“May and Mr. Stark want to put me in therapy,” Peter tells her shyly a few weeks after his diagnosis.
They’re sitting at the kitchen table drinking their hot chocolate. Peter made the drinks, and he never heats up the water enough; he also screwed up the proportions so hers mostly tastes like water.
Natasha doesn’t care. She talked him out of adding miscellaneous types of candy, so she’s counting it as a win.
“Oh?” Natasha says. Her eyes find the clock on the stove. 4:14 AM.
“Yeah,” Peter says. He bites his lower lip and stirs his hot chocolate slowly with a spoon. “It’s stupid.”
Natasha raises an eyebrow. “Why do you think so?”
“I don’t know,” Peter says, and there’s a hint of indignation in his voice. “There’s nothing wrong with me, alright?”
“I never said there was,” Natasha says, but her eyes flick back to the clock.
Peter’s hands clench around his hot chocolate. “That’s not fair,” he says. “You’re up, too. When you don't sleep for days everyone thinks it's badass, but when I do it it's this huge problem.”
Natasha tilts her head to one side. Her eyes drift down to meet his, and she frowns slightly.
“Peter, none of us want you to turn out like us,” Natasha says finally. “Please. Don’t try to turn me into a role model.”
“That’s bullsh—,” Peter breaks off, catching sight of her raised eyebrows. “That’s ridiculous, Nat. You’re . . . you’re incredible.”
His eyes are so wide. Natasha realizes with a pang that she’ll do whatever it takes to make sure they stay that way.
“You should go to therapy, Peter,” Natasha says. “You can’t exactly be prescribed melatonin; you’d metabolize it before it even started to kick in. And you can’t go through your life sleeping ten hours a week.”
“Whose side are you on?” Peter demands.
Natasha gives him a dry smile.
“Therapy won’t help,” he says sullenly.
“Maybe. But it might.”
“No, it won’t,” Peter insists. He looks at her, his eyes narrowing. “Ben and May tried to make me talk to a few cheap counselors after . . . when I was nine. It was a waste of time and money. I don’t want to do that again.”
Natasha takes a sip of hot chocolate and thinks for a minute. She knows that, of course; it’s all in his medical file. It wasn’t easy to get her hands on; it required a great deal of hacking and a few favors from an old friend at Kaiser.
Getting it was part of the same routine background check. It’s nothing personal. She knows too much about everyone.
“You’re older now,” Natasha says, wrapping her hands around her mug. “You never know, Peter.”
“I’ll make you a deal,” Peter replies. “I’ll go to therapy if you do.”
He smiles at her, triumphant. He’s sure he’s backed her into a corner now, sure he’s got her on his side. Because she’s the Black fucking Widow, and there’s no way in hell she’d ever go to therapy.
“Okay,” Natasha says, and the look on his face makes everything worth it. “Deal.”
Natasha goes to therapy once, doesn’t say a single word, and leaves after fifteen minutes. But that’s okay, because she technically kept her promise to Peter and he has no way of finding out.
She picks him up from school every other Tuesday and drives him to the private office in Manhattan. She knows that there’s no shortage of adults who’d be willing to take him, but it’s her way of making sure that he goes every time. After he finishes, she takes him back up to the compound to work in the labs with Tony.
“How was it?” Natasha asks him after every session. He always tries to give her a dirty look, but he’s crap at being intimidating.
The change doesn’t happen all at once.
It starts small. Natasha starts being the first one in the kitchen, with Peter not making an appearance until three or four. He still comes, every night, but he’s rubbing the sleep out of his eyes instead of stumbling around in a sleep-deprived fever.
Then, after a few months, there’s a night when she doesn’t see him at all. She waits up until five-thirty before she crawls into bed and goes back to sleep. When she wakes up, someone’s left waffles with gummy bears and m&ms on her bedside table.
“I don’t think I’ll ever be completely better,” Peter tells her quietly.
It’s 3:38 AM. She wasn’t expecting to see him when she went for her late night cup of hot chocolate, but he was there, chemistry textbook out in front of him, waiting for her to show up.
Natasha makes them both hot chocolate and sits down across from him. His eyes are fixed firmly on the textbook in front of him, and he won’t look at her.
“That’s okay,” Natasha tells him.
“It’s not,” Peter says, and his voice is tight. “Nat, I’ve been seeing a goddamn therapist two times a month for three months. This isn’t supposed to still be happening. There are still nights when . . .”
Natasha waits for him to finish his sentence, but he never does. He looks up at her with his huge brown eyes, full of desperation and fear.
“I’m still so tired,” he says dully. “Like, all the time. I don’t think that’s ever going to go away.”
Natasha has no idea what to tell him. Her throat feels tight too, and for the first time she’s the one who can’t look at him.
She doesn’t see him often at night anymore. He’s gotten better at sleeping. There are still nights when she finds him slumped over the kitchen table in the early morning, but for the most part he stays in bed, even when he can’t sleep. That’s what he tells her, anyway.
But she still sees him. She picks him up from school sometimes, even though he’s stopped going to therapy. Natasha knows Tony and May are disappointed; they wanted him to keep going.
There’s a lot of things that they still have to deal with. Even when he gets to sleep, he still has nightmares. She knows because Tony gave her access to his vitals, monitored by the Starkwatch on his left wrist. He still hasn’t told the team that he’s Spiderman, but that’s okay. Natasha’s pretty sure the they know, even if they haven’t outright admitted it.
“Hey,” says Clint one night, his tone extremely casual. “Pete, one of my friends has a fantastic recipe for cookies that seems exactly like something you’d make. They’ve got gummy bears and skittles and six cups of sugar. He even has a Youtube channel where he shows you how to bake them.”
Peter doesn’t stop coughing for three minutes. His face is exactly the same shade of red as the Netfix logo on his tee-shirt.
(The video disappears from Spiderman’s Youtube channel the next day. It doesn’t matter, bootlegged copies are just one Google search away. After all, once something gets put on the internet, it never comes down.)
Sam says he was completely joking when he suggested a “family movie night” but somehow they all end up watching Star Wars in the compound’s home theater anyway.
Natasha looks around the room. Wanda and Vision are determinedly six feet apart on the couch; their on-again off-again relationship is currently on hiatus. Sam is pointing out all the errors in the film to a perplexed Steve. Thor and Bruce are gone again, but they promised to swing by for a visit in a few weeks. Clint is visiting his family, but he’s bringing his kids by soon to meet everyone.
Peter is slumped against Tony’s shoulder, fast asleep and silhouetted by the light of the screen. The room is too dark for anyone to see Natasha’s smirk.
“You never took the A-team challenge,” Peter pouts the next morning.
He’s making his signature waffles, and the kitchen reeks of burned Skittles. Everyone else has hastily made their way into the living room, but Natasha stays with him, watching carefully to make sure he doesn’t set anything on fire.
“What’s the—,” Natasha breaks off. “Oh. Sorry.”
“If you actually managed your own Instagram, you’d know that people are still begging you to take it,” Peter tells her.
“Not really my thing,” Natasha tells him apologetically, her hand snaking out to steal some skittles from the bag. Peter swats her hand away.
“You know, if you want good PR, you have to humanize yourself to the general public,” he tells her reproachfully. “Everyone who knows you loves you, but everyone who doesn’t is just terrified of you.”
“No!” Peter tells her. “Not good!”
“Fine,” Natasha says, pulling out her phone. “Put on the mask.”
Peter’s face lights up. “You’re doing the challenge?”
“No,” says Natasha. “But I’ll take a picture with you. Final offer.”
The picture is posted on her Instagram account twenty minutes later. It’s a selfie, with Natasha smiling dangerously at the camera. Peter stands behind her, his arms wrapped around her and his cheek pressed into hers.
Peter insists she caption it Spiderfam.
“It’s catchy,” he tells her.
“It’s ridiculous,” she responds.
It also gets more likes than any other photo she’s ever posted.
This fucking kid.