BEEEEEEEP. BEEEEEEP. BEEEEEEEP
Peter jolted awake feeling like he was wading in a sticky, syrupy swamp. Half of his brain was aware that it was morning (unfortunately), but half of his brain was still sifting through the murky waters of sleep.
BEEEEEEEP. BEEEEEEEP. BEEEE—
Okay, now he was awake.
—EEEP. BEEEEP. BEEEEEP.
It sounded like the fire alarm was going off, all loud, grating tones and flashing lights.
Wait. That wasn’t right. The lights only lit up in the stairwell. Peter fumbled for his bedside table.
—BEEEEEP. BEEEEEEP. BEEE—
He slammed down on his alarm clock, and the screaming stopped.
Good, God. That was way louder than normal. Not cool. So not cool. Who invented alarm clocks? Sue them. Sue everyone. Sue whoever created weekdays and school hours.
And what was with the sun today? It was like the dial on the sun was turned to 200%. Peter slumped back into his sheets and let out a groan. Stupid sun. “Shut up with your brightness,” Peter grumbled.
And immediately flinched violently.
The sound that had come from his throat sounded like it boomed from a broken, crackly speaker. The air grated on his throat as he breathed.
The t-shirt he slept in was like sandpaper rubbing against a raw wound. The black fan at the foot of his bed blasted icy air in his face with a loud shoom shoom shoom each rotation.
It was going to be one of those days, then.
Peter didn’t want to wake up on a Friday like this. Friday’s were supposed to be good days.
Friday’s were the days he took extra long shifts at the Tower, helping Mr. Stark do whatever cool techie stuff he was working on (currently an electro-magnetic propulsion system for ambulances and fire-trucks), and then he would eat dinner there.
Recently, he’d started staying overnight with permission from May, which meant he saw even more of the Avengers.
Mr. Stark and he had made a really cool break-through recently with help from Dr. Banner and Shuri over video, and May had given him permission to stay the whole weekend at the Tower.
Nothing was going to get in the way of an awesome weekend. Not even an overload day.
Suck it up, Peter told himself. You’re Spider-Man.
He heaved himself out of bed.
It took him twenty minutes to get ready. The bathroom was torture.
Every drop of water on his skin felt like cold, cold oil. His toothpaste, a fake minty flavor, made him gag from the chemicals.
And don’t even talk about flushing the toilet.
Peter had been to Niagara Falls multiple times, and it had been way quieter than the toilet.
He hardly said anything to May.
She probably assumed he was just tired, and she babbled on about her volunteering and the new shop that opened recently and the new recipe that she saw in Oprah magazine that they were having next week and on, and on, and on...
Peter knew that she was just trying to fill up empty space, but he wanted to beg her, plead her to stop talking. Her voice sounded like nails on a chalkboard
Reason? This was possibly the worst sensory day he could remember having. Never had May’s waffles tasted so much like cough syrup, nor had the subway been so tortuous.
So when Flash revved the engine of his car with a shout of “‘Sup, Penis PARKER!!” like he did every morning, instead of hopping aside, Peter almost collapsed from the pain of the deafening grinding of the engine.
Clamping his hands over his ears, all bodily functions just sorta shut down, and he squeezed his eyes tight, trying to block everything out. But even with his ears covered, he heard Flash’s shout of, “Whoa, whoa, whoawhoaWHOA! PARKER!” and the loud screech of brakes on asphalt.
“PETER!” Ned, maybe? MJ? Someone grabbed his arm roughly, yanking him out of the street. He opened his eyes. Okay, so Ned. “Peter, what the hell, dude?! Flash almost ran over you!”
”Too loud,” he whispered. “Tone it down a little, Ned.”
Ned’s expression changed from terror to worry. He lowered his voice. “Oh. Overload day?”
”You want me to tell the teachers?”
Peter shook his head.
”No? Peter, you don’t look too good. I mean, you don’t look like you can function right now. You sure you want to go to class?”
”I’m fine,” Peter insisted, shaking his friend off. He just had to get through the day. “I don’t need to go to the nurse’s.” He started toward the school doors.
Ned looked at him for a moment more before shrugging, shouldering his bookbag, and following Peter.
First was math. And it was torture.
Every tapping foot, every scratch of a pencil, even the air conditioning, it all sounded like a Super Bowl stadium. All the numbers blurred into each other, and pretty soon 2 plus 2 became 7, and the square root of 9 was 4. Peter squeezed his eyes tight, focusing on inhaling, exhaling, inhaling, exhaling.
Block it out. Filter the sounds, smells, light. But they all rushed at him like a torrent of water breaking a dam.
Chemistry was even worse. The stench of the vials sitting next to his lab table made it difficult to breath. But it was in decathlon practice during the first question when he finally broke. Abe hit the bell, and Peter collapsed.
He woke up on the nurse’s couch with the glare of fluorescent lighting stabbing his eyes. He groaned and rolled over onto his side, clamping his hands over his ears.
Breathe, he told himself.
Ned was lost. He had no idea what to do. His best friend was curled up on the couch for a reason that only he and Peter knew. The nurse had diagnosed migraine or something, but the migraine meds he gave Peter would do absolutely nothing.
His first thought was to call May, but he knew he couldn’t. She didn’t know about Peter being Spider-Man.
Leaning across to the couch from his seat, he tapped Peter on the shoulder. The nurse glared daggers at Ned, but he couldn’t kick Ned out since he was one of the people to bring Peter to the office. Mr. Harrington had been the other, but he had left to go back to practice.
”Pete,” he whispered. His best friend was covering his ears, but Ned bet that he could still hear him. “Pete, who can I call?”
”I can take care of that—“ the nurse started, but Peter winced and Ned shushed the nurse.
“Pete, who can I call?” Ned whispered. “I really need to know.”
At first, Peter didn’t respond. Right as Ned was about to ask him again, Peter raised a shaking hand off his ear and pointed to his backpack. His phone sat on top. Ned scrambled for it, banging his shin on the side table in front of the couch and letting out a his of pain. He brought the phone back to Peter, who took it and scrolled through contacts until he tapped on one. He then handed it back to Ned.
Ned looked at it and froze. He left the room, shutting the door quietly behind him and looked down at the phone in his hand.
The name on the screen read Tony Stark.
Peter had Tony Stark in his contacts list.
Giving himself a tiny shake, he hit the name and brought the phone up to his ear.
The dial tone sounded. Then,
“Pete? Aren’t you supposed to be in school?” The casualness that Tony said this shocked Ned. Yeah, he knew Peter was friends with the Avengers, but it was different to actually witness this first hand.
So cool, he couldn’t help thinking. Clearing his throat, he tried to talk, but his vocal chords froze up.
”Kid?” Tony Stark’s voice took on a worried tone. Like a worried parent, Ned thought. “Did something happen?
”Mr. Stark, I’m Ned Leeds. Peter’s best friend.”
”Ah.” Stark was all business again, all traces of emotion gone from his voice. “And you are on the kid’s phone why...?
”Peter’s in trouble,” Ned blurted before he could think that maybe ordering an Avenger to do something wouldn’t end well. “You need to come.”
If Stark was offended, he didn’t show it. “What happened.”
”He’s having a sensory overload. And not, like, a normal overload. A really, really bad one. He passed out.”
”He passed out?”
”Yeah. He’s awake now.”
Stark cursed. “I’ll be right over.”
An idea sprang into Ned’s mind. “Maybe bring a pair of noise-cancelling headphones—“
“I’ve got it, kid. I know what to do.”
Then Tony Stark hung up. Ned stared at the phone for a moment longer.
”I talked to Tony Stark,” he said out loud, just to process. “So, so cool.”
Then he raced back inside.
After Ned left to call Mr. Stark, Peter tried to block out the nurse. The nurse was just trying to be helpful, but he was making things worse. Asking test questions, poking, prodding. Somebody fire this guy.
Someone grabbed his shoulder, and he flinched away, curling into himself. Natural instinct, he guessed. But the other person just pressed something against the back of his hand.
Headphones? he wondered. Then he felt the tape on the headband part, and he knew.
They had both organized and planned ahead in case an overload happened at school. The tape on the side of the noise cancelling headphones, he knew, was bright red and said Property of Peter Parker.
Grabbing the headphones, he slipped them on over his head.
Beautiful, beautiful silence followed. Every muscle in his body melted like putty, releasing all the tension. Thank God, he thought.
Something else was pressed into his hands and he put them on, knowing they were sunglasses. Step one of Operation Overload complete.
“Thanks Mr. Stark,” he murmured. Mr. Stark nodded, and Peter didn’t need to be able to hear him to know what he said next:
Let’s get out of here, kid.
Looks like Night At the Tower was starting early, today.