Peter sat in corner of the lab, scratching away at his calculus, trying to hide from Tony’s scrutinizing glare. Thankfully, the older man was engrossed in a project, oblivious to Peter’s distress. His stomach hurt, that hollow painful burn from not eating. He felt dizzy and he knew his blood sugar was getting dangerously low.
He shouldn’t be in the tower. He didn’t want to be there. It had been Tony’s decision that he come by after school to work on his school work because his grades were slipping. Education first, he’d said.
Things had been rough at school lately, Flash had been harassing more than usual, and at home, things weren’t that much better. Aunt May was struggling to pay the bills. Their power was close to being shut off and his Aunt was doing everything she could to keep food on the table, which was really a problem for Peter since he needed to eat more than anyone. His metabolism burned through calories so fast he felt the pangs of hunger nearly every moment. They had become his constant companion.
He just wanted to finish his homework, so Tony could inspect it and he get home, even if he didn’t have food there. The last thing he wanted was Tony finding out how bad things really were. He didn’t want charity and he knew Aunt May didn’t want it either. It wasn’t just that either. He felt embarrassed by his situation. It wasn’t something that he thought Tony would understand. Why would he? The man had always had it all.
Tony and Peter couldn’t be further apart in how they handled money. Tony had no problem throwing money out the window on toys, but Peter would be counting pennies and nickels to buy Ramen for dinner. They led completely different lives, and soon, Peter would be done with it all. Money was just too tight to be hanging around with Mr. Stark and being Spider-Man.
Peter just wanted to make it better for Aunt May somehow. He would catch her teary eyed in the kitchen some nights, staring into the empty fridge. It was one of those times that they talked about Peter quitting the internship to get a job. She had hated asking. Peter Knew. It was the only way though and they both knew it. He needed to take care of them. It was his responsibility. He just needed to find a way to tell Tony.
He glanced up from his work, looking over at his mentor. He was sitting with a pair of glasses perched on his nose, staring down at a circuit board, poking at it with a screw driver. Peter was pretty sure he wasn’t actually working.
“Umm … Mr. Stark—I mean Tony,” Peter said hesitantly. He was really starting to feel like crap and just wanted to get home. “I’m umm… done.”
Tony’s head lifted, and he dropped the circuit board on the desk, pulling the glasses off and tossing them aside. “Wow, you look like shit.”
Peter pushed his chair back and went to stand, feeling the room wobble beneath him. He closed his eyes for a second to get his balance, hand steadying himself on the desk. “M’fine.”
He heard Tony scoff. “Yeah, right and I’m still a virgin.”
“Seriously, Tony.” Peter shook his head, which was the completely wrong move. It felt like his brain was swimming in his skull. This is bad, he thought to himself. “M’fine,” Peter said again, feeling proud of himself. That was practically a sentence.
Was the room tipping?
Suddenly out of nowhere there were strong hands on him, keeping him from falling over.
Was it hot? He felt sweaty. He needed to go. He tried to push by the hands, but they held firm.
Was someone yelling his name?
“Look at me, Peter!”
Huh? Oh, his eyes were closed. Sleeping sounded good. He was laying down already. Wait, when did that happen?
Suddenly there was a stab of pain in his leg. He groaned and then another stab. He tried to open his eyes, but they were too heavy. He could hear talking but it was muffled like he was under water. Without warning, his eyelids were being lifted one at time and a bright light was being shone into his eyes.
He felt himself being lifted and he tried to protest but was too tired. He felt himself being set down on a soft bed. He could hear the voices of clearer now. It was Tony and Bruce.
Ugh. Reality began to come back to him. He remembered too well now. He had collapsed in the Tower and now he was screwed. There were going to be questions Peter wasn’t ready for, so he did the only thing he a teenager could think to do. He pretended to be asleep.
“Tony, his extremely underweight. His blood sugar was dangerous for a regular human, let alone his metabolism. Is he even eating?” Bruce asked.
“Yes, of course. I think. I mean, yeah. Why wouldn’t he be?” Tony said, sounding perplexed.
Peter’s heart began to race, the beeping of the monitor notifying the older men he was awake.
A warm, calloused hand pressed against his forehead. “Easy, Under-Roos,” Tony’s smooth voice said. “You’re fine. You scared the shit out of us, but you’re fine now. It took two shots of Glucagon to get you stable enough to move. You’re lucky we keep them around for Banner. Sometimes after he Hulks out his blood sugar crashes fast, so we keep them in every kit.”
Peter nodded, finally getting his eyes to open. He blinked and looked around. He was on the cot in Tony’s lab. Bruce was standing at his feet, arms crossed and looking concerned. Tony was sitting on a stool beside him.
“Peter,” Tony started. “What’s going on? How did this happen?”
Peter looked away, the wall suddenly interesting. Tony grabbed his chin though and tugged him to meet his stare.
“We need to know what’s going, Peter, so we can help,” Bruce said.
Peter closed his eyes for second to try to gather himself. It was intense being stared down by two of the smartest people he knew. They weren’t gonna buy his lies, so he knew it would be dumb to try. Taking a deep breath, he opened his eyes again and started.
“It’s just, we’re not like you guys, me and May, definitely not like you.” He looked at Tony. “We don’t have what you do. May got her hours cut. We barely have enough money to pay rent and keep the lights on, let alone buy enough food, and I’m not taking away from May. I make sure she eats first.”
Tony’s hand came to rest on Peter’s shoulder. “Christ Peter … Why didn’t you say something?”
“It’s not your problem, Mr. Stark.”
“The names Tony, kid, remember?”
Peter nodded, closing his eyes again, unable say the next part while able to see the looks on their faces.
“We decided, Aunt May and I, that I’m done with the internship. I need to take care of May. It’s my fault she’s alone. She’s my responsibility.”
“Whoa, slow down,” Bruce said. “Nothing is your fault, Peter. We can figure this out.”
“Bruce is right. This is an easy fix. I’ll just start paying you. You’re practically an employee anyway.”
Peter pushed himself up in bed. “No! No, no, no! I don’t want charity!”
“Do you seriously think we all volunteer here, kid?” Tony asked, looking incredulous. Peter hadn’t really thought about it, but now that he did, it made sense they got paid something. “You’re doing a service to the city on behalf of the Avengers and should be compensated the same,” Tony continued.
Peter fiddled with his hands.
“Well, what do you say? You accept?” Tony asked.
He didn’t know what to say. This was huge. He could still be Spider-Man and take care of May. He still felt guilty though.
“Peter, can I say something?” Bruce asked. “I know it can’t be easy to be in your shoes, but we all care about you. You’re our family just like May is yours. Let us take care of things.”
Peter drew a breath, holding it for a moment before nodding. “Okay, but how do we explain it to May?”
“No worries, kiddo. I can handle Aunt Hottie,” Tony side with a grin. “From now on, you’re gonna have enough to eat. I promise, and Banner and I are gonna run some tests and see just how fast that metabolism of yours is, alright? Maybe we can come up with a super meal bar or something. This isn’t a big deal, Peter. Alien invasions, wormholes, cities falling from the sky, those are problems. I got this, kiddo.”
Peter struggled to find words but couldn’t, so he just nodded. “Thanks, both of you.”
Tony patted him on the shoulder. “You’re welcome, kid.”
A smile spread across Peter’s lips. “So, how much am I getting paid? Like since I’m nearly a real Avenger, I’m thinking equal to Captain America.”
“Ha!” Tony barked. “Spangles, really? I’m starting to think you like him more than me.”
Peter shook his head and laughed.
“Guess I’m just chopped liver,” Bruce huffed.
“No, you’re way cool!” Peter said.
“Thanks.” Bruce grinned.
Peter pushed himself up to stand. “I got to get going. May’s gonna be home soon and we need dinner. She usually brings scraps home from the diner …”
“Not anymore, kid,” Tony said. “Let’s go. We got some shopping to do before she gets home. Well, actually Happy does.”
That was it. That was the point that Peter couldn’t hold it all together any longer. Tears brimmed in his eyes and grabbed a hold of Tony, wrapping his arms around the older man.
“Thank you, Mr. Stark.”
Tony rested his chin on Peter’s head and wrapped him in his arms and for the first time in a long time, Peter felt like things were going to be okay.