Peter would like one thing to be known for certain: it isn’t anorexia.
There was a difference between choosing not to eat and just not being able to eat. He’s always grown up without much money, and it’s never bothered him. Uncle Ben used to be the breadwinner of the Parker family. With Uncle Ben, they’d had enough money for school and to go out on special occasions and such, but they’d never had enough money to splurge on any non-essentials.
Now, with Uncle Ben gone, he and Aunt May make do with even less. Aunt May’s part time jobs are just barely enough to sustain the both of them. She had come up with the clever idea of pre-planned lunches when Peter and she were beginning to run short on money after Ben.
Every week, she sat down with Peter early in the morning and they drew up a meal plan for that week. Aunt May and he had just enough food at the beginning of each week for two regular people to have three regular meals a day. The strict schedule kept them from buying food they didn’t need and kept the cost at something manageable.
But they’d been slacking lately, and sometimes Peter only got one or two meals a day. And even when he got all three, three average-person meals aren’t really enough for a growing teenage boy, let alone a superpowered teenage boy. He’s calculated it. With his metabolism, and factoring in extra Spiderman activity, he needs about four times the amount of food for a normal boy his age. But he’s used to relying on less; food is expensive.
So one can imagine Peter’s hesitance when he is invited back to the Avengers tower for post-mission recuperating and Tony plops him down in what Peter assumes is their common room, and calls up to the ceiling for JARVIS to order twenty pizzas, six calzones, and a “shit ton” of chicken wings from the place down the street.
Peter visibly balks. That is waay too much food. And yeah, he knows that although he and Tony are the only ones in the room right now, the rest of the team is just cleaning up and taking off their gear and would join them later, but still.
When he and Aunt May order pizza, they never buy an entire pie. They both get one slice, with maybe a couple breadsticks if they were willing to splurge for a celebration.
“Mr. Stark, that’s…that’s a little too much food, don’t you think?”
Tony spins around from where he’s wandered over to work on a hologram in the center of the room. “It’s Tony, kid. Or Mr. Kickass Awesome. Although—” he turns back around to continue fiddling with his holographic design of… an arrow, maybe? “—technically, it would be Dr. Stark. I have PhD’s you know. PhD-’s, as in, plural. I’m a genius, Peter. So I know what I’m talking about when I tell you no, that is not too much pizza.” Tony twists his head back to Peter and raises his eyebrows.
“Have you even seen Thor eat? Last time we got pizza, he ate fifteen supreme pizzas on his own! In fact, now that I think about it—” He points a finger up at JARVIS. “Order breadsticks with that meal. The good ones. Use your best judgement on how many, J.”
The remaining color drains from Peter’s face under his mask. Oh jeeze, he’d made Mr. Stark order more food. Peter fights not to hyperventilate.
“No, Mr. St—Tony. No, that’s okay. We really don’t need that much. I’m not even—you know what? I’m not even hungry so you don’t need to get more; they can just have mine. The rest of the team can just have what you ordered for me, Tony.”
Peter watches Mr. Stark turn around and look over the common room to where Peter sits on their huge white couch. The couch is easily twice the size of a normal sofa, curved along the corner of the wall between the entryway to the kitchen and the elevator. Peter knows Tony had chosen this couch specifically because it was large enough to house the entire team during movie night. It must look even larger than it actually is when it has just Peter on it, curled as he is into a tiny, dirtied ball in the very center.
His suit is filthy, and the elbows and knees hang together by a few strands. The spider logo bared across his chest is missing two of its legs, both having been a casualty of war to the giant, mutated sloth they’d just fought. Peter had been backhanded through several buildings and the creature’s claws had snagged Peter’s chest. Blood from the cuts still trickles idly out, soaking into the spandex. He has yet to take off his mask with black, vivid, rents cutting deep across both eye lenses from falling in rubble. Tuffs of hair poke through the rips in fabric at the top of his mask.
Peter is sure he’s a sight to behold. He looks like the poster child for someone in need of a good, hot meal. Or maybe a ‘battered teen’ poster.
Peter holds himself stiffly, muscles pulled taunt, sitting as far forward as he can, afraid that he will ruin the material of the sofa if he touches anything but the very edge of the cushion. He’s sure his exhaustion is overly evident in the way his head hangs, completely in contrast with the rigid hold his arms have on his pulled-up knees. Slight tremors wrack through his willowy frame every few seconds.
Mr. Stark sighs, obviously not in the mood to deal with the ridiculousness that is teenager logic.
“Look, kid,” he coaxes. “It’s probably the adrenaline talking if you’re really not hungry. Why don’t you go wash up, huh? Clean the blood off your chest so Bruce can stitch it up later?”
Peter raises his head so he can look at Mr. Stark directly through the ruined reflective lenses. He’s motionless for a count, then gives a wobbly nod.
“There’s a full bathroom down the hall, to the left. Or,” Tony elaborates, “you can head up to the guest floor and get some extra clothes and really clean up. Food’s not coming for a little while, bud. The delivery boy always manages to get lost. I mean, you’d think the giant tower in the middle of the city would be easy to find, but people’s stupidity still continues to impress.” Tony shrugs. “Either way, you’ve got some time to relax upstairs.”
“No, that’s okay. That’s—just the bathroom’s fine, it’s great, thanks Mr.—Tony.”
Tony watches Peter for a minute, then nods. “Okay. Through the kitchen, down the hall and to the left.”
Peter sucks in a deep breath and hauls himself off the couch. He sways for a second on both feet before limping through the entryway to the kitchen.
Twenty minutes later, Peter emerges from the extremely luxurious bathroom (seriously, it wasn’t even a master bathroom and it had a rainfall shower. Peter was terrified to touch anything), dressed in the clothes Tony had placed outside the bathroom.
The rest of the Avengers are reconvened in the living area, sprawled throughout the living room and kitchen, laughing and chatting animatedly with each other, and every one of them in loungewear. Nothing hinting at the grueling mission they’d come back from except butterfly bandages on Clint’s forearm and Thor’s overzealous beaming.
Sometimes Peter really loves his teammates.
Natasha’s the first to notice him, giving him a precursory smile before turning back to look him over properly. She covers her mouth with a sleeve, but not before an unladylike huff makes its way out of mouth.
Peter frowns grumpily and watches Natasha’s shoulders shake from repressed chuckles. The clothes Tony had given him are much, much too large—nearly engulfing his scrawny frame and practically draping off his shoulders. Peter assumes Tony stole them from Thor but, to be fair, clothes from any of the Avengers would have the same effect.
Peter steadies his nerves and, purposely not thinking about how non-threatening and adorable Natasha looked curled up on the couch in soft pink sweats and a grey tank top as he is well aware she could kill him with two fingers, takes a step forward to sit on the couch beside the assassin.
Only to trip over the much-too-long hem of his borrowed sweatpants and fall flat on the ground.
Natasha loses it, and Steve, Tony, and Thor, who had been chatting on the other side of the sofa, to trail off their conversation and lean away warily. Clint, probably having heard Natasha’s cackling, flings out of the kitchen and perches himself effortlessly on the back of the sofa. Both Bruce and Sam peek their head around the kitchen entryway after him.
Natasha’s laugh trails off, and she breathlessly flaps a hand in Peter’s direction where he still lay on the floor.
“Peter?” Steve prods, a smile in his voice. “You okay there, pal?”
“Just leave me here,” Peter affirms. He sprawls his sore limbs and nuzzles his check into the hardwood. “I’m happy here, I’m just gonna sleep for a bit. Just a couple days or so, I’ll be fine.”
Peter feels more than hears one of the Avengers approaching. He still doesn’t quite manage to hide the full-body flinch when arms wrap underneath his armpits, but they only hesitate for a second before continuing to lift him.
“Come on, bud,” comes Sam’s encouraging request. “Up you go.”
Peter groans his displeasure but lets himself be manhandled upright. His head flops forward bonelessly.
He squints his eyes. Has this borrowed shirt always bore a dark red splotch in the middle? Peter rips his head up at Clint’s sharp inhale.
“Kid,” Clint says carefully. “Did you get hit during the fight?”
Peter tilts his head at the question. Yeah, of course he’d been hit. They’d all seen the sloth monster slash him out of the sky—its claws digging into his chest and yanking out chunks of flesh. He knows Tony saw it: Tony had been the one who’d joked about “witnessing the worst high-five ever” over the comms.
And he isn’t exactly hiding his bruised eyes: a by-product of his face sliding against the ground and jamming the suit’s eye lenses into the space around his sockets. At least only one is a deep black; the other’s a more greenish-yellow. Normally, they’d already be healing, but Peter figures it’ll take at least a day at the rate his healing factor’s been working lately.
“Hey,” Clint reiterates, smacking Peter’s cheek gently. When had Clint gotten over to him? “Hey, stay with us, kid. How bad you hurt?”
“He’s got at least three pretty deep cuts across his chest,” Tony volunteers from the couch. Tony’s voice is laced with guilt, and Peter feels instantly like crap. Tony probably feels bad for not checking on Peter before he’d left to shower. In Tony’s defense, he’s watched Peter heal from injuries leagues worse than what he’d gotten today with no extra help.
Peter stares at Clint vacantly, trembling a bit in Sam’s embrace. He recognizes that he looks about two seconds from keeling over unconscious now that his adrenaline’s faded, but he doesn’t know what they want him to say here.
Sam shifts Peter in his arms, and Clint dips underneath to hold Peter up on the other side. Together, they half-carry Peter back to the couch.
When he’s been settled, leaning against Thor to stay upright, Peter closes his eyes and hums contentedly. Thor is always so warm, like a personal electric blanket. It reminds Peter of the times he’s curled up against the clothes dryer in their house during the winter months. Only better, because Thor adjusts himself to accommodate Peter and it’s like laying on an electric blanket that also cocoons him enough to stay erect. It’s nice. Peter feels like he’s always too cold nowadays.
Sam turns to face the other Avengers. “What happened to him? Why is he still so wounded?”
Tony shakes his head and admits, “I don’t know. He usually heals as fast as Cap over here.” Tony’s thumb is thrust in Steve’s direction.
Peter furrows his brows. They’re talking about him. They’re talking about him like he isn’t here. He should…probably be offended by that, right? He doesn’t think he has the energy to be mad right now. Thor’s shoulder is too comfy.
Peter’s breath hitches and his eyes fly open as he feels someone lift the bottom of his shirt. He pulls his head off Thor’s shoulder and grabs the offender’s wrist before the oversized garment can be raised above his waistline.
Natasha’s hand slowly uncurls, and she releases her grip on the hem. Peter fights to remember how to breath.
No one’s supposed to see him without a shirt on. No one. Not since the time Ned walked in on Peter leaving the locker-room showers in just a towel and flew into an all-out panic.
Ned had been a chicken with its head cut off for weeks afterwards, asking him several times a day if he was hungry and shoving every spare bit of food at him at lunch. It took Peter weeks of bringing in food he’d saved the previous dinner (there was never enough time to make his and Aunt May’s lunch in the morning) to school to get Ned to let up even a little. He hadn’t been able to fully convince Ned until he’d started to better pad the Spider-Man suit.
Natasha broke his thoughts by looking down pointedly at Peter’s hand where it was still clenched tightly around her forearm. He snatched his fingers away.
“I—sorry. Sorry. I’m fine now.” He looks up to meet the inquiring stares of the others, disregarding Steve and Sam’s wince as they get a full, unobstructed view of the bruises around his eyes. “I’m fine,” he insists.
Tony gestures to the growing red stain on Peter’s chest. “You call that fine?”
Peter glances back down in surprise. He forgot what started this whole thing. The slashes did seem to be bleeding pretty heavily. They must have re-opened when he tripped.
“It’ll, umm…it’ll heal.”
Clint scoffs. “Yeah, it’ll heal, sure. But if you let us stitch ‘em up, they’ll heal faster.”
Peter shakes his head adamantly.
Steve runs a hand through his hair and sighs sharply. “Look, Peter, we can’t just leave you bleeding like this. Just take off your shirt, and we’ll stitch—”
“Sorry to interrupt, Captain, but the food has arrived,” Jarvis announces. The elevator doors open on command, revealing several pizzas and a mound of fast-food containers.
Peter knows an out when he sees one. “It’s barely bleeding anymore, guys. I’ll be fine. Let’s just eat.” He smiles flatly in response to Steve’s grim expression.
“Please, Steve,” Peter adds when Steve doesn’t give. Please, just let it go.
But Steve only narrows his eyes.
“We can’t let the food go bad, Steve,” Peter persists, ignoring the way his insides knot at the image his words paint. For the sake of the fifteen cents in his wallet, they could not let all that food go to waste. “Please,” he repeats, a little more desperately.
Thor throws an arm around Peter. “Peter is right, Captain. We mustn’t let this bounty go to waste.” He pats Peter’s shoulder carefully and stands to fetch the food from the elevator. Natasha uncurls herself from the couch and follows after.
Never let it be said Thor can’t pick up a hint. Peter sends him a silent thank you.
“Fine,” Steve concedes. “But we will be continuing this conversation after you eat.” Steve points a finger at Peter’s chest. “And you will keep pressure on that until we can look at it.”
Peter nods quickly. He can agree to that.
Clint tosses a wad of gauze from the doorway of the bathroom that lands in Peter’s lap. Peter figures it’s probably nabbed from the first aid kits Tony keeps stocked in every bathroom on their floors, the worrywart.
Peter carefully shoves the bundle underneath his shirt and tucks the bottom of his shirt into his sweats to keep it in place, never revealing an inch of skin.
It isn’t a perfect solution, but if it keeps the other Avengers off his back about getting half-naked, he’s happy to indulge them this.
Sam and Natasha lay the food out on the coffee table—an unspoken agreement among the teammates that no one wants to move Peter from the couch—and start handing out plates and silverware.
It isn’t until everything’s been opened, the Avengers are all seated around him, and a plate of food has been pressed into his hands that it hits Peter again just how much food Tony’s ordered.
It’s overflowing the large coffee table, literally spilling out onto the living room floor. Several take out containers full of breadsticks are squished between Clint and Bruce’s knees. A couple pizza boxes perch on Thor’s thigh. A container of ranch chicken wings teeter on the edge of the sofa by Tony’s left arm.
Peter instantly loses his appetite. There’s a stone sitting in the pit of his stomach that forbids him from taking even a bite of the meal in front of him.
This is an insane amount of food. It’s almost obscene. There’s more food on the table in front of Peter now than he and Aunt May eat in a month.
Peter feels…wretched. He’s not even sure what he feels guilty for. And he knows he probably shouldn’t feel bad and it’s just food. Heck, Tony’s rich; it probably is nothing to him.
But somehow that’s worse because it is something to Peter. Tony spent money on the food in front of him. Peter is wasting Tony’s food, and therefore Tony’s money, if he doesn’t eat this. Why is he being so ungrateful?
He slowly raises a slice of pizza to his lips. He takes a bite, lets the slimy, greasy piece of pizza slide over his tongue to touch the back of his throat, and swallows thickly. Then he does it again.
He keeps his head down and his focus on his meal. The faster he eats, the less he has to taste.
And he eats everything they put on his plate. All of it. He eats the four slices of pizza, the quarter of calzone, and the two chicken wings they’d asked of him when they’d shoved the full platter in his lap.
And when he finishes, he quietly contemplates the few stains leftover on the ceramic plate. He brushes at them absently, but they don’t come off.
He scratches with a little more force, putting a bit of effort into it, but they remain stubbornly in place, tarnishing the flawless white glaze of dish. Why won’t they come off? Peter shifts his weight forward, putting pressure on his chest but it’s worth it for this, and starts scrubbing them with his fingernails. They don’t belong. They are ruining the whole thing.
Peter feels vaguely sick. He can feel the blood draining from his face, and something else rising.
“Peter?” Natasha queries gently, breaking his trance. Peter halts his frantic picking and pulls his head up quickly, ignoring the way the room seemed to sway a little. He’s surprised to see the Avengers watching him.
Peter doesn’t answer Natasha. Can’t. Something in his throat is stopping his words. He can’t—he can’t breathe.
“Hey, hey it’s okay. Take a breath,” Sam soothes from the other side of the couch, beyond Peter’s periphery. Peter whips around to follow the voice, and the motion is too much for his poor stomach.
He throws a hand over his mouth and launches off the sofa. He stumbles into the bathroom, hitting the doorframe roughly as he passes, and makes it to the toilet just in time.
Clint’s the first one inside the bathroom after Peter, only to immediately back out with a sickly green color tinting his face. Bruce rolls his eyes at Clint and enters the bathroom himself, clasping the back of Peter’s neck and rubbing, coaxing Peter through his heaves until he can stop.
There’s a bloodstain left behind on the outside edge of the toilet when Peter pulls back. His chest is bleeding a lot heavier than before, and his shirt is soaked. Peter barely bites back a whimper at the realization his healing factor wasn’t doing its job at all. The Avengers are definitely going to demand he stitch it up now.
Peter sees Bruce nod at Steve out of the corner of his eye, and Steve nods back, then swoops in to pick up Peter. Steve’s darn lucky Peter doesn’t have anything left in his body to renounce the action. Instead, Peter’s head lolls on Steve’s chest as he’s carried past the other Avengers and laid down on the kitchen counter.
Peter tries to resist against being placed on the counter—this is their kitchen; he’s going to ruin the pristine surface – but his weak rambling protests die as soon as Tony lays a hand on his head and ruffles the hair there.
Peter knows they’re talking about him, can hear their voices above his head, but he can’t make out the words. He’s so tired, and Tony’s fingers feel so good on his aching scalp.
Which is probably why it takes him several moments to realize the chatter’s stopped.
He opens his eyes to see everyone staring at him again. Well, no, not at him. At his chest. He looks down too and sees someone (probably Bruce) must’ve cut his shirt to get better access his chest wound, displaying his body for the world to see.
Oh. They’re not looking at his chest. They’re ogling at his stomach. Or, rather, what remains of his stomach. Over the past couple years, it’s become concave and closer resembling fragile skin too-stretched over rib and pelvic bones now than the strong, muscled thing it should be.
Peter flicks his head back up. He makes a small noise more comparable to a kicked dog than a superpowered boy and moves to cover his abdomen. They are never supposed to see him like this. They are never supposed to know.
The sound is enough to jolt Bruce into action.
“Your chest. We have to stitch up your chest,” Bruce mumbles distractedly, more to himself than to Peter, Peter thinks. Bruce puts down the scissors he must’ve used on Peter’s borrowed shirt (Peter will feel guilty over that later) and starts threading a curved needle. When he finishes, he steps closer, but stops before he can make the first suture.
He turns to face the others, who still frozen in place, and states firmly, “I need space to work. Go wait in the living room.”
“But—” Tony starts to challenge, but Bruce simply juts a finger firmly towards the living room and lifts an eyebrow, daring him to object again. Tony huffs, but walks away. The rest of the team follow suit, Sam sending Peter a tight smile before disappearing out the door last. Bruce turns back and focuses his attention to the cuts on Peter’s chest, not saying a word.
Peter wallows in his shame and failure. He had one thing to keep from his team, and he’s too incompetent to even manage that. He always tries to make sure to eat enough that he still has enough energy to fight, but it’s a fine line. Sometimes he just can’t get enough—there isn’t enough time in the day or there just isn’t enough food at home. Aunt May does all the grocery shopping and cooking in the house, and he doesn’t have enough money to change anything anyway. Superheroing doesn’t leave a lot of time to get a job.
He should’ve done something before now, though. There were plenty of signs: the bruises and scrapes he got during patrols were taking days to heal, instead of hours, for one. His body simply didn’t have enough energy to spare on healing. Peter had known he needed a little more than he was getting the past few months, but he’s ignored it, wanting to avoid the panic attacks that always come with the thought a civilian could get hurt because he wasn’t strong or fast enough.
And now he’s going to get kicked off the team. For that very reason. Because he’d known he was a risk they couldn’t afford, and he’d done nothing to fix it.
Peter sucks in a shaky breath at the realization and lays his head back against the counter. Bruce pats his shoulder comfortingly.
“Almost done, Peter,” he pacifies, misinterpreting Peter’s actions for pain from the stitches. “Just a couple more threads.”
His injuries lately have been so extreme due to the lack of body padding and taking so long to heal that these wounds are the least of his worries.
His back hurts a little more than his chest, actually. Peter resolves to check it out later when he’s alone. Maybe he tweaked a couple muscles or something.
“Done,” Bruce announces as he snips the final string.
Peter slides his legs off the counter and sits up before Bruce can stop him. “Awesome! I’ll just go now and get—oh!” Peter rolls his shoulders and falls silent in marvel at the lack of pain in his sternum. “That’s…much better. Thanks, Bruce,” Peter admits sincerely.
In return, Bruce holds out an elbow to help him off the counter. Peter knows it’s only so he won’t try to escape, but he accepts it gratefully anyway and tries to keep as much weight off Bruce as possible during their short trek to the living room.
“Wait,” Peter breathes when they reach the doorway. “Wait. Let me grab my shirt?” He tries to turn back to the counter.
Bruce’s eyes are fixed on Peter’s other arm where it’s curled around his too-skinny torso. “It’s ripped, Peter. We had to cut it off to stitch.”
Peter’s face falls noticeably.
“They’ve already seen it,” Bruce reminds Peter, not unkindly.
Peter’s breathing, loud in the mostly abandoned kitchen, picks up. He knows they saw it, logically, but he just thought that maybe if he covered it up—threw a metaphorical blanket over the issue and hid—they’d be willing to forget about it. Or ignore it, for at least a while; Peter’s not picky. Let him fight alongside them just a little while longer.
When has luck ever been in the cards for Peter though, really?
He swallows and nods. “Okay,” he tells Bruce, turning back to the doorway. “Okay.”
The scene they walk into as they cross the threshold of the living room is somehow better and more anxiety inducing than Peter thought it would be. He’d expected yelling. He’d expected to walk into the room and for Steve or Tony to be standing on their feet with the rest of the Avengers at their backs, anger etched into every face, and to be immediately reprimanded for his inexcusable behavior.
Instead, the Avengers are seated soundlessly along the couch and footrest (Clint) in a semi-circle, expressions unreadable. Tony whips his head up and lurches to his feet as they approach. The others follow suit quickly. All eyes are on Peter.
Peter lifts a hand halfway in greeting. “Hey,” he croaks.
Everyone starts yelling at once.
“Man of Spiders, are you well?” Thor bellows.
“Why didn’t you tell us!” Tony barks.
“What the fuck!” Clint chimes in.
“Peter,” Sam says simply, voice laced with what Peter’s sure is disappointment. “How could you not tell us.”
They’re mad at him. This is closer to what Peter was expecting. He hangs his head in shame, letting their words wash over him. He deserves this. He kept something that could potentially affect the entire team from them knowingly.
“I’m sorry,” Peter whispers to the carpet, “I’m so sorry.”
Silence follows his apology.
“Damnit,” Tony huffs finally. “Listen, I…shit, kid.” Tony ignores the flinch that goes through Peter at the expletive.
“I…” Peter stutters helplessly. “I’m sorry,” he says again. He doesn’t know what they want from him. He doesn’t know how to fix this. Why won’t they just say what they need to say and get it over with? Tell him to go already, so he can leave and nurse his wounds alone.
If they’ll just say it, he’ll go.
Tony seems unable to formulate the words, but Steve steps forward to lay a warm hand on Peter’s shoulder. “Peter, you don’t need to apologize. We’re not…we’re not mad at you, or anything. Not at all,” Steve vows.
Peter gapes at Steve. What? What else was there even to be besides angry?
“You—you’re not mad?” Peter sounds each word out as it passes his lips, tongue struggling to form the letters.
“’Course we ain’t, kid.” It’s Clint this time who answers, sounding like someone’s just slapped him. “The hell would we be mad?”
Because I let this happen. Because I’m a liability. Because I’m going to let you down.
“Because I’m not strong enough to protect you in the field.” It’s the most competent argument he can present. It’s a statement of fact. Non-disputable. Cuts right to the heart of how thoroughly he’s failed them.
“It’s okay,” Peter promises them softly. “I get it. I wouldn’t want me as a teammate either. It’s okay, I know what you need to do. I get it.”
Natasha’s eyes narrow, and she asks him, “And what do you think we need to do, Peter?” like it’s a threat. Like if he says the wrong thing, she’ll pounce. But he knows the answer to this question and god, they’re going to make him spell it out for them, aren’t they? Maybe they just really want him to understand why he’s getting kicked off.
Well, mission a-freaking-ccomplished.
“You need to kick me off the team.”
Peter hears Thor inhale sharply and Natasha curse. Sam’s eyes look like they’re watering a bit.
This is…not the reaction he’d been expecting.
Tony looks him straight in the eye, peering much further down than Peter wishes he had too when Peter’s occupied preparing a mental speech of why he’s a strong asset to the team, and speaks. “We’re not mad, kid, we’re fucking worried about you.”
Peter only blinks up at Tony. Bruce takes the empty moment to deposit Peter on the couch instead of continuing to let Peter lean on him in the doorway.
“So you’re—wait.” Peter tries not to sound too hopeful as he confirms, he doesn’t know what it’ll do to him if this hope is crushed. “So you’re not going to kick me off the team?”
“The hell, Peter?” Clint accuses, pissed. “No.”
Peter is a little ashamed at how firmly he latches onto that. Clint may play pranks on Peter often—even fib a little to preserve a trick occasionally—but he almost never outright lies to Peter. When Clint assures him of something, it’s usually as good as written in blood.
A singular, “Oh,” is all Peter can manage to choke out through the lump in his throat.
Suddenly it’s like their marionette strings have been cut. Everyone sags and the tension is sucked from the room. Peter lets the atmosphere wash over him, tilting forwards until he can rest his head on his legs.
Bruce’s frustrated exhale and Tony’s “Oh come on” lets him know they’ve now seen the bruises marring his back from slamming through a few walls during today’s fight.
“Peter,” Bruce moans disapprovingly. He moves closer and pokes Peter on an uninjured part of his chest until Peter leans back up, then pushes the left side of his lower back till Peter’s bruises are fully visible.
Peter knows it’s a gnarly sight from what he could see in the bathroom mirror, bruised to heck and back from the force he was thrown into the wall with. Patches were already purpling when Peter cursory examined it earlier, and Peter has no doubt they can all distinguish the areas where his suit gave way to the pavement to leave shallow rugburn tears behind.
Bruce gets started poking and prodding at his back—which, ow—and Tony sees it as an opportunity to ask the question on all their minds.
“So, Peter,” he asks casually, “what the fuck’s up with scarecrow belly there?”
Oh. Okay, alright. Tony wants an explanation. He’s giving Peter a chance to explain himself. Peter can still mend this.
“Guys, it’s okay, I swear.” Their facial expressions tell him what a load of crap they think that is. “No, really!” Peter tries to reassure. “Just let me explain.”
Sam nods his head sharply up at Peter to continue, so Peter does.
“I’m not not eating on purpose, actually. I know I’m a bit skinny, alright?” Their displeasure of his statement is clear. Peter continues, “I know, I know. And I’m trying to fix it, I promise. There’s just some, there’s some obstacles in the way. There’s never enough time to eat, you know? Aunt May’s usually working during dinner, so I’m usually patrolling dinners, and I don’t have time in the morning—I gotta pack Aunt May’s lunch, and then she works all day, guys. All day. She doesn’t have time to go out and pick up more food all the time, and she’s not really home long enough to realize it’s gotten bad.
“And when she does go grocery shopping, she gets the essentials. She doesn’t know I’m…she doesn’t know what I do. So she buys enough for three meals a day for us, and she takes great care of me.
“She does a great job taking care of a normal teenager,” he concludes, trying to emphasis that none of this is her fault, not at all.
“But you’re not a normal teenager, Peter!” Natasha snaps, interrupting him.
“You’re almost as enhanced as I am,” Steve adds. “You probably need to eat just as much.”
“More,” Bruce corrects as he removes himself from Peter’s personal space and lets him sit straight again. “He’s enhanced, but he’s also a growing teenage boy.”
Peter, who’s kept his gaze fixed steadily at the wall in front of him during his tirade, chances a glance at Tony, who’s been suspiciously quiet. When he sees Tony, the guilt on Peter’s heart doubles. Tony’s got his chin in his hands, expression unreadable.
Peter’s failed him the most, he knows. Tony took him in almost as family in the few short months he’d known the man. Tony’s the one who repairs his suits, who asks him if his homework’s finished, who checks up on him after missions.
And how has Peter thanked him? By taking his care and throwing it back in his face.
“I…Tony, I’m sorry.”
“So you’re not anorexic, then?” Tony challenges suddenly, cutting off future babbling apologies. Peter shakes his head quickly.
“Okay,” Tony concedes, and Peter can almost see the gears churning in his head. “Okay, so we can solve this.”
Tony stands up and begins pacing. “You’re not purposely not eating?” He clarifies with Peter again.
“No!” Peter almost shouts, startling Bruce next to him. “No,” he verifies calmly, apologetic. “There’s just never enough time or money.”
Tony stops pacing and claps, a strained smile plastered on his face. “Great! That’s great!”
“It is?” Steve sputters, startled. Peter agrees with him. “How so?”
Tony smiles at them. This time it’s sincere. “Time and money are two things we happen to have in excess.”
Peter knows the second something clicks in the other Avengers. Their eyes all widen, and they smile at him, but he still doesn’t understand.
“Peter,” Thor rumbles, forcing Peter to turn to look at him. “How do you suppose I spend my day?”
Peter blinks at him stupidly. What?
“I, um, I don’t know?”
“Nothing! I do nothing! I’ve got nothing but spare time!” Thor sounds almost joyous, and where are they going with this?
Natasha lifts a hand and chimes in, “Neither do I, when I’m not on missions.”
“I’ve got a job,” Sam tells Peter, and yeah, Peter knows he’s a counselor, but what does this have to do with anything? “But I make awesome bagged lunches.”
“He does,” Natasha confirms. (Peter tries to delete the mental image that pops up Sam handing bag lunches to each of the Avengers as they walk out the door for the next mission.)
They’re all looking at him like this is some huge revelation, waiting for him to react, but Peter’s just confused. None of this is relevant.
It’s not until Tony grabs his shoulder, carefully, and spells out for him, “Peter, we can help,” that Peter understands what they’re getting at. They’re offering him a solution.
“I…” Peter is touched, but they can’t do that. He can’t make them to do this for him. “I can’t just eat your food and ask you to make me meals,” is the claim he settles on.
“We’ve got more food than we know what to do with,” Steve guarantees, leaving no room for argument. “And you’re not asking. We’re offering.”
Peter doesn’t know what to say. Do they realize what they’re getting into? Do they realize how much work he is?
“Speak for yourself! I’m demanding. You’re getting paid for Avenger work now too,” Tony interrupts. “And I’m giving you a salary for working with Bruce and I,” he throws in as an afterthought. “Think about it as an internship.”
“And,” Clint stresses, giving him such a parenting look that Peter doesn’t dare do anything but listen, “You’re having dinner with us every night your Aunt’s away.”
Peter can do nothing but gape at them. His eyes are so wide the bruises around them are starting to ache from the action. If anyone asks, he’ll blame the moisture building behind his eyelids on that.
But no one questions him. Instead, Tony uses the grip he still has on Peter’s shoulder to pull him gently towards the kitchen.
“Come on. Takeout’s spoiled by now anyway,” Tony states nonchalantly. Peter flinches a little at the reminder, but he’s more than a little ashamed of the way it warms his heart that they didn’t eat without him. “You’re in luck. It’s Clint’s night, and he’s the best.”
The chore chart Peter passes that’s plastered on the refrigerator tell him that’s a lie, “THOR’S NIGHT!” listed in all caps over today’s date. Peter shivers. He’s heard horror stories about Thor’s cooking.
But no one says anything to correct Tony as they all rise and follow the two of them into the kitchen. Tony plops Peter down on a counter barstool next to the kitchen window, and the rest of the Avengers sit at the bar with him or stand at the edges of the kitchen.
Clint pulls out some pots, goes to skillfully balance them on top of each other on the stove, and succeeds for about a second before three of them tip and clatter to the ground. One lands straight on Thor’s foot, causing him to yelp and pull away into Natasha, who twists to slap Clint on the back of his head. Clint flips and flicks one of the potatoes he’s pulled out at her. Sounds of whining and food being thrown fill the kitchen soon after.
Peter snorts and turns to see Steve smiling fondly at the scene. Sam nudges Peter with a shoulder from his other side.
“We’re here to help, Peter,” he advises. “Let us help. You don’t have to do this alone.”
And Peter finds himself believing it.