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With Arms Wide Open

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            His identity wasn’t a secret anymore. Not to the Avengers. It was a decision Peter made without much thought after he assisted them in battle. The only reason he assisted them in battle was because when the trouble began, he was walking home from school and saw everybody running. Tony knew this and gave the kid a call, asking if he’d like to join, which Peter so obviously did. When the battle was finished, Steve requested that Spider-Man stay for the debriefing so they could all discuss the battle. What did they do right? What did they do wrong? What could they improve on in the future? What should they avoid from now on? Nobody asked to know his true identity, and that’s probably why he gave it away. This was the first time meeting them since the battle over the Accords. Nobody seemed to harbor any negative feelings over that, and everybody got along so well. Tony had even laughed at stuff Steve had said despite their issues in the past. There was some tension in Tony’s eyes, but he did seem more at ease than Peter ever saw him before. So, casually, as if his identity wasn’t meant to be a secret, he had pulled his mask off and wiped some of the sweat off of his face. That’s how the Avengers, minus Tony, learned who Spider-Man was under the mask.

            It hadn’t taken long to develop some sort of relationship with the rest of the Avengers. It seemed that day opened a whole new realm of opportunity because Tony started inviting him to either the Tower (which, he soon found out, hadn’t really been sold. Tony had fabricated that story in order to have a place of residence for the Avengers should they ever be allowed in the country – or should they ever have to sneak in) or the compound upstate. More hands-on training ensured. More missions he was invited on. He hadn’t known what caused it, but Tony seemed more intent on bringing Peter around.

            The first night Peter slept over with the Avengers wasn’t planned. It was Friday which meant that Peter had spent until three in the morning on patrol, snuck in four hours of sleep, went to school for eight hours, fit in a few more hours of patrol, and then swung by the Tower an hour before dinner. He finished up his homework for the weekend before dinner was finished, and after he ate dinner, he joined Tony in the lab. Friday evenings were spent working on Spider-Man suit upgrades. There wasn’t too much either could think to work on just yet, but Peter came up with a couple different web settings to add. After that was finished, Tony had tried to send him to home to sleep because he knew how little sleep Peter fit in because of patrol, but Peter had shrugged off the suggestion and instead set about on replenishing his dwindling supply of webs. That didn’t take long at all and soon, Peter found his head laying on the table as he dozed off to sleep.

            Tony had been keeping an eye on Peter and watched as he got more tired, and once he finally fell asleep, he hadn’t been surprised at all. Instead, he let the kid sleep for about forty minutes or so to ensure he was in a deep enough sleep to be moved. He would never admit his next actions to anybody, but once assured by Friday that nobody would see him, Tony carefully picked the kid up and carried him to the elevator and then straight to bed. He slipped off his shoes and pulled the blanket over him before pushing the hair out of Peter’s face and leaving him to sleep. He sent a text to May, promised her that no, Peter wasn’t hurt from patrol (he ended up sending her a picture of the kid fast asleep, to which she responded with heart emojis), before heading back to his lab. Just because Peter was sleeping didn’t mean Tony would be, too.

             Peter could vaguely remember being lifted. He remembered bits and pieces: a pressure on the back of his knees, his head resting against something soft yet hard and defined, and a hand on his head. He was so emerged in sleep, though, that he hadn’t questioned any of it and instead chose to remain as he was.

            Nearly two hours into his impromptu sleeping session, Peter woke up, and when he woke up, he woke up screaming. He woke up in hysterics. He woke up halfway off the bed and searching for his web shooters because Aunt May screaming in his dream continued even after his initial screams woke him up. He woke up tangled in his blankets which only fueled his terror because my shooters, where are my shooters, why can’t I get to my shooters, oh my god, Aunt May, I’m coming.

            Someone grabbed his arm, and he jerked away. Those weren’t Aunt May’s hands, he knew, so they were a threat. They were a threat to her safety. She was screaming, calling for his help. She knew he could save him. She had faith in him that he’d come. Nobody hurts Aunt May. When the hand returned, this time on his shoulder, he blindly grabbed them and effortless threw them across the room. He never used his full strength because most people weren’t superhuman, but her screams were dying out which could only mean she was dying.

            “-eed to calm down. It was just a dream.” He knew the voice. Who was that voice? And what did the voice mean when they said it was just a dream? What was just a dream? He wasn’t dreaming, was he? Aunt May getting hurt didn’t sound like such a good dream, so this must have been a trap. Right?

            “Where is she?” he heard himself ask, but he couldn’t remember saying the words. He was still trying desperately to get out of his bedsheets, but then he grabbed the blanket and ripped it in half, making it so he can escape and reach his – wait, bedsheets? Why was he in bed? Wasn’t he just in the lab with Tony? Was he? Why would he be able to hear Aunt May while in the tower? Was someone in his head, messing around with his memories?  

            “Where is who?” the voice asked, speaking slowly and carefully. Was it the same person he threw against the wall? Wouldn’t they be hurt by that? Why was this person cautiously approaching him? Wouldn’t villains just try to hurt him now while he was confused?

            “May, where is, where is she? I don’t, I don’t…” Things were coming back to him. He remembered putting his head down on the table to rest his eyes for a few minutes. Hadn’t he just finished supplying himself with more spider webs? Tony was there. He had told Peter to go home and sleep for the night, but Peter had refused. He must have fallen asleep in the lab. Somehow, he had to have ended up in the room kept there for him. A nightmare, then? That must have been what woke him up.

            “She’s alright. She’s fine. Whatever you were dreaming about wasn’t real. Do you know where you are, Peter?”

            Peter closed his eyes to think. He knew he was rather smart, so he had to use his brain, at least as little of it that still worked at that moment. He had been in the home of the Avengers, which meant he likely wasn’t in danger. If he had been, he would have heard it long before and felt it even sooner. This person was a friend, not an enemy. He had thrown this person across the room, yet they remained uninjured. Steve and Bucky were superhumans. Natasha wasn’t, but she might as well have been for how well she handled her injuries. Tony would be up just as quickly simply because it was Peter in distress. It had to be one of them. The person was a man. It couldn’t be Natasha. Tony would have taken a more hands-on approach, so he was out as well. Bucky likely wouldn’t have gotten close enough to be thrown, which meant it had to be Steve.

            Thinking more clearly, Peter opened his eyes and saw that he was right: it was Steve. The entire ordeal couldn’t have lasted even a minute, but that was a minute too long now that he realized he made a fool of himself in front of Captain America himself. “Oh, gosh, Captain. I’m – I’m sorry. I hadn’t, I didn’t realize-”

            “Relax, Peter. It’s okay. You didn’t hurt me. Not at all, okay? I swear.”

            The panic attack seemed to be pushing itself front and center now that he didn’t need to worry about protecting Aunt May. He felt his breaths coming in faster no matter how hard he tried to push it down. He couldn’t have a panic attack in front of Captain America. He hadn’t even allowed himself to have a panic attack in front of Tony, and he was the closest thing Peter has had to a father in a long time. “I’m sorry. I-I… I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…”

            Before Steve had the chance to say anything in response, Tony came rushing in. He obviously had run the entire way there. Friday had likely warned Tony about the nightmare. Steve had somehow beat him there. “Peter, everything okay? Cap?”

            “Under control,” Steve said, using a calm voice to rival Tony’s worried one and Peter’s terrified one. “Peter, again, you didn’t hurt me. You were scared, and you felt that you were defending yourself from danger. That’s good that you are capable of self-defense, especially in the middle of panic. You did a good thing. Don’t feel bad for doing so.”

            “I could have hurt you,” Peter blurt out. “If it was someone else, I could have-”

             “There are a lot of ‘what if’ moments, Underoos,” Tony cut in. “There’s never any use focusing on the ‘what ifs.’ If you want to focus on that, though, focus on this one: What if it had been someone out to hurt you instead? Never apologize for defending yourself, even if it turns out you didn’t need protection.”

            “My strength-”

            “I’ve had to deal with that, too,” Steve said. Apparently, neither were about to let him continue his worried and self-deprecating rambles. “You know how to control your strength. That’s something I don’t think fifteen-year-old me would have learned until a few years later. It took me some time. I still slip up sometimes if I’m worked up, especially to your level.”

            “You’re smart, Pete. Fight or flight. Ring any bells? You were prepared for a fight. It’s adrenaline. You had a nightmare, right? Whatever you were dreaming about kicked in your fight or flight instincts which released adrenaline. Adrenaline can make normal humans experience more strength than they thought they had. It’s not different with you except for the fact that you’re already stronger than normal humans should be,” Tony explained. Hearing an explanation for his reaction, even though he wasn’t a stranger to what Tony was saying (it was hard to think logically at that time, though), made it easier to calm down, albeit slightly. He had a feeling that’s why Tony was semi-sciencing to him. Tony did everything deliberately. “You reacted the same as others have. You already have to keep your strength in check at the best of times. You’re expected to slip up sometimes. Nobody can fault you for that.”

            “I’m sure you and Tony can talk about this in more detail tomorrow,” Steve said once Tony was finished. “Actually, I’m sure you already know all about adrenaline. But, for now, I think you need to sit down and relax your mind.”

            Peter did as suggested and took a seat at the edge of his bed. Tony is the one who moved to sit beside him. “I, uh, ripped my blanket in half,” he said lamely. “I’m scared to look. Is there a dent in the wall?”

            “So not important,” Tony said as he brushed it off.

            “That’s a yes then. Gosh, Tony, Steve, I’m-”

            “And we’re done apologizing.”

            “Tony’s right,” Steve said, much gentler. “You don’t need to be sorry.”

            “This is going to happen again,” Tony said. Peter looked at him with wide eyes. He’s had his fair share of nightmares before, but he had stopped screaming about them when he was seven and he had yet to damage anything other than himself during nightmares. He had a bad habit of biting his hand when in distress, and he was a bit of a sleep walker so walking into things happened quite often. Throwing people against the wall, screaming bloody murder, and tearing a blanket apart as if it were a piece of paper? He did not want that to happen again any time soon. Tony looked down at Peter and sighed. “I know, that doesn’t sound promising, but it’s true. It comes with the line of work, unfortunately enough. We all get them every once in a while, putting it lightly. It’s going to be hard to deal with. Some nights are going to be worse than others. Letting it eat you, though? That’s only going to make it worse. Accept that tonight has happened. Look at that big hole in the wall until I have someone fix it tomorrow. Remember that dream you had. And then tomorrow night when it’s time for you to sleep again, whether it’s here or with your aunt, take a deep breath and put it behind you. Don’t ignore that it happened or pretend that it didn’t, but don’t dwell too hard on it. Put it somewhere behind your main thoughts. It happened. It’s okay that it happened. It’s okay that it could happen again.”

            “Believe it or not,” Steve said after Tony was quiet for a few moments, “that wasn’t the first time I’ve heard Tony give that speech. It’s all true, too. I like to keep a journal of my nightmares. I’ll read through them on the bad days, but I’ll read them on the good days, too. Not every day, of course. We don’t need to overwhelm our minds with our fear, but I’ll read it sometimes. It’s a way of reminding myself what’s done and over with. If I go to sleep the next night hating myself for how I’ve reacted the previous night, it’s only going to amplify my fears and likely cause me to react worse.”

            Peter let himself have a few minutes to consider those words, and neither Tony or Steve interrupted his thoughts. He looked up at the gaping hole in the wall – thankfully, it was only one side of the wall. He hadn’t thrown Steve into the next room – and winced, but he didn’t look away until he had absorbed the fact that hey, he did that. When he was done, he looked between Tony and Steve. “I think I’m ready to try sleeping again.”

            “You’re already one up everybody in the tower,” Tony said, grinning as if it was such an accomplishment and something to be proud of that he was going to sleep again. “We all find something else to do with our time.”

            “If you can’t sleep, try finding one of us. We usually congregate on the sleepless nights, so it wouldn’t be a bother.”

            “Okay. I appreciate it.” More softly, he added, “Thank you.”

            “Anytime, kiddo,” Tony said, ruffling his hair before standing up. “Alright, Betty White, let’s leave Spider-Kid alone to sleep.”

            “Betty White? That’s a new one. She’s an actress from my time, I think. I heard that somewhere,” Steve said as he followed Tony out, giving Peter a goodbye wave. “Is this a way of making fun of my age again?”

            The last thing Peter heard from the two of them was Tony laughing carelessly down the hall. He grabbed a smaller blanket from off of the chair before getting comfortable in his bed once more. It took him a long time, but he started drifting off into a dreamless sleep.