Flash sighed, sitting on one of the benches in the locker room. He'd usually start picking off the flaking paint out of habit. But now, with the new benches, he couldn't do that. He had to sit tiredly, crutches resting at his left side, as everyone else buzzed about the day's dodgeball game.

Gym officially sucked.

If he couldn't play, then Eugene "Flash" Thompson had decided it was just another pointless class he had to endure.

Everyone filed past him, and Flash bit back the urge to trip puny Parker as he passed by. He'd kinda sorta been helpful with Sha Shan, so Flash figured he could be a little nicer. For once. The geek would appreciate it.

Flash watched him walk entirely past, snickering to himself as he remembered his fellow toothpick of a classmate getting pummeled during the dodgeball game. Usually the geek would dodge impressively a couple times, then get smacked in the face.

Today he didn't do that.

Pete caught a ball with his face a handful of times.

And then one with his stomach.

And groin. (That one really looked like it hurt.)

And his back.

What shocked Flash, though, was that puny Parker had the worst reaction to the latter, almost crying out in pain as he moved off to the sidelines. He wore a grimace for the rest of the period, not even acknowledging the other students laughing at him for not even budging when the ball flew at him like a rocket.

Flash frowned at that. Pete could dodge…

…so why didn't he today?

"What are you up to, Parker?" he mumbled to himself, watching as Peter found his locker in the back corner, opened it with shaking fingers, and pulled out his clothes-

and started changing.

Flash froze, his hand no longer tapping mindlessly against the bench. Peter changing wasn't the problem.

It was where he was changing.

The dweeb typically booked into the bathrooms, hiding in a stall. He'd gotten teased for it at first, but everyone eventually let it go. He laughed it off, sort of.

This was the first time all junior year that Pete wasn't changing in the bathroom.

Flash wanted to know why.

Peter had slipped on his brown cargo pants by now, and the football star noticed a decent rip over his right knee. The pants were worn thin. When was the last time Peter showed up in anything other than baggy clothes? Even his gym clothes were huge…

and he was so tiny.

Eugene Thompson wasn't the brightest. But he'd have to be blind to not notice how thin Parker was. His face was almost gaunt, his cheeks sunken in. His wrists were bony, and his fingers looked like spindles. That's just what Flash could see as the geek slowly bent down to tie his battered shoes.

And saying he was pale was an understatement. The only color on the junior's face were the dark rings under his eyes. Even his eyes were bordering on lifeless; they were a lackluster sludge color instead of deep brown. His hair usually had some sense of order, like he'd attempted to run a brush through it, or at least his hand. But today? The brunette looked like a disheveled hobo.

Flash felt something twist in his gut, something sharp and biting. Peter was still getting grief over the Spider-Man thing. The same paper who paid him had blasted the front page with a lie. And Flash hated to feel bad for Parker, but the kid looked like he hadn't gotten any sleep since the Bugle's blunder.

That was almost two weeks ago.

But something buzzed in the back of Flash's mind, telling him he hadn't seen the worst of puny Parker's troubles yet. He watched as the kid slumped against the lockers for a moment, wincing as his side made contact with the cold metal, the grate on the edge rough on his arm. Peter stood once more, looking like he was forcing himself to stay on his feet, and started to tug off his shirt-

"Hey, Flash, what's-"

Flash shushed the two football players who walked up to him, talking quite loudly. They both shut up, then looked in the same direction Flash was.

Right at a shirtless Peter Parker.

One gasped. The other cringed.

Flash's jaw dropped.

Now he knew why Pete never changed around them.

His pale skin was covered in scars. There wasn't an area of his torso that wasn't scraped or slashed or burnt. Some scars were old; others were recent, red and angry and telling the three onlookers that Peter wasn't just a punching bag for them and their pals.

He saw three massive slash marks across Pete's chest, over his far too obvious ribs, probably the worst of the scars on the teen. Flash wondered how on earth he'd managed to get those. How he'd managed to get any of those horrific marks, really.

But then Peter turned around to grab his shirt from his locker, his long sleeve shirt that hid every mark from the world.

And it got worse.

Flash winced with him at seeing the massive bruises splattered across his back in every shape and size and color imaginable. No wonder he'd had such a reaction to getting hit in class.

Why hadn't he sat out?

Come to think of it, Parker never sat out. He always participated. He always changed. He always pitifully attempted to do something.

Peter pulled on his shirt, which was just as worn as his pants. The threadbare clothes wouldn't do anything to protect him from the bitter New York chill. And everybody knew Pete's coat wasn't in any better condition than his clothes.

Or his body at this rate.

Flash had seen enough. "Parker," he barked, almost punching himself for how rough of a tone he'd used.

Peter jumped, then looked up, looking like a deer in the headlights. Flash didn't blame him. The whole football team was now watching him change.

Talk about awkward.

And humiliating.

"Y-yeah?" Peter squeaked, his voice rough.

Flash stood up, and he hoped he didn't look overly concerned. "What happened to you?" There was no way Peter actually was… was Spider-man. Absolutely not.

Peter shrugged sheepishly and coughed, a few football players grimacing at the harsh rattle in their classmate's chest. "Getting pictures for the Bugle is rough." He almost smiled. Almost. "I gotta get the money somehow. It's-" he palmed his locker shut "-worth a few cuts and scrapes."

Flash scoffed. "Parker, those are more than a few tiny cuts."

"Yeah," someone spoke up behind him. "Who treated those?"

Peter looked up blankly. "Trust me, guys. They're not as bad as they look." That didn't answer the question, and the other boys hated to think he'd treated every injury on his own.

Flash wasn't buying it. "You get hurt taking pictures for the Daily Rag?"

"Well, sometimes." Another cough. "The fights get intense. And I sometimes get a little too close."

"So you're letting yourself get beat up to earn a little extra cash?" another guy asked, his tone completely and utterly implying he thought Peter was an idiot.

Peter looked up at all the guys who'd been watching him, his eyes and voice tired, but filled with determination as he spoke. "Bills don't pay themselves. And Aunt May's in no shape to start working, not after the heart attack." He stepped over the bench in front of him, grabbing his backpack and hoisting it onto his shoulder as he brushed past them, looking worn down and ready to drop to the floor.

Flash stared at the spot where the geek had just been standing. Peter was putting himself through hell. He was running himself ragged and still showing up for every stinking day of school like the nerd he had been since birth. He was forcing himself to get through each day, fights and taunts and bullies and supervillains and all.

"Whoa…" one guy broke the silence after Peter had left. "I didn't see that coming."

"He goes through all that… just to cover their bills?"

"You're forgetting hospital bills," someone else cut in. "Those probably aren't helping."

"And neither are we," Flash muttered to himself. He grabbed his crutches and left, silently resolving to take it easier on puny Parker.

So what if he'd been the one to win States? He'd sacrificed his health for a ball, a game, a few seconds of fame in the paper and on the television. Peter sacrificed his health for his aunt, so he'd have a place to go home to.

Puny Parker was more of a man than Flash Thompson was.

And that really stung.

Flash left the gym and caught Peter staring dejectedly at the water fountain and its "DO NOT USE - BROKEN" sign, digging in his pocket for some change so he could use the vending machine. He pulled out a couple of quarters and some dimes.

Not enough.

Flash sighed and figured if he had to swallow his pride, he better start now with a little bit. Then maybe it'd get easier. He leaned his crutches against the wall and grabbed his backpack, pulling out an unopened water bottle. "Pete."

Peter turned his way, frowning in confusion.

"Catch." Flash tossed him the water bottle and Peter caught it, staring at it warily.

"What's this?" Peter finally managed to ask.

Flash snorted. "It's water, genius."

"What did you do to it?" Peter rolled the bottle in his hands.

"N-nothing." Flash was shocked. Did Peter think that little of him? "Just take it."

Peter slowly twisted off the cap, not taking his eyes off his biggest nightmare, outside of the Sinister Six and Venom of course. He took a long sip and swallowed heavily. Apparently he was fine with the water. He smiled, just a tiny, tired smile. "Thanks, Flash." His throat sounded a bit better.

The jock just nodded once and hobbled off on his crutches. He didn't see Peter smile in thanks at his back.

Maybe it really was all just part of the job, just a part of getting pics of the web-head in action.

Maybe it was just an occupational hazard.

-hey there! this is my first time writing anything Spidey-related, so any feedback is greatly appreciated! if you loved it, hated it, let me know.

sorry for any typos/mistakes/etc. :(

have an awesome day, guys! God bless! :)