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Candy from Strangers

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Being friendly is an essential part of being a Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man.

That's why Spider-man makes friends everywhere he goes; he almost can't help it.

Peter remembers every face he meets - and they, of course, remember him.

---

First there's the lady who runs the hot dog stand on 77th. Last year, Peter webbed up a mugger who was trying to rob the cash from her stand. Since then, Peter has been blessed with an unlimited lifetime supply of the best hot dogs in Queens (which he tries very hard not to abuse). He usually swings by the stand once a week on Tuesdays, sometimes for dinner or sometimes just to say hi. Her son is just a few years older than Peter and runs the stand some days. They laugh together and share memes; it's very wholesome and honestly a highlight of Peter's week.

---

Then there's Joe, a homeless man who usually hangs around the streets and public libraries of Queens. Last summer, Peter encountered a bunch of kids heckling Joe - kicking stones at him like he was some kind of animal and not a fucking human being. Rather than calling the police, Peter scared the kids off for good by making them apologize, lengthily and sincerely, to Joe's face - he's never seen so many teenage boys near tears. Joe, of course, forgave them for their boyish actions but was grateful to Peter none the less. Peter finds Joe around the neighbourhood a few times a week after his patrol and brings him some food; they've shared many evenings playing cards, reading books or just chatting. Joe has told Peter all about his life and all the adventures he's been on. Hanging out with Joe makes Peter feel calmer, more peaceful; he's one of the gentlest people he has ever met, and Peter feels better for knowing him.

---

One memorable evening, Peter caught a man who was trying to abduct a little girl from the park where she was sitting with her grandmother. The poor girl was tiny, no more than 4 years old, with little pierced ears and big brown eyes that sparkled with curiosity. Lila, her name was, as Peter learned later on.

It happened on a Sunday night, when the park was mostly deserted and the bustle of the city was quieter than normal. Peter had been taking a break from patrol, perched high up in a tree enjoying the view. From the corner of his eye Peter saw Lila's grandmother turn her back for just a few seconds; that's when the kidnapper struck. The hooded man approached from behind the bench, grabbed Lila roughly under the arm and sprinted off towards the streets, never looking back.

Peter sprung into action, flipping easily onto the ground where Lila's grandmother was limping desperately after the kidnapper, screaming and crying - "Lila! My baby! Not my baby, please, Lila!"

"Don't worry ma'am!" Peter yelled as he bounded past the woman, swinging after the abductor. It took Peter very little time to catch up and shoot a carefully aimed web at the man's feet - he yelped and tripped over himself, hurtling face first towards the ground. Peter grabbed Lila before she hit the concrete; she latched onto him tightly.

"You're okay sweetheart. It's alright." Peter comforted the girl softly while hiding her face in his shoulder. He used his other arm to web up the criminal for good.

"Karen, call the cops on this motherfuc-" Peter looked down at the girl clinging to his neck. " ... nasty man."

Peter jogged back to the park. When Lila's grandmother saw Peter approaching, she dropped to her knees and dissolved into tears. Peter gently handed her her grandchild. She held Lila close and rocked her while speaking with a thick accent.

"Thank you. Thank you, you brave boy. You saved her. Thank you."

Peter scratched his head, looking sheepish. "Anytime. I'm just, uh, glad she's ok." Peter helped lift the woman to her feet as she held her granddaughter's hand tightly, as if afraid she would slip away at any second. She pulled Peter into a fierce embrace.

"You, my child, have a place in Heaven." she whispered sincerely.

Peter chuckled lightly. He had never really been raised religiously; but with so much loss in his life, he liked to believe that there was something to look forward to afterwards.

"Thanks, ma'am. Thank you."

She released Peter and patted his cheek fondly, tears still glistening in her eyes.

"Call me Nana. Come, come with us for dinner. To repay you."

Peter walked them home safely, playing hopscotch on the sidewalk with Lila as she started to feel a bit better. These days, whenever May is working on a Sunday night, Peter is always welcome to swing by Nana's for a family meal. He learned that Lila's parents were deported back to Mexico last year, leaving Nana to take care of the little girl ever since. Though careful with his identity, Nana found out that Peter is an orphan and that his uncle died recently. Nana shed a tear when Peter confided in her, her eyes full of pain for him. She knew he spent many nights alone in the apartment.

"I pray for you every night, niño."

---

And the list goes on.

These people are Peter's family; they have his back, just like he has theirs.

Peter never feels lost in his city, knowing his people are always just around the corner and they love him as their own.

---

Then came David. The man was on the older side of middle-aged, with a salt-and-pepper beard and crew cut hair. He had recently purchased a local ice cream shop. David had flagged Peter down a few weeks ago as he was swinging through the street and offered him free ice cream at the shop any time. He said it was to repay him for all the good he did in the neighbourhood. David seemed nice enough; he was polite, if a bit awkward. Peter thanked him, but had never stopped by yet.

One night, Peter was especially hungry and decided to stop in for a bite. David was probably a fan - and who would say no to free ice cream?

A cheery bell jingled as Peter walked in the door, clad in his suit. The store was fairly undecorated and weirdly empty for a summer night.

"Hey, Mr. David! How's it going?"

David popped out from the back of the store; he looked elated to see Peter in his shop.

"Ah! The famous Spider-man. You made it, finally!"

"Yeah, yeah. Thanks for the invite!"

"Glad you came by. You're a real hero around here." Peter smiled shyly under his mask. "Tell you what, let me give you a scoop of our new special flavour - I named it after you! You can let me know what you think."

David pulled out a small tub of ice cream from the freezer and started to prepare a cone. The ice cream was a red and blue swirl. Peter graciously accepted it - although he's more of a cookie dough guy himself.

David watched Peter intently as he pulled his mask up just a bit and took a bite - then nearly spat the ice cream out.The flavour was disgusting - weirdly fruity with a strange aftertaste. Peter forced his grimace into a smile and gave David a thumbs up.

"It's great! Wow, an ice cream named after me! This is an honour."

David smiled tightly, but his demeanour had shifted as soon as Peter took a bite of the cone. He seemed more tense, and the friendly glint in his eyes had disappeared.

"Alright, spider-man. I gotta close up now for the night now. Goodbye."

David ushered Peter towards the door with a hand on his back. Peter was a little taken aback, but didn't want to be rude or get in the man's way.

"Uh - oh. Ok. Thanks again, Mr. David!"

Peter stumbled onto the sidewalk and waved the man goodbye as he slammed and locked his shop door. As soon as he rounded the corner, Peter tossed the cone in the trash. "Ugh. Gross. Of course I would be a nasty ice cream flavour."

Peter swung home, not giving another thought to the encounter. Until he did.

---

Later that night, Peter was lying in his bed completely wiped.

After patrol he had tried to catch up on some homework, but had little success focusing on anything. His brain felt a little fuzzy, but he chalked it up to a long day. He had also skipped dinner; he just wasn't hungry, and luckily May wasn't home to chastise him.

An hour or so later, Peter began to feel a little queasy. This had now escalated to full-on waves of intense nausea that left him bent over the toilet. He was simultaneously burning hot and freezing cold, exhausted and shivering on the bathroom floor. This sucked.

Normally, Peter would just assume that he was catching the flu and suck it up. He definitely wasn't one to whine about being a little sick. But this was different. Peter hadn't been sick at all in nearly 2 years - not since before the bite, not even a sniffle. This couldn't be normal.

Peter decided that he needed someone in the apartment to make sure he didn't actually die on the bathroom floor... that would definitely be a mood killer. He fumbled in his pyjama pocket for his phone and groggily typed in May's name.

Five rings sounded, but May didn't pick up.

Peter tried again. Same thing.

"Fuck." Peter was stuck. There wasn't really anyone else to call... Ned would already be in bed, and this didn't feel worth waking him up over. Peter tried not to dwell on the depressing fact that he had exactly 2 people in his life he could count on, and decided to just wait this out.

Peter crawled back to bed and curled up on top of his covers, clutching his stomach and just focusing on breathing. But it didn't take long for Peter to start feeling even worse. He soon found himself back on the bathroom floor, shaking from head to toe. That's when he started to feel a sharp pain in his stomach; it felt like Satan was stabbing him from the inside with burning knives. Not to exaggerate or anything.

Now, Peter was a little scared. He had never felt pain like this before without having an obvious injury. He had been trying to avoid this, but there was one more person he could call.

Out of pure desperation, Peter slowly dragged his phone across the tiles towards him and tapped on Mr. Stark's name. He put the phone on speaker and rested his burning cheek on the cool tile floor, waiting for an answer. Two rings echoed in the room before he got an answer.

"Yup?"

"H... Hey. Mr. Stark." Peter was trying (and failing) to sound normal, his voice shaking slightly.

"What's up kid? Shouldn't you be in bed?" Tony sounded distracted.

"Uhh. Yeah. I'm, uhh... I'm having a little bit of a problem?"

Tony was instantly alert. If this kid was admitting to being in trouble, the world must be ending.

"Where are you?" Tony said abruptly, already preparing to call a suit. Pete was probably fighting an alien prison gang or some shit.

"I'm not... no, it's ok. I'm at home. At my apartment."

"Oh." Tony lowered his hand. "So, what's wrong then?"

"Ok, uh, this is gonna sound really dumb, and childish, but I feel... sick? Like, really sick. And I know that sounds like not a big deal, and you probably think I'm being a pussy, but the thing is... I haven't been sick at all since before, y'know. Before Spidey. Not even a toothache. And now, this is happening..."

Tony sighed and ran a hand over his face. "Your aunt? Isn't she a nurse?"

"She's working the night shift, and she's not picking up. Sorry I called you. I'm just... never mind. I'll see you -"

"No, no. Stop." Tony cut him off. He knew Peter, so he knew he wouldn't call for nothing. "You did the right thing, kid. It's fine. Listen, I'll get Happy to drive me over. Can you hang in there for an hour?"

Peter let out an audible sigh of relief. "Yeah, yeah. Thank you so much Mr. Stark."

Peter hung up and prayed that he could stay conscious that long.

---

When Tony knocked on the front door, Peter felt somehow even worse. He was barely even maintaining consciousness, his head pounding where it rested against the cool tile floor. He tried to lift himself to his feet when he heard the knock, but his arms and legs and brain were just not co-operating. This was bad.

He heard a few clicks, then the sound of the front door opening. Mr. Stark knew too many lock picking techniques to count.

"Uh, Peter?" Mr. Stark's voice from the kitchen was hesitant. Peter tried to reply, but it came out as more of a strangled moan. So embarrassing.

Peter heard footsteps approaching the bathroom. Tony pushed on the partially-open door and hesitantly poked his head in.

"Oh, shit." His eyes were met with the sight of Peter, whiter than a ghost, crumpled on the floor in fetal position. Peter tried to smile up at him, but it came out as more of a grimace.

"Hey, ms'r strk. Welcome to my h'me." Peter flopped his arm over on the floor in greeting. Tony sighed as he scanned the boy for any sign of injury... this was going to be a long night.

"Hey, kid. How are you feeling?"

"Like shit."

"Yeah, I bet." Tony rested a hand on Peter's clammy forehead and hissed at the heat he found there. "Ok. Let's get you to my place, we have a medic on site who can look you over. Think you can stand?"

Peter valiantly tried to get to his feet, but he couldn't get anything more than his chest off the ground. His cheeks burned with embarrassment. He was spider-man, for fuck's sake. He flopped back onto the ground roughly.

"Fuck, shit. S'ry, ms'r strk.."

"Don't apologize, you're good. God, this reminds me of college." Tony bent down and swiftly picked up the thin boy from the floor, heading towards the front door.

"Jesus, Parker. Eat a goddamn sandwich."

---

After some struggle, and a lot of help from an unusually concerned Happy, Peter found himself horizontal in the back seat of an extremely expensive car. His head was resting heavily on the window, his socked feet propped up loosely on Tony's lap.

As soon as the car had sped off from the curb, Peter had started shaking violently - and he hadn't stopped since. He was clutching his stomach, his teeth chattering and his eyes starting to slip closed. He just wanted to sleep.

"Pete? You with me?"

Peter weakly raised his hand and gave a thumbs up. Tony sighed, worry written in his features.

"What the fuck happened to you, kid?"

Peter was about to shrug when something outside the window caught his eye. They were passing the ratty blue awning of David's ice cream stop. The only thing he had eaten that day. He remembered the separate tub of ice cream he was served from and the strange, nervous glint in David's eye as he basically kicked him out of his store. Fuck.

"Msr.. msr strk." Peter needed to tell him, now.

Tony hummed and looked over at Peter.

"Ice cr'm.. man." Tony raised his eyebrows.

"Jesus christ, kid. We can go for ice cream another time. Maybe when you're not literally fucking dying in the back of my car." Tony patted Peter's shaking foot and looked back out his window absently.

"No, no... T'ny." Tony's head whipped around as he frowned. Peter never used his first name.

"What is it?" Tony looked down at Peter earnestly, waiting for the boy to speak.

"The ice cre'm, the man... D'vid. Poison." Tony's eyes went wide with shock as the realization hit him.

"Fuck-"

That was the last thing Peter heard before his eyes rolled back into his head and he began to seize.

---

The next time Peter was conscious, he was lying in an exceedingly comfortable bed at Stark Tower. He was exhausted, but his temperature felt normal and his stomach was blissfully pain-free. Peter sighed and began to let his eyes slip shut again.

That's when a piece of paper on Peter's nightstand caught the corner of his eye. He picked it up and skimmed Mr. Stark's messy scrawl.

 

Kid,

I dealt with the nasty ice cream man.

No more taking candy from strangers.

Enjoy your breakfast.

-T.S.

 

The note was taped to a small cooler. Peter cracked the lid open hesitantly and peered inside. He rolled his eyes dramatically when he saw the contents - a fresh pint of Stark Raving Hazelnut and a spoon.

"That little piece of shi-"