better. The word tumbles through her, the memories of her own thoughts chanting it at her surfacing, and suddenly she’s desperate. Frustrated.

Wailing – her or the sirens – drowns out the silence.

Better.

As if she hadn’t tried? Everything was crumbling around her, despite how hard she was trying. She never studied, but maybe she needed to start because her grades were dropping. She lost her job because she was trying to be a better super-hero, which obviously wasn’t working out. May hates it when she tries to help, so she can’t even do that right.

Ben was still dead, and now a ferry full of people almost was too.

Not to mention her mind keeps reminding her of the worst day of her life, and it never stops. It never stops.

They’re pulling her away, and her hands are too slippery to hold on, but she can’t let go.

She's - She's scared.

“It's not working out. I'm gonna need the suit back.”

She was trying to be better. All she managed to do was hurt people, so how the hell was she supposed to be better than Ironman? Did he really expect that of her?

She had failed him so miserably, it’s no wonder he wants her to take a break.

They try to clean her off, and they nod at her as if all the blood is gone, but she screams at them: it’s still there. Can’t they see it? She’s covered.

Who even was she anymore?

“For how long?”

“Forever.”

If possible, her heart drops even more.

“Yeah, that's how it works.”

“No, no. Please.”

“Let’s have it.”

He’s throwing her away, isn’t he? She worthless, and he finally knows it, but Piper doesn’t know what she has if it isn’t this, so she pleads.

“Please, this is all I have. I'm nothing without this suit.”

Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.

They keep saying she’s clean, but she’s not. The blood hasn’t even dried – its wet and sticky and it’s all fucking over her.

Nothing but a screw-up.

“If you're nothing without this suit, then you shouldn't have it. Okay? God, I sound like my dad.”

She stops. Her mouth opens and closes, but she doesn’t argue because she can’t.

A thumping starts in her ears but nobody else hears it, and the movement of their blood consumes her.

They can’t hear it, but the fragile pulse of life follows her.

The swoosh.

The woosh.

And the thump.

The final beat never leaves her.

The aching shame finds its home and settles in her bones again, forcing her to be complacent within her own mind - Subject to her own pathetic-ness.

“I don't have any other clothes.”

Or options. She doesn’t have any more options.

He’s dead.

“Okay, we'll sort that out.”


Piper arrived home feeling as pathetic as she looked in the over-sized shirt and hello kitty shorts Mr. Stark had given her, and didn’t waste any time in standing outside her door and debating.

May was inside, and she would have to tell her what happened the second she walked through, because if she didn’t then she wouldn’t be able to. A part of her wanted to fling everything she was feeling to the wind and tell her aunt everything, but she just didn’t know how. What would she do? Would she curse Piper for being Spidergirl (a pathetic vigilante that has to run from the police) and regret ever taking her in?

More than likely, she already did regret taking Piper in. She already should, because Piper was the reason her life was a mess.

She stared at the door limply.

What didn’t she ruin?

May wouldn’t understand why she hadn’t told her about Spidergirl. It
wasn’t one of those things she could really explain: at least not without sounding childish - selfish. Which, Piper is beginning to realize, it very much was. She was afraid that May would have asked her to not be Spidergirl, and Piper would have been torn, because she needsm Spidergirl.

Without Spidergirl, she was nothing but a stupid girl who couldn’t exist without hurting the people she loves the most.

“If you’re nothing without the suit, then you don’t deserve to have it.”

She had been wrong all along. Piper Parker was nothing, and she had been foolish to think that Spidergirl could have been anything different. They were both useless people, trying desperately to be something they’re not.

Even now the echoing of his heart as he died sounds through her mind, and all she can do is try and think despite the thumping, and the swooshing, and the wooshing.

And the squelching.

She put her hand on the door knob and kept it there as she shook with nervousness.

What did she have left? There was nothing more of herself intact. She wasn’t smart, she wasn’t strong, and she was anything but a good friend and niece. She wasn’t even Piper anymore, if they were even the same person at all. Ben would have been proud of Piper, but not anymore.

She couldn’t blame her tragic character development on anyone other than herself. Everything was her fault, and nothing would fix it.

There was nothing left of herself. She was an empty piece of flesh, wasting air and time and getting better people killed and into trouble.

There was nothing left of herself, because she had lost it somewhere. She doesn’t know when, and she’s beginning to doubt that she ever was someone, but it’s been peeled away bit by bit with her own hands.

People still care about her – she knows that. She doesn’t know why, but she knows that the closest thing she had to her old self is the love she has for them. It’s what drove her to this place, isn’t it? Her want to make them happy and keep them safe fueled her, but for the life of her she could never succeed.

All she could do was take, and take, and take; and even when she didn’t want to, that was when she seemed to take the most. Even when she had everything in the world, she couldn’t seem to give anything back.

The only thing keeping her from losing all hope, right there in that depressing hallway, is the thought of May. May might forgive her for losing the internship, and if she can do that, then Piper would tell her about Spidergirl and maybe they would be close again.

Maybe the distance Piper had created will go away.

If she can tell May what’s happening to her, without hurting her, then things might work out. Piper might get better.

She takes a breath –

The last piece of herself lies within the eyes of May, and if they see worth or nothing at all…

- And opens the door.

Then Piper will be better or lost forever.


In the movies, dying is always so simple. The person gets sick, they get murdered, or something supernatural happens and – poof – they’re dead.
The loved-ones mourn, the funeral happens, and the will is read. What the movies don’t show, understandably because of the immense drabness of it all, is the ridiculous amount of work it is to organize these things. Death, was not so simple as killing over – at least it wasn’t when she was the only one planning for her final hoorah.

The ‘fun’ in ‘funeral’ was totally misplaced.

May spent her entire morning at the bank taking out the money she needed for her funeral as a loan (one acquired through a sob story and mediocre credit, with the knowledge that any of her debts would not be passed on to her family), and with that money she bought herself a funeral service. This process, primarily because the person she spoke to in the funeral home insisted that she choose the coffin (she refused) herself, took her all afternoon.

She didn’t care what wooden box they used to shelter her rotting, lifeless body – she was to be cremated anyways.

After insisting that she couldn’t go over every single detail in that moment, she paid for the smallest, classy service she could find and made an appointment for final details at a later date. Preferably not too late, but she would leave it in her will just in case.

That joyful thought leads May to her final task of the afternoon as she sits at the table eyeing a blank piece of paper: Her final will and testament.

She rolls it over in her mind, and though there wasn’t much to give, she’d be damned if it wasn’t hard to write it down.

It was simple really – Piper would get everything. However, May was trying to do it in the least stressful way possible for her baby, so she was currently sitting in her favorite stool and thinking.

In the back of her mind, she knew it wouldn’t matter what she did; it was going to be terrible for the both of them. More so for Piper than anyone, because once May was dead, her problems were gone. Piper had to carry that trauma.

She rubs her eyes with the hand that her chin is resting in.

The way she sees it going is: All of her belongings will go to Piper, but she should arrange for a moving company to dispose of the things she doesn’t want to keep. May knows it won’t be a lot that Piper wants, but she is rather unpredictable and the choice should be hers. Other than that, there are two bank accounts - one of Ben’s savings and one of hers - that will be transferred to Piper’s name. The majority of it will be given to her once she is eighteen, and some will be given to her immediately so that she is never helpless.

May will be sure to tell Piper that emancipating is not an option – not when there are other people to take care of her.

This leads her to the final aspect of her will, other than personal things like what to do with her ashes and such, that May has to finalize. She has dwelled, suffered, and brooded over this for a long time, but the guardian of Piper Parker is to be Tony Stark and May refuses to think about it any longer.

Until of course, she does.

This was definitely the best thing for Piper. She liked him, he was a decent guy (yeah, she can’t believe she’s thinking it either), and he could give Piper anything money could buy. She would talk to him to be sure of her decision, because this was the most important decision of her life, but this was also her only choice.

She would have to leave him instructions.

Just as May was beginning to drift towards what she should make for dinner, Piper came through the door and May’s chest tightened at the solemn sight of her baby.

She was sad. That dull look and deep frown was so sad, even May could tell how she was feeling this time.

“May – “ The teenager began once she closed the door, and May was immediately at her side, just now noticing her clothing.

“-What are you wearing?” She asked, her surprise forcing the untimely question from her mouth.

“I – Oh - I …“ Piper stammered, and before May could hug her - ask her what was wrong, she was looking at May desperately.

She blurted, “I lost the internship,” and May blinked.

The world stopped and it was as if the universe was laughing at her.

Her chest clenched.

She had thought she had it all figured out.

“You – you what?” Her voice was strained with the sudden pain and panic. Her chest was on fire and her throat was unbelievably tight. The world around her started to merge together.

If Piper lost the internship, then that meant – that meant –

Piper reached forward to steady her wobbling aunt with deep worry.

“I-I lost the internship – May, are you okay?”

That meant Piper was all alone, and Tony Stark was out of the picture. Piper was alone.

Piper was alone.

Suddenly her arms were grasping her niece’s and they were sliding to the ground ungracefully, Piper supporting her quaking aunt reflexively.

“May! May – “

She was dying. She was dying. She was dying and her baby was going to be alone.

Her baby.

Harsh wheezing echoed throughout the room and May realized vaguely that she wasn’t breathing. Her chest wasn’t moving and her surrounding area was spinning, but her world had come to a dead stop.

“I’ll call 911 – May, just breath! You – You’re okay! You –“

The fuzzy noises faded and her vision tunneled into nothing.

Chapter Text

Friday Afternoon

“How was school?” The humble looking woman turned to her son who was slinking off his backpack and dropping it below to their shoe-rack by the door.

“Same as always,” Ned shrugged. He watched as his little brothers ran past him, throwing their bags haphazardly by his feet. He stooped to put them in place next to his, taking their homework folders out so that his mom wouldn’t have to. He went and sat on the stool of their island and put them somewhere on top.

Nadia eyed her son suspiciously out of the corner of her eye, stirring the vegetables around a skillet on their stove while also fending off the needy hands grabbing at her apron.

“School was great! What’s for dinner, Mom?” The dark haired boy, less than four feet tall, asked eagerly while smelling the delicious aroma.

“Yeah,” The slightly taller boy mirrored, standing somewhat behind his younger brother. “What is it? It smells super good! Like…. That thing from that place last week!”

Nadia, keeping her priorities well within her sights, quickly slipped the homework folders off of the counter and shoved them into her son’s chests. She put a hand on each of their backs and hurried them around the island and through a short hallway to their living room. Requesting, “Finish your homework before dinner and you can get desert, okay boys?” She left the room without waiting for an answer (no doubt angry grumbles), “And it’s stir-fry,” she finally answered.

Waiting in the kitchen was her eldest son, staring at a textbook as sadly as one possibly could. The affect may have been enhanced due to her ultra-worried mom vision that she never seemed to lose.

Luckily, her son had always been quite open. Of course, this was probably the result of how well she seemed to be able to understand her son due to their likeness. Though he would never admit it, they were both rather mellow and soft.

“What’s wrong, Ned?” Nadia asked gently with the deep, motherly voice she proudly possessed. Bringing the temp on her vegetables down to low and covering them with a lid, she faced him across the island.

He looked at her with an upset look on his face, as if he had been waiting for his mother to ask.

“I think something’s wrong with Piper,” he admitted.

Nadia’s interest was immediately peaked, knowing the girl well enough to be sure she wouldn’t let her son worry for nothing.

Though she would have to be sure Ned wasn’t being paranoid.

Piper… that girl was always smiling, so it seemed to Nadia. She often came over to their house to sleep, and though Nadia had been unsure about the idea in the beginning, Ned and her slept in the same room together. That not to say she didn’t check up on them consistently the first few times just to be sure they weren’t…. being disgusting teenagers, as she would put it. After bringing it up with them, their immense disgust brought her great satisfaction.

Piper was also a great pleasure to have over. Nadia’s younger boys loved her, she got along great with Ned’s grandfather (except for that one time she beat him at chess, but the fault was not hers), and she always ate the most of Nadia’s cooking.

Empty plates were one of the greatest complements a chef could get.

Not to mention she was cute as a button, and was always incredibly thoughtful – even doing so much as running errands for them.

The greatest part of their relationship was how well she got along with Ned. Her son seemed his happiest when he was spending time with her; playing video games or sometimes just lying there together doing nothing (she might spy a little bit, but she has the right to). Sometimes when Ned was bummed out about something, Nadia would just call Piper over and her son would be right back to his usual self. Sometimes a kid just needs his best friend, and Nadia does her best understand that she can’t be the one to fix everything.

Piper has told her that she relies on Ned as well, and Nadia as never had any reason to doubt her.

Nadia was aware, however, of the girl’s familial situation and it wasn’t as heartwarming as Piper was. It made Nadia want to burst into tears just thinking about everything the poor girl had gone through, and it absolutely appalled her that she was still able to function like a normal teenager after all the tragedy.

So if Ned thought that something was wrong… Well, something probably was.

“She’s just been acting weird all week! And like, I asked her to come over and she said that she couldn’t, because of her aunt – which I totally understand, but she isn’t even answering her phone. And she wasn’t at school today and she didn’t tell me about it, either, which is so weird for her.” Ned took a breath as Nadia nodded.

He seemed to be holding back for a short moment, looking unsure and full of things to say, and Nadia had the mind to be suspicious until he interrupted her before her own paranoia could get the best of her.

“I’m just so worried, Mom… At school she doesn’t act right, and she just seems so… far away. And I don’t think she’s been eating enough, either, you know, she needs to eat. Especially when she… works so much.” He shook his head sadly and looked at his mom. “What if she’s not okay? She always says she is, but… what if she really needs help this time?”

Ned was no doubt thinking about the all times she had helped him, and he was right. If Piper was going through something rough and she wasn’t telling anyone… then it could very well be a problem.

A rush of anxiety hit her at the thought: It could be more of an issue than Ned realizes.

But, Nadia was absolutely sure the girl’s Aunt would be there for her if something was wrong. The woman was one of Nadia’s closest friends, and she would never let Piper suffer.

Not on her life.

“How is May? Surely she would notice,” Nadia asked carefully. She knew the woman had been having problems with her heart, but last she heard it was getting better. The situation, however, was raising flags.

Ned shrank at the subject. He looked at the table in concentration, trying to find the right words to describe the confusing actions of his friend. “I don’t know,” he started unsurely, “I asked her about it a couple days ago and she just sort of – crumbled? I don’t know… it was so weird, but her eyes got that look, you know, and she said that May would be okay. But I don’t know if… “

“You don’t believe it?”

Ned shook his head.

Nadia had a feeling Piper didn’t either.

The woman wiped her hands on her apron and reached across the table to find her son’s shoulders. “I think you’re right to feel worried,” she spoke calmly, and he looked her in the eyes hopefully. “May hasn’t said anything to me either, and I’m actually quite worried about Piper. How about – after dinner – we go and check up on her? Make sure she’s alright.”

Ned’s face morphed into all kinds of relief and anticipation.

“Really? We can?” He asked, disbelief and excitement lacing his voice.

Nadia smiled reassuringly, slipping away to put the noodles into her pan. She affirmed, “Of course! I want to make sure Piper eats some of my food soon – especially if she hasn’t been eating. Plus, I miss her sweet face!”

Ned’s grin was blinding, and she was increasingly glad that she could help him. She only hoped everything turned out okay, and that nothing… terrible was happening. She couldn’t stand to see Ned hurt.

“You know what?” She asked.

“What?”

“You’re an amazing little Man.”

He smiled despite the ‘little’.


Two hours and a car ride later had Nadia wishing she hadn’t waited until after dinner – and mostly that she had gotten around to reading that book about medicine….

And spider mutants.


“You’re going to be okay! Just – just, oh my god, May, breathe.”

Piper fumbled for the phone in her pocket, one hand rubbing May’s sternum with the hopes of making her breathe, and the other desperately clicking the three numbers into the cell-phone that could save May’s life.

The room grew silent, all but the buzz of the call and May’s erratic heartbeat filling the silence as Piper tried to keep herself from panicking.

“911, what is your emergency?”

May’s mouth let loose a breath as Piper continued to try and relax her airways and she spoke as calmly as she could.

Her voice broke.

“M-y Aunt isn’t breathing, I need an ambulance.” She recited her address and quickly added whatever else seemed important, “and she – she has heart problems. And – And…”

Piper froze.

She scrambled away from May and yanked the metal container down beside her, pulling the mask up and over her aunt’s face as she leaned back on her knees.

“An oxygen tank. She has an oxygen tank,” she exhaled into the phone, knowing full well that her delayed thinking could have costed May her life.

“Okay,” the calm voice of the operator sounded, not calming in the slightest.

The last time she called 911, they were too late.

Too late.

“An ambulance is on its way, everything is going to be okay, just stay calm. Are you able to access the oxygen mask?”

“I already put it on her,” she replied flatly. May was still, but Piper could hear her heart still beating.

How long?

She looked so young. It was almost like Piper was seeing the May that was in photo albums, decorating the Christmas tree with Uncle Ben - Smiling. Laughing.

She wasn’t smiling now, and Piper knows she hasn’t smiled like that in a while.

Because of her.

And now she was dying. Her heart was beating, and her wheezing lungs were still fighting, but why? Why did they have to fight so hard in the first place?

Because of her.

She told May what happened, and now she’s dying. May discovered how pathetic Piper really was, realized how much of her beautiful life she’s wasted on a pathetic nobody, and her heart decided it couldn’t take it.

Piper was killing May.

Just like… Just like she killed Ben -


The abrupt and, unbeknownst to him, painfully loud honking of a car horn ripped Piper from her thoughts, and Happy watched the soaked girl turn to see him driving along the edge of the road where she was walking.

She was absolutely drenched, and Happy could not fathom why she was wearing such ridiculous clothes. It was… sad, honestly.

But that wasn’t why he was tracking down the annoying kid in the middle of heavy showers; no, it was because she hadn’t been at school when he was supposed to pick her up. Annoyed, Happy had furiously called Tony to find some answers, but when the man hadn’t picked up he was left with FRIDAY. Which arguably should have been his first choice, because the AI had told him of the hospital report filed for her aunt, recently under Emergency Care, and that had been enough for Happy to find the kid.

When he went to the hospital, they had told him that Piper’s aunt was stable, and that the girl herself had only just left. Apparently the hospital’s information listed Piper as emancipated, so social services hadn’t even been alerted – but Happy knows for damn sure that she is in no way legally emancipated, so he would have to speak to her and boss about that.

Before he could do that, though, he was more worried about the kid’s… health or whatever. She was just a kid, and Happy would admit to tracking her down using shop security cameras and spending an hour of his time on it because she was more or less important to him, if only so that he could complain. And not lose his job.

“Hey,” he called, leaning as far back from the rain entering his window as possible, “Get in.”

She looked at him strangely, and Happy would dare to think she was looking right through him.

“Wh – wh,” she stuttered, from the cold or her nerves, it wasn’t clear. “Why?”

He deadpanned, not believing what he was hearing, “because it’s raining and you look like you could really use a ride right about now, no offense.”

“No – No, why… You don’t have to - You don’t have to check up on me anymore, Happy.”

He raised a brow, not picking up what she was dropping.

“Tell me, why is that now?”

She shook her head, and for the first time since Happy had spoken to her, she avoided looking at him.

“I lost the internship.”

It was so soft Happy had to ask her to repeat herself through the pattering of the rain. Surely, she was freezing.

“I lost the internship, Happy, I’m not – I’m not your problem anymore, okay?”

The news and attitude hit him unexpectedly, causing him to believe this also had something to do with why boss wasn’t answering him.

“How?” He blurted, completely thrown off. He was absolutely sure Tony liked the kid, so why would he have her get lost?

“I screwed up… I – I just – It doesn’t matter,” she shook her head, almost angrily at herself, before looking at him so foreign Happy couldn’t do anything but grind gears as she spoke.

That look was heartbreaking.

“Thanks for everything, Happy.”

The soft words barely reached him before she was running.

She ran and then she was gone: alone, cold, and probably about to do something stupid.

And Happy - Happy was stuck in traffic, physically and mentally. He could only hope that boss would know what to do, because for once in his life Happy was 100% positive that he – or someone – should be with her.

But for once in his life it wasn’t his job.


Friday Evening

Back in her apartment, the living room is empty in its middle where the paramedics had to extract May. Other than that, everything was normal.

It smelled like home. Even if May wasn’t here and there was absolutely nothing that could make her feel okay again; it smelled like home.

It smelled like her life here. The detergent and bodies of her loved ones gave it the uniqueness that every home has. The smell was pleasant, and Piper used to love it, but now all home smelled like was shame.

Shame and regret.

She stood in the doorway, breathing heavy and uneven, wondering just how much more she would have to suffer.

Her world was darker now, the atmosphere having dimmed so much she couldn’t even recognize herself anymore. This apartment… it looked like some sick rendition from a horror game.

She almost killed May today. Would her friends be next? Would she find another ferry load of people to endanger? Could she possibly ruin the lives of those she cared about any more than she already had?

Of course she could, and she had known that all along, hadn’t she?

She was nothing and yet the destruction she was able to cause was what made her existence something like a disease. To some people, she was a fungus: there, annoying, and a burden to their daily lives. To others, she was a cancer: killing them sudden and gruesome, or slow and painful.

A fit of rage had her throwing closed the door, splintering the wood as it hit the doorframe.

Another thing broken because of her – just another damned thing on the long list of broken pieces.

Why was she like this?

Her head was pounding and her joints ached from where she held together the ferry earlier, but it didn’t compare to how badly she wanted to just – just disappear.

If she could disappear then she wouldn’t have to live with herself. She felt the world around her so purely that every day was increasingly overwhelming, and the spider bite had only added to her strife. Anxiety… it means nothing when her body senses every possible danger; from muddy puddles to spitballs being thrown at the back of her head, her brain was in shambles because of it.

To top it off; the smells, irritating touches, and inseparable noises were hard enough to sort through, but when her stupid brain can’t help but panic when the world around her is even remotely similar to… to… Uncle Ben when he was shot… it was like she was asking for it.

This was her burden to bare – her responsibility – and yet, she was tired.

She was... she was something else but for the life of her she couldn’t figure out what it was.

This feeling that she couldn’t understand made her want to disappear, and it made her want to scream at anyone who speaks to her like she some broken thing that needs help, because she doesn’t need help.

Because nobody can help her.

This feeling – this feeling was pathetic, and it made doing what she was about to do – no, what she had to do – so much harder. For a little while, she wanted to be free of this curse she had placed upon herself. May would hate her and Ben probably does, but she just hurts so much and she doesn’t know what else to do.

The sole logical voice in her head tells her that she should ask for help.

But she can’t, because the only person who could possibly understand took away her suit, and – understandably - wants nothing more to do with her. Mr. Stark had lived through the death of his parents, the betrayal of more than one friend, being actually tortured, and to top it off he had come out of it a hero. He was someone so strong Piper had only ever dreamed about being near him, and then suddenly the day comes and he’s telling her to be better.

She would never come anywhere near it.

When she was really little, she didn’t like to go outside or play with the other kids. The world was too loud and too big, and the kids were much the same. Then, she thought of ironman (or her parents used him as motivation) and she was able to get through it.

When her parents died, it was the thought of Tony Stark – a kid like her who had also lost his parents - that got her through the wallowing.

When Ben died, it was the same thing. She thought, ‘if Tony Stark can be a hero despite going through so much more than me, than surely I can get through this.’

The thing is, though… she’s not Tony Stark.

They were two completely different people. One was strong and meant for greatness… the other was nothing. She was… she was just a mistake.

And after all these years of hoping to unlock some wonderful potential, she had only just realized that she would never make her parents, or Ben, or May proud.

Mr. Stark took back the suit because he knows it too.

For some reason she had been the only one clueless to her own worthlessness, and it had hurt more a few people.

It hurt others and herself, and for some unthinkable reason it made her angry. Angry to be so useless when she was sure she could have been great.

She let out a cry and stumbled into the kitchen space, muscles shaking and breaths becoming harder and harder to take in.

All she wanted to be was a hero.

But, she would hurt someone again – She would make someone worry or be the reason they died, and they would get hurt. Despite this, she couldn’t help thinking that the worst part of it was that it hurt her too.

It hurt her more than it should. Everything did.

Nobody else goes around feeling guilty for not saying thank you fast enough, or for making people worry a little; but she does. Every second of every day she has to be making up for her mistakes. She has to work ten times harder to just – just deserve to be alive, because her life is meaningless if she doesn’t.

If she doesn’t try, then people die. Ben dies.

When she does try – When she does try…

What? What happens when she tries?

Her hands stop fishing through the cabinets as they find the right bottle. The grief she feels pooling at her chest is constant, but she doesn’t cry because of that.

She hates herself, and that hurts.

It hurt, it hurts, and it hurts.

She cries - not tears, but profanities - because this is her only option, and this is her only option because she’s weak.

She’s worthless.

She can’t be better.

Dry, gasping sobs escape her mouth as she struggles with the cap, adrenaline pumping so strong the feeble plastic doesn’t even budge, though it surely should have with her strength as she runs to the bathroom and slams the door with her back.

Maybe her body is trying to tell her that this is a bad idea.

Maybe she could try again – harder.

She slides down the wall next to the shower.

She tried, didn’t she? She tried so, so hard, and proved to the world that Piper Parker was only good at hurting people. She was hurting her friends, and she was hurting May, and she was disappointing Tony Stark as well as the rest of them.

They should regret ever spending a second of their time on her, but she knows, deep down inside, that they won’t. They were good people, and they deserved far better than her.

She’s trembling.

The bottle opens with a pop.

Her mind is made – it – it’s not going to change. It can’t.

Pills spill onto her lap and the floor.

All she can do is hurt people, and surely she really is cursed because all her life the only thing she’s been sure of is that she really, really, cares about everything – yet they all leave. She cares so much, it feels like nobody could ever love her the way she loves them. It feels like she should be giving the world her all, because it brings her so much love.

But her all is nothing, and it must surely hurt her more to be such a burden than the actual burden hurts her family. It was pitiful to think that way, but if they were hurting as much as she was then she doesn’t know how they’ve lasted this long.

It would makes sense though, because they were strong. They were strong, and they were able to stay when Piper was pushing them away with knives in her hands.

They shouldn’t have to stay.

She looks at the pills through dry, conflictingly apathetic eyes, wondering vaguely how many she should take.

She really cares but she really doesn’t.

Maybe she would take just enough to go to sleep, wake up, and feel better again. Maybe a break from the pain would help. She knows, though, that the amount needed for her body to break and for her body to fight them off was too close in number.

It was all or nothing, and she knows it.

She empties the bottle into her hand, holding as much as the size of her cupped fingers would allow.

If she dies, she dies. She doesn’t have the energy to care.

In fact, if she had done this earlier, Ben would still be alive and May would be happier than ever. They may have even started another family. A real one.

She should have done this earlier.

Nobody believes in her now anyway, and the whole ‘if Tony Stark can do it, I can do it’ thing only works when Tony Stark hasn’t openly told you that you can’t.

She needs this – the world needs this.

Yet, she sits and stares at the sporadic movement of the pills in her hand and she gasps. She’s gapsing and she’s screaming and she’s so fucking sad.

But still, no tears. For once, they’re all gone – she’s all gone.

She wants this – she – she needs to do this.

She has no other choice.

It hurts. It hurts. It hurts.

Disappointing, failing, grieving, not being good enough – caring so fucking much.

It hurts.

She hurts.

Does she want this? Does she really want to give up? When she thinks about it she – she -

She shoves the pills into her mouth and swallows harshly.

There - There are no other options. Even as she hiccups and desperately needs one.

It hurts and she wants just wants to feel okay again. Her mind is filled with images of Ben’s dead body – the sound of the gun shot, the smell of the blood and burnt skin; the wheezing of blood entering his airways. They circulate, sometimes leaving, but always present when May was around.

The wheezing… the wheezing of her heart sends her mind into a frenzy all over again, and she isn’t strong enough to fight it anymore.

It should have been her that died. It should have been her, and she wishes it more and more with each second.

“There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you, Piper.”

She grinned at him, not understanding the implications of what he was saying. “I know, Uncle Ben.”

He smiled and pulled her in for a hug, messing with her hair as he did.

She had been naïve, so desperately naïve. He told her anything, and Piper had only assumed he meant working to provide for her and being there for her when she needed him. In reality, Ben promised to do all that as well as protect her, and he had.

He had, but why? Why?

Why protect someone so worthless?

Suddenly, a chill racks her body as she slumps, and her mind tunnels into an abstract clarity.

“I don’t know why I’m like this but I can’t help it, Ben,” a twelve year old her paces in front of her uncle on the stairs outside their building. “I was just trying to help, and nobody was doing it, so I thought that I would… but they just called me a freak… they always do, and it’s fine, I guess, but I don’t understand why they don’t like me.”

She had been in the school hallway when one of the girls in her class was complaining about how hard it was for her to get the lock on her locker open. Piper was just beside her and because she had noticed the girl’s struggles before, she thought she could help.

Piper had tried to explain to the girl how she always turned it right three times on her second number, rather than left once, but instead of being thankful…. The girl and her friends had screeched about how creepy she was for noticing something so… detailed? Piper couldn’t help it most of the time.

Ben gave her that warm look he always does as she stifled a sob. Even then, she had tried to be strong – she always failed.

She asked thickly, “Why does nobody like me?”

“Do you really want to know?” He replied.

Piper nodded hesitantly, but Ben only smiled.

“It’s because you make them realize how human they are,” he said and laughed at the confused look on her face. “People make mistakes, Piper, and you notice them more than others. Just like you notice the good more than others, but nobody like those girl’s will get past their own flaws.” He sighed, “When you’re as bright as you are, some people just can’t handle how dim it makes them look.”

“So, I’m too smart?” She quarried, rubbing her nose and sniffling.

Again, he laughed and shook his head.

“No, sweetie, you’re everything you were meant to be, and those kids just haven’t realized it yet. Don’t blame them, okay? But don’t blame yourself, either. In your life there will be lots of people who can’t handle how abundant you are, and if they’re hurting it might make them angry, do you understand?”

She didn’t really, but she nodded anyways.

“There’s one thing you’ve always got to remember, alright?” He watched to make sure she was really listening before continuing. “It’s that the world doesn’t make mistakes – it never has and never will. Despite whatever you may someday choose to believe about God, Piper, you must remember that nobody is put here by accident. It’s because of the people who don’t do their part that the world is so screwed up sometimes. Some people have bigger roles than others, but they all have an effect, and when someone tosses their value aside – it ruins things.” He looked at her seriously, but she never shrank away.

“How do I… how do I do my part?”

He pointed at her chest.

“You use your heart –“

This time he pointed at her head.

“ – and you use your mind. You be responsible and you be completely you, Piper, and I know you’ll remind the world what a spectacle really is. Remind them what love really is, and let yourself be loved in turn. Maybe you’ll only reach a few people, or maybe even the whole world, but whatever you do, if you do it with love, you’re going to make the world a better place. Some people may not understand, but that’s okay, because you have people who love you regardless. We’re all important, Piper.”

He rested his hand on her cheek and spoke sadly, almost as if he were predicting the future.

“Your heart will forget that, sometimes, especially when the people who make up this world try to tell you otherwise. It’s in those times you’ve got to use your brain. Use it and remember that you have so much love because the world needs it.”

She… She had forgotten.

Her eyes roam aimlessly around the room, not seeing anything except blurred colors.

She had forgotten, hadn’t she?

Her head lulls.

… She doesn’t want to do this, does she?

She rubbed away the tears on her face and said with a teasing smile, “That was really beautiful, Uncle Ben.”

He let out a hearty chuckle as Piper began to laugh as well. When the moment sobered, she asked, “You really mean all that stuff?”

He answered honestly, “Every word.”

They began walking up the stairs, and Piper turned to him.

“So that means you like me, right?”

Again honestly, he says “It means I love you.”

The memory hits her like a water balloon hits the ground and never breaks, and like a philosophers teachings hit a dull and stubborn man.

It was perhaps the most important realization of her life so far, but she was too far gone for the point to come across.

Her body was jarring strangely, but the room was only growing darker, and somehow she thinks her mind is telling her to throw up… or get up… or - or something.

Because she remembered.

She doesn’t want this.

Then almost ironically, she was gone.