Me, You, and Peter, Too

Chapter 2

Steve had absolutely no experience with toddlers, of course – he'd taken photographs with them back in his war bond days, but that was the absolute extent of it – but he immediately clicked with Peter. So much so, in fact, that, when they arrived at the hospital, the staff assumed he was the boy's father.

The worst (or possibly best – he was still figuring it out) part about that was that it didn't, actually, sound like the worst thing that could have happened to him. Peter was adorable.

By the time they'd finished checking the boy over (and they'd had to promise him that Steve was just out in the hall to get him to stop crying), Steve had handed the medical tag in to the nurses' desk, and they'd pulled up his medical file. His primary guardians, according to said file, were a Ben and May Parker, and if they were identified as the fatalities, Peter was most probably – as Steve had suspected – now an orphan.

“What will happen to him?” he asked, frowning.

“He'll stay here until he's properly recovered,” the nurse replied kindly, “but we'll have to call social services in the morning so they can start filing a report while he gets better. He'll probably be released into their care within a couple of days, as long as there are no complications.”

“So he'll go into care?” he sighed, really not liking the sound of that. No kid deserved to grow up in an orphanage.

“If they can't find another relative, or someone to foster him straight away, I'm afraid so,” the nurse nodded. “It's so sad, him losing his family at such a young age.”

“Yeah,” Steve agreed softly, then grinned when he spotted a further two far more harried looking nurses pushing a bed and fluids pole down the corridor. Little Peter was propped up against some big, fluffy pillows, and looked far too pleased with himself for a kid that had a tube up his nose and in his arm. At least he was clean now.

“Steeb!” the little boy called, throwing his arms up excitedly as he spotted him. “Steeb, look!”

He showed him the bandage around his arm that was covering where the IV was attached at his wrist, and someone – another nurse, probably – had stuck a band-aid with little spiders on it to keep everything in place.

“That's great, buddy,” he replied, nodding gratefully at the nurse he had been talking to, then following the boy into a single room dutifully.

“You know, if you're not family, you really shouldn't be in here,” one of the nurses told him, but he just shot her his best, most earnest Captain America smile, and she sighed, then waved him over to a visitors chair. “Little guy must be special, huh, if he's got Captain America hovering over him?”

Steve frowned, because he'd done his fair share of hospital visits to cheer up the kids, but it did feel different this time. Kids loved him, sure, but he'd never really met one who needed him like Peter did. More than that, though, he found he was already just as attached, as well, and he knew it was a bad idea, but he really couldn't bring himself to leave the little boy by himself. He remembered when he had been a kid, sat, alone and suffering, in a hospital bed while his parents were out at work. That had been bad enough, and he knew they were still alive. What must Peter be going through? Did the little guy even understand what had happened to him? He was barely past being a baby, after all.

“Well, if you're staying, don't rile him up. What he really needs, right now, is sleep,” the nurse continued, checking Peter's IV line one last time, before turning to follow her associate out. “If I come back and find him bouncing off the walls, you're out, Mister.”

“If that happened, I think you'd probably want to keep me around to catch him,” Steve replied, grinning. “I've got fast reflexes.”

The nurse, for some reason, seemed mightily unimpressed with his sense of humour, and just rolled her eyes as she left the room. Shrugging to himself, he pulled his chair closer to the bed and got settled in.

“How're you doing, little man, huh?” he asked softly, leaning forwards to brush Peter's bangs out of his face. “Today must have been pretty scary, right?”

“Uh-huh,” Peter replied, yawning as he fiddled with the edge of his blanket. Then, frowning, he continued, “Unca Ben 'n Aunt May wun' wake up. We wuz nappin' 'n dere wuz a noise, but dey din' wake up. Are dey waked up now, Steeb?”

Logically, Steve knew the boy would ask about his family eventually, but he thought he would have more time to come up with an answer for him. He knew he should be stamping out those thoughts of the long term, too, but he really couldn't bring himself to when Peter was sat right in front of him, asking where his aunt and uncle were. What was he supposed to tell him? He didn't know what the little boy understood of death, after all.

“They, uh,” he began, then sighed – deciding to tell him the truth. “They didn't wake up, no. They're in heaven now, Peter. Do you understand?”

“Like Mama 'n Dada,” Peter replied, but he looked more frustrated than upset. “Who's gun' make pee bee 'n jay now?”

That was... such a childish answer that Steve couldn't help but laugh. What had he been thinking? Of course Peter didn't understand the true gravity of everything that had happened to him today, or how it would affect his future. He was just interested in being fed and loved.

“I don't know, buddy,” he sighed. “Why don't you take a nap, and I'll come back with one tomorrow?”

He winced, waiting for the little boy to start crying again at the thought of being left alone, but to his surprise, he just sighed and laid back again his pillows.

“Story?”

“Uh...” Steve paused, momentarily taken aback, but then shrugged, because yeah, he could do that. “Sure. Do you want a Captain America story?”

Peter immediately shook his head. Huh.

“Okay... why don't I tell you about what happened when my friend Clint found a nest of baby birds on the very edge of our roof?” he tried instead, and that seemed to immediately catch the boy's attention. “Okay, so -”

“No, Steeb,” Peter cut him off firmly. When he frowned in confusion, the little boy lifted up the corner of his blanket and looked at him expectantly. “Y'hafta get in f'stories.”

Ah. Kicking his dirty boots off and placing them neatly at the foot of the bed (force of habit), he scooted Peter over and clambered in beside him. Immediately, the little boy cuddled up against his side and, popping his thumb into his mouth, rested his head against Steve's chest like he had known him all his life. Flailing for just a second about that, Steve quickly got himself together and wrapped his arm around the kid, hugging him close.

“Better?” he asked, and Peter nodded. His little eyelids were already starting to droop. “So, my friend Clint likes to be in high places, and the roof of our home is really high -”

In the end, it only took ten minutes to get Peter to sleep. Steve wasn't a professional when it came to things like this, but he thought he was doing remarkably well, considering. Moving slowly, in case he jostled the little boy and woke him up, he slowly slipped out of the bed again and tucked him in. Honestly, he didn't think he'd ever seen such an adorable sight – curled in on himself, and sucking gently on his thumb in his sleep, Peter was just too cute for words.

“Get well, buddy,” he whispered, giving in to the urge to sweep the boy's bangs out of his face before he scooped up his boots and crept out of the room.

The reception area sounded so much louder after sitting in relative quiet, and he quickly pulled on his boots before he could get in someone's way. The nurse who had warned him earlier passed by, and gave him an approving nod as she went.

“Steve? Steve!”

His head shot up in confusion, and then smiled when he spotted a rather frantic looking Tony weaving his way through the crowds. “Hey, Tony, what're you -”

The rest of his sentence was squeezed out of him in an oof as the brunet swept him up in a crushing hug. After a moment of surprise, Steve raised his arms to pat the man's back.

“Uh... you okay, Tony?” he asked, peering down at the man as he let him go again.

“Natasha just swept past and said you were at the hospital, so...” Tony trailed off, glancing down at his feet. “I'll admit I panicked a little, okay, and should have let her finish, but -”

“You thought I'd been hurt,” Steve filled in as realisation hit him. “Well, I'm fine! No harm done. I was just making sure Peter was settled before -”

“Peter?” Tony asked. “Who's Peter?”

“He's the little kid I pulled out of the shell of a house,” Steve told him earnestly. “His aunt and uncle were killed, and he started crying every time I tried to put him down, so I came with him in the ambulance.”

“Oh,” the genius nodded, and did he look... relieved? “I did wonder what was going on when the main reception lady pointed me towards paediatrics. Well, that's your good deed for the day done, at least. Let's go -”

“Wait, Tony, I -” Steve grabbed the man's arm as he moved to leave, but his mind went blank before he could finish his sentence. He couldn't say what he was thinking yet – shouldn't even have been thinking it at all, honestly, because there were so many things that could go wrong – and, instead, continued, “I'm going to come back tomorrow. Do you think I could sneak a peanut butter and jelly sandwich past the nurses?”

Instead of drawing a laugh from the man like he thought that line would, Tony just looked troubled by his words.

“Steve, buddy, I know you're trying to help, but... this isn't our job,” he replied, gesturing around them. “We swoop in and save the day, but there's a reason why we don't get attached.”

“I'm not,” Steve defended, even though he realised that was a complete lie. He was already wrapped around Peter's little finger, and, worse, he couldn't even bring himself to mind.

“All I'm saying,” Tony continued, holding his hands up calmingly, “is that this isn't our responsibility. There are other people around to handle this -”

“But there aren't!” Steve snapped, and didn't even feel bad about it when Tony looked affronted. “They're trying to find a living member of his family, but it's looking more and more likely that he's alone, Tony, and he's just a baby -”

“And he isn't your problem,” the genius replied softly, and then held up a hand before Steve could scold him for his callousness. “That isn't me being an asshole, that's me being realistic. What do you think's going to happen? You can't keep him, Steve – look at the lives we lead! It's much too dangerous for a kid!

“All that's going to come from this is heartbreak,” he continued, sighing heavily, and then slapped his public smile on, “and nobody wants to see Captain America cry, okay?”

Slowly, as Tony's words sunk in, Steve let himself deflate. He knew the man was right, of course, but that didn't make the truth any more digestible. Sure, he knew he could put Peter in danger if anyone knew how attached he was, but wasn't his care really the best place for the kid, in that case? He would protect him with his life, after all.

Wow, wait, where had that thought come from?

Before he could think too hard about where his thoughts were starting to spiral, he sighed, bowed his head, and murmured, “Let's just... let's go home, Tony.”

The genius seemed all too ready to show him out.

---

Against his better judgement, Steve rose early the next morning with the intention of slipping out to go back to the hospital. He had been up half the night thinking over his options, and had eventually come to the decision that when Peter was well enough to leave the hospital, he would revisit his feelings on the matter, but, until then, he had promised the kid a peanut butter jelly sandwich.

As a last minute thing (because he knew from experience how boring hospitals could be) he grabbed a couple of spare sketchbooks and a box of pencils from his desk, then made his way down to the kitchen to make the sandwich.

“Going somewhere?”

He tried not to show how much Clint's voice startled him, and instead turned a firm glare on the archer. Instead of looking terrified like he should have, however, the man just grinned from his perch on top of the fridge and spooned some cereal into his mouth from the bowl he was holding.

“It's not nice to scare people like that,” Steve tried instead, striding over to the cupboards to grab his supplies.

“Kinda my job, though,” the archer shrugged, slurping the last of the milk from his bowl. “But you're avoiding my question; going somewhere?”

Steve sighed, focusing intently on the jars in front of him as he replied, “Back to the hospital.”

“Oh, okay.”

Halfway through the act of spreading jelly onto bread, Steve paused and looked up – completely taken aback by the archer's easy acceptance. Honestly, he didn't spend as much time with Clint as he did with the others – the man liked to keep to himself (and, secretly, Steve thought he felt a little like he didn't belong because of what had happened with Loki) – so his opinions always seemed to come a little out of left field, because Steve wasn't used to them.

“You... you're not going to tell me it's a bad idea?” he asked, putting the knife down so he could properly concentrate on the man. “You're not going to tell me to not get attached?”

“Somebody's got to,” Clint shrugged light-heartedly, though his eyes were dark. “Stark mentioned something about the kid probably being an orphan last night after you went to bed, and, well... I know what that's like, okay? The only thing I'm going to tell you is don't screw the kid over if you're not serious, because that'll be worse. Otherwise, y'know... just give him lots of hugs and stuff. The sketchbook's a good idea, too.”

“Um... thanks?” Steve replied, a little taken aback by the man's openness. He'd read all his team-mates' files, of course – he knew their tragic backgrounds – so, now he thought about it, there was really no wonder that Clint was anti-care home when there was a better option.

“And, hey, I can probably ward Stark off your trail if he just so happens to wander out of his workshop,” the archer shrugged again, grinning now.

“The probability of that happening is miniscule,” Steve laughed, turning back to finish off his sandwich. He knew, after their little not-quite-argument at the hospital yesterday, that the genius was sulking, and that meant that he wouldn't come out of his workshop for a few days at least.

Steve had to remember to take him something to eat when he got back from the hospital. Hell, he was already in the mood for burgers; he'd probably call in somewhere on the way back. Tony was always in a good mood after a burger, after all, so maybe he could even use it as an apology.

“Thanks, Clint,” he nodded, slipping the finished sandwich into a zip-seal bag to keep it fresh. “Call me if anything happens.”

“Yeah, you, too,” the archer replied, and allowed Steve to pat him on the back as he passed.

That man was a potential ally in this Peter thing, he decided as he got into the elevator. Right now, he could use all the allies he could get.

---

The nurses seemed just as surprised to see him back so soon, and where it wasn't exactly commonplace, he still couldn't help but feel a little resentful over the fact. He was Captain America, for God's sake – if nothing else, his whole persona was built around the idea of the good, kind American. Surely they shouldn't have been so surprised?

He slipped into Peter's room regardless, and found the little boy humming along to the theme tune of some kid's show on TV and drinking milk from a sippy cup.

“Hey, Peter,” he smiled. “You remember me?”

The kid immediately sat up straight and grinned excitedly. “Steeb!”

“That's right,” he nodded, feeling a little relieved. A small part of him had been worried he wouldn't remember who he was. “So, did you already have breakfast, or do you still have room for -”

When he pulled the sandwich bag out of his jacket pocket, Peter's eyes bugged comically and he squealed, “Pee bee 'n jay!”

“Sure is,” he grinned, striding across the room to sit on the edge of the bed. “I promised, didn't I?”

“Uh-huh,” Peter nodded, reaching out with grabby hands for the sandwich. “Pwees?”

“Here you go, buddy.”

Steve handed a neatly cut quarter over and the little boy immediately went to town on it. Admittedly, more of the filling ended up on his face than in his mouth, but his rosy little cheeks were almost splitting with the force of his smile, and he was humming happily around his mouthful, so Steve was definitely counting it as a good call.

“Good?” he asked, accepting the kid's crusts in exchange for another quarter. Peter just nodded, obviously too busy with his sandwich to waste time on words.

As he continued to watch the little boy devouring his treat, a warm, heavy feeling settled in Steve's chest. He had never felt this way around a child before – protective, and with an urge to nurture and cherish. Honestly, he'd always felt a little awkward around kids, first, because he had been too weak and sickly to be around them, and then because he'd been afraid of crushing them in his muscular arms. Peter, though? Peter wasn't scary in the slightest. Peter was adorable, and needed to be protected and loved at all costs.

“All done?” he asked, handing the little boy his sippy cup back in exchange for his last crust. “We're going to have to wipe your face, kiddo, because you look like you've come straight out of a crime scene.”

It was true – Peter had peanut butter smeared all over his hands, and red, fruity jelly all over his cheeks and lips. He looked like he'd been eating someone's brain. The boy obviously agreed, as well, because he made a vaguely distressed noise, then held out the hand that wasn't holding his cup to his mouth as though he expected Steve to do something about the mess.

Thinking on his feet, Steve got up and went into the tiny changing room-cum-bathroom to run some blue, reinforced tissue paper under the sink. Back in the room, he sat on the edge of the bed again and set about cleaning Peter up. The boy put up a bit of a fuss, but the experience was overly painless, and he certainly looked better for it afterwards.

“See, not so bad, right?” he smiled, tossing the soiled tissues onto the bedside table. Peter pouted adorably, but couldn't hold it for long – collapsing into giggles after just a few moments. Steve couldn't help but smile at that, either. “All right. How about some colouring, huh?”

Peter seemed ecstatic at the mere prospect.

---

They coloured for most of the morning. Peter was actually remarkably good for his age; sure, he couldn't quite colour in the lines yet, but his line work was pretty damn good. Steve could guess what the kid was drawing every time, in any case.

By the time lunch was beginning to roll around, however, Peter was starting to get restless – and with good reason, too; they had been cooped up in the same room with basically nothing to do for hours. With the nurse's permission, therefore, Steve decided to take Peter on a little walk around the ward. They couldn't go too far or too fast – both because Peter wasn't the best walker yet, even though Steve held his hand to help balance him, and because they were lugging an IV pole around behind them – but Peter seemed to love every second of it. He waved adorably at any nurse or doctor that they passed, and even a couple of parents and fellow sick kids, and just generally charmed the pants off everyone they met.

By the time they were making their way back, Steve couldn't deny it anymore; he had completely fallen under Peter's spell.

There seemed to be a change in atmosphere as they arrived back at the nurses' station outside Peter's room, and Steve thought it was definitely down to the man and woman stood there in expensive looking suits. They must've been the social workers, he thought to himself.

“Ah, look, here they are now,” the nurse sighed, gesturing for Steve to bring Peter over. Reluctantly, he did as he was told, but not before scooping the boy up to rest securely in his arms. “This is John Hammond and Anna Patricks from child services, Mr Rogers. They're here to review Peter's case.”

“So the rumours are true, then,” the man – Hammond – smiled, holding out his hand for Steve to take. “Captain America's taken a special shine to you, huh, Peter?”

“Steeb?” Peter whispered, patting Steve's chest nervously as Hammond leaned forwards to scrutinise him.

“He reminds me of myself when I was a kid,” Steve replied coolly, even though that explanation wasn't even half of the truth. Subtly, he shifted Peter on his hip to move him away from Hammond. “He seems to have taken a shine to me, too, as it happens.”

“We're not trying to butt heads with you, Mr Rogers,” Patricks cut in soothingly. “We all want what's best for Peter here, after all -”

“Putting a baby into care isn't best for anyone,” Steve spat, tone a lot colder than he had originally intended, “and certainly not for Peter.”

“Then what would you suggest we do, Mr Rogers?” Hammond asked, obviously getting irritated.

“I...” Steve paused, because this was it, wasn't it? It was crunch time.

Glancing down at the placid little boy in his arms, he realised that he had made his decision when he had decided to come to the hospital with him in the first place. He hadn't been able to save his aunt and uncle, no, but... maybe he could save Peter.

“I'll adopt him,” he decided aloud, then looked up at the social workers and repeated, “I'll adopt Peter.”

He seemed to have shocked everyone silent. Even Peter was quietly sucking on his thumb.

“Mr Rogers...” Patricks started, with the air of a condescending parent, “you can't expect us to believe that you could offer Peter a safe -”

“There'd be nowhere safer,” Steve argued, because now he'd stated his intentions out loud, he was beginning to realise just how much he really wanted this. “He would be under the protection of six of the world's most capable people. Avengers Tower has one of the best security systems in the world; Peter would be completely safe, and, more than that, adored.”

“And the Hulk -”

“Is the biggest hit with kids of all of us, so don't even get me started on that. The Hulk is basically just a big kid himself.”

The social workers were beginning to sway – Steve could tell. Even better, the usually stoic nurse had a look of fierce affirmation on her face, and he felt proud just seeing it.

“You have to realise, Mr Rogers, that we can't just give Peter to you,” Patricks explained. “There's a procedure that -”

“And we'll stick to it, of course,” Steve agreed. “Any forms you need me to sign, whatever, I'll do it.”

“It's not quite that simple,” Hammond replied. “We would have to assess the place of residence before the child could move in, and – if that passes – you would get Peter for a three month probation period, in which inspections would take place, and a final decision would be made after the three months. You didn't think you'd just be able to take him, did you?”

“I – no, of course not,” Steve replied, and he was really beginning to dislike Hammond. “So I need to toddler-proof the tower?”

“It would be a start, yes.”

He really needed to talk to Tony about this – hell, the whole team – because he'd effectively just pledged himself to a three year old for life, and they deserved to at least know about it before he brought the boy home (because this was happening now, whether Hammond seemed to think so or not).

It definitely wasn't going to be a fun conversation, though.

“Okay,” he nodded, taking a deep breath. “How long do I have to get ready?”

“Well, his lungs are looking better, but we're still a bit worried about his hydration levels. The doctor would like to keep him in for another couple of days for observation, but I'd say he'll be good to go after that,” the nurse said. “The little guy's a fighter, after all.”

When she looked directly at Steve while speaking those last words, he could have kissed her for her approval. Right now, he would take it wherever he could get it.


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