Peter wasn’t a baby. He didn’t need to be coddled and taken care of like a child. He was Spider-Man! And Spider-Man wasn’t afraid of something as trivial as the quiet dark. Mr. Stark has insisted that Peter and Aunt May stay in the tower in an effort to keep all the people he cared about close to him and safe. It wasn’t a bad thing of course! He enjoyed living and working closely with Mr. Stark. In fact, he saw the man as a father figure over anything else. The only problem was, he didn’t want to be seen as the puny little teenager who needed someone to hold his hand. And being surrounded by Earth’s mightiest heroes just confirmed that he was exactly that when he got upset over the silent darkness in his room at night.
It wasn’t that bad at first. He was able to hide his drowsiness by saying that he had a lot of homework and studying. That excuse lasted about a week before the other Avengers noticed him almost falling asleep at the dinner table. Peter couldn’t just ask them for help without risking looking like a baby to them. They probably aren’t scared of anything, he thought ruefully. As a superhero, he wasn’t supposed to have any weaknesses. But, how could he be better like Mr. Stark wanted if he couldn’t even get to sleep at night? Patrolling was a good excuse, but he could only patrol as much as Aunt May would let him, and that certainly wasn’t every night.
The first to notice was, surprisingly, Natasha and Bucky. They offered to stay in his room with him until he was asleep, but all that did was make him feel like more of a kid than a part of the team. He declined politely around a lump in his throat before retreating into his room again. The second to notice was Tony, and that was a disaster to say the least. He had noticed when Peter almost fell asleep during a lab day after school. Normally he assumed that Pete was just up late patrolling, but he knew that the spiderling hadn’t gone on patrol the night before. “Hey Pete?” He asked casually, hands busy fiddling with the Iron Spider suit.
Peter looked up from his web repulsors before answering tiredly. “Yes Mr. Stark?”
“Well, first of all I thought we were on a first name basis buddy. Second of all, when’s the last time you got enough sleep”
“Sorry Mr-Tony, Tony. And I’ve just been really busy with patrolling you know? Can’t be your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man if you’re not out in the neighborhood,” he explained with a nervous laugh as he went back to working.
“Don’t try to pull a fast one on me Spider-Man, both Karen and Friday know your vitals and guys who they report to? Me. Now, I’m going to ask again. Why aren’t you sleeping well bambino?”
It was the Italian that really got Peter to pause and put his repulsors down on the table. Rubbing his eyes, he sighed and leaned back. “It’s just...hard to sleep. Everytime I close my eyes it gets even darker than before and I just can’t sleep. It’s just frustrating to be seen as a baby by everyone on the team. It’s even worse that I’m the youngest and everyone already thinks that. I’m supposed to be Spider-Man. I’m not supposed to be scared of anything,” he muttered as he ran a hand through his curls.
There was a pause, then “You know it’s okay to be scared of something, right Pete? All of the Avengers are scared of something. Bruce is scared of himself, Cap is scared of losing loved ones, even I’m scared of things. Things. Plural, as in more than one. And most of the things I’m scared of revolve around you bambino. I’m scared of you dying again, or disappearing, even I’m scared of the dark sometimes.” Peter looked to Tony tentatively then opened his mouth. “Really?”
“Really kid, now how about you take a quick nap. The lights are going to be on the entire time and I’ll be right here working.” Peter had an uneasy expression, but Tony wasn’t taking no for an answer and lead Peter to the couch in the corner of the lab. He stubbornly tucked the kid in before returning to his lab table. Peter was awake for a while, but he could relax knowing that the lights were on and he could hear the slowly steady rhythm of Tony’s heart under the sounds of tinkering as he drifted off into sleep.
Soon, that was the only way he could go to sleep peacefully. All of the other times he could sleep was plagued by nightmares, even if he left the light on. Tony had made a nightlight for him in the shape of the arc reactor. It helped a bit, but it was still too quiet. Too quiet to sleep without thinking of the quiet as he was dusted out of existence. He couldn’t handle it, and soon it was affecting everything he did. Peter ran into a door one, mistakenly walked up a wall twice, and nearly fell asleep as he was swinging building to building a number of times. All he wanted was to peacefully sleep. Finally, he tried to do something about it.
Peter didn’t want to bother his father figure more than he already had, it had been months since he had gotten the night light. He thought that would help. He thought that that would be the end of it and he’d be okay. But he wasn’t. He couldn’t sleep fitfully at all, but he knew what would help at least. It was another lab day, almost nearing the end when he set his suit down and looked to Tony. “Dad? Can I ask a favor?” He asked tentatively as he leaned back in his chair, twirling his phone absentmindedly in his hand.
“Sure kiddie, what is it?” Tony asked, not looking up from Cap’s shield.
“Can I maybe record your heartbeat? It’s that only thing that really settles me enough to be able to sleep and I know it’s probably a stupid thing to ask, but it would really help and I’m just so tired that I thought that this would help and I just-“ he was cut off with a wave of the hand by Tony who was looking at him with an unbelievable expression.
“You want me to record my heartbeat?” He asked in disbelief before looking to the ceiling with the dorkiest smile Peter had seen since the snap. “Of course I’ll do that bambino. In fact, I think Friday can do that for you.” He carefully made his way over to the anxious teen and wrapped him in a hug. For the first time in a while, Peter knew that he’d be able to sleep. That night, he was able to sleep solely because of the arc reactor light and the quiet heartbeat filtering through the speakers in his room.