Flash flipped past another channel. Home alone for the next eight days, what else would he do? Spider-Man had crashed his car, and no matter how cool that was, his dad had decided to keep him essentially stuck in his gigantic, empty home, grounded.
He sighed and hit the next button again.
He soon fell into a daze as old reruns of Pitbulls and Parolees played on in the background. Would it be so bad to sneak out tonight? No big parties were happening, but he could always pay off a bartender to let him in. While weighing the consequences of stealing his dad’s nicest liqour, a sudden knock startled Flash out of his reverie.
Slowly, he placed the remote control down on the end table and got to his feet. The knock sounded again, quieter this time. Flash checked his watch—who the hell was knocking at eleven at night?
But the rapping of a fist on an ornate wooden door continued and Flash was drawn to it. Maybe—maybe his Mom had ordered him pizza or something, or one of his buddies wanted him to sneak out.
He crept out of the living room and into the foyer, practically buzzing with nerves. As he placed a hand on the large metal doorknob he slid a large, black umbrella out of its stand, gripping it over his shoulder like a weapon.
The knocking was barely audible now. Flash took a breath, steeled himself, and swung open the heavy door as best he could with its size.
The freezing air hit him like a truck, but Flash hardly noticed. On his porch stood not a serial killer or pizza delivery man, but Peter Parker, bruised and bloodied and shivering. He sported a black eye and crooked nose. His shirt was torn and dotted with ever-growing splotches of red blood. He held his left wrist close to his chest, almost cradling it. His lips were swollen and his eyes were glazed over, staring at him as if he weren’t truly there. Flash recognized the look as the ones of the stoners behind school when they got a little too experimental. His heart fell to his feet.
He dropped the umbrella with a loud clatter. “What the hell happened to you?” He asked.
Peter barely seemed to hear him. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled. “I just didn’t know where else to go.”
Then, his eyes rolled back into his head and he crumpled to the ground.
”Holy shit!” Flash exclaimed. He dropped to his knees beside Peter, prodding at his arm. He rolled him over to see his face, and sure enough, his eyes were closed and his jaw was slack. “Dude, wake up!”
Peter didn’t respond.
“Fuck,” Flash whispered to himself, running a had through his hair, a nervous habit he had picked up from his father. He scanned the area to see if anyone was watching, anyone that would question why a beat up teenager had showed up to his doorway, but the street was silent as always.
Should Flash call an ambulance? Shit, but he didn’t have any money to pay them with. But he couldn’t just leave Peter out on the porch!
He made a split second decision. Reluctantly, and hooked a hand under each of Peter’s armpits. He strained as he pulled the boy through the doorway and into his house, cursing his stupid teenage figure. He felt hard muscles under Peter’s nerdy, torn, dirty graphic shirt wrapping around his bones like cords (why was Parker more ripped than him?) but didn’t dwell on it. He had much more to worry about than Peter Parker’s geek body.
He hauled him up onto the couch, giving his legs an extra push so that he laid flat on his back. It was a second too late that he realized his father would kill him if he came home to bloodstains on the expensive leather.
He sat back on his heels, feeling the hardwood floor sap the warmth out of his bare feet. What was he supposed to do now? Some of those cuts looked pretty bad, more than the Mickey Mouse Band-Aids he stocked could handle. And sure, the maid had done a nice job on the house, but surely infection would begin to set in soon.
What had Parker gotten himself into? Flash watched him breathe, noticing with a turn of his stomach that his rib cage was entirely unsymmetrical, some ribs broke far out of place. Was he some kind of drug runner? Was that why he was late to school so much? And he did have a lot of dark hoodies...
Flash shook the idea away. Peter Parker, honors student, the golden boy, a drug dealer? It was laughable.
But what else would have him torn up this small boy in the middle of the night? He refused to dwell on it.
He didn’t have to refuse long, though, because barely ten minutes after setting him down, Peter began to stir. Flash’s head perked up and he saw Peter’s face scrunch in pain. He squirmed on the couch, seemingly struggling from some unknown evil. A moment later, he gasped, his eyes flying open. Flash jumped back, limbs spread out over the floor.
Peter sat up, wincing and grabbing his chest. He let his eyes sweep the room, clearer now but still dazed. Then, he focused on Flash, who breathed heavily from his spot on the rug. Silence hung heavy in the room as they stared at each other, both wide eyed and panting hard.
Finally, Peter said with a tremor in his voice, “Hi, Flash.”
Flash snapped out of his stupor. He flew to his feet and Peter flinched away from him. “What happened to you, Parker?” He demanded.
Peter wilted immediately; he drew his legs in as close to his chest as he could and his shaking increased tenfold. Regret punched Flash in the gut, heavy and cold; whatever had happened was both recent and traumatic, further than any prank Flash had pulled on him in school. He backtracked. “I mean, uh...is there anything you need?”
Peter opened his eyes slowly. His shaking slowed but didn’t stop as he considered himself and his injuries. “Do you have a sewing kit anywhere?”
Flash raised an eyebrow. “Uh, Yeah, in my Mom’s office.”
”Great. Um, could you...” Peter seemed to lose his train of thought as he closed his eyes. His brow furrowed like he was fighting off some evil memory. Then, he shook his head and focused his gaze on a spreading patch of blood on his shirt. “Could you get me a needle, some thread, rubbing alchohol, and water?”
Flash didn’t think. He ran out of the room to gather the items.
He pounded up the stairs and threw open the lid of his mother’s finest sewing box. Overcome with a sudden urgency to get back to Peter, make sure he hadn’t bled out yet, he fumbled through the spoils of thread until he found a barely-used bundle of string and the first needle to prick his finger.
He scrambled back downstairs and skidded into the tiled kitchen. His hands moved on muscle memory as he filled a glass with water and grabbed the half-empty bottle of rubbing alchohol from under the sink, muttering reassurances to himself under his breath.
His nerves screamed at him as he raced back into the living room. His gaze landed straight on Peter and he faltered.
Peter’s face was buried in his hands and his entire body shook. He rocked back and forth slightly and Flash heard faint sobs coming from him, shaky but clear. From the hunched position, Flash could see a smattering of bruises over his shoulders, small and repetitive. His stomach turned.
He took a tiny step into the room and Peter snapped his head up. Keeping his head down, Peter wiped his face and forced himself to relax. As Flash approached, he pretended not to notice the wet smears that remained over his skin.
He set the materials on the table next to Peter and sat before him silently. His eyes drifted back to the pattern of bruises that painted his skin. Peter followed his gaze and shrugged his shirt back over his shoulders, hiding away the bloody blooms. Flash averted his eyes.
”I got your stuff.”
Peter reviewed the items before him. “Christ, Flash, you couldn’t have gotten a smaller needle?” He joked, but no humor shined through in his voice.
Flash started to stand again. ”I’m sorry, I can get you a better one—“
”No, wait!” Peter grabbed Flash’s arm with a shockingly vicelike grip. His wife eyes held a panicked horror, so frightened that it hurt Flash to look at. Then, the fear faded and Peter let his arm drop. He said softly. “I can—I’ll just make do. Thank you, Flash.”
Without another word he picked up the bottle of rubbing alchohol and began to unscrew the cap. His hands shook so fiercely that he nearly dropped it. Slowly, Flash sat back down. His head spun through Peter’s violent reaction so fully that he didn’t even bother to watch until he heard a muffled hiss. His head shot up—Peter held his shirt between his teeth, revealing trembling muscles and a gaping wound. Peter spread the sliced flesh apart with one hand, which seemed bent in an odd way, and with the other, poured rubbing alchohol over the gash. It spilled out of the bottle in time with the trembling of his hands, drenching the surrounding skin and pooling on the leather. His face was contorted in pain and his leg kicked violently, almost uncontrolled.
“What the fuck are you doing, Parker?”
Breathing heavily, Peter opened his teeth and let the shirt fall, screwing the cap back on. “C-cleaning a cut, man, what does it look like?”
”But you’re just—just going for it? No pain medicine, no nothing?”
Peter placed the bottle back on the table, taking instead the needle and thread. “Yes, Flash. What else am I going to do?”
”Um, I don’t know, go to a hospital?”
The end of the thread slipped through the needle’s hole. “No, I can’t—I can’t deal with that again.” The knot was tied around the loop. “They’ll try to look me over and they’ll get too close and—“ Peter cut himself off with a groan. Flash looked down from Peter’s face to his hands, which pinched his skin together and forced the needle through each side.
Flash gasped. Why the fuck was Peter Parker stitching himself up and refusing a doctor, why was he so beat up, and why was he doing it all in Flash’s living room?
”Dude! What the—you can’t just—you can’t do your own stitches!”
”It’s not the first time. This is the only dangerous cut, anyways.” Peter’s voice was surprisingly steady even as it shook.
”Well then—I mean...” Flash trailed off as he looked on in horror. What more could he say? Stop being weirdly calm about giving yourself subpar medical attention? No. He silently watched Peter sew himself up, tie off the faded pink thread, wipe away the blood from every puncture wound with his shirt.
Finally, Peter dropped the bloody needle and spool and let his head fall back against the armrest, letting out a shuddering breath. His tense muscles relaxed but Flash was far from peaceful.
”Okay, Parker, you’d better tell me what’s going on right now.”
Peter said nothing. He continued to pant, a hand covering his now-stitched wound, but his lip began to twitch.
“You can’t just barge in my house, bleed on my couch and not explain. You need to tell me who did this to you, because I’m not about to be an accomplice to whatever weird-ass crime you just committed.”
Peter still didn’t answer, but a single shining tear slipped out of his eye and rolled down his cheek.
A long moment passed. Peter lifted his hand and dragged it down his face, smudging the tear across his skin. He let his hand drop back into his lap and stared up at the ceiling, blinking the red away from his eyes. Finally, he said, “My rapist got out of prison.”
Flash blinked. Ice-cold horror flooded his veins. “What?”
Peter took a breath and continued. “When I was seven, uh, my aunt and uncle hired this babysitter. Skip. Skip Wescott. At first he was pretty cool, but then—then he wasn’t. Like, at all. He did some really shitty things to me every time he came over and I just...didn’t tell anyone. For a few months. After a while I worked up the nerve and I did it and he went to prison for fifteen years, but he told me while he—he told me tonight that he got out early. On, um, on good behavior.”
Peter stopped. He took a shuddering breath but did not continue. Slowly, carefully, Flash prodded as if he were not in control, although some part of him already knew the answer, “And what happened tonight?”
Instead of answering, Peter finally met his eyes and said, “Have you ever been raped, Flash?”
Flash flinched backwards. Peter continued without an answer.
”Do you know what it’s like to get held down while someone takes everything from you? Do you know how it feels to have your face shoved into the concrete while he tells you he loves you? Have you ever felt that type of pain? That kind of helplessness? I mean, I should have been able to fight him off, I’m stronger than him, but I couldn’t. I was just walking to the store but I saw him and I froze. He pinned me down and force-fed me some pill of something and after everything was done he stood up and he—he just smiled. The asshole did all this to me and he just...smiled...”
Peter stopped, cutting himself off with a choked sob. “I’m sorry, I just—“ Another heave. Then another. Flash watched in abject horror as this smiling boy, this grade-A nerd shook and sobbed and bled and fell apart on his kid-leather couch.
Awkwardly, Flash said, “Dude, you’ve got to go to a hospital, don’t they have rape kits or something?”
”No,” Peter insisted, “I can’t—it’s like they do it all over again, I can’t—“ Peter heaved in a wheezing breath. It rattled in his throat and grated Flash’s ears.
He was in way over his head. Flash was just a kid, he wasn’t equipped to handle this. “Well go to your aunt or something!”
”No, I can’t, I can’t break her heart like that again, she just got over Ben.”
”What about your dorky friend, Ned?”
Peter winced as a rather heavy sob pulled on his stitches. ”His parents are home, I knew they’d take me to a hospital or the police or something.”
“There has got to be other people who can handle this—“
”I don’t have anyone else, Flash!” Peter snapped, then quickly dissolved back into sobs.
And Flash was out of questions. He waited somberly, fighting back his own tears as he watched Peter Parker break down in his living room. Eventually, his sobs subsided and he was left limp, shaking, staring off into space on Flash’s couch.
Flash checked his watch to see that the time was well past midnight. He swore.
”Look, man,” he offered, “Do you want to just spend the night and deal with all this tomorrow? I can set up the guest bedroom.”
”I mean, I can just stay on the couch.”
”It’s literally covered in blood.”
”...Oh. Yeah. Um, then yeah, thanks. Sorry about your couch.”
Flash shrugged. “It’ll be okay, I can just order a new one before my parents get back.”
Flash slowly guided Peter through the hallway and up the stairs. He opened the door of the nearest guest bedroom and helped Peter to sit on the bed. He pretended not to see him wince when he shifted slightly.
”Alright, let me just get the pillowcases. And maybe some clean clothes.”
Flash hurried to the linen closet and back, holding what he hoped were queen sized sheets and spare pajamas. Stepping back into the room, he saw, Peter already asleep on top of the deep purple quilt.
Flash set the cloth on the dresser, turned on his heel, and started towards his own bedroom.
He pretended not to hear the gentle fit of sobbing and dry heaving that woke him in the middle of the night.
Flash sat at the kitchen table, gray morning light streaming through the large windows and landing on the pack of strawberry Pop-Tarts in front of him. He picked at them slowly, staring at the words on his phone but not really reading. He could hardly believe the night before had happened.
Peter Parker had always seemed so...happy. He smiled in the hallways to everyone he passed, played Legos with his dorky friend, and sure, he had seemed pretty beaten down these last few months, but Flash has never thought anything of it. But maybe he should have.
As if on cue, Peter walked sheepishly into the room, his face clean and his clothes changed, although his bloody T-shirt and jeans were stuffed under his arm. The black eye had faded into yellow around the edges, and the cuts were more noticeable without the blood crusting over them and obscuring then from view.
”Hey, man,” Flash said. “Want a Pop-Tart?”
Peter shook his head from the doorway.
Flash pushed his own away. “Yeah, me neither.”
A long moment passed. Peter shifted his weight.
”Look, you’ve got to call your aunt or something. You can stay here if you need it but if this guy is really out there, you’ve got to catch him while there’s still—you know, evidence.”
Peter flinched at the last word. Even so, he nodded, and asked quietly, “Can I, uh, borrow your phone? Mine got kinda shattered last night. I don’t even know if he took it.”
”Yeah, go for it,” Flash said hurriedly, fumbling to move his phone screen to the correct app and hand it to Peter.
He stepped out of the room as Peter called his aunt, forced his voice to stay steady as he told her his location. The conversation lasted hardly a minute as Flash listened to Peter rattle off his address and ensure her that he would explain it all when she picked him up.
When he heard Peter set the phone down quietly he reenterred the room. Peter sat at the kitchen table, his head in his hands. Wordlessly, Flash sat next to him, staring straight ahead and trying to keep his mind only on the blank wall in front of him and the seconds ticking past.
The two waited in silence until a loud knock startled them both. Flash was reminded all too much of the start of the previous night.
”I think that’s your aunt.”
Peter stood and started towards the door, Flash following behind. He stopped at the doorknob, though, and Flash saw his breathing start to speed up and his eyes scrunch shut.
”Hey, Peter, are you sure you’re gonna be okay?”
Peter swallowed roughly and nodded. He took a deep breath and forced his eyes open. “Yeah,” he repeated, but it was forced out, choked.
Peter turned to Flash, his eyes deep and earnest. “Thank you, Flash. If there’s anything I can do to make it up to you, let me know.”
”Maybe just give me the answers to the next chem exam?”
Peter smiled, shaky and small, but Flash felt hope bloom in his chest, golden and warm. Maybe Peter would survive another day. Maybe. Maybe.
”We’ll see,” Peter replied, and then the door was open and Peter was gone.
Flash heard a woman yell, “Oh, my God, Peter!” Just before the heavy oak shut and blanketed him in silence. Flash turned and slid down the wood, ending up sprawled on the tile with his back to the door.
He allowed himself ten seconds to sit, think everything over. His Adam’s apple bobbed as he willed down the burning in his throat and the tears threatening to spill.
Then, he stood and retrieved his phone. He had a criminal, a name, and a father with way too many connections.
Skip Wescott was about to get his ass handed to him.