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In for a Penny

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Penny Parker had never felt particularly special - until she met Mr. Stark. It was dumb to feel some sort of second-hand exceptionality through close proximity, but when he laughed at her jokes or complimented her newest upgrade to her web slingers something inside of her thought, ‘maybe I’m more than just Penny Parker: loser.’ 

She shook her head at her weird internal rambling and thumbed through her playlists. The past six weeks had been so surreal, and that was coming from someone who could cling to the ceiling and spent a good amount of her free time swinging through the city in glorified spandex. 

At first, Penny had thought that the Vulture was the third-worst thing to ever happen to her, after the death of her parents and Uncle Ben. He’d almost drowned her, ended up being her friend's  dad, then he’d dropped a building on her. She still had nightmares about clinging to the side of a plane while it crashed, too. 

But after she’d dragged herself home and cried and shaken in the shower, after she’d said goodbye to Liz because her family had to move away after her dad went to jail, there had been a knock on her door. She’d opened it to find Tony Stark on the other side, looking sheepish and offering her a new suit and an internship as a thank you for saving his tech. That was the first time in her life she’d ever experienced a silver lining.

She exited the subway a few minutes later and paused to admire the way the tower loomed over all the other buildings, the STARK at the top holding court over all of New York. Mr. Stark had canceled the sale on it last month and decided to keep running SI out of it, though she wasn’t sure why. When she’d built up the courage to ask he’d mumbled something about needing to keep a corporate presence in New York and not wanting to find a new place for a lab and penthouse in Manhattan. It hadn’t rung true but she hadn’t wanted to press.

The walk sign lit up and she made sure no taxis were trying to zip through the intersection last minute before stepping into the street, then continued past the front doors and made her way around to the private back entrance. After putting in her code for that week she placed her hand against a plate on the door, looking up into the camera and waving at FRIDAY. The heavy door slid open and she hurried inside so it could shut within the thirty second window. Learning the security protocols for the tower had taken almost two hours on her first day.

“Hey, Penny,” said George, the guard on duty at the employee entrance.

She pulled her headphones down to hang around her neck and waved. “Hi, George. How are you? Did your wife have her baby yet?” 

His eyes crinkled in the corners and he shook his head. “Would I be here if she had?”

“Good point. Well, here, I made her something.” She let her backpack fall off one shoulder so she could unzip it and rummaged around until she located the Tupperware container she’d shoved into the bottom that morning, making sure her spider-suit was out of sight.

He took it from her, eyebrows raised. She got that reaction from people a lot. Uncle Ben used to say that she just took people off guard with her inherent goodness but she was of the opinion that it was her inherent awkwardness that surprised them. She coughed and looked over his shoulder at a spot on the wall. Was it weird to bring baked goods to your coworkers? Aunt May did it all the time. 

“They’re uh, snickerdoodles. Aunt May said that my mom was crazy about this recipe when she was pregnant with me. Don’t worry, I didn’t let her help me make them! I love Aunt May, but she’s a really terrible baker.”

“There better be some cookies in there for me, kid,” a familiar voice said and Penny spun around with a squeak. Mr. Stark had just entered through the door that she knew led to his private garage and Happy was right behind him, looking more cranky than usual.

“Mr. Stark!” she said and fumbled her backpack, dropping it on the floor and sending books - and a second Tupperware - skittering across the tiles. Luckily, her suit remained bundled in the bottom.

“Aha,” he said and stooped to swipe up the Tupperware, tucking it under his arm and remaining crouched to help her pick up the books. Penny didn’t say anything about him taking them since she had, in fact, brought them for him, though she hadn’t yet decided if she would actually go through the embarrassment of offering a billionaire baked goods.

“Oh, you don’t have to help - I mean, um, sorry Mr. Stark,” she said, taking the Chemistry book he handed to her and shoving it into her pack, wincing when the sound of crinkling paper reached her ears. Hopefully, that wasn’t anything important.

When she looked up George was helping them pick up her scattered belongings, too, the smile on his face pulling at the scar on his cheek. 

She felt the flush climbing her neck and shrugged at his amused gaze. “Thanks, George.”

She glanced over at Mr. Stark and her embarrassment eased when she saw he was smiling at her with what she could almost label fondness. She stood and rubbed her palm on her thigh. “Hi, Mr. Happy, hi, Mr. Stark,” she said sheepishly.

Mr. Stark’s hand landed on her shoulder and squeezed once before dropping to his side. “Hey, Penny. You’re a little early today.”

She scrambled to catch up to him when he headed for his private elevator and waved goodbye to a silently laughing George. “Oh! Yeah, sorry, we had an early release for some training thing for the teachers. I thought I could just do homework in that empty office across from the lab while I waited for you. FRIDAY said it was okay when I asked her last week, but um, I forgot to ask you. Should I leave and come back or -”

“It’s fine, kid. I’ve got a meeting so I won’t make it until our usual time. You can just go straight into the lab, you’ve got access. Just don’t touch anything on my workbench, alright? Some of its explosive.” He tucked his hands into his pockets and leaned back against the wall. 

“And you’re leaving her alone with it?” Happy mumbled. 

Penny looked down at her worn street shoes and bit her lip. Happy really, really didn’t like her. She thought maybe it was because Mr. Stark made him drive her home after they were done in the lab, no matter how much she protested. Or possibly it was the texts Mr. Stark had told her to send to Happy at the end of her patrols, reporting in. He barely ever replied, but when he did it was generally snarky.

“Penny’s good in the lab,” Mr. Stark said but he looked like his mind was a million miles away from their conversation. 

Penny let out a breath of relief when the door opened at floor 50 and the two men stepped out. Nobody waiting for the public elevator down the hall tried to approach Mr. Stark’s private elevator, though a few of them sent Penny interested looks.

“See ya in an hour,” Mr. Stark said, cookies still under one arm, already distracted by something on his phone.

“Um, yeah!” she called awkwardly just before the doors closed. She groaned and hit her head back against the wall. “You are so lame, Penny,” she muttered.

The elevator went the rest of the way up to the lab without interruptions. Penny’s steps slowed when they passed the office, but she kept going. Mr. Stark had said it was fine if she went to the lab, so that’s what she’d do. The door swished open without trouble when she typed in her code - which changed every week - and went inside.

The lights came on and Penny looked around in awe. She couldn’t help it, every time she walked in it was like stepping into a dream. Mr. Stark’s main workbenches were in the middle of the room and they were covered in half-finished projects with holograms of designs and aborted calculations floating above them. It looked like he’d been dragged out by somebody before he’d been able to shut anything down.

Attempting to be respectful of his privacy she looked away and headed to the corner where Mr. Stark had set up her very own workstation next to a few that were basically used as staging areas or to hold things that Mr. Stark didn’t need at the moment but planned to come back to. She slowed when she noticed a hologram on one of his staging tables labeled as SI R&D. The words For Review were written across the top in blue. The opening paragraph announced it as a proposal for heat and cold resistant suits. 

She put her backpack down and pulled out her Organic Chem homework. She had been bumped up to the Junior-level AP class last week and the work was pleasantly difficult. Penny glanced over at the proposal a few more times but forced herself to concentrate on her work. After half an hour, she was done (it wasn’t that hard for her. Chemistry was kind of her thing) and her eyes were inevitably pulled back to the floating documents.

“Um, FRIDAY?”

“Yes, Ms. Parker?”

“These plans...they aren’t in Mr. Stark’s private workspace. Does that mean...” she drifted off, ashamed for even asking. Mr. Stark was trusting her in his space, she shouldn’t be snooping.

“That proposal is well within your clearance level, Ms. Parker. I know Mr. Stark won’t mind if you take a look.”

Penny was out of her seat and eagerly scrolling through the proposal before she’d finished speaking. Her eyes flew over the summary and blueprints. It was amazing. It was supposed to be a protective layer for first response and search and rescue teams. It would act as a type of protection against fire or extreme temperatures. As the child of a firefighter, she could really appreciate something like this.

She’d never seen anything this complicated before outside of the Spider-suit. She used her hands to spin the blueprints around, squinting at some of the more intricate components. 

Upon further review, she saw that they were having trouble making a cooling and heating system that wasn’t clunky or that wouldn’t run out of juice after only half an hour. Finding a place to house the power source was also giving them trouble and she realized when she got to the end that they were asking Mr. Stark to approve scrapping the project altogether.

Penny bit her lip and thought about the scars that had been on Uncle Ben’s arms from when he’d had a burning wall collapse on him and the people he’d had to command his unit to leave behind because they couldn’t get into a hot zone.

She reached out and opened the list of resources the team had provided and started reading through them. After her bite, the speed she could read and retain information at had gone up a crazy amount. She didn’t know exactly how many words she could read in a minute, but she had a feeling it was faster than any baseline human could manage outside of maybe Mr. Stark. Her memory had gotten an upgrade, too. Thanks to all that, she got through the information in the resource section in about forty-five minutes.

“Huh,” she muttered, something she’d read last week for a class project tickling at the back of her mind. “FRIDAY, can you bring up a paper for me?”

“Of course, Ms. Parker. Do you know the publication and author? Also, Mr. Stark wanted to let you know that he’s running late and that he’ll bring dinner when he comes.”

“Okay, thanks, FRIDAY,” she said absently before rattling off the article she was looking for and spending another thirty minutes going through it and other related studies.

When she was done she only hesitated for a moment before expanding the current design and walking around it. “Hey, FRIDAY, can you copy that design and use it as a base to a new file?”

“Of course.”

Penny looked nervously at the new design in front of her before looking over her shoulder to make sure she was still alone. This was just for fun, really. Mr. Stark didn’t ever need to know about it. Just a little exercise. She reached forward and plucked at a section of the heating system, then tossed it back over her shoulder just the way she’d seen Mr. Stark do dozens of times. She laughed when the sound of something swishing into a garbage can sounded through the room.

After that, she didn’t hesitate. She removed the cooling and heating systems, then took a deep breath and told FRIDAY what she wanted to do. She was scribbling at an equation on a holographic whiteboard with a pencil that FRIDAY had amusedly told her would work as a stylus an unknown amount of time later. “No, no, Penny, don’t be an idiot,” she muttered and furiously erased a symbol before replacing it with something new. She stepped back and put her hands on her hips, nodding once in approval.

Next to the holographic whiteboard was the Rescue Suit, as she’d named the file, and instead of the bulky lumps and wires that the R&D team had originally had running through it, it was now a slim suit (if it looked a little like spandex, well, she had an aesthetic, okay?) with something that looked extremely similar to a human circulatory system drawn over the top. That would actually be tucked inside the material, insulated from the outside with a layer of conductive material between it and skin. Instead of a heart, it all fed back into a square pack that sat at the back right hip.

“This doesn’t look like homework,” somebody behind her said. She yelped, jumped away from the voice and ended up clinging to the ceiling and staring at Mr. Stark from upside down. He was holding a large paper bag that smelled like curry and staring at her hologram, which was now taking up her full workspace.

“Mr. Stark!” She dropped off the ceiling to land in front of him, hands behind her back and heart racing. “I - I’m sorry! This was just - I was just having a bit of fun. I didn’t mean to, to overstep -”

He waved her into silence and walked around her work, reaching out to expand things that drew his attention. Penny fidgeted while she waited for his reaction. She couldn’t read his expression at all.

“Rescue Suit, huh?” he mumbled. 

“Oh, that’s - I mean - I was just -”

“Having a bit of fun, right?” he drawled, dropping the food on her workbench and crossing his arms over his chest. “If this is your idea of fun, kid, you need to get out more.”

Penny ducked her head. “Sorry,” she whispered, but her traitorous mouth just kept going. “I shouldn’t have looked at your work, but my Uncle Ben,” she swallowed after saying his name out loud but kept going, “he was a firefighter, and when I saw what the original idea was and that they were asking for permission to cancel it, I just - I wanted to take a look! I mean, if you could get it to work, then -”

“Penny.”

“- rescue workers could do their jobs so much more safely! Firefighters wouldn’t get burnt as easily, and Search and Rescue wouldn’t freeze to death in cold climates -”

“Penny!”

She snapped her mouth shut and stared down at her shoes, ignoring the way her eyes were going a little damp and her cheeks were burning. She heard Mr. Stark’s footsteps across the floor and then two fingers were tipping her chin up to look at him. Her eyes widened when she saw he was smiling. “Tell me about it.”

“Oh! Um. Yes, okay.” She stumbled a little when she moved over to her ‘whiteboard.’ “I mean, I saw that they were having trouble figuring out how to power the temperature control system without sacrificing safety and flexibility, and the whole thing was just too heavy for a normal person. It’s not like you could just give them arc reactors, either,” she said and he grinned.

“So, um. I thought...what if we used chemistry, instead? We could use this system to circulate the substances used for cooling and heating. And, that’s the recycling chamber.” She motioned at the whiteboard, then at the little pack at the hip.

He listened to her explanation calmly, eyes flitting between her face and her plans. “It’s rough,” he said when she’d run out of things to say. Her shoulders slumped. Of course, it was silly. She was fifteen and he had some of the best scientists in the world working for him. They’d probably already thought of this -

“It’s rough, but it’s good. You did this in the time I left you alone in the lab?” 

“Actually, Boss, she did her homework first,” FRIDAY chirped.

“O - only Chemistry,” she mumbled and bounced the heels of her hand against the outside of her thighs, looking everywhere but at Mr. Stark.

He barked out a laugh. “That’s - damn, kiddo, I knew you were smart, but I didn’t know you were me smart.”

Penny inhaled her spit and ended up coughing and sputtering. “No, I’m not - I mean, I just,” she managed to gasp out.

“Nope. First rule of being a genius: we don’t do modesty. It’ll only hold you back.” He was back to squinting at her designs. 

She felt strangely exposed, having him study them so closely. She knew they lacked the elegance of his own work. Everything was always clean lines and neat rows of numbers when he made blueprints. Hers was covered in her messy scrawl and haphazard changes.

“Huh. Well, congratulations, Penny. You’ve saved the project. I’ll send along your suggestions, have them add a few specialists to it. And I’ll tell them to keep the name. Rescue Suits. I like it. I’m sure the DoD will, too. Good press for everyone.”

“You - what?”

“Come on.” He waved his hand to minimize her work. “Let’s eat and then I want to get your feedback on the upgrade I did to your suit.”

He opened the bag and pulled out multiple containers. “Sorry I didn’t feed you right away,” he said and held out what smelled like fried rice. When she just stared at it he sighed and jiggled it back and forth. “Come on, kid. I know that metabolism of yours is probably trying to eat your stomach.”

She reached out and took it from him, moving to sit on a stool at one of the empty workstations when he indicated she should. He moved the rest of the food over and sat across from her, pulling out some green curry and opening it. She reached out for a fork when he nudged it closer to her. 

Penny ran her finger along the top of the cardboard before fumbling the container open. She glanced up at Mr. Stark but he was focused on eating. He’d taken off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves, exposing the watch that she knew held his gauntlet and would call the suit. He looked like he was thinking about something while he ate quickly but neatly, eyes far away.

Her stomach growled and she took a small bite, a little worried that she would be too twisted up in knots to keep it down. Her hunger must have been greater than she thought, though, because soon she was shoveling rice into her mouth as quickly as she could without sacrificing manners. She finished it and reached for the dumplings that Mr. Stark had set close to her.

He waited until she’d eaten them all them to speak. “So. I think we should start taking the intern portion of this internship more seriously.” 

His eyes were always so assessing, as though they were seeing every thought in her head, picking them apart like she was a machine. It shouldn’t have felt as comforting as it did. Ben had been like that, a bit, and it had always made her feel safe, like he could protect her from her own thoughts.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, I’ve been spending all this time working on superhero stuff with you when we could have been working on SI projects. You’re going to be an asset when you enter the workspace, kid, and I’d prefer if it was for Stark Industries rather than some other hack company.”

If she wasn’t already getting used to Mr. Stark’s bluntness, she might have been put off by that sentence. But only an idiot would be upset that Tony Stark thought they were a valuable asset. 

“Oh,” she said.

He hesitated, then leaned forward and ruffled her hair, sending a few of her short brown curls into her eyes. “You did good, kid.” 

She smiled, wide and probably more than a little goofy. She didn’t even mind that he’d ruffled her hair. She was used to people having the urge to do that but usually it was just annoying. She knew keeping it short made her look younger but it was too much of a pain to deal with it long under the mask. May thought she’d cut it as some way to deal with her grief after Ben and Flash claimed it was because she was secretly a boy, which is how the nickname Penis Parker had been born.

“We’ll still work on the suit but we’ll spend some time on SI projects, too. If you can keep doing what you did there you’d be saving me time I’d have spent double-checking the work of idiots. It’ll be funny when they all realize the person who’s been tearing apart their work is my fifteen-year-old intern,” he said with what she thought was a little too much glee.

“What - I didn’t, I mean, I didn’t tear it apart.”

“Uh-huh, whatever you want to tell yourself, kid. Come on, chop-chop, we need to work on those adjustments before it’s time to get you back to your Aunt.”

Penny was torn between horror at Mr. Stark using her to troll his staff and excitement to work with him on actual SI stuff. He was just so smart and every time they worked together she learned so much and had fun, too. Mr. Stark was funny and surprisingly patient when it came to engineering, considering how little patience he had for her superhero shenanigans. 

“Well, I did notice that the left side pulls a bit when I stretch too far. Nothing too bad, but it messed up my reaction time a little,” she said as she gathered up the empty containers and brought them to the garbage.

“It’s in your backpack?”

“Yeah.” 

He walked over to rummage around in it. “Jeez, kid, I know you have super strength but it can’t be good for your back to carry this many books around. And you had cookies in there, too. By the way, Pepper says you’re not allowed to bring me any more baked goods. I ate almost all of them in that board meeting and she doesn’t want me to lose my girlish figure since I’m the figurehead of the company, yada yada.” He pulled out the suit with an ‘aha.’

Penny snickered. “You ate all of them? Mr. Stark, there were so many!”

“I gave one to Pepper and Happy,” he protested. “Seriously, kid, those were much better than the weird loaf thing your Aunt gave me that one time.”

“Yeah, Uncle Ben taught me to bake, actually. May started trying after he...well.” She cleared her throat and pretended not to see the way he looked at her from the corner of his eye when she joined him at his workbench. He pushed a few half-put-together gauntlets out of the way and laid the suit down.

“Maybe we should have you put it on and do a few acrobatics around the gym. It’s private - nobody but me, Pep and Happy have access so you don’t need to worry about anybody seeing you.”

“Maybe you can work off all those cookies while we’re there,” she said before she could think better of it. Usually, she watched what she said, making sure it was all as respectful as possible, and for good reason. He was Tony Stark.

Her eyes went wide when he stilled and turned slowly towards her, eyes narrowed. “Is that...sass, Penelope Parker?”

She bit her lip and shook her head, deciding to take a chance. “No, Mr. Stark, just a helpful suggestion.”

He bit out a laugh. “Yeah, yeah. You know, I get enough of that from -” he stopped and looked down at his hands before clearing his throat. “Come on, kid, let’s go see what you can do.”

Penny frowned but didn’t resist when he slung an arm around her shoulders and steered her out the door. Still, she couldn’t help but wonder who he’d been about to name. 

000

Happy put the divider up almost the moment she got into the car. She tried not to let it hurt her feelings, but she’d always been a bit overly sensitive when it came to people not liking her. It was almost nine o’clock - they’d lost track of time, and Penny was relieved that May would be in night classes until 10:30.

With nothing better to do she pulled out her English homework. It wasn’t due until Thursday but it was always good to get ahead. She never knew when Spider-woman would be needed and she’d learned her lesson on waiting to do her homework when her grades had dipped alarmingly in the first few months of her career as a hero. Now she did it as soon as possible and even turned it in early where she could. Her teachers thought she was a little weird but most of them didn’t complain when she said she’d been randomly feeling ill and didn’t want to be late with assignments when she missed class.

Penny was pretty sure that most of them thought she was depressed. It was well-known that she’d watched her Uncle die seven months ago, after all. Penny felt bad that they let her off the hook because of it, but it wasn’t like she’d ever used him as an excuse. They just assumed.

Penny sighed and turned her attention to her worksheet before she could completely ruin the good mood that working with Mr. Stark had put her in. She had to fight a smile when she remembered him saying ‘you did good, kid.’ And now he wanted her to work on SI projects! He thought she was smart. She wiggled a bit in her seat to try and dispel the excited thrill that went through her.

Before long she was humming along with the music and tapping her pencil against her paper as she thought about how to describe settings. She hated English. She had just finished with a flourish when she saw something coming towards from the corner of her eye and flinched away. She looked up to see Happy twisted around in his seat, face its usual mask of annoyance and arm stretched towards her, probably about to tap her shoulder to get her attention.

She fumbled to take her headphones off. “Sorry, Mr. Happy. Are we here? I guess I was more into this book than I thought,” she said with a nervous chuckle while she shoved her homework into its folder and put it in her bag. 

“Uh-huh. Just get out so I can get back to my actual job, kid.”

Penny swallowed and forced a smile onto her face. “Sure, of course. Bye, Mr. Happy, thanks for the ride!” she called before scrambling for the door and tripping her way out. She’d barely shut the door before he was driving off. She sighed and tipped her head back. “Yep, he hates me,” she muttered.

She shook her head and trudged up the walk, waving to the young men lounging in front of the building. “Hey, John, hey Tino. Good days?”

John tipped his chin at her. “Hey, little Penny. Nothin’ to complain about. You do your internship today?”

Just like that, her smile was back. “Yep! It was so cool.”

He held out a hand and she high fived him. “Knew you’d go far. Ben used to talk you up all the time, you know.”

Her smile faded a bit but to her surprise, she felt fondness along with the usual pain that came with hearing Ben’s name. “Yeah, I know. Have a good night, guys!”

“Night, Penny,” they chorused. 

Penny had lived in that apartment building since she was six and had met John not long after. He’d been a gangly pre-teen at the time. He looked a little intimidating now with his huge biceps and multiple tattoos but he used to babysit Penny every Friday night while May and Ben went out. It was hard to be afraid of someone that she’d once convinced to put on a Hannah Montana concert with her.

The elevator had an out-of-order sign on it again. Penny sighed and turned towards the stairs. It smelled weird in there, anyway. She keyed into the apartment and looked around. It felt so empty. When Ben was alive she ended up being alone in the evenings a few times a week, but she never really felt lonely until the past few months.

Aunt May was great but she was taking night classes three times a week to get her master’s degree along with working full time, which meant Penny hardly ever saw her. She wanted to become a Clinical Nurse Specialist, and of course, Penny was so proud of her. She just missed her, even if her absence made it easier to be Spider-woman. It felt like she’d lost both of them sometimes, though she hated even thinking it. 

She fell asleep thinking about Rescue Suits and grumpy drivers and the small flicker of hope that maybe Penny Parker was just a little bit special, after all.

Penny felt more rested than she had in a week the next day. Not even Flash tripping her in the hallway was enough to bring her mood down. It helped that she’d seen it coming and had used her reflexes to fall in a way that looked like it hurt but didn’t at all. 

“Watch where you’re going, Penis!” he yelled and she sighed.

“Ignore him,” Ned said and held out a hand. She smiled up at him and took it, then let him pull her up.

“I know. Flash isn’t worth thinking about for any extended amount of time.” 

“How was the internship?”

Penny hadn’t told Ned about Spider-woman, of course, but she did tell him about the internship. It sucked, keeping a secret like that from Ned, but he wasn’t exactly subtle. He’d never purposefully give her secret away but he might blurt something out in front of the wrong person. 

Honestly, she was a bit worried he’d figure it out after the whole disaster that was their Decathlon trip to DC, but luckily he hadn’t connected the dots. She wasn’t even sure how she’d survived that one, let alone kept her identity a secret.

She leaned in towards him while they made their way to her locker, voice a little louder than usual in her excitement. “It was so good. So, Mr. Stark was running late and told me to just go into the lab. There was this project up on a display, and I -”

“I’m sorry, did you just say Mr. Stark?”  

Penny stiffened and turned slowly towards where Flash was leaning against a locker. She hadn’t realized he’d moved in close to them again. His face was lit with cruel glee and she barely resisted the urge to groan. “You must have misheard me, Flash,” she said sweetly before turning to her locker and putting all her focus on opening it.

A hand moved into her view and slammed it shut before she could pull it open all the way. She turned and glared up into his face, which was much too close now as he loomed over her. Sometimes Penny hated being so short.

“Oh no, I’m pretty sure I heard just fine. And what I heard is you claiming to have an internship with Tony Stark!” he crowed in a loud voice. 

They were drawing a crowd now and she heard a few laughs behind her. Ned was pale and hovering behind him and she met his gaze and shook her head before answering Flash. “I think you’re the one making claims here, Flash. You shouldn’t eavesdrop - you might get confused.”

His lip curled. “You’re the one who’s confused, Parker. You think you can just make up an internship and, what, convince people to like you? News flash, nobody will ever like you. You’re a loser.”

“She’s not lying!” Penny closed her eyes at Ned’s yell. He was going to make this so much worse by trying to help.

“Ned, just leave it -”

“No! She really does have an internship with Tony Stark. She’s not -”

Flash was looking right at her when she opened her eyes and he was delighted. She wanted to ask him why he hated her so much. Penny had never been anything but nice to him. She’d tried to be his friend even, at first. Instead, she looked down at the floor.

He laughed and stepped back. “Just when I thought you couldn’t get any more pathetic, Parker.”

The bell chose that moment to ring and she took a deep breath when Flash walked away and their audience dispersed. Ned was grimacing apologetically. She just shrugged and opened her locker to get her books. Just another day at Midtown.

That night she came home to a plate of casserole wrapped in the fridge and a note from May letting her know that she had to go meet some people for a group project at the library before work. Penny sighed and popped it into the microwave, pulling down a bag of chips to eat while she waited for it to heat up. She hadn’t seen May in almost three days. 

After she’d stuffed herself full of carbs and cheese she sat down and did her homework for the rest of the week. Then she took out her suit - now without the annoying pull on her left side - and put it on over the shorts and camisole she always wore under her clothes these days. 

The first part of her patrol was uneventful. She helped a woman retrieve her phone from where she’d dropped it down a grate, ‘dissuaded’ a shoplifter, and fed some stray cats bacon from her deli sandwich. She was on her way home to make it before the curfew Mr. Stark had insisted on during school nights when she heard it over the hustle of the city.

Fighting. Gunshots, shouting and what sounded like metal on metal and against skin. “Your bounty is ours, Deadpool,” someone snarled and Penny wrinkled her nose. Deadpool? Was that a name?

She heard a grunt of pain and a wet, tearing sound. “Ow, ow, ow, aw, man, not the legs, come on!”

“You are ours, now. This is what you get for messing around in boss’ business,” somebody said as Penny crawled up onto the roof of a fairly short apartment building and made her way towards the ledge to look over into the alley. 

“Yours, huh?” A wet, gurgling voice said. “Not gonna buy me dinner, first?”

“Burn them,” the other voice said and Penny increased her pace. 

Hesitantly, she poked her head over the side. It took a long few seconds to make sense of what she was seeing. Bile, hot and sticky, rose in her throat and she had to swallow convulsively.

There was a man lying on the dirty alley floor, back propped up against a few loose garbage bags. He was wearing a skin-tight body armor and a mask in either red or purple - it was hard to tell in the low light.

And he was cut in half just above the hips. Penny put a hand over her mouth. Her whole body kept vacillating between hot and cold and she couldn’t pull her eyes from the - the insides of the man that were spilling across the pavement.

His legs, cut off above the hips, were pulled a few feet away from him and two men, large and dangerous-looking, were standing over them while another pointed a gun at the half-a-man from a few feet away. Light glinted off of a pile of weapons a little further down the alley. There were multiple guns, a few knives, and what looked like swords in it. There were bodies littering the alleyway, too...a lot of bodies.

“No, come on, let’s talk about this!” 

“You should have thought of this before pissing off our boss, Deadpool,” Gun Man said.

“Who, me?” The man, Deadpool she supposed, pointed at himself, mask somehow communicating his innocent expression. “I just wanted some tacos!”

“You killed the owner of the Taco truck.”

Deadpool crossed his arms over his chest, radiating petulance. “Well, excuse me for being a little sensitive about people involved in a human trafficking ring. Kidnapping people and using them for human experimentation hits a little close to home for me, you know? Plus, his tacos were shit. The food truck will be better for his death.” He giggled and Penny wondered if he was in shock from the being-cut-in-half-thing.

Gun man scowled and made a motion with his hand. Penny’s gasp was drowned out by Deadpool’s protests when one of the thugs dropped a match on his legs. Penny had smelled the gas but thought it was coming from another part of the alley, but, nope, apparently they’d dumped it all over his legs. A moment later they were consumed by flame.

Everything went fuzzy and Penny put a hand on the ledge in front of her to steady herself. She had seen some awful things in her life, but nothing compared to this. The smell of burning flesh made her retch and she lifted her mask and threw up as quietly as she could. 

“Now we take your head,” Gun man said and the world snapped back into focus around Penny.

She pulled her mask back down and flung herself over the edge. She was suddenly furious . Since Ben, she’d never, ever failed to save someone. Penny couldn’t decide if she was more angry with the criminals or herself. She should have moved faster! Done better! This was Queens, this was her neighborhood. How dare they?

Everything went into hyperfocus, the way it tended to when she was in danger. She flicked her left wrist and released a web to grab hold of the gun and fling it down the alley. 

“I’ll take that,” she said and sent more webbing from her other wrist to the top of the building across the way. She tugged it tight and her body swung in an arc, right into the two thugs that had just started a man’s legs on fire. She may have kicked them in the face with more force than usual. They went down with comically surprised expressions on their faces. 

“Holy shit! Badass. And kind of hot,” Deadpool said. 

She ignored that - it was nothing she hadn’t heard people saying while she webbed by before. Penny assumed most of them would be horrified if they knew her age, but the bite had, uh, sped some things along, uh, developmentally, so even though she was still short she had some curves that the suit didn’t really do a great job of hiding. 

She made quick work of webbing the men to the ground, determinedly not looking at the burning legs right next to her. She breathed through her mouth, so, so glad for the filter system Mr. Stark put into her mask. She’d have nightmares for a month if she was forced to breathe the ash in.

There was a scuffle behind her and she spun, ready to take on Gun Man. Except he was on the ground, Deadpool’s arms wrapped around his neck. A second later there was a sickening crunch and his body went limp. “Oh my god, you killed him!” she said.

Deadpool let him go and awkwardly shuffled until he was leaning up against the garbage bags again. “Well, duh, asshole cut off my legs and then started them on fire. Kinda had it coming, you know what I mean?”

“Oh my god, your legs!” Her earlier panic returned with a vengeance and she dashed over to his side, collapsing to her knees next to him. Her hands fluttered over him and she gagged at the up-close view of the mess that was his, well, injury seemed like too tame a word for it.

“I - let me call an - an ambulance -” she fumbled for her pocket and a second later a large hand was wrapped around her wrist.

“No ambulance, sugar plum. Not much they could do anyway.”

She stared at him, taking in the intestines spilling out onto the sidewalk, the sticky warmth of his blood covering the legs of her suit. Her lower lip trembled and she let him guide her hand away from her pocket, numb. 

“I’m so sorry,” she sobbed. “You’re going to die, and it’s - I should have been faster.”

“What?” he sounded alarmed and a moment later there were hands flailing in the air. “Oh, Christ, she’s crying. What do I do? No, that won’t make her feel better! I don’t have a taco!” He patted her shoulder awkwardly. “There, there.”

His attempts to make her feel better only increased her sobs. This man was going to die because Penny wasn’t good enough, fast enough, smart enough. It was getting sticky and hard to breath under her mask. With a small cry, she pulled it off. It wasn’t like Deadpool would be able to tell anyone who she was since he was dying.

“Oh my god, what are you, twelve?”

She ignored him in favor of wiping her nose on her arm. “I’m so sorry I didn’t save you, Mr. Deadpool. Is - is there anybody you want me to call?”

The eyes on his mask looked wider than they had, the contours somehow communicating panicked shock. She noted distantly that it was pretty cool, but not quite as good as the mask Mr. Stark had made her. 

“Oh! That’s what you’re so upset about. Don’t worry, they’ll grow back.”

Penny froze. “What?”

“Yep. Didn’t you wonder why I’m still, you know, talking?” He pointed at his chest. “Pretty much immortal.”

Penny sat back on her heels. “You mean you’re...going to be fine?”

“Uh huh.”

“Oh, no,” she moaned and fumbled to put her mask back on.

“Well, that’s not the reaction I expected,” he said with a pout and crossed his arms over his chest.

“That’s not what I meant! Sorry, Mr. Deadpool, it’s just - you saw my face,” she said and wrung her hands together. “Oh, no, this is bad, this is bad, bad, bad. Penny, you idiot!”

“Your name’s Penny? Cute. Back to that question about how old you are -”

She buried her face in her hands. “Oh no, oh no, oh no.” Panic beat at her chest, because if her identity got out they would target Aunt May. They would target her friends!

“Hey, hey, kid! Calm down, I won’t tell anyone, I promise. It’s like, an enhanced person bro code, you know? Never give up somebody’s identity.”

She peeked out at him from between two fingers. “Really?” she asked in a small voice.

“Really. You’re not the only person whose secrets I’ve kept. In fact, if you promise to never, ever cry in front of me again, I’ll give you my real name. Quid pro quo.”

She sniffled. “You don’t have to do that, Mr. Deadpool -”

“Wade Wilson, at your service.”

“Um, nice to meet you, Mr. Wilson.”

“Uh-huh. Well, this was fun, but I’ve got to get going,” he said and grunted as he lifted himself up and started dragging himself towards the pile of weapons by his hands. 

“What? By yourself?”

“I’ll call a cab.”

“A - what? I could call my mentor, he’s really smart and he won’t -”

“No thanks, kid. If he’s your mentor he’s probably pure as snow, and those types don’t tend to appreciate their children running around helping mercenaries.”

“You’re a mercenary?” She skittered around the still-burning legs and hovered over him in case he lost his balance. She made sure to keep her gaze away from the...stuff trailing out behind him. That was just not sanitary.

“Sure am. Regret helping me?”

“Of course not. My Uncle said that real heroes help everyone without judgment.”

“Isn’t judgement kind of what you do every day when you stop criminals?” he asked with a grunt of pain when he set himself down next to the weapons and started strapping them onto himself.

“No. I mean, I stop them from doing bad stuff, sure, but I’m not thinking like, “you’re a terrible person! I’m going to punish you!” And I’m really careful not to hurt anybody too badly.”

He looked up at her after pulling the straps of a holster awkwardly over his shoulder. “Huh. Whatever floats your boat, Spidey. Damn, they broke my phone.”

“I can call someone for you.”

“Yeah, not gonna have you calling anybody on my behalf from your phone. You’d probably have the CIA on your doorstep within a day. And I doubt your cute button nose will dissuade them from dropping you in a dark hole.” He paused and chuckled to himself. “I have fond memories of that dark hole.”

“...Right.” She was starting to wonder if he was all there. “Well, I could take you somewhere. I’m really strong.”

He eyed her but she got the impression that it wasn’t because he was doubting her. “I do have a safe house nearby.”

She brightened. “Good! Great. Um, how are we going to do this?”

Ten minutes later she was walking down the street with Deadpool clinging to her back, trying her best to ignore the blood and...other things dripping down her legs. They’d put a trench coat on him that they’d wrestled off Gun Man to hide the fact that he didn’t have any legs and the shady neighborhood and darkness did the rest. Sure, they got a few looks, but nobody asked.

Deadpool (he’d insisted she call him that if the only other option was Mr. Wilson) was telling her how they’d managed to ambush him in the alley. It involved a lot of tasers, apparently.

“So why were they after you?” She stopped to adjust her grasp on his torso. He was holding onto her pretty easily, but he was much wider than her so it was a little awkward, especially since he was being really careful to avoid getting too close to her chest area, mumbling something that sounded suspiciously like ‘jailbait’ when she first hoisted him up.

“Oh, I killed one of their main runners.”

Penny had never met somebody who talked about murder so freely. “Oh, um. The taco truck guy?”

“It was an accident!” Deadpool gasped dramatically. “I mean, I was just going to question him about his boss, this guy named Valdez. His little posse has been snatching enhanced people and selling them to the highest bidder for months.”

“That’s awful.”

Deadpool hummed and nodded. “Anyway, turns out he was pretty low on the food chain, he mostly identified potential victims and told Valdez’s guys about it.”

“But Mr. Deadpool, if this has been happening, why doesn’t anybody know?”

“They do, but the people they’re taking aren’t exactly high profile. Mostly lower income or homeless.”

“Oh,” she said in a small voice. She knew that law enforcement didn’t always do the job it was created for and that a lot of people fell through the cracks - hey, she was technically a vigilante, she saw it every day - but this was so much bigger than muggings and robberies. “So are you - are you gonna help them?”

“That’s the plan. Just as soon as the ol’ legs grow back.”

“How long does that take?” she asked, unable to help her curiosity.

“Eh, depends. If it was just a hand, a few days. Half my body will take at least a week, though. Hey, do you mind if we stop for hotdogs? I’m starving.”

After a small detour and two full stomachs, they were back to trudging down the streets, sticking to the shadows and alleys where they could. “I could help,” Penny said. “If you wanted.”

Deadpool was silent for a bit. “These aren’t muggers or shoplifters, Spidey. They’re real criminals with real contacts. Not the kind of enemies a baby should be making.”

“I’m not a baby,” she said hotly. “And I can take care of myself.”

“Uh huh. How old are you again?”

“Um. Eighteen?”

He snorted. “Yeah, right, and I’m the Queen of England. That woman knows how to rock a hairdo,” he said dreamily.

Penny shook her head. She was starting to get used to his weird asides. “Fine. I’m not eighteen, but I’m strong, okay? And pretty smart. I can help.”

He didn’t respond other than telling her when to turn and disappointment was a hard knot in her stomach by the time he told her to stop in front of an office building that had seen much better days. There was a condemned sign on the front door. “This is your safe house?” she said doubtfully.

“Yep! Home, sweet home. There’s a key under the mat.”

“That doesn’t seem very secure -” she was cut off by the buzzing of her phone. “Oh, crap! What time is it?” she asked, balancing most of his weight on her left arm so she could pull her phone out of the special pocket Mr. Stark had put into her suit.

“I don’t know, somewhere between midnight and eight am?”

Penny groaned when she saw the time on the screen, along with Mr. Stark’s name flashing across it. “I’m in so much trouble,” she mumbled. She hovered her thumb over the answer button. “Don’t say anything, okay? He’s protective.”

“Uh, does that say Tony Stark?”

She hushed him before answering the call and putting the phone to her ear. “Heeeeey, Mr. Stark. How’s it going?” A high pitched squealing sound emitted from somewhere behind her. It took her a moment to realize it was Deadpool.

“Well, it was going great until I got a notification from your suit. You wanna tell me why you’re out at 3 am on a school night, kid?”

“Oh, um. I’m really sorry, Mr. Stark, it’s just someone was in trouble and I had to walk them home -”

“Yeah, don’t think I don’t see what neighborhood you’re in right now. Penny, we agreed to some ground rules -”

“I know! I’m so sorry, Mr. Stark. I swear, I didn’t mean to, I was on my way home but then I heard -”

“Just get home, Penny. If you aren’t there in twenty minutes I’m sending a suit to drag you back by your little spidey toes.”

Her shoulders slumped. “Okay, Mr -” but he’d already hung up. She sighed and pushed her phone back into her pocket before trudging over to the mat to find the key.

“Your mentor is Tony Stark? ” Deadpool squealed, and some pigeons who had been sleeping peacefully nearby took startled flight. “Omg, can you introduce me?”

“Shh, don’t say that so loud,” she hissed and staggered a little when he bounced excitedly. She winced when something wet slapped the back of her thigh. She wondered if she’d ever get the blood and...stuff out of her suit.

She unlocked the door and pushed it open, wrinkling her nose at the musty smell and broken furniture. “There’s a bathroom in the back, I had the water hooked up by a friend of mine,” Deadpool said cheerfully. “There’s a standing shower, you can rinse off the blood there.”

“Oh, good,” she said with a sigh of relief and followed his directions to a dingy, small bathroom lit by moonlight coming in through one window set high into the wall. “Are you sure it’s okay to leave you here?”

“Yeah, yeah, I’ll be fine. I have some twinkies under the sink. Come on, hurry up, your mentor (so cool!) said you only have twenty minutes before you turn into a pumpkin.”

“Oh! That’s right,” Penny said and fumbled to pull her phone out of her pocket and set it delicately on the sink. She dashed over to the shower and turned it on, watching suspiciously when it stuttered and rust-colored water sprayed out onto the almost-black tile. When it was running clear-ish she stepped under the spray. She’d never been so thankful for her water-proof, temperature-controlled suit before.

She grimaced when something plopped onto the tile, but didn’t pause in her frantic scrubbing. If Mr. Stark did send a suit he’d freak out about her being covered in blood and...stuff. She allowed herself seven minutes before turning the water off and stepping back into the room. Deadpool was leaning against the cabinet humming to himself.

Penny shook off as much of the water on her suit as she could, then pulled some paper towels out of the holder hanging half off the wall and used it to clean the grime and blood from her phone. She shoved it back into her pocket and hesitated. “Are you sure you’ll be okay, Mr. Deadpool? I feel weird leaving you here.”

“Eh, I’ve survived worse. And I’ll be fine - much better than if Iron Man finds me alone with his underaged apprentice.”

“I - I’m not his apprentice!” she protested even as she silently decided he had a point. Mr. Stark lost his temper over the smallest things sometimes. “Okay, well, um. Can I give you my number so you can call if you need me? Oh, crap, you don’t have a phone...”

“It’s cool, I have a burner stashed here that isn’t traceable, just don’t use my name in the texts. Go ahead and tell me your number sugar plum, I’ll remember it.”

Penny hesitated. Was she really going to give her number out to a virtual stranger? One who admitted that murder was a regular thing for him? But...her spidey sense wasn’t going off and it always knew if someone wasn’t trustworthy. 

“You don’t have to -”

She rattled off her number, cutting him off. “Okay, well, feel better Mr. Deadpool.” She edged towards the window.

“Bye, Penny, dear.” He waggled his fingers at her. She pushed open the window with a creak and crawled out, making sure to shut it firmly behind her.

“Well, that was a weird night,” she said before climbing up the building next to her and taking to the roofs. She was going to have to book it if she was going to make it home on time.

She was exhausted the next day, struggling to keep in her yawns. When she’d gotten home she’d spent an hour scrubbing her suit, making sure there wasn’t one speck of blood left before hanging it in her closet to dry. When she got a text from Happy telling her that Mr. Stark wanted to push her lab time to tomorrow she couldn’t even muster the energy to be disappointed.

Ned asked her if she wanted to come over after school but she claimed a stomach ache and tried not to feel guilty at how disappointed he looked. Decathlon season was over - there were no more meets for the rest of the year - and they were only meeting once a month so MJ could make sure they weren’t ‘getting rusty.’ In the past she and Ned would spend that extra time building legos and eating junk food but lately she’d barely had time to breathe, let alone build legos. She promised herself that she would make time for him that weekend, no matter what.

Penny collapsed in her bed when she got home and fell asleep immediately. When she woke up two hours later she felt well enough to make herself a large pot of spaghetti. She ate half of it while she did the assignment Mr. Harrison had given them that day that was due next Monday, but she was distracted. She couldn’t stop thinking about how alone Deadpool had looked just before she had slipped out the window. 

Would he really be okay? It could take more than a week before he had legs again. With a sigh, she threw down her pencil and stood to clean up the kitchen. She set aside a plate of food for Aunt May, who would be home at around ten according to the note she’d left Penny that morning before she went to bed.

After another few minutes of internal debate she put the rest into a pyrex container. She put it in a tote along with an old blanket and pillow they used to take on picnics every Sunday before Ben died and May disappeared inside of herself. After adding a few peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and bottles of water, darting around the house grabbing things she thought might be useful shed nodded to herself and pulled on her wool coat. It was pretty cold, despite the winter being so mild that year. 

She put on her headphones and locked the door behind her, hefting her tote higher on her shoulder before responding to Happy’s message confirming that she would go to Stark Tower tomorrow after school. She hadn’t heard back from Mr. Stark after his late-night phone call but she knew how busy he was. Penny thought it was so amazing, how he managed to keep producing awesome things for Stark Industries, running the Avengers (what was left of them), and working with the UN to make the Accords more friendly for a wider range of people. She wanted to be him when she grew up - he made it all look so easy.

She got off on the stop she assumed was closest to Deadpool’s safehouse, ignoring the side-eyes she was getting from the people standing around. She didn’t exactly fit in but she knew how to hold herself in a way that dissuaded most people from approaching her. Maybe the confidence that came with knowing she actually could protect herself kept them at bay.

She kept a brisk pace, more than a little worried about how Deadpool was faring. She looked around when she got to the office building to make sure nobody was paying attention to her before slipping into the alley. She scrambled up the wall and opened the bathroom window, tossing the tote through before falling forward into a controlled flip. She landed on her feet and spun on the balls of her feet when her spidey sense warned her of danger. 

There was a thwack and then there was a knife embedded in the wall right where she’d been standing. She didn’t have to look to know that it was just her and Deadpool in the room - she could only hear one heartbeat and she recognized it from last night.

“Woah, warn a guy! Us mercenaries tend to be a little jumpy,” a voice croaked from inside the shower stall.

“Mr. Deadpool?” she said warily and crept forward. 

He’d dragged himself into the shower at one point and she had to admit he looked much better. The blood was washed off and there was no longer a huge, gaping hole at his waist. It seemed to have closed off and it looked like he had regenerated down to his hip bones. She was suddenly very thankful that it hadn’t grown any lower, she was not ready to see her first penis. The new skin wasn’t smooth, though. It was horribly scarred, which was odd. Maybe it just looked like that until it was regenerated all the way?

“I brought you some stuff. Um, food and bedding and clothes.”

The white eyes of his mask narrowed. “Really? What are you, a saint? Penny, patron saint of spiders.”

She laughed. “Um, do you want me to help you out of there, or...”

He waved a hand. “Nah. Why don’t you step out there and I’ll get dressed. We’re a little too close to growing back some things I don’t think you’re ready to see, sugar plum.”

Penny felt the blush on her face and nodded frantically. “Yeah, right, just, um, call for me when you’re dressed. I’ll hear you.” She tapped her ear before fleeing the room.

“What a cutie,” she heard him say. “No self-preservation skills, I’ll need to get a message to Stark.” His giggle after he said that made her think that he didn't actually plan on trying to tattle on her to Mr. Stark. 

There was a rustling, probably him looking through the tote, and she unlocked her phone to respond to a text from Ned asking her if she was feeling better or if he should get her homework for her tomorrow. She’d just finished assuring him for the fifth time that she wasn’t going to miss school the next day when Deadpool called her back in.

Penny opened the door and peeked inside, stepping all the way into the room when she saw that he was wearing the plain sweatshirt and sweatpants she’d taken from a box in the storage space above her room that held Ben’s old clothes. They went flat only a few inches below where they hung on his waist, but it was a lot less disconcerting than the odd stump that had been on display before.

Deadpool had laid the blanket out in a corner of the room that didn’t have dried blood or water spread across the floor and was leaning against the wall. He was still wearing his mask but he’d rolled it up to his nose and was eating the spaghetti. “You make this?” he mumbled around a mouthful of noodles. She looked away from the scarred skin of his chin and neck, feeling like she was seeing something he didn’t want her to.

“Um, yeah. The cookies, too. There’s sandwiches for tomorrow - I won’t be able to come, I have school and then my internship with Mr. Stark after.”

She threaded her hands together and shifted uncomfortably under his intense stare. She was wearing jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt that said Um - The Element of Confusion under her open coat. She’d decided to come without her suit, since she wasn’t sure if Mr. Stark would be paying attention to where she went in it and didn’t want to draw his attention to Deadpool. She wasn’t sure why she was even protecting him, other than the fact that she felt responsible for him after saving him. 

“You really are just a baby.”

Penny bristled and glared at him. “I am not!”

He grinned. “Hey, did I say it was a bad thing? Not gonna lie, you owned those guys last night. I would have been in for some uncomfortable shit if you hadn’t come along. Guess that makes you my hero, huh?” 

The mask gave the impression of somebody waggling their eyebrows and she laughed. He tilted his head to the side before motioning for her to sit on the edge of the blanket. She picked her way across the bathroom, ignoring the more disgusting clumps of...stuff and holding her breath before dropping down cross legged in the far corner of his little nest. 

“Are you feeling better? Does it hurt to regrow your limbs? Have you always been able to do this? You said you were immortal, does that mean that, like, nothing can kill you?” The questions that had been bouncing around her tired brain all came tumbling out of her mouth and Deadpool swallowed and coughed.

“Woah, there, little lady. I guess, like a motherfucker, no, and so far nothing has managed to do me in, and believe me, people have tried very hard.”

Penny sat back and parsed through his answers. “Wow. That’s pretty cool, Mr. Deadpool.”

“You should really drop the mister.”

She ignored him in favor of racing through the implications. “So I guess you have like a crazy high regeneration rate? And it has to work independently from the nervous system, if you can really regenerate after death. Does that mean it’s being triggered at the cellular level...” she continued mumbling as she stared into space, mentally drawing up charts and theories.

“Huh. No wonder Stark is so protective of you. Not only are you super strong, but you’re super smart, too.”

She came back to herself with a jolt and realized sheepishly that he’d finished the spaghetti while she talked and was now downing a bottle of water. “I’m so sorry! That was rude. I just - I really like science, and biology and chemistry especially, though engineering is fun, too. I’m only okay with coding -”

Deadpool’s invisible eyebrows were up again and she snapped her mouth shut. She caught a flash of white, straight teeth before he lowered the mask. “Hey, I’m the last person who can judge for no filter. Just as long as you don’t try to do any freaky experiments on me,” he said with a lightness that she sensed was actually pretty serious. She remembered what he’d said to the thug in the alley about human experimentation hitting close to home for him.

“I would never.” She leaned forward and put her hand over his. The texture was rough under her palm, but she didn’t react. Why was he so scarred if he had such crazy good regeneration?

He seemed a little off-balance by her sincerity. Penny cleared her throat and took her hand back before reaching for the bag. “I packed some cookies, too. I’m sorry I couldn’t do more -”

“Hey, this is luxurious compared to how I thought I’d be spending this week.”

Penny bit her lip. Did he really have nobody he could rely on? She was suddenly, fiercely grateful for Mr. Stark. As long as he was around she would never, ever have to worry about healing by herself in dingy old bathrooms. Even if she was just a kid he felt responsible for, he was there.

She smiled. “Don’t worry, Mr. Deadpool, you can call me if you need help from now on, okay? Um, unless it’s killing people. Sorry, but I don’t do that.”

He snorted and leaned back against his pillows. “Isn’t it a school night?”

“Yeah.” She sighed. “Are you sure you’ll be okay tomorrow?”

He waved a hand. “I’ll be fine.”

Penny stood and dusted off her coat. “Oh. Okay. Well, I brought you some books so you won’t be bored.”

“You...did?”

She made her way to the window and nodded. “Uh huh. Sorry if you don’t like them. Um. Do you think you could maybe text me? Just so I know you’re okay.”

She glanced over and saw he was fiddling with a loose string on the blanket. “Sure, whatever, sugar plum. If it’ll make you feel better.”

Penny beamed. “Thanks, Mr. Deadpool!” 

She pulled herself out of the window and into the night, but not before she heard him mumble, “She’s an actual saint, holy shit.”