Peter swallowed the pill that was forced into his hand.
“It’s anxiety, PTSD…Mrs. Parker, your nephew is struggling. He needs help.”
The handful had come and had been swallowed dry and Peter had woken up with needles in his arms, and Doctor Strange’s hands on his face. Peter had vomited for two days straight. Peter had almost drowned in it, in what had opened its arms to him, in a face that lost all light. Peter had – he had – he had…Stopped existing, for just a moment. His own doing. But Doctor Strange had put a stop to it, had rescued him. Only to trade him off to a new cell full of different types of monsters. Memories of weekends, of having his own room, of being his own person. Of living, and living, and being happy. Peter remembered it…and then remembered nothing.
“You know,” His psychiatrist, the one that came to the Compound (his prison, because his aunt couldn’t be home all the time…the Avengers felt this weird obligation – ), “Yesterday you took it, no problem, what was different about today?”
Peter bit the inside of his lip. The difference…Was in the folds of the sky, the colors, and the way things looked…generally speaking. The difference was in something else entirely, and Peter gripped the arm rests below his fingers, the fabric threatened to give way under his hands, they were alone in the room. She scared him, because sometimes she told Aunt May stuff. He didn’t know what stuff, but…just stuff. Things to keep an eye on. Barnes and Wilson had been following him, after that one Thursday, the bad one, right after he had been allowed to get out of bed. When the doctors had decided his body was recovered enough from the pills, Aunt May’s pills, that he had taken.
God, she had cried.
She had said she was sorry.
Peter averted his eyes.
“It’s sunny today,” Peter was bouncing his leg, he wouldn’t be when the meds kicked in, “It makes things dull, and tired, and I wanted – I just wanted today to be sunny.”
Doctor Purple (it wasn’t really purple, Peter called her that, it was Puddle, but Purple sounded better) sighed.
“You can’t skip a day, you know that with these meds comes a routine and – “
“I know,” Peter interrupted, “It’s all…pharmaceutical. Science, I like chemistry. If you guys would let me go back to school, maybe I could actually enjoy it again, you know? That homebound teacher doesn’t know anything, she doesn’t know shit – “
Doctor Purple interrupted, “Peter.”
“Crap,” He corrected, “Comment still stands. She doesn’t know how to do chemistry, and that was my science for this year. I might not get to graduate on time…Because I was in the hospital for so long. No one trusts me. Aunt May won’t let me leave the Compound because of your suggestions.”
Doctor Purple raised an eyebrow…
“Do you think our suggestions are wrong?”
Peter ground his teeth.
She continued, “Do you think what you did…Do you think your aunt shouldn’t be worried about you?”
“Don’t do that,” Peter croaked, “That was three months ago. We had – we had only been back home a week…And there was the funeral, and I was dying. I was dying, you don’t understand what he was. You don’t…”
His voice broke off. The poetics of it…Peter died in his arms, and was it supposed to come back? Wasn’t it…well, the older died first. But this wasn’t fair. Peter looked away, he would have – no that thought was wrong, it was what led him there in the first place. But that first week had been so bad. And the sleeping pills had been right there. He hadn’t been thinking, he knew now it had been stupid. It had been an impulsive mistake that had cost him his freedom and his aunt’s peace of mind. Now they were all drowning in this never-ending sea of recovery. Recovery. Recovery. That was all he heard anymore. He could have gagged on it. Vomited it up. Doctor Strange having them pump his stomach, just like that, Doctor Strange making him vomit into the basin thing, plastic still smelled like death to him.
Peter wondered still, how he had known.
Doctor Purple said, “I do understand. And I understand that you are still in need of a stress-free environment and being here…Upstate at the Compound with access to these facilities is better for you. There’s fresh air, there’s a modified school schedule, there’re the dogs Miss Potts has the shelter bring by for you every once in a while.”
“Oh therapy dogs make it all better,” Peter whispered, blinking.
“Would you prefer Miss Potts not do that? Or maybe not send her weekly updates on herself and Morgan?”
Peter inhaled, “Why’re you putting words in my mouth? I love them…And I like my updates. Morgan…you know, she already knows her time tables and she’s only five? She’s…she’s awesome, and I…But you know if I could actually leave to go visit, that’d be better. But I can’t leave without permission, and you’ve got Mister Barnes following me around. That’s not his job, Doctor Purple. His job is to be a hero, not a babysitter.”
“He doesn’t seem to mind,” She said, “He wants to help.”
“Only because they feel obligated,” Peter insisted, “Only because Mister Stark gave a shit about me. Because – because he cared about me, and I cared about him and…I’m not Morgan, Doctor Purple, I didn’t lose a father. They don’t have to take care of me.”
She tilted her head, “Are you sure? Are you sure you didn’t lose a father?”
He had lost Richard. Ben. Tony.
The gap widened, and Peter shut his eyes. He murmured, “I just wanna go home. To Queens.”
This place…it was a monument to what once was. Peter was locked inside, to be Tony’s relic that had to be preserved, and for what? Peter didn’t want to be dead anymore, it had only been for a few moments, and he had screwed up and now he would never be able to escape the adults in his life that wanted to protect him from his own hand. Peter was grounded within that…that he was better and deserved to get to go home. He knew he had scared them, and it had been wrong. Doctor Strange had opened the door, had hit a limp body on the bathroom floor, he had –
“You will, Peter.”
That was how they ended for the day.
Every day was the same. Thirty minutes, every day.
Peter walked down the corridors afterward, emerging above the glass windows that overlooked the courtyard and the grassy area outside. He saw figures sparring on the field, and he didn’t have to look twice to recognize Bucky Barnes and Sam Wilson throwing punches at one another. Peter leaned against the railing, longing to ask to join, but he knew the answer. Peter could use the gym. Could run on the treadmill, lift weights. But throwing punches was not allowed. He didn’t know why. He didn’t ask anymore. They had said no, and it never budged. Peter cried within it.
He tilted his head as Bucky managed to knock Sam’s feet out from under him and Sam flipped him off in response.
Peter felt his wrists for webshooters that hadn’t been there since…well…since they had –
But they hadn’t won.
Not really, anyway. Not in the way Peter had wanted or needed.
The moment swallowed him whole – the bathroom, the bright lights, his tear stained face, a week of misery, of a burial, of drowning, the pills, they’re right there, be brave Peter, they’re right there, they’re right there, they’re right there, be brave – May Parker’s name and Peter, the chalky texture, the floor, and the rug, and the smell of May’s shampoo forever drowning in that and that and that, and then nothing at all – but the tube and vomiting, and Doctor Strange, and Doctor Banner who didn’t look like himself anymore…A world of nothing and everything all at once and –
“Peter, I know it hurts, but you gotta breathe.”
He flinched from the memory. From war. From being in the soul stone. From five years lost. Turning to ash, and Mister Stark’s arms. From winning, but not really winning. He flinched back from all of it and turned from the window where they were sparring. Doctor Strange had known, and this obligation they all had…it was something that should have been reserved for Morgan. Not for him. Peter grabbed at his collar, he tugged it downward, he breathed inward. He remembered a tube in his throat, and confusion.
Friday’s voice made him nearly jump out of his skin. He looked up at the ceiling and questioned sharply, before shutting his eyes and rubbing them, “Y-yeah?”
“You aunt is here, in the lobby. She has lunch for you.”
Peter’s chest fluttered with newfound excitement. Aunt May came almost every day, but she still worked. Still had to pay rent, despite a fund that Mister Stark had apparently set up for Peter…in the case of his death, but she refused to touch it, not until Peter was eighteen. It was meant to pay for school, but there was so much in there. Too much. Peter sometimes felt sick at the very thought of it. He rushed down the hall and down the stairs towards the entrance with the giant glass doors. Sure enough, there she was, her hair clipped back and still wearing scrubs from work. She turned at the sound of his feet, and he smiled at her, immediately wrapping his arms around her neck. She came when she could, but he missed seeing her all the time. He missed being home with her, having movie nights.
But she believed this was the safest place for him…even though he was constantly trying to reassure her he could come home.
Every time she visited, he felt new hope that maybe she would change her mind. That she would want him back.
“Hey baby,” She said over his shoulder, before she pulled away and placed a hand on the side of his face, patting it. She held up the bag in her hand and continued, “I’ve got you Delmar’s.”
“Always,” She grinned, handing the bag over. Peter took it gratefully, immediately moving towards the small seating area to the side. She followed behind him and Peter kneeled beside the coffee table before sitting on his bottom and dumping the contents of the bag out onto it. He unwrapped the paper and just before he could take his first bite she questioned him gently, “So, how’d it go with Doctor Puddle?”
“Purple,” Peter corrected, and she rolled her eyes because she thought the nickname was disrespectful, “And it was…as usual.”
“As usual,” She echoed, “Is that good or bad?”
Peter raised an eyebrow and she continued, “I can never tell, Pete.”
He didn’t reply immediately. Instead he picked some sesame seeds off the top of his bun. He chewed the inside of his mouth, mind flitting back to the glass window, the sparring, the memories – we won, we won, we won – God he had been so naïve. So…just stupid. It was stupid. Peter tilted his head downward, he wracked his brain for it, for what he was looking for. He wasn’t sick anymore, but sometimes when he opened his mouth he felt like Aunt May still thought he was. He shivered a bit. Peter didn’t know how to speak and not walk on glass.
Peter didn’t know how to talk to her anymore, because she analyzed everything he said.
“It’s good,” He lied, smiling.
She hummed, grabbing a chip from his bag after opening them. Peter swallowed thickly and awkwardly tapped his finger on the table, “So good, in fact I…well, I wanna come home.”
Aunt May paused in her bite. She lowered the chip from her mouth and stared at Peter a long moment, taking in his face. He felt like a bug, a lot now. Under a microscope. Being watched and watched and watch. Peter cleared his throat, almost awkwardly and went on, “I think I can now, you know? Because, things are getting better. The past few months, I’ve been doing good, Aunt May. I’ve done everything you guys have told me to do. I listen.”
There was a breath, “Peter, that doesn’t – honey, doing everything you’re told, going through the motions, that doesn’t mean you’re better.”
“But – “ Peter felt lost. He always felt so lost, when trying to explain this, “I take my medicine, I-I go to my sessions with Doctor Purple. I do what you guys want, I get my school work finished. I should get to come home now.”
She leaned forward and took his arm, “This is a process. A process you and I are going to get through, with help. But a part of the process is being here, out of the city, getting to have access to the resources Pepper is giving to us and the other Avengers.”
“They’re only giving me the time of day because of Mister Stark,” Peter insisted, pulling away from her to scoot a bit from the coffee table, his back hitting the corner of the chair behind him as he crossed his arms over his chest petulantly, “They feel like they have to, because – because whatever. They’re not interested in being my friends. They…they’re wasting their time, like I told Doctor Purple, I’m not Morgan.”
Aunt May frowned, “No, you’re not Morgan. But you’re Peter and you meant something to Tony. Which means you mean something to his friends. It’s not obligation. It’s love, and it…it can transcend through people.”
“You don’t love by association,” Peter mumbled under his breath.
She sighed again, this time looking away, she then pointed to the sandwich, “C’mon. Eat something.”
Peter scooted back towards the food. She took another chip, and a pause flitted between them and he knew something was on the tip of her tongue. He expected her to continue the conversation, to argue more, but instead what she said seemingly formed out of the blue without much of a warning, just as his food filled his mouth and he started to chew.
“Stephen is coming by.”
Peter almost choked.
She nodded, and he went on, voice cracking, “Why?”
“Because like the others, he cares about you,” Aunt May said, “And he wants to see you. So he’s going to come visit. It’ll be good for you to see him.”
Peter gulped the bread down. His mind twisted. His collar felt too tight again on his throat, he felt too smothered behind it. He remembered Doctor Strange being there when he came to the waking world, hour after hour, so vague and lost and Peter had been gasping…Barely breathing…a tube and throwing up, and it was disgusting, but Aunt May had been crying a lot. Doctor Strange had shouldered a lot of it. It was weird, because Peter remembered. Remembered him, in that place, his magic glowing. Giving Peter something to look at. A yellow light.
“I’ve fought these inner wars too.”
Peter stared, where he was lying against the pillow. He hadn’t spoken since waking up. Since processing what he had done. Since Aunt May had asked over and over again ‘why, why, why?’
“They’re hardships, Peter.”
The wrist band was itchy. It had his name. An alarm that would sound if he left the room. He knew, he had tried.
Peter’s throat finally opened. He finally found words, “I wanna go home.”
“You will,” Doctor Strange replied, “But you’ve got to get better first.”
Peter’s face contorted, “I can’t. I can’t get better from this, he’s – “
His teeth met his lips and he bit down and down and down, chewing the tears away. Swallowing them, it tasted like copper. Doctor Strange had never been tender, he had seemed arrogant. But he looked at Peter, like a broken little object. Peter’s mind wracked for an explanation. Something to fight off the disease.
“I was so stupid,” Peter laughed bitterly at himself, “We won…we won…I was so…”
Peter’s chest quaked, he glared though at his own emotions.
“You don’t need to feel ashamed,” Doctor Strange said.
The boy tilted his head.
“I’m not,” Peter answered, “I’m just…empty.”
Just like the bottle.