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Home Again

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Steve rushes to open the door for her. “Steve, I can do it myself.” MJ laughs shakily, but she still accepts his outstretched hand, allowing him to help her slowly emerge from the car.

“Mom!!!” Frankie sprints out the front door, rushing to give her a hug, before suddenly releasing MJ, as if conscious that that was more emotion than they were accustomed to sharing. “I mean. Hi Mom. I’m glad you’re back.”

“I’m glad too.” She says, smiling at Frankie. She takes Steve’s arm, and they slowly walk into the house.

“We tried to keep it as clean as you usually have it.” Frankie says, as they step in. MJ laughs. “We know it’s not the usual... but...”

“Tried is the operative word. It’s okay, gives me something to do.” She chuckles.

Nick comes in, carrying her suitcases and shutting the door behind them. She stops in the entryway, taking a moment to breathe in the smell of home. Her family stares at her expectantly.

“Go run off and do your own thing, I can manage!” She urges. She really just needs a moment to herself, back in her own home.

At their father’s urging, the kids disappear, Frankie leaving the house and Nick to his room. Steve lingers.

“You too.” She says.

“You sure?”

“Yeah, I just need a moment alone.”

Steve nods, squeezing her hand and kissing her cheek softly. She doesn’t duck out of the way. “Just call if you need anything, okay?”

She heads into the kitchen slowly, using the wall for support. It’s clean, seems as though it’d been untouched, save for a few dishes in the sink. Pulling on the pink rubber gloves next to the sink, she begins washing them. It’s meditative for her, a routine she kind of enjoys, a moment for her to think and take stock of what’s happening.

She takes a breath, thinking through her plans for the next weeks. Seeing people seems... difficult and as though it would invite more question and speculation than what she’s ready for, so perhaps she’ll avoid SoulCycle for now. Just her usual park runs. If she even felt up to running. The thought of leaving the house seems daunting, but she also knows she’ll go stir crazy if she doesn’t get at least some fresh air every day.

Christmas was, well, skipped over. The tree was still up, way past the time she normally had it up for. Of course they didn’t know how she normally got rid of it. She chuckles to herself. Mental note to get it out of the house and put the furniture back where it usually is. Also to finally give Frankie and Nick the gifts she’d had hidden away in the closet. She’s certain Steve never did as the family’s concerns had been elsewhere...

Nick, what to do with Nick. This situation was really taking a toll on him. Taking a glove off, she grabs the notepad she leaves by the sink and scribbles down a note to find a therapist. For him... and for her and Steve. And for her on her own... she has some things to think about with regards to Nick and this situation in particular... MJ shakes her head, as if to stop herself from going there - she will cross that bridge when she’s ready, and that time is not now. She methodically moves on to the next item on her mental agenda.

Frankie... well. She puts the glove back on and goes back to washing the dishes with a vengeance. She doesn’t even know where to BEGIN with what to do with her. She messed up, for sure.

She pauses, inhaling sharply, as her back suddenly starts stinging, lingering pain from that stupid accident. She turns the water off and leans heavily against the sink, breathing in deeply and slowly to try and ease the pain. It only intensifies... and without missing a beat, it comes back. The memories always came and went, often popping up when it was particularly inconvenient or stressful for her, but the lingering pain from the surgeries, the withdrawal she was going through - it all felt eerily similar to... that. Images of college, what happened in college, what she had yet to tell her kids. She takes another shuddering breath, taking off the gloves, her hands twitching again.

She starts to shake, her panic rising and overtaking her body. “No.” She tells herself firmly. “Stop it.” It used to work like that sometimes. That worked from time to time when she was in college.

It wasn’t happening now, though - she should have known; that method had proved to be ineffective since her accident, no matter how hard she tried. The sheer number of panic and anxiety attacks she’d hidden from her family would have shocked and scared them off, probably. Too late to run to the bathroom now, her legs were too unsteady. She starts to shake uncontrollably, and she sinks to the tiled kitchen floor, curling up. Her shallow breathing starts to make her dizzy, and she closes her eyes, just wanting the room to stop spinning. She’s too panicked to even cry, she merely huddles in a silent, shaking heap on the kitchen floor, trying to keep her mind as empty as possible, trying to steady her ragged breathing.

“Mom?! Are you okay?!”

She is too shaken to even look up at Frankie. Her panic and anxiety have taken control of her mind and body, her muscles seem to have frozen her to the ground, and even if she wanted to she couldn’t make a sound. She vaguely feels Frankie try to still her movements, before disappearing, leaving her alone again.

She suddenly feels Steve’s strong arms wrap around her, shifting her so he’s keeping her head elevated, cradling her gently; but she still flinches out of developed instinct. “MJ, can you hear me? We’re right here. C’mon... Mary Jane...-“ His voice seems so distant and far, but slowly she begins to crawl back to the present. His hand rubs her back in gentle, calming circles as her anxiety attack begins to pass. The dizzying haze starts to fade, and she can feel her body start to relax. Only then does she realize she had gripped her fists so tightly that her nails dug into her palms, leaving angry red marks. Her eyes are bloodshot and glassy. She whimpers as Steve lifts her off the ground so that she’s sitting against the kitchen cabinets, a protective arm holding her.

“It’s gonna be hard.” He whispers. “But I’m here for you, okay? We all are.” She nods, her shallow, ragged breathing and twitching slowing down. “I’ll take you upstairs to lie down.” She sees Frankie, concerned, out of the corner of her eye, but is too tired to even try and comfort her.

MJ holds onto him tightly as he carries her up the stairs to their bedroom. He lays her on the bed, and she curls up into a fetal position, pulling the covers around her shoulders. He tucks the blankets more securely around her, and is about to leave when-

“Steve?” She finally manages to say, barely audible.

“Yes?”

“Can you... can you stay?” She asks, not really looking at him, but reaching for his hand.

He takes it, squeezing it. “Of course.” He comes back to their bed, settling in on his side, picking up a book on the bedside table. She turns and curls towards him, nestling herself against his arm. She shivers, pressing herself against his body warmth. He rubs her back, soothing her, and within minutes she is asleep.

Steve puts his book down, observing his slumbering wife - her face seems to be painted in a permanent state of distress ever since the overdose, but maybe even before then? The doctor at the hospital and the therapist at the center had asked several times if he remembered anything off, but truthfully, he could not pinpoint when it started, or when exactly he noticed that she was very distressed. The erratic behavior was there, for sure, but he only remembers fights with her. He remembers one time seeing her emerge from the bathroom, unnaturally fresh-faced and bright even for her, and asking if anything was wrong. She almost bit his head off, and they fought until she had to go on one of her walks- so he elected not to ask anymore. He rubs his face with free hand, trying to rack his brain and remember more- but all he could remember was work, work, and more work. He continues to rub gentle circles on her back, something his mom used to do when he was feeling upset that seemed to be working wonders for MJ. He’s still getting used to seeing this... extraordinarily human and rather fragile side of her, and while he loves her even more for it, it also terrifies him.

She was definitely asleep, but seemed to be a little restless, he observes. Well, she was restless even when awake. The way her hands fidget uneasily with whatever is close to her, the way she shivers a little bit, even if she’s not hot or cold, the way she can’t seem to even really look at Nick- Steve stops himself there. That was a conversation they all needed to have at some point, but MJ was far from ready.

She starts twitching and writhing in her sleep, and he simply stares at her in shock. He was a deep sleeper, and she always went to sleep after him and woke up before he did, so he never saw her nightmares. “Please stop.” She whispers quietly, still asleep. She shakes and shivers, whimpering in pain, whispering “please stop” over and over. Steve realizes that he had stopped rubbing her back. He quickly resumes, and she seems to calm down, her features relaxing back into something somewhat neutral, the whimpering and whispering stopping. He breathes a sign of relief, before rubbing his face again. It was going to be difficult.