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I Wish I Could Count Sheep

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There were times when Peter just couldn’t sleep. Not because he didn’t want to, no, Peter always wanted to sleep, but because he simply couldn’t. Sometimes it was the nightmares, sometimes it was the anxiety, and sometimes he just had to finish whatever he was working on in the lab. The worst times were when it was a combination of all three.

 

The first thing that hit him was all the anxiety. It really came out of the blue this time, well maybe not completely. The Avengers were on a mission this weekend. Tony was away. Of course, the Avengers always had missions, but usually, Peter got to go with them, and usually, they could check in, but this mission was radio silence until they were flying back home.  He was sitting at lunch with Ned and MJ when he suddenly felt an overwhelming wave of worry; he felt his chest constrict; he looked around rapidly, but couldn’t find anything wrong. He felt his breathing quicken. What if something was happening? What sparked this? It had to be something. Something close. Was it a bad guy? Would they be coming into the school? Peter couldn’t reveal himself, there were too many people. Or maybe he forgot something at the tower? But Peter specifically remembers packing everything. Maybe-

 

Peter felt a warm hand gently touch his wrist. His head snapped to it and then he looked at the source. It was MJ. She and Ned had stopped their conversation and were now staring at him in silence.

 

“You’re fine, Parker.” She said plainly. She tried to act as if she didn’t care, but Peter knew she did. He saw it in the way her gaze has yet to leave him, and the way her eyes analytically scanned his body. She was also still tenderly holding his wrist in her hand as if silently reassuring him that he was fine. Peter ducked his head and nodded, his cheeks heating up.

 

The conversations started again, but Peter didn’t take part. He still felt the sparks of fear and anxiety rolling in his stomach. It was a little better now though, as Michelle continued to hold his wrist and started absently rubbing his thumb along it as she conversed with Ned. Peter focused on it and let it ground him. He took a breath and prayed the day would go by quickly.

 

After school, he and MJ hopped into Happy’s car and rode to the tower, carrying out a comfortable conversation as they went. Michelle could tell that Peter was still anxious so she again, lightly grabbed his wrist and rubbed it soothingly as they talked.

 

They got to the tower and made their way to the elevator together. MJ got off on some floor in Iota and Peter rode it up to the Avenger’s common floor and then quietly made his way to his room. Maybe a small nap would help. He led himself to his bed and fell onto it gracelessly. He pulled the covers up to his chins and tried to drift into sleep.

 

Peter woke up in a sweat. Another nightmare. Another hated dream of everyone he loves dying. He rose shakily to his feet. Maybe tinkering would make him feel better. He again dragged himself through the tower and went to one of the private labs on Delta. There, he wouldn’t be disturbed. He grabbed a piece of equipment, ignoring the shoot of worry that ran through him as he thought of all the possible things that could happen if he were to hurt himself alone. He could get a cut and start bleeding profusely. He could burn his hands on chemicals or with fire. And what if there was an intruder and he was all alone? And what if-

 

He took a deep breath and tried a breathing technique that Natasha taught him during one of their meditation sessions. It worked, for now. He set to work and started listing the chemical equations he would need for his prototype spiderweb.

 

Peter didn’t know how long he had been working. He couldn’t stop, though. He felt restless and yet he couldn’t sleep. Every time he closed his eyes, he would see their bodies. He kept working. He had asked FRIDAY not to disturb him, no matter what, so he worked in complete silence and desolate.

 

Peter heard the door behind him open quietly, and he reeled to face the invader in a state of panic. It was Josie. She smiled softly at him but did not move from the door. That was probably for the best. Peter was in a state of hypervigilance and anything that seemed too threatening could tip the scale and send him into a full-blown panic attack.

 

He stared at her for a moment, still wary of all the possibilities that could happen. Slowly, ever so slowly he relaxed his stance and put down the beaker of chemicals he was ready to throw. She took another step forward and stopped again. When he didn’t react, she took another step, and another until finally, he was at arms length.

 

He looked into her eyes for a second before looking away, a silent apology that Josie had grown accustomed to. She reached for him but he tensed.

 

“I need to finish this,” He stammered and took a step away from her. She nodded slowly “, Okay, Peter. You can finish it tomorrow.”

 

“No!” He cried. She looked at him empathetically “, I understand that you want to finish this and I understand that this is important to you, but I would like you to sleep. It is very late.”

 

He took another step back and ran into his work station. His body felt so heavy and he felt like he was about to faint. His knees gave out and he collapsed to the floor. Josie rushed to grab him and leaned him against her. Josie said something into her walkie and then started rubbing Peter’s back slowly. Peter’s hands were shaking intensely and he let out a small sob.

 

“I can’t feel my legs,” Peter whispered in horror. His breath quickened even more and Josie was afraid that he was going to pass out. The door opened again, and MJ walked in. She gave Josie a curt, but meaningful nod and Josie shifted Peter into MJ’s arms. Josie gave Peter’s face one more caress before walking out the door and returning to her other responsibilities.

 

“Peter, I want you to listen to me, okay? I have my hand on your back. I am rubbing circles on your back. Do you feel it?” She asked him. He cried lightly and nodded. He grasped her hand tightly and she squeezed back; he curled into himself and rested his forehead on her knee.

 

“Okay, Peter. It’s okay. You’re going to be okay. You’re doing good, we’ll get through this. It’s okay. Keep taking deep breaths.”

 

She spoke quietly, as to not overwhelm him, but enough where he could hear her. She continued to rub his back as he shook.

 

“MJ… I can’t feel my legs,” He whispered quietly as more tears started leaking from his eyes.

 

“Okay, it’s okay. Just keep taking deep breaths. I know it’s scary.”

 

She continued the mantra for minutes. Peter continued to shake and sob into her knee. It felt like an eternity before Peter quieted down somewhat.

 

“Where’s Mom?” Peter muttered quietly to her.

 

“Pepper’s at a conference, she won’t be back until tomorrow morning,” MJ informed him. He curled further in on himself. MJ grimaced at the thought. All of his parents were out state. Tony, on a mission; Pepper, at a conference; and May, visiting her uncle. It was just them until tomorrow morning. They would find a way to get through the night.

 

“Do you want to go back up to Alpha? Maybe a little sleep would be good for both of us.” She gently soothed as she started bringing them both to their feet.

 

“MJ, I need to finish,” Peter mumbled stubbornly. He let MJ pull him to his feet, but he swayed slightly and leaned on her for support.

 

“Peter what is best for you now is sleep. You need to rest. It’s 2 in the morning.”

 

Peter gulped and shook his head. “Please… just… let me finish it, MJ. I can’t… I’m having trouble…”

 

“Sleeping?” She guessed and he nodded in affirmation. The shaking had yet to go away and this conversation did not seem to be helping. MJ seemed to realize this, so she stayed silent as she led him out of the room. He stumbled and protested weakly, but other than that, MJ got no resistance. They headed to the elevator and went up to the Alpha section.

 

When they got there, MJ brought them to Peter’s room and they laid on the bed. Peter’s breath quickened again as his head hit the pillow and he looked around the room. It was like a never-ending cycle of panic. MJ reached out and put a hand on his upper arm, the other found his hand and squeezed it. His eyes shot to hers and she gave him a soft smile. Peter looked down at their hands and he lightly cleared his throat.

 

“I have nightmares,” he mumbled after a few minutes. She hummed in acknowledgment.

 

“Thank you for telling me,” She said quietly. “I… I appreciate that you trust me enough to let me know when you are in pain and need help.”

 

He nodded and then took a shaky breath. “Sometimes it just…” A small sob came from him. “It just hurts so much sometimes, and it's all just too much.”

 

She pulled him into her arms and he wept into her shoulder. He cried and cried for what seemed like hours into her shoulder. And for those hours, she whispered sweet reassurances to him that he would be okay.

 

From the moment she saw Peter at school, MJ knew he was going to have a hard day and night. She knew all of his parental figures were away, and she knew that he was going to need her. That’s why she stayed at the tower until the ungodly hours in the morning. That’s why, when she got a frantic call on her walkie at 1:30 in the morning that Peter needed help, she wasn’t surprised. She considered herself lucky enough that she knew how to handle panic attacks because Peter’s was one of the worst she had ever seen. Her sister got them all the time, and every person with a leadership role at SI goes through SOTAP, which is the Stress Overload Training and Protocol.

 

Michelle knew Peter had anxiety, but she also knew that he got nightmares long before he told her. It was as clear as day to her as was him being Spider-man (which she had confronted him about months ago and they had a long conversation about that). She was just shocked that he confessed to her. Usually, Peter would only open up completely to Tony, and sometimes May and Pepper. It warmed her heart that he trusted her.

 

They stayed together for the rest of the night. Both fell asleep after MJ promised Peter multiple times that he would be okay and she wouldn’t leave him alone. He was clearly embarrassed to make such a demand, but MJ knew he needed her and was glad to help him.

____________________________________________________________________________

 

Morning rolled around and the Avengers were tired. Tony didn’t bother calling Peter because he assumed (more like hoped) he was asleep. The Avengers landed the quinjet and dispersed to clean and refuel themselves. Tony was glad to be home.

 

Pepper met Tony at the elevator and gave him a deep kiss. He smiled and hugged her tightly. “Hey Pep, how was the conference? What was it for again? The-?”

 

“National CEO Conference.” She laughed gingerly. “God, it was so boring! I hope I never have to go to one of those again.”

 

They both laughed together and naturally gravitated towards their son’s room. “Do you think he was okay?” Tony asked Pepper quietly.

 

“If he is anything like his father, he would be fine.” She said and added a proud smile at the end.

 

“And if he wasn't,” She continued as she reached the door. “MJ would be there for him.”

 

She quietly pushed open the door and the couple smiled at the sight that greeted them. The two teens were curled into each other. Peter was nestled between MJ’s arms, and she was wrapped around him, one hand in his hair and the other on his back. MJ’s nose was pressed against Peter’s forehead and they breathed in sync. It was a peaceful sight.

 

“We should leave them be,” Pepper whispered to Tony as she nudged him away.

 

“FRIDAY, take a picture and send it to the file. You know the one.” Tony said to his AI.

 

“Right away, Boss.”

 

Tony grabbed Pepper’s hand and led them away from the room, leaving the future of SI sleeping peacefully alone.