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Comeuppance

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Peter didn’t mean to flinch so violently when Mr Stark touched his shoulder with a “Good work today, kid” and small smirk. They’d finished a Team Training exercise, with Spider-Man finally joining the group with his loud laughs and quippy jokes. Mr Stark had just been patting his shoulder as they all finished, ready to head back and relax, when he froze at Peter’s flinch.

For a second— just one tiny second of mental confusion— Peter forgot where he was. He forgot he was at the Avengers’ Compound. He forgot that he’d been invited for a training session and he forgot that the person touching his shoulder would never mean any harm.

Because when Mr Stark’s hand gently patted his shoulder, all Peter could think about was being 9 years old as his babysitter left after looking after him all night, patting his shoulder with a smirk and a “See you next time, Einstein.”

But then Peter was back in the present, looking into Mr Stark’s confused and worried eyes. The man’s hand was withdrawn, looking at Peter like something serious had just happened.

“You okay, kid?” Mr Stark tried to keep his voice down so not to rise suspicion out of the other Avengers. They all knew who Spider-Man was and just how old Peter actually was but, thankfully, Mr Stark always tried to treat him like an adult when in the company of others.

“Uh yeah,” Peter jerked his head, shrugging. It was a defence mechanism he’d developed years ago that followed with him wrapping his arms around his torso, digging his nails into the skin of his sides until he was sure crescent moon shapes would appear. “Just took me by surprise is all.”

He could tell Mr Stark didn’t buy it but the man didn’t fight him on it anymore. Mr Stark stretched his arm out as if he was about to wrap it around Peter’s shoulder, pulling him into one of those half hugs that always made Peter feel liked and special when pressed into his mentor’s side but after a second, Mr Stark dropped his hand. They walked in silence, following the rest of the Avengers back into the Compound, both of them trying to act as if nothing had happened.

Peter hated how years later, he still felt as if his entire life was being derailed by what had happened in his past.

——————

There was many things Peter Parker appreciated his Aunt May for: taking him in when he was orphaned, working two jobs to support him, affording the New York rent of their small apartment and being his rock through Ben’s death and the entire Spider-Man fiasco.

One thing Peter didn’t appreciate was the shitty lighting in their small and cold bathroom. Every time Peter brought it up, practically begging May to buy a warmer coloured light bulb, his Aunt just huffed and rolled her eyes.

Because to May, the harsh lighting of their shared bathroom wasn’t something to complain about. It was something she could suffer through on early mornings and left off if she went into the bathroom during the day.

To Peter, the unflattering brightness burned his corneas and made him flinch every morning and night when he had no choice but to switch the bulb on. The light was painfully bright, leaving no crevice not highlighted and every dark bag or pimple to be suddenly more severe.

But what Peter hated most about the bathroom light was how, every now and then, he would look into the mirror a second before he stepped into the shower and he would be able to see tiny fingerprint bruises that littered his skin. The brightness of the unrelenting light highlighted every vein and blotchy patch of skin and for a second, Peter could see the purple-ish marks that he was sure were now forever burned on his flesh.

He wondered how after so much time could pass, he could remember exactly how the fingerprint bruises had looked. He wondered how he knew exactly how dark the purple taint had been, followed by the yellow-green and then eventually nothing but a scar hidden under his skin.

Some days Peter considered reaching up and snapping the lightbulb into tiny pieces so as to escape the harshness of the physical reminder for what had happened years ago.

Everyday, Peter just shook his head, counted to ten and then showered.

——————

Nightmares were something Peter had always been used to— even before the whole Homecoming debacle. Whereas now his nightmares usually focused on the unrelenting fear of getting squished by a large pile of rubble as he tried in vain to call for help, Peter’s nightmares in his childhood (pre-bite and pre-Ben’s death) had always focused on one man.

Or one monster as Peter often caught himself thinking.

He’d never shared the origin of why he had such nightmares about the babysitter he’d had for 2 months back when he’d been 9 years old nor would he ever speak of what his nightmares entailed. Not because Peter didn’t want to— he’d wish on several occasions that he could utter the truth to May. After thousands of nights where his Aunt stayed up until the sun shone through the curtains and the possibility of sleep dwindled just so Peter didn’t have to be alone, he wished he could open his mouth and truthfully answer her pained questions of “why are you so afraid Peter? Please tell me what’s wrong.”

But each time, from the age of 9 to now, Peter just brushed away the traitorous tears that ran down his cheeks and shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t remember.” He’d lie and lie and lie until May dropped it, something worried still trapped in her expression.

Peter wished more than anything that he didn’t remember. He wished he didn’t have to lie to May and that his memory really did blank on what had happened back when he’d been 9.

He wished he’d never met Skip Westcott.

But Peter rarely got what he wanted and the memory of his childhood babysitter and what had happened on each night Skip came over, would forever be burned into his mind.

So when Peter had yet another nightmare, waking up in a cold sweat with tears running down his face, it took him a second to remember that it was now 7 years later. He was no longer 9 years old, scared and shaking as his babysitter did things Peter didn’t want.

But then it took another second to realise that the person currently trying to console them wasn’t his Aunt May. Nor was he in his usual bedroom.

“It’s okay kid, calm down,” Mr Stark’s voice was soft to Peter’s ears, a hand running through his hair and flattening down the sweat-drenched locks. Peter sniffled once, his brain reminding him that Mr Stark wasn’t an enemy. Mr Stark would never hurt him how Skip had. Mr Stark was there for Peter just like Aunt May was.

“Mr S-Stark?” Peter croaked out, his voice all broken and harsh because of the crying and lack of sleep. The man hummed, continuously running his fingers through Peter’s hair without a care in the world.

Maybe if Peter wasn’t recovering from a nightmare and the memory of Skip burned so brightly in his mind, he would’ve been embarrassed over the fact he practically threw himself into Mr Stark’s arms. Peter’s mentor took in a sharp breath, freezing for a second before carefully wrapping his arms around Peter’s back and holding the kid as close as he could to his chest.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Mr Stark hummed, keeping his voice as light as he possibly could.

“No,” Peter sniffed, digging his nose further into Mr Stark’s t-shirt. He repeated a mantra inside his head: Mr Stark wouldn’t hurt him, Mr Stark isn’t like Skip, Mr Stark is safe, Mr Stark wouldn’t hurt him, Mr Stark isn’t like Skip, Mr Stark is safe, Mr Stark wouldn’t hurt him . . .

Unlike Aunt May, Mr Stark doesn’t press for more.

——————

Sometimes Peter found himself staring at his laptop screen for hours. The tab for some sort of social media site would be open (be it Facebook, Instagram or something else) and Peter’s fingers would be frozen over the keys above the search button.

Slowly, with precision and hesitation, Peter would type Skip Westcott’s name into the search bar. His index finger would then stay hovering over the enter key for hours whilst his mind went into a melt-down.

On one hand, Peter wanted to know where his old babysitter ended up. It had only been a month after May and Ben decided they no longer needed Skip to babysit for them that the then-teenager’s family moved from Queens to Downtown Manhattan. His Dad had gotten a better job and suddenly the monster living next door to Peter was gone.

Although by then, the harm had already been done.

It was like a desire of Peter’s to see Skip’s face one more; to see if it was just as monster-like and evil as his nightmare’s often depicted. He wanted to know if he was successful now or behind bars. He wanted to know if he’d gotten married or if he was recently divorced.

But most importantly, Peter wanted to know if Skip still babysat little kids and ruined their lives.

For the first time ever, Peter actually hit the enter key and waited for Skip’s profile to load up. (Usually his efforts of searching for his old babysitter ended in Peter deleting the man’s name before he could search, slamming his laptop shut and pretending nothing had happened).

This time, however, Peter couldn’t try and pretend he hadn’t done what he did because Skip’s face burned through his retinas. He didn’t look as monstrous or terrifying as Peter remembered. With a head full of blonde hair, piercing brown eyes and a chiselled jaw, the man was almost attractive. He looked like a normal, everyday person and judging by his profile, he was engaged with a steady job at some law firm.

If one were to pass Skip Westcott on the street, they wouldn’t cringe away or feel their stomach do somersaults just like Peter’s did now. They wouldn’t look at the man and see what Peter saw. To everyone else, Skip was a decent man with a decent job and a happy life.

No one else could see the dark glint that Peter saw in the man’s eyes. They didn’t see the way Skip’s lips tugged up into a sadistic smirk as he pulled out adult magazines Peter had no buisness looking at. No one else saw the monster lurking just below the surface of his perfectly groomed features.

Peter spent the rest of the night hunched over the bathroom toilet, telling Aunt May he must’ve eaten something off when on patrol. She didn’t believe him of course, but by now she’d grown accustomed to his lying.

——————

One thing Peter loved about both Ned and MJ combined was the simple fact of how safe they made him feel. There were no judgements in their friendship, no bad blood or squabbles. It was just the three of them, completely and utterly themselves and comfortable in each other’s space.

Never did Peter have to look over his shoulder when he was with them. Never did he have to question if he could trust them or if he had to build his walls up until there was no space left to breathe.

Ned was Peter’s oldest friend— he was the person Peter had entrusted almost all of his secrets too. He was the first person to find out about Spider-Man (ignoring Mr Stark), the person Peter had cried on after Ben’s death and the only one to know that the real reason Peter wore a mask was so his enemies never saw the fact that he was scared.

Despite this, Peter had never told Ned about what had happened with Skip when he’d been 9. Sure, Ned had noticed a change in Peter’s mood. He’d noticed the way his best friend’s eyes no longer glinted when he laughed or that for a long time, not even talking about LEGO or Star Wars could put a smile on Peter’s face.

But slowly, with time, pieces of Peter came back. It was clear things were still bothering him and Ned worried for the days when Peter came into school with bags under his eyes so dark it looked like hadn’t slept in weeks. However, by now, Ned couldn’t remember a time when Peter didn’t flinch if one of their male teachers touched his shoulders or go eerily silent if someone on their AcDec team whipped out a crude magazine behind Mr Harrington’s back.

“What’s the film we’re about to watch?” Peter asked as he, Ned and MJ huddled together on Ned’s sofa for their weekly movie night. This time it was MJ’s pick and both the boys were sort of dreading whatever she was about to put on.

MJ shoved a bowl of popcorn into Peter’s lap, clicking start on the movie as the title credits rolled on. “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” MJ spoke curtly. “It’s one of my favourites.”

Peter wasn’t much of a movie person. It was like some sort of biological fault in him that always made him fall asleep around halfway through the movie. Mr Stark always made fun of him because Peter would, without fail, fall against the man’s shoulder at the midway mark of any movie they watched— only to then wake up around 20 minutes near the end.

It seemed, even now with MJ’s favourite movie, Peter did the same thing. One second he was engrossed in the movie about a socially awkward teenager writing letters to a pen pal about his life and new friends, then the next second his head was against Ned’s shoulder and he was out like a light.

Just like every other time, Peter woke up near the end with no clue what was happening or why the teenage boy was suddenly in the Hospital. “What happened?” Peter rubbed at his eyes, trying to stifle the yawn escaping his lips. Both Ned and MJ were slightly teary, watching the screen with anxious and sad expressions.

“He had a breakdown,” Ned whispered back, eyes focused on the screen. Peter watched as the Doctor in the film went up to the teenager’s parents and explained something the audio didn’t pick up. It must’ve been bad because Peter, despite having not watched the majority of the movie, found himself suddenly emotional over the parents crying and embracing.

“Why they crying?” Peter spoke up again. Something in him yearned to know what had happened to that teenage boy and for why he’d had a breakdown that ended with his parents crying and embracing their son. “What happened?”

MJ sent him a quick glare, proving to Peter that his questions were getting on her nerves. Nevertheless, she answered anyway. “His Aunt sexually abused him as a kid.”

It was like getting punched in the gut. The word “abuse” circled around in Peter’s head until he felt suddenly faint and all the popcorn he’d eaten from earlier tried to make a reappearance. He barely made it to Ned’s bathroom sink before it all came up, loud sobs racking his body as he let it all out.

Peter didn’t look either Ned or MJ in the eye when he finally exited the bathroom a few minutes later. He made a half-hearted excuse that May wanted him home early before rushing out his best friend’s door without a second glance.

All Peter could hear as he walked home were the words “sexually abused” bouncing around his head. He suddenly felt for the teenage boy who’d had a breakdown in the film. Peter knew what it was like to hold a secret so tightly to your chest that sometimes it felt like you might buckle over and die trying to keep it guarded.

He didn’t go to movie nights for a while after that.

——————

Peter often had to remind himself that every man with blonde hair wasn’t the same as the babysitter he once knew. Sometimes he’d be walking down the street, headphones in and blasting music, when some guy with a head full of blonde hair would walk past him and Peter would just freeze.

Or he’d be in school, looking around at all of the other kids walking down the corridor, feeling his breath get stuck in his throat as his mind only computed the large amounts of blonde haired people walking around him. It was times like then, surrounded by a group of people, that Peter almost expected to look around and see Skip emerge from the crowd.

His body would tense up and it would feel like his mind is screaming at him to run, every given part of the day. Peter would turn the corner of his school, heading to class, when suddenly his mind screamed at him to expect danger. To expect Skip to brush past him with a teasing smirk and a “Hey Einstein.”

No matter how much Peter expected it, no matter how many times he looked over his shoulder, Skip never did turn up.

——————

His mind wandered when sleep evaded him. The time on Peter’s clock currently read that it was 4:16am, the sky outside was black and apart from the usual Queens noises of car alarms and people yelling down the street, it was a pretty quiet night.

Peter’s light in his room was on, the bedside lamp scaring away all the shadows that had given him shivers only a few hours before. He knew he should probably turn it off, squeeze his eyes shut and possibly attempt to sleep but Peter knew there was no point. His mind was wide awake, all the tiredness from earlier pushed away as his thoughts whizzed around his head like a train never stopping.

Peter remembered the night after Skip’s first time babysitting him. He remembered how quiet and shut off he’d been, wrapping his arms around his legs and refusing to touch his dinner no matter how much May or Ben insisted he took a bite.

Peter remembered being confused, like he hadn’t really understood what had happened even though he’d been old enough to know that what Skip had done had been bad. The shower Peter had taken the night after Skip first came over was long— not as long as all the other showers he had every night after Skip kept coming over and over and over— all he’d done was stand underneath the boiling hot spray of water and just close his eyes.

Even now, years later, Peter remembered what he’d dreamt about when in that shower. He’d thought of all the water rising up, the heat burning his skin as it rose up and up and up until Peter was completely submerged. He’d thought of just floating there, under the water, until his breath just slowly ebbed away and silence had flitted in.

There, underneath the water of his day-dreams, Skip hadn’t existed. Skip couldn’t hurt him.

Peter remembered how after that first shower ended and he was all dry, Skip came over to babysit him once more.

——————

The ground was cold underneath Peter, the gravel was digging into his bottom and despite all his wriggling, there seemed to be no comfortable spot. It was nearing 1am by now for Peter had left his apartment (via the fire escape) at around 11:40 and according to Stark Maps, the walk to this neighbourhood had taken 1 hour and a half.

For the first time in a long time, Peter was breaking curfew for non-Spider-Man related reasons. He’d left his suit at home, his web shooters under his bed and all he was dressed in was a baggy jumper and jeans. It felt weird being out late and dressed in his usual clothes; it made Peter feel more like a normal kid pushing the limits on his guardians patience rather than a Super-hero pissing off his mentor by fighting crime all hours of the night.

Peter almost liked it if the reason for why he was out wasn’t so dark.

The house was currently sitting on the ground looking at was painted white with a picket fence and freshly mowed grass lining the lawn. A row of flowers were growing healthily by the stairs leading up to the front door and there was a small, white bench on the porch that Peter could imagine two people curling up in with wine in their hands.

It looked like one of the houses that Ned lived in. It looked like the house MJ used to live in before her parents divorced. It looked like one of the houses Peter used to dream about living in.

This wasn’t his first time visiting.

It hadn’t taken much to search up where his old babysitter now lived and after writing down the address, Peter wasn’t really sure why he’d come here every night for the past week. It wasn’t like Peter was expecting anything out of the visits. He didn’t want to see anyone or be seen by anyone.

He just sat there on the uncomfortable pavement, feeling the gravel dig into his skin and leave indents that were still red and sore the next morning, and watched the house like he was expecting it to explode any minute. Like he was waiting for something bad to happen that he could maybe try and prevent.

It took Peter far too long to hear the sound of sirens approaching as he sat there in the cold. His usually intense senses seemed to be lacking considering he was so tired that every few seconds he would jolt awake and he was shivering violently on the pavement at past 1 in the morning.

One-second Peter was blearily staring at the house of where a monster lived, the next second he blinked and an overweight cop with thinning grey hair was standing in front of him. The man looked concerned as he crossed his arms over his chest and stared down at Peter like he couldn’t seem to understand him.

“You’re going to have to come with me, son,” the cop reached down and helped Peter stand up, catching the teen when he stumbled in his exhausted state. Peter was honestly too tired to argue as the cop placed him in the back of his car. He was already asleep before they could even turn on the car.

——————

Being in jail was weird. Peter was so used to catching the bad guys that being here, in some dingy cell somewhere in New York (Peter wasn’t really sure where he was), almost felt like he was betraying the red and blue suit he wore daily. According to the cop who’d picked him up from outside Skip’s house, some neighbours had called and informed them of a teenager sitting on the pavement each night for the past week, doing nothing but sit and stare.

Peter guessed he must’ve looked suspicious.

They’d let him make his one call not too long ago, the boy cringing the entire time that the phone had rung. He’d wanted to call May but she had an all-day shift meaning she wouldn’t be able to get him until it was past dinner-time and Peter didn’t really fancy waiting in the holding cell for longer than he had to.

Mr Stark had been mad. The second Peter had uttered the words “holding cell” and “can you come get me?” the man had been livid, giving a terse “yes” and “don't speak to anyone until i get there”. It was already too late for that though, the cop had questioned Peter about why he’d been out in the early hours of the morning to which the teen had just shrugged.

But with no alcohol or drugs found in his system nor any weapons in his backpack, there had been no evidence of Peter wanting to cause harm. Meaning he was free to go once someone came to pick him up.

Cue Mr Stark.

“What the hell is going on?” The billionaire’s voice was loud, making Peter cringe as the sound of his mentor’s footsteps echoed closer and closer from around the corner. He must be talking to the cop who’d picked Peter up cause he recognised the man’s voice as he replied.

“Mr Stark . . ? I—uh— what are you doing here?”

“I’m here to pick up Peter Parker; i believe he was arrested early this morning?” Peter winced at the word ‘arrested’. Judging by the way Mr Stark talked, Peter was definitely in for one hell of a lecture.

“You’re here to pick him up? The teenager?” It was clear the cop was confused and Peter didn’t blame him— it must be weird for Iron Man himself to come down to some random station to pick up a teenage boy who at first appearance, was nothing special.

“Yes, that is what i said,” Mr Stark huffed. Peter could hear as the man took in one deep breath, clearly trying to calm himself down. “Where is he? I need to see him.”

“Right this way,” were the last words Peter heard before the door to where his holding cell was located opened and the overweight cop from earlier walked in, followed by a frowning Mr Stark. Said man was dressed in jeans and a pun t-shirt, his hair messed up as he looked Peter up and down.

“Hey Pete,” Mr Stark’s voice was dry and despite the casualness of his tone, Peter knew his mentor felt anything but casual. Peter had learnt a long time ago that where Mr Stark’s words could be limited, his eyes told the whole story. There were many times that Peter had looked into his mentor’s eyes and seen the pride shining back at him. This time, however, all he saw was fury. And it was directed at him.

“Hey Mr Stark,” Peter dropped his head, no longer wanting to see his mentor’s angry look. He shuffled his feet as the cop unlocked the holding cell door, making Peter cringe at how the metal squeaked when it was pulled open.

“You’re free to go,” the cop nodded in Peter’s direction. “Just maybe in the future, don’t go for midnight walks in neighbourhoods you don’t know— for your sake as well as others.”

Peter nodded curtly, walking past the man and out of his cell. It was like being led to slaughter as he followed Mr Stark through the police station, waiting as the man signed him out and turning his head away when his mentor gave a more-than-generous wad of wash to the cop who’d caught Peter with a “This stays between us, Capeesh?”

By the time they exited the station, the sun was shining brightly in the sky and Mr Stark’s red Sports car was waiting for them.

No one spoke for what seemed like hours as Peter strapped himself into the car, waiting to see if Mr Stark would give his inevitable lecture now or later.

“So are you even going to try and explain what the fuck just happened?”

So the lecture was now, then.

Peter fiddled with the ends of his jumper, pulling at the fabric. He kept his eyes trained down as he spoke. “Um— did they not tell you what happened?”

“Oh they told me,” Mr Stark was glaring holes into the back of Peter’s head. “But i want to hear it from you Peter.”

Uh oh, Peter thought; Mr Stark called him Peter. It seemed the only time his full name came out was when he was in trouble. Normally it was just Pete or Underoos or Kid. (A Spider-baby was thrown in there every now and again too).

“Well— uh,” Peter wasn’t sure if he should tell the truth or lie. He couldn’t tell the whole truth but he could give as much of it as he could. “I couldn’t sleep so i decided to go for a walk.”

“An hour and a half from where you live?” Mr Stark sounded incredulous as he continued to stare at the teenager beside him in the car.

“It was a long walk.”

“Peter look at me,” Peter did. Mr Stark looked less angry now and more concerned. He hated that. “What’s going on? They told me you’ve been going to that street every night for a week now. All you did was sit on the pavement and stare at house 666 for several hours before leaving. Every single night. That doesn’t add up kid.”

Peter shrugged. “I got tired and sat down.”

“In the same place, in front of the same house, every night?”

“Yeah.”

“I know you’re lying to me, kid,” Mr Stark’s voice was softer now. A hand reached out and touched Peter’s shoulder, his fingers squeezing gently. The only reason Peter didn’t flinch was because he could see into Mr Stark’s tell-all eyes and all he could see in the man’s gaze was pure love (which was insane, right, because Mr Stark didn’t love him?)

“Tell me what’s up,” Mr Stark tried again.

Peter had learnt long ago that the best way to avoid lying was just not answer at all. Crossing his arms, Peter did just that. He dropped Mr Stark’s gaze and closed his mouth.

“Peter?” Mr Stark frowned, eyes squinting in a way that showed he saw past the teen’s facade. Just like May and Ben had once seen, Mr Stark knew that something was up. But it was too late: Peter’s walls had once again risen up and no answer would be forthcoming.

“When you’re ready Pete,” Mr Stark sighed as he started up the car. He almost sounded sad as he took his hand away from Peter’s shoulder. “I hope you know you can talk to me.”

Peter wished he could do just that but each time he thought about opening his mouth, Skip’s words circled around in his mind. “This is our secret Einstein, remember that okay?”

It was their secret— something Mr Stark nor May could ever find out no matter how much Peter wished they did.

——————

“Do you think all bad people get their comeuppance?” Peter asked suddenly as he rewired his Spider-Man suit. It was a set lab day, five days after Mr Stark had picked Peter up at the police station on the outskirts of the city. Five days after Peter had been grounded by May (par coming to Mr Stark’s). Five days after Peter completely shut down.

“What makes you ask?” Mr Stark looked at him from across the lab, worry etched on his face. Peter suddenly wished he hadn’t asked.

“No reason,” Peter shrugged before returning to his suit. They hadn’t spoken much after Mr Stark dropped him off but judging by the way the man sent him routine worried glances, he was still clearly thinking about what had happened.

“Is that about what happened five days ago?” Mr Stark read between the lines, standing up and moving closer to where Peter worked.

“Of course not, like i said—“

“You were just walking,” Mr Stark nodded in a way that showed he wasn’t convinced. “Yeah you’ve told that lie so many times no kiddo i’m sure even you are starting to believe it.”

Peter frowned, continuing to work so he didn’t rise up to the bait.

“To answer your question, though,” Mr Stark continued a second later. “I would have to say no.”

That made Peter pause.

“There are a lot of bad people out there,” Mr Stark sighed. “Only a handful of them are caught.”

Peter nodded stiffly. He guessed it was true; Skip was definitely a bad person but out of the two, the only one still suffering was Peter. Skip had moved on, found a nice woman he wanted to marry, brought a house and seemed to be successful in his job. The man was bad but only Peter knew that.

“But i would like to think that karma gets everyone eventually,” Mr Stark finished, using his leg to turn Peter’s wheelie chair around so they were facing each other. “Do you believe in karma, Pete? Do you believe all bad people get their comeuppance?”

He paused for a second and thought. How many times had be dreamt of Skip getting put behind bars? How many times had Peter imagined the man getting what he deserved? It seemed like countless nights that Peter had closed his eyes and dreamt of a world where the man who’d hurt him was finally exposed for what he was: a monster.

But then Peter opened his eyes and Skip was still living a good life, his true self hidden from the world.

“No,” Peter sniffed, trying to not see the look of worry Mr Stark was giving him. “I don’t.”

——————

In all honesty, Peter wasn’t entirely sure why he didn’t tell anyone about what Skip did. When he’d been 9, the fear of his babysitter and what he could do to him had been the driving reason for why Peter had kept his mouth shut like Skip told him. But then Skip was no longer his babysitter and the bad things stopped happening . . . but still Peter didn’t tell.

And then Peter was no longer 9. He became 10, with a bleaker view of the world and a sense of uneasiness that grew when near strangers. He turned 11 . . . and then 12 and he still didn’t say anything . . . then he was 13 . . . and 14 . . . and then the spider bite happened, Ben died and Spider-Man was born.

After all that, Peter kept his secret to himself, locking it up tight and deciding that he was a superhero now: he could handle anything. A small voice in the back of his head told him that it was too late now anyway, after all that had happened with Ben and May finding him in his suit, it would only cause his Aunt more distress than she needed.

“This is our secret Einstein,” Skip whispers in his mind.

Peter hated that he could still remember exactly how Skip sounded.

——————

By now, Peter was used to hearing people in distress. Swinging through the streets of Queens, stopping muggings and attempted assaults on a daily basis meant that Peter heard a lot of screams and cries as he tried to do good in his neighbourhood. So when Peter heard a muffled crying sound coming from one of the apartments he just swung past (picked up by his enhanced hearing), he didn’t think twice to go back and check it out.

Spider-Man stopped crime in the streets but he had been known to stop a few domestic brawls. It was his thing to protect all of Queens, whether outside or in.

The crying sound was coming from a little girl Peter realised as he stuck to the wall outside their apartment, peering in through the murky window.

“P-please no,” the little girl cried harder. She was standing in the middle of her living room, her hair in pigtails and tears running down her face. Peter guessed she was about 6 or 7 judging by her height.

“What did i say about crying?” A harsh voice of man made Peter suddenly want to throw up. “Be a good girl, come on.”

Peter didn’t even wait to bust through the window and web the guy up. The little girl screamed and hid behind the sofa, closing her eyes as Spider-Man punched the elder guy in the face two times until his head fell down to his chest, unconscious.

For good measure, Peter punched him once more.

And then once more.

By now, blood was rushing from the man’s nose but Peter didn’t care. He deserved it.

“Spider-Man?” The sound a little girl’s voice broke Peter out of his thoughts. He turned around, spotting a small head poking out from behind the sofa. She didn’t seem too scared of the suit-clad teen for she shuffled out from behind the sofa a second later.

“Hey,” Peter tried to keep his voice even. No matter how much he wanted to curl up in a ball right now and cry, he couldn’t. It was time to be the Friendly Neighbourhood (Peodophile stopping) Spider-Man. “It’s okay i wont hurt you.”

“I know,” the little girl walked up to him, observing the unconscious man webbed to her wall. She pointed a chubby finger at him. “That’s my Uncle.”

Way to beat cliches, Peter rolled his eyes under the mask.

“He isn’t very nice,” the girl sniffed, wiping her nose with the back of her hand.

Peter ducked down, wrapping an around her shoulders in the same way Mr Stark did when Peter was scared. “He cant hurt you now.”

“Thank you for stopping him,” the girl sniffed again, leaning in and pressing her nose into Peter’s neck. He stiffened for a second before wrapping his arms around her fully. She felt so small and Peter had no idea how that man— her Uncle— could do something so horrible to someone so cute.

“Has he done this before?” Peter knew the answer but he felt the need to ask.

“Yes.” The reply was barely a whisper.

“Does your Mummy and Daddy know?” Again he knew the answer.

“No.”

“When are they back home?”

“In an hour,” the little girl sniffed. “Will you stay with me in case Uncle Wesley wakes up?”

Peter didn’t reply, instead he just wrapped his arms around the girl tighter and nodded. (A small part of him wished this had been how his story had ended but no suit-clad heroes had busted down his windows when he was with Skip).

“What’s your name?” Peter asked a little later when the girl had stopped crying. They were watching TV in the kitchen, trying to ignore the bad person still unconscious on the living room wall. Some kids show was playing on TV but Peter wasn’t paying attention to it.

“Sarah,” Sarah replied with a small smile. “And you’re Spider-Man! You protect Queens! Mummy said you stopped someone from trying to steal her purse a while ago.”

Peter smiled under his suit. It was touching when he talked to some of the people or their families of those he’d helped. Sometimes it really felt like it was just him versus the world.

“Well, i’m glad i did.”

Sarah’s parents came home at the same time, a little over an hour after Peter had first busted in. He stood by, encouraging her as she explained why Spider-Man was currently standing in their living room and what her Uncle had been doing on the days he was meant to be looking after her. He watched as her mom started crying and her dad punched a hole in the wall, promising he would make his brother pay for the sick things he’d done.

By the time Peter left, the cops had been called on the unconscious Uncle and Sarah was fast asleep, curled up in her mother’s arms with her dad running his fingers through her hair. They both whispered a sincere “thank you so much Spider-Man, we’ll forever be in your debt” as he left before returning back to their daughter.

Peter wondered if that was how things would’ve gone if he’d told May and Ben when he’d been younger. May would’ve cried, granted, and Ben would’ve been made, sure. But by the end, would they have held Peter and kissed his head just like Sarah’s mom had done for her?

For the first time since Skip became a defining moment in his life, Peter felt the urge to actually tell someone what had happened.

Peter went home that night and cried into May’s lap.

——————

It was three weeks after the whole Sarah thing went down that Peter and Ned decided to spend some time on the weekend going to a park. They’d wanted to go watch a movie but Mrs Leeds had insisted they go out and “get some goddamn fresh air, kids these days don’t get enough of it.”

So Peter found himself wandering around Central Park with Ned and Ned’s little sister, Nellie. They didn’t visit Central Park often and Peter was pretty sure the last time he’d actually wandered around the park must’ve been years before Ben died.

“Nellie stop running off!” Ned yelled as his sister raced through the trees. They’d been wandering around for what felt like hours, having passed several duck ponds and Central Park Zoo. Peter was pretty sure they were nearing the Bethesda Terrace and Fountain, if his memory served him correctly.

He wouldn’t mind getting a picture of himself standing beside the Fountain to send to Mr Stark, just to prove that yes, he did go out and do non-Spider-Man related things every now and then.

“She’s so annoying,” Ned rolled his eyes as Nellie seemed to race up and down the path, laughing to herself as she went. There were quite a few years difference between Ned and his sister for his parents had struggled to conceive, only being able to have another child by the time Ned was past his 6th birthday.

At 10, Nellie was everything Peter had never been— and everything he’d wanted to be. She was careless, with nothing holding her down; her eyes held wonder as she looked around the world and she simply didn’t believe in evil. Nothing had hurt her and in her own little bubble of the world, Nellie had no reason to think that anyone ever could.

It was times like now, when Peter watched Ned’s sister running around and having fun in such a fun-spirited and happy way, he realised the full impact of what Skip had taken from him.

Innocence.

Happiness.

Trust.

The list could go on and on and on. The only thing that mattered though was that because of Skip, Peter knew he could never be like Nellie— nor Ned. These two people hadn’t known pain in the way Peter had. They hadn’t seen their Uncle bleed out in front of them. They didn’t feel the weight of the world leaning on their shoulders. They never had a babysitter who whipped out crude magazines and decided he wanted to recreate the pictures he saw.

It was times like now that Peter hated Skip.

It was times like now that Peter wanted to make Skip pay.

——————

The first thing Peter did was buy a gun.

It wasn’t really that hard.

——————

May was working a full day shift one Monday so Peter decided to fake an illness. He did all the old tricks, putting a warm towel on his head so it felt like he was burning up, complained about stomach cramps and licked his palms so they felt all clammy.

“Do you want me to stay with you?” May brushed some hair out of his face as she hesitated in grabbing her keys.

“No, go,” Peter shook his head, trying to look as convincing as possible. “I’ll be fine May, really.”

“Call me if you need anything,” his Aunt sighed, kissing his head as she headed for the door. Because of his fake illness, she was now running several minutes late. “Or call Tony, okay?”

“Bye May!” Peter groaned, waiting for the sound of the door closing and then eventually, his Aunt’s car starting up and driving away. He sent a text to Ned saying he was missing school because of an illness before setting to work his plan.

Yet again, he didn’t wear his suit when he left the house instead opting to wear a simple t-shirt and jeans. Peter made sure to put the gun in his bag before he left.

It wasn’t like he had some sort of plan. He didn’t even know if Skip would be at his house at this time considering it was Monday morning. And it wasn’t like Peter was going to do anything anyway; it was a sunny morning and the chances of him busting through Skip’s house and doing . . . whatever Peter thought could right the wrongs Skip made, would only end up with Peter in jail (once more).

Maybe the gun was just a form of protection, Peter thought to himself. Maybe it was his way of regaining control when near Skip.

He wasn’t really sure.

Before noon Peter was already at Skip’s house yet again. The walk there was burned into his mind and it didn’t take half as a long to walk the roads to the suburbs. He was just walking down the road that Skip lived in, ready to take up his usual position when he heard a familiar voice behind him.

“Hey Peter.”

Peter froze. Dammit.

“Uh— hey Nat,” Peter scratched the back of his neck, trying in vain to look less guilty. “What you—uh— doing here?”

Natasha was leaning against a lamppost almost directly across from Skip’s house, dressed in black jeans and a leather jacket. There was a black cap on her head, trying in vain to hide her recognisable features and red locks. She looked at Peter with intense curiosity, a small frown on her eyebrows.

“I could ask you the same question,” Natasha used her back to push off from the lamppost, walking forwards so she was standing in front of Peter. “I didn’t realise school was off today.”

Judging by her tone and the way her gaze intensified, Peter knew that Nat knew school was very much still in session today. Yeah, Peter thought, he was screwed. “I’m sick.”

“Sick.” Nat spoke dryly, giving him a disbelieving look. “So you decided to go for a walk?”

“I thought fresh air would do me good.”

“You don’t look sick.”

“Looks can be deceiving.”

“Maybe i should call May,” Natasha leaned in, quirking her eyebrow up like she knew she’d caught him. “And ask for her opinion on the matter.”

Go fish. Peter sighed, dropping the act. “What do you want Nat?”

“Again, i can ask you the same thing,” the red haired woman turned and walked back the way Peter came. He had no choice but to follow after her. “Any reason you’ve returned to the same place you got arrested at a few weeks ago? One would think this place has special meaning to you.”

Peter cringed. “You know about that?”

“Tony gets a call in the early hours of the morning and rushes off to get his protege from an outskirts city police station— did you seriously think we wouldn’t know about that?” Natasha scoffed.

“I don’t mean to cause trouble.”

“You aren’t any trouble Peter,” the Avenger adopted a softer expression, a hand coming out to squeeze the teen’s shoulder. “To tell you the truth, we’re all just a bit worried.”

“All?”

“Well,” Natasha shrugged. “Tony mostly but his worry is infectious when it comes to you.”

“I’m fine,” Peter cleared his throat. He tried his best to sound convincing.

“I wish i believed you.” They walked in silence for a little while with Peter keeping his head down as he followed Natasha all the way back to the city. By the time they stopped inside a burger joint, sliding into a back booth, it was past midday.

“So what’s so special about House 666?” Natasha sipped on their freshly brought milkshakes; hers was Mint Choc Chip whilst Peter ordered Vanilla.

“Nothing.”

“You aren’t a good liar Peter,” Natasha sighed. “So you want to try again? Considering you got arrested for stalking that house a few weeks ago i’m going out on a limb here, guessing it has of some significance to you.”

Peter opened his mouth, visualising what it would be like if he just told the truth. Natasha was his friend— she was probably his favourite on the team (minus Mr Stark). Out of everyone, she would probably understand the most considering her past. Natasha was no stranger to demons or having her childhood ripped out from under her by the hands of people who gave little care for her.

He could almost imagine her reaction now: shock, sure, disgust, probably, anger, but not towards him. She would probably go back to House 666 and finish off Skip in a way that Peter so desperately wanted but knew he could never do.

In the end, Peter just shrugged and kept his mouth closed.

He guessed old habits died hard.

——————

Stalking Skip wasn’t ever something Peter planned to do. It had been another night of sneaking out and going to Skip’s house when, a little after 12am, Skip suddenly emerged from out of his house and climbed into his car. It was pure luck that the man didn’t see Peter sitting across his street, surrounded by the black of night and looking like a deer caught in headlights.

For the first time since he’d been 9, Peter had actually seen Skip again. Sure, it was dark and he was pretty far away but the man still invoked fear in the teen like no other.

It was pure coincidence that Peter had brought his suit in his backpack for once. For when Skip’s car left his drive, Peter changed quickly, activating KAREN to follow Skip’s car and took off swinging from house to house to follow where the man went.

His plan of possibly catching Skip red-handed backfired when something metal suddenly slammed into his chest and Peter was being flown high up into the sky with a loud yell of indignation. Iron Man ignored him, however, as the man continued flying back to Compound with Peter held tightly in his grip.

“Mr Stark— what the hell?” Peter spluttered the second the man let him down on the Compound’s doorstep.

“What the hell to YOU, Peter!” Mr Stark’s faceplate lifted up to show the man’s angry features. He stepped out of the suit, dressed in grease-stained jeans and a rock t-shirt with his arms crossed. “Do you understand the panic i had when FRIDAY alerted me that your suit was active IN THE SAME STREET YOU WERE ARRESTED IN? Not to mention it’s past your curfew on a school night!”

Pure anger was boiling up in Peter’s blood. He really thought he was about to catch Skip— because if he did catch him then all of this would be over. If Peter could prove the man was the monster he knew he was then perhaps all of his pain and turmoil would come to an end.

Maybe if he could catch Skip without exposing himself, Peter could know peace.

But then Mr Stark had to get involved.

“Uh!” Peter let out a loud yell that no doubt woke up a few people in the Compound. “You never have any faith in me!”

That seemed to make Mr Stark freeze. “What does all of this have to do with me not having faith in you— which, by the way, is not even in the slightest bit true!”

“Then why do you insist on getting involved in everything i do!” Peter’s hands shook by his sides, anger coursing through his viens. He’d been so close! So close! And then he could’ve been happy, maybe for once. He wouldn’t have to look over his shoulder anymore or walk around school expecting to see Skip emerge from the crowd. He’d be able to sleep at night and laugh with Ned like he had no care in the world.

If he’d caught Skip tonight, Peter felt as if everything would feel okay then.

But he hadn’t and now because of Mr Stark, Peter wasn’t sure he ever would.

“Because you’re a kid, Peter!” Mr Stark yelled like it was obvious. “A kid who needs guidance and needs to stick to his curfew!

“I can handle myself!”

“I don’t doubt you can but—“ Mr Stark froze, seeming to get alert from FRIDAY that Peter neglected to hear. “Do you have a gun in your backpack?” The man sounded incredulous like he was shocked and slightly scared. “FRIDAY says you have a semi-automatic weapon in your backpack.”

Peter froze. He’d forgotten about that. “Uh—“

A hand reaches out and yanks the backpack out from Peter’s back, ripping it open with fury as Mr Stark searches around for the weapon. His entire posture freezes when he finds what he’s looking for. “Peter, what the fuck?”

“I can explain—“

“Why do you have a fucking gun, Peter? What could you possibly need this for?”

“I just want to be safe,” Peter shrugged like it was no big deal. He knew it was. “I have a right to it.”

“You have a right to shit,” Mr Stark shot back. “You’re a kid, you shouldn’t be carrying a gun around! Stalking somewhere is one thing but taking a weapon there too? Peter, what the hell is going on? This isn’t like you!”

“You don’t know what i’m like!” Peter screeched even though he knew it was bullshit. Mr Stark saw through it too.

The man scoffed. “Bullshit. Look kid, i’m not trying to lecture here okay; this entire argument is reminding me too much of my Dad. I’m just trying to look out for you because if anything happened to you—“

“It would be on your conscience,” Peter scoffed, remembering the same words from after the ferry incident a year ago. Too late, Peter thought. “You need to stop feeling responsible for me, Mr Stark,” he wrapped his arms around his torso and tried not to cry. “You can’t protect me from everything.”

You can’t protect me from Skip, Peter wanted to say.

“Well, i’m gonna keep trying.” Mr Stark stepped forward and placed his hand on Peter’s shoulder. He squeezed it gently. A few tears slipped down Peter’s cheeks at the man’s confession.

“And why would you do that?” Peter desperately tried to wipe away the tears but Mr Stark beat him to it, using his thumb to brush against Peter’s cheek.

“Why wouldn’t i?” Mr Stark sighed. “You’re my kid, kid. I want to look out for you— can’t say i’m doing too good a job but hey, at least i’m trying right?”

Peter stepped forward and wrapped his arms around Mr Stark’s torso. He pressed his face into the man’s neck and sniffed. “I think you’re doing a good job.”

Mr Stark couldn’t save him from Skip but he could save Peter’s soul, he guessed.

Maybe, for now, that was enough.

——————

Peter woke up early the next morning, wiping the sleep out of his eyes as he yawned. He liked staying over at the Compound and appreciated the room Mr Stark had made for him, completed with Star Wars bedsheets and movie posters, but the only downside was that it was a pain getting to school. Going from upstate to Midtown meant Peter was up hours earlier than usual, having to endure a super long car ride in order to make his first class.

That morning was just the same as all the other times he’d stayed over. He expected Happy to be waiting in the common living room just like usual (for Mr Stark usually got the grumpy driver to give him a lift) but was met with nothing.

Maybe he was late, Peter thought. They still had 2 minutes before they desperately needed to leave.

“Hey kiddo,” Mr Stark appeared with a cup of coffee in his hand a slightly grave expression.

“Hey Mr Stark,” Peter scratched his head, suddenly nervous. Last night was still burned in his brain. “Where’s Happy, shouldn’t we be leaving soon.”

Mr Stark shook his head. “I gave him the day off.”

“Oh,” Peter was confused. “Okay . . . I can get the subway then to school, i should probably leave soon if i want to be there on time.”

“You aren’t going to school today Pete,” Mr Stark put down his coffee and Peter could feel something bad was going to happen.

“But weren’t you mad yesterday that i was skipping curfew because of school?”

“It wasn’t specifically about school,” the billionaire rolled his eyes. “It was just the simple fact that you were breaking the rules, kid. I would’ve been mad if you skipped curfew on the weekends too.”

“Oh. So why aren’t i going to school.”

“We need to talk.”

This was definitely going to be bad, Peter decided. “About what?” He fiddled with his shirt sleeve as he followed Tony down to the lab. “Am i in trouble?”

“Never, kid,” Mr Stark shook his head. “Take a seat. Come on.”

Peter sat down beside Mr Stark, facing the big screen that his mentor used a lot. Panic rose up in his chest when he realised there was a map showing House 666, with information dotted across the screen.

“I did some digging last night when you went to sleep,” Mr Stark cleared his throat. “I wanted to know why you keep going back to this house.”

“Mr Stark, i—“

“No, let me finish.” The man shook his head. “Like i said, i did some digging. You know there are two people who live in this house: a Miss Eileen Fisher and Mr Steven Westcott. They’re engaged and due to their facebook posts, they’re going to wed in two months time. I thought to myself: why the hell is the kid stalking a seemingly happy couple? There have been no complaints from neighbours, no domestic brawls or police reports on either one of these people.

So i looked into the individuals,” Mr Stark sighed. “There was nothing on Miss Fisher but . . . it turns out Steven Westcott lived in the same apartment as you for 2 years.”

Peter cut him off, pulling on his shirt sleeve. He bit the inside of his lip as he tried to keep his tears at bay. It felt like someone was exposing him, taking away piece by piece of his clothing until he was naked for the whole world to see.

“You know, don’t you?”

Mr Stark looked like he’d sucked on a lemon, his features were pinched and there was something akin to unmeasurable pain in his eyes. “I think so, yeah.”

“He was my babysitter.” Peter forced the words out, feeling bile rise up in his throat. “When i was 9.” He closed his eyes for a second, trying to imagine something serene to take his mind of the horrible feeling rising in his chest.

Laughing with Ned, talking non-stop about their favourite Star Wars theories.

Sitting on the sofa with May, watching old re-runs of her favourite soap shows.

Ben tickling him as a child.

Mr Stark ruffling his hair, looking at him like nothing else in the world could measure up.

When Peter opened his eyes, blinking away the tears, Mr Stark was still looking at him like nothing else in the world could measure up. There was pain in his eyes, shining brightly, but it was pain FOR Peter not BECAUSE of Peter. He guessed that made a difference.

“You don’t have to explain anything to me if you don’t want to,” Mr Stark shook his head, looking away for a second like he was trying to regain control of his composure. “I’ve called May— don’t worry i haven’t said about what— so if you feel more comfortable talking to her, i’ll take a step out. I just want you to be comfortable Pete but i do think you need to talk. When you’re ready, sure, but you need to do it.”

The tears were flowing freely now, running down Peter’s face without stopping as he leaned forwards into Mr Stark’s embrace.

“I wanna tell you both, i really do. But it’s hard.”

“I know Pete,” Mr Stark kissed the crown of Peter’s head. “But we’re here for you. No matter what, you’re our kid.”

“This is our secret Einstein,” Skip whispers in his mind, the teasing smirk forever burned in Peter’s eyes. “This is our secret Einstein; this is our secret Einstein; this is our secret Einstein. . .”

No, Peter thought. Not anymore.

——————

May arrived at the Compound two hours later.

Peter sat in silence, leaning into Mr Stark with his hands squeezing May’s for 40 minutes before he started to talk.

For the first time since he was 9 years old, a weight was lifted off Peter’s shoulders.

——————

With the truth finally spoken, Peter fell asleep against May’s shoulder, her tears mingling with the kisses she planted on his forehead as Mr Stark ran his fingers through Peter’s hair.

As Peter dozed off, finally getting some uninterrupted sleep away from demons of his past, he felt safe.

——————

A few weeks later, when Skip Westcott was arrested on charges of sexual assault of a minor, his fiancé leaving him and his job letting him go, the man’s name was dragged through the mud and the world suddenly saw him for what he was: a monster.

Peter guessed that maybe bad guys do get their comeuppance.