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on a scale from 1 to 10

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my head is pounding.

i'm trying to scream but no words are coming out. i can't think, breathe, move. 

do i exist?

i don't think i do.

i'm simply dust, falling apart, spreading far to thin, to the point where i'm nothing.

and then i wake up, and i feel the same.

except now i can see, and goddamit, the lights are off no matter how many times i tell FRIDAY to keep them on, and it's too cold to move from my little cocoon of fuzzy blankets and flannel pajama pants and the white stuffed bunny i still sleep with even though i know it makes me childish. except i have to. i have to leave, because if i don't this freezing, pitch-black room will swallow me up and make it so i don't exist. but wouldn't it be better that way?

and before i know it up i'm walking to the door of my room, and i'm grabbing the nearest sweatshirt, and i realize that thank god, it's three in the morning, nobody will be awake.

except the moment i step into the kitchen, nat is sitting at the counter, sipping from her bright red cup of coffee, intently looking at blueprints. 

i try to slip out discreetly, but natasha catches me out o the corner of her eye and turns fully around in her seat, her oversized black t-shirt and red athletic shorts creating a sisterly sort of vibe.

"peter?" she said gently, and i awkwardly shuffled out from my half behind the corner hiding position.

natasha waved her hand gently to beckon me over, and i walked over, trying my best not to trip over any chair legs. i stopped a little in front of their chairs, and nat sighed gently, pity clear in her eyes.

she looked at my pale skin, the circles beneath my eyes, the purple, yellow, and green patches over my easily bruised skin, and my bony wrists from a reluctance to eat. she looked at the way i was shaking under what i could only guess was them judging me and the anxiety in my eyes, and all she could do was sigh. she opened her arms gently and i walked into them, letting her hug me but not hugging back.

it felt nice, to have this much pressure surrounding me, and for the first time in a while, i felt grounded. she grabbed my hand, leading me back to my room, and when she saw the fear in my eyes from the sight of the dark room, she mumbled a quick command to FRIDAY, causing little warm lanterns to turn on in two corners, lighting the room up a little.

she wordlessly gestured for me to crawl into my bed, which i did. fuck. i remembered my multiple prescription bottles sitting on the desk closest to her, but it was too late- she had already seen them. she looked over them, a defeated look in her eyes.

"do any of them know?" she asked, and i laughed humorlessly.

"about which bit? the depression, the anxiety, the anorexia, the adhd, the fucking anti-psychotics i take for my manic episodes? there's too much to fucking count, natasha." i immediately regretted the harsh tone of voice i took with her, seeing how it just broke her down more.

"any of it," she said, crawling into bed with me. i shook my head and she just wrapped her arms around me in a hug. 

her strong arms felt good yet again, grounding me, reminding me that i was real. 

"why?" 

"i-" why was this simple question so hard to answer? it was like my mouth was sewn shut, determined not to let me voice my fears, too scared that it'll just be another burden for the team to carry. how was i supposed to tell her that i didn't want them knowing because that was the reason i was here, because may had kicked me out when she had been told. how was i supposed to tell her about days spent picking up after my grief-ridden aunt who drank away all of her pain? 

"what if they don't like me anymore?" i whispered, and she squeezed me tighter.

"never gonna happen peter... we love you," she answered, and through all the pain, through that blank whole in my chest, i felt a little ball of warmth grow. sure, there was no way in hell her reassuring me that they did love me no matter what was going to make all my problems go away, but it made me feel okay, for the moment.

"ya know, when i feel bad, people ask me how i feel on a scale of one to ten. i don't have to describe how i feel, but people know whether to stay the fuck away or not," nat said with a light laugh. "do you want me to ask you that every day? we don't have to tell the others, but i can always tell them how your mood is so they don't bother you."

i nodded, and she smiled lightly. "well, how do you feel now, on a scale of 1 to 10?" 

"four," i said shortly, and she sighed sadly. 

"do you want me to stay here?" she asked, and i nodded. 

maybe tomorrow i'll feel better.