Peter had always been a sweet and curious child, the bright yellow tickseeds and curling parsley leaves scattered unevenly across his ribs serving as his proof when he finally learned to decipher their meaning.
One of the first things he remembered was the pomegranate flower on his mother’s shoulder, the ragged-robin entwined around her wrist, her elegance and wit captured in the bright flowers so reminiscent of her smile. He didn’t recall what plants his father had, only the way he had laughed and would ruffle his hair whenever he would peak into his office and scramble into his lap eager to join the adults in their work.
His Uncle Ben had later told him that his dad had a pale chamomile on the back of his knee, bright energy which was then joined by daisies and dandelions once he’d met his mother - true love and long-lasting happiness.
At the age of six Peter at first hadn’t understood the primrose and yew, even as his soul had somehow known; before he could even fully come to terms with his sorrow, his loss. The daisies he would never see, and the ragged robin he could only remember.
Eventually healing white yarrow bloomed on his pale skin, adorning his shoulders, which was then followed by hopeful snowdrops. His parents were forever gone, but now he had the multicoloured myrtle on Ben’s hands and arms, which truly encompassed him, his love, hope and duty. Soon after he moved in with them, he recalls Aunt May waking up one morning and discovering the dark moss now carpeting her shoulders, and he can’t help but smile fondly at the memory of her gentle smile and wet laugh before she held him in her arms and took him out for some ice cream.
Things stayed the same for a while then, Peter grew and learned, embracing his love of science in memory of his parents, more parsley joining that which was already on his body. He remained a quiet child, only having one true friend in Ned who he shared everything with and spent hours crafting their lego creations together. Peter sometimes envied Ned his crocus’ and coreopsis’, eternally cheerful and spared of the hardships he had endured.
Becoming Spiderman then became one of the greatest and most terrifying times in his life. It was hard for him to explain the sudden increase in new flowers liberally covering his body to Uncle Ben and Aunt May. Wild Garlic sprouted across his calves accompanied by Geranium’s creeping towards his knees; courage and strength, stupidity and folly. An unlikely combination to appear at once, though he explained it away well enough as just a part of growing up and changing as a person, becoming more daring he had said jokingly to May. In that time a series of scars from his extra-curricular activities also joined his new floral arrangement those these were less noticeable, and he eagerly accepted them as proof of his good deeds. Sometimes Peter grew self-concious of his markings, having more than the usual handful for their age, and them being of a different bent than was common for teens. Flash didn’t help matters any either, with his Narcissus daringly exposed for all the world to see. He learned to ignore him though and got on with his life, now much more exciting and dangerous.
The night Uncle Ben died tore Peter apart. He blamed himself, how could he not? He couldn’t stand to look at himself in the mirror for weeks afterwards, his own self-hatred consuming him. The only reason he tried to keep himself together and functioning was for Aunt May, his beautiful aunt who loved and cared for him so much that it broke his heart to see her come back to their small apartment exhausted after another extra shift at the hospital to try and make ends meet. As he had held his dying uncle in his arms all he had felt was the burning of his chest and the pounding of his head; later all he had been able to do was lie down and cry, trying to stop his ribs from caving inwards, and breathing through the sobs stuck heavy in his throat. The morning saw him rise to aloe on his hips as well as hops, with dead leaves mockingly scattered between them all; he didn’t need the stupid plants to tell him of his sorrow and grief, his sadness, and the injustice of it all. How his second father had been ripped from his life before his time. As the months went on he saw how broken Aunt May had become without the love of her life, a veritable cascade of cypress flowers- mourning and despair- running down her back, a sight he had only glimpsed one day as her blouse slid down her shoulder. That night a single purple hyacinth bloomed across Peter’s right collarbone, asking for her forgiveness, even though she would never know the true extent of his guilt.
However, time went on, and even though the pain never lessened, and the guilt never went away he moved on. Only now the fresh flowers taunted and consoled him in equal measure, a promise to remember his mistakes and to be better, to try harder, and to do his Uncle proud. He fought crime as best he could, tried not to fall asleep in class, and be a good friend for Ned, making time for them to meet up and re-watch Star Wars for the hundredth time. There was a routine and balance now, Peter would never be the same, but he was alright with his new normal; that was until Mr Stark showed up.
For as long as Peter could remember he had been aware of Tony Stark, a man whose presence and charisma dominated so much of the world; his name and face plastered on every billboard and tv-screen. He had been on the front page of every newspaper and tabloid in the world, one day damned for his womanising behaviour and drinking habits, the next praised for some new invention. Even back in the days of Stark weapon manufacturing Peter couldn’t stop himself from being impressed by the monstrous weapons, which were of a complexity and terrifying efficacity that he could barely even begin to comprehend at that young age.
Later, when Tony Stark had emerged from the desert with new flowers and scars covering his body Peter had been relieved, glad to see that a great mind hadn’t been lost to yet more violence. When Mr Stark had revealed himself to be Iron Man Peter had been ecstatic, he finally had a hero he could wholeheartedly get behind, someone that used their brain and not just their brawn to protect the world. He grew more enamoured of his hero by the day, going so far as to beg Aunt May and Uncle Ben to buy him all things Iron Man related, and to eventually take him to a Stark Expo for his birthday. Which led to that fateful day, where he tried to face down a killing machine in only an Iron Man mask, only to be saved by said hero. It sealed his fate, no one would ever rival Mr Stark in Peter’s eyes.
And whilst Mr Stark was mainly known for his inventions and work as one of earth’s protectors, the press was also obsessed with his marks. A much beloved topic of the tabloids who ran article after article speculating what one plant could mean and why it could have appeared, or whether it signified a new romance or some other sordid relationship. He admired Mr Stark for never shying away from his marks; the white and yellow narcisuss’ on his forearms-egotism; a vermillion nasturitum in the crook of his elbow – conquest and victory, even the dark violet anemone’s adorning his left shoulder, showing for all that he had been forsaken long ago, though by whom no one knew, though speculation was always rife. Even emerging from the desert a changed man Tony had proudly showed off the new asphodel flowers gracing the side of his neck - regret. Everyone supposed that it was his regret for having his weapons used in such horrific ways, though Mr Stark always refused to comment on any of his marks. Smirking at the cameras and waving cheekily before leaving with a signature wink.
Peter longed to be as bold as his idol, but he hid away his marks in shame, they only served as a reminder of his failures. The day he discovered that he had superpowers changed him forever, he thought he would become more like his idol, self-confident and assured. Peter was disappointed that this didn’t happen and that he remained an awkward teenager, awkward and gangly in his newly changed body.
After Mr Stark recruited him he suddenly had more purpose, a goal to strive towards, and with the backing of Iron Man himself he felt unstoppable. Berlin had quickly disabused him of that notion, but it did leave him with a new suit and the power to help an ever-growing number of people.
That didn’t stop the injuries, the stabbings, the scars or the crippling pain in his chest that would steal his breath away whenever he stayed too still, and his dark thoughts crept insidiously into his mind, another bruise-like hyacinth popping up, seared into his skin, another useless plea for forgiveness. However it did give him a good excuse to ignore his problems and not think about things, a way try and outweigh his mistakes with his good deeds.
It didn’t matter that Peter would sometimes wake up gasping in pain, his hair plastered to his forehead, trying to remember how to make his lungs work, only to feel his throat burn from screams he had been suppressing in his sleep. Images burned into his mind; Ben lying on the concrete, a dark crimson pool slowly spreading out from under his body, his own reflection staring back at him from the glare of the street lamps in his uncle’s blood. The man he had been too late to save from being raped, only to hear his cries of pain, finding him hunched over in a back alley, and taking him to an emergency clinic, knowing he likely would never find the monster who had done it, knowing they had gotten away and were still out there. The young girl who shied away from him, a black eye marring her face, asking why her dad was mad all the time.
Being Spiderman hurt sometimes, he saw things he was never supposed to see and dealt with things he wasn’t equipped for, and some days he felt weary down to the depths of his soul, old and burdened beyond his years. Peter wondered if it was all worth it, whether he wouldn’t be better off hanging up his mask for good; but then he’d remember Ben, the purple hyacinths, and the smile that nice lady had given him before offering a churro, and he knew that he couldn’t stop, would never stop.
The incident with the Vulture had shaken Peter to his core, he had been outclassed, and he had, for maybe the very first time, felt a fear that had chilled him to his bones. Pinned between two layers of concrete he had felt the tell-tale tingling of a new mark on his lower back; a surprised huff escaping him. Of course now would be the time for this bullshit, trapped with no escape, a madman trying to kill him. He wondered what the new mark would be, there often didn’t even seem to be any logic behind some marks; but knowing his luck it would be another ugly depressing flower, one more regret permanently etched onto his body.
Stuck under the collapsed building he had genuinely thought he was going to die, alone and scared, his Aunt forever left wondering what had happened to her baby, and Mr Stark right in thinking he was unworthy of his suit; unable as he had been to stop the villain.
It wasn’t until much later that Peter had remembered to look at his new mark in the mirror. After he had saved the Vulture’s life, after sitting atop the Ferris wheel making sure that no one else got their hands on the stolen Stark tech. After Aunt May had screamed and cried at him, grounding him to the apartment for the foreseeable future, and after Happy had apologised for ignoring his messages, thanking him for doing his job when he had been remiss in his duty. Tony had returned, had said that Peter was worthy, that he had been wrong, and that Spiderman was the hero that New York needed and deserved.
Their words had felt hollow and empty, he had just nodded along and agreed, bearing May’s desperate hugs, and forcing a smile for Tony, waving as he pulled away in another one of his fancy cars. His mind was elsewhere, back in the bathroom of his crappy apartment in Queens, head thrown over his shoulder and looking into the mirror. Eyes fixed on his lower back, tracing the outline of the light pink cyclamens spread from one hip to mid back; it seemed so innocuous and delicate for all that it really meant, resignation and goodbye. Peter’s resignation and goodbye, to this world, to Aunt May, to his life, to all the things he had yet to experience and that in that moment he never thought he would get to see.
Peter remained oddly still and silent for a good few moments, the sound of air filtering through his nostrils filling his head. An indeterminate amount of time later he looked away, resigned. This was just one more to add to the collection, one more nightmare to plague his dreams, one more flower to remind him that yes, you did think you would die, this is your life now and you better get used to it.
Lying in bed that night, looking at the faded light of the glow in the dark stars stuck to the ceiling, Peter inhaled, and failed to try and drift off to sleep.