“I need your help,” were the first words out of his mouth as he stepped out of the elevator and into the communal lounge. All the Avengers, minus Tony, were already gathered there, watching TV.
“I'm gonna need one of those burgers before I offer my services,” Clint replied, gesturing to the paper bag Steve was holding.
“No, these are for Tony,” he replied, holding them closer to his chest. Collectively, the others let out a knowing hum, and he frowned. “What? Why're you humming?”
“No reason,” Bruce told him, smiling earnestly. “So, you need help?”
“Desperately,” he nodded. “I think I just adopted a child.”
“You actually did it?” Clint cackled. “Nat, you owe me twenty bucks.”
“Steve, you've betrayed me,” Natasha told him, sighing as she grabbed her purse from the coffee table. Steve didn't want to know why they'd had a bet on that, to be honest.
“Well, I've not adopted him officially yet,” he amended. “Social services are coming around tomorrow to assess the home environment, so I need to toddler proof my floor and the communal floor before then.”
“And you are in need of our aid,” Thor nodded. “Then help we shall!”
The others seemed to agree, and Steve... was, honestly, a little surprised by their easy acceptance. “You... you're all okay with this? Peter would affect your lives, too.”
“Is this what you really want?” Bruce asked seriously. “Do you think you could be a loving, caring father to Peter?”
That made Steve pause, because... he'd never really thought about the fact that he would be raising Peter as his son. How had something like that slipped his mind? The longer he thought about it, however, the more he liked the idea of somebody needing and relying on him like that. Sure, it would be hard, but Peter was more than worth it.
“Yes,” he decided. “I think I can.”
“Then that's all that matters, really, isn't it?” Clint shrugged. “It's not like the kid's going to go without anything, living here, and we can figure out the rest as we go along.”
“Thank you,” Steve whispered, suddenly overcome with a wave of gratitude. “I... really, thank you, guys.”
“You have to tell Tony, though,” Natasha smirked, and, yeah, okay, he was probably more than a little screwed.
He left the rest of the team with the help of JARVIS, going through parenting articles and ordering everything and anything that Peter would need, while he reheated Tony's burgers (a bribe, now, it seemed), and reluctantly made his way down to the workshop. As he had expected, the man was already hard at work when he got there.
“Tony?” he called, gesturing for JARVIS to turn the music off.
“Oh, hey, Steve,” the genius replied, spotting him as he looked around for the source of the change in noise level. “I'm glad you're here, actually – I was just working on your suit a little. I think I can make it more fire proof.”
Steve decided to ignore the warm, fuzzy feeling in his gut upon hearing Tony was glad he was there. He was beginning to suspect he actually had a thing about being needed – Sam kept telling him as much, anyway. It wasn't like it was a bad thing, though, right? Being needed was good.
“I, uh, I actually need to talk to you,” he replied, holding up the bag of burgers. “I got you lunch?”
Tony was obviously trying to act cool, but Steve knew full well how much the man loved burgers. After a moment, the brunet couldn't seem to hold back anymore, and made grabby hands for them. Smiling, Steve gladly handed them over.
“You know, if this is about getting me to eat,” the genius began, cramming half a burger in his mouth, “it is absolutely working, and you are a sneak.”
“That's not what it's about, no,” Steve shook his head, pulling up a chair to sit beside him. “But we do need to have that conversation, because you don't eat nearly enough. And no, before you start, those smoothies Dum-E makes are not food. I'm sure he tries, but I saw him put engine oil in the last one.”
“I thought it tasted a little weird,” Tony mumbled around his mouthful of burger. “What's it about, then?”
“I...” Steve thought about stalling until the brunet had eaten the whole bag of burgers – and was, therefore, too full to yell at him – but he really didn't think he could hold it in any longer. He didn't have the time to stall. “I'm adopting Peter, Tony.”
“Who's P -” And then Tony's eyes went comically wide, and he started choking on the burger in his mouth. Heart hammering in his chest with anxiety, Steve reached out and patted him on the back until the food dislodged itself and he took a shaky breath. “You – you're... why are you -?”
“He doesn't have anyone else, Tony, and I can't let him go into care – I just can't,” he sighed, running a hand through his hair. “You haven't seen his little face, sat in that big hospital bed by himself, and -”
“Yeah, but, Steve, this is a child,” Tony replied, gesturing wildly with his burger. “An actual, real human child that needs things, and cries, and pukes, and -”
“I know, Tony.”
“- and you're going to have to put him in school, and you're going to be a father.”
“Tony,” Steve sighed, covering the man's mouth with his hand, “I know, okay? I know this isn't a short term thing, but I need to do this, all right? He needs me, too. Look, I understand that this affects the whole team, and I know that this is your home. If you're not comfortable with this, I...” he sighed again, shrugging. “I guess I can move out. I can't expect you to -”
“What, Steve, what? No,” Tony cut him off, tugging Steve's hand away from his mouth, and he looked a little stricken. “No, I'm not going to kick you out, Jesus. You're not going anywhere, no, I'm not having it. I just... a baby, Steve.”
“I know, Tony,” he laughed.
“The lives we lead, Steve, it's... it's not safe for a kid,” the brunet sighed. “What if he got hurt, or -”
“I wouldn't let that happen,” he shook his head, because over his dead body. “The team wouldn't let that happen. We're already a family, Tony, and we all look out for each other, don't we? Peter would just be adding to that.”
“But kids are breakable,” Tony mumbled, though Steve could see he, too, was starting to sway.
“This is what I want, Tony,” he explained, resting his hand on top of one of the brunet's, “and I need your support. I'm not asking you to babysit, or anything, but just... the social workers are coming tomorrow to look at the tower, and the others are helping, but I honestly don't even know where to start.”
“Okay,” Tony sighed, cramming the last of his burger into his mouth. “I can do that.”
Steve sighed in relief, and couldn't help but pull the man in for a hug. “Thank you, Tony. God, you don't know what this means to me.”
After a moment, Tony hugged him back.
Steve didn't know how they managed it (working through most of the night, most likely), but, by the following morning, they had everything ready. Tony had called his decorator immediately after their talk, and she had worked tirelessly to change the spare room on Steve's floor into a child's paradise. In the meantime, Steve and the Avengers had been out in teams to buy everything and anything a three year old could possibly want or need. Tony and Natasha had been in charge of clothes; Clint and Thor had gone out for toys and books, which left Steve shopping for furniture and Bruce shopping for food.
By the time they all reconvened in Peter's freshly decorated room (the carpet was a deep blue, and the walls were alternating red and white – something that Tony seemed to find hilarious), they were all weighed down with tonnes of stuff. Sam arrived as Clint and Thor were swearing their way through putting up the wardrobe, while everyone else was sorting books, clothes and toys into piles.
“What... the ever loving fuck is this?” Sam asked, staring around in horror from the doorway. “When JARVIS said you were all in Steve's spare room, this is definitely not what I thought I was going to walk in on -”
“Steve adopted a kid, so now we have tonnes of kid shit,” Clint helpfully explained, growling at a wardrobe door that refused to stay straight enough for him to bolt into place.
“You... of course you did,” Sam sighed, giving him a distinctly fond, but no less annoyed, look. “I'm not touching that one with a ten foot pole, buddy.”
“I haven't adopted him yet,” Steve replied, focusing on the picture book in his hands. “The social workers are coming around to see whether the tower's safe enough to raise a child, and, if it is, I'll get a three month probation period to show I can care for Peter properly. After that, if I pass, we can make it a permanent thing. I'm basically just fostering him for the moment.”
“Yeah, but we all know you're going to end up adopting him,” Natasha bumped his shoulder. “You're Captain America, for God's sake. I don't think anyone would say no to you.”
“And if they do, Stark's got lawyers,” Sam added, obviously having accepted everything as easily as everyone else had as he wandered over to glance over the instructions for the kids bed Steve had bought.
God, he loved his friends.
So, yes, they worked long into the night (ordering pizza in when they got hungry), and by the time morning rolled around they were all exhausted from only having a few hours sleep, but they had done it – the whole of Steve's and the communal floors had been toddler-proofed. No cupboard had been left without safety locks, and no small or dangerous item had been left within reach.
They were ready.
“My friend, there is no need to fret,” Thor told him when he found him pacing up and down the communal lounge. “We have put great effort in preparing for the babe on such short notice, and they will be most pleased.”
“Thanks, big guy,” Steve replied, patting him on the shoulder. “This is what I want – of course it is – but it's all happening so fast, and -”
“The responsibility is great,” Thor agreed, “and all good fathers are nervous of their own shortcomings at first, but always rise to the challenge.”
Just as Steve was about to ask if Thor really thought he was going to be a good father, Tony walked into the room. The man looked wrecked; Steve, honestly, didn't know the last time he had actually slept, but he hadn't looked particularly fresh when they'd had their talk yesterday, either.
“JARVIS says the social workers just pulled up,” he announced. “They should be here any minute.”
Oh, God, this was it. Steve felt a strong sense of determination wash over him, and he found himself falling into parade rest automatically, so forced himself to calm down and stand more casually.
“I can help you show them around, if you want me to?” the genius offered, resting a hand on Steve's shoulder in support.
“No, I – thank you, Tony, but I need to do this on my own,” he replied, taking a deep breath. “Just... go about doing whatever it is you all do mid-morning, and I'll... I guess I'll tell you how it goes when it's over.”
“Okay,” Tony nodded, smiling encouragingly, before turning to Thor. “Hey, buddy, what do you feel about pancakes and bacon for breakfast?”
“Just don't make a mess of the kitchen!” Steve called.
“Don't worry – we'll go make them in the penthouse,” Tony rolled his eyes, but he was still smiling encouragingly as he led Thor over to the elevator. The timing was perfect; Hammond and Patricks stepped out of the elevator just as they got to it, and Tony nodded his head respectfully as they passed, but otherwise said nothing as they got in and were whisked out of sight.
Steve took a deep breath, then plastered a smile on his face. It was show time.
Overall, he thought he did a pretty good job of selling the place. He took them around the communal floor first, starting with the lounge and then moving onto the kitchen and then games room. They seemed impressed with how well the fridge was stocked (thank you, Bruce), and the effort gone into child locking all the cupboards, but they were most impressed, by far, in JARVIS, and his potential as an aid in caring for Peter.
“Mr Stark installed cameras everywhere,” Steve explained as he led them to the elevator to take them to his floor, “and he has even more sensors, so JARVIS knows where we all are any time we're in the tower. More than that – he can scan our vitals and call any number of people if we're in distress.”
“That seems exceptional, Mr Rogers,” Patricks said, noting it down on her clipboard as they clambered into the elevator and started to descend. “But I do have one question – who would care for Peter if there were an Avengers emergency? You can't expect to leave a child in the care of an AI?”
And... shit. Steve really hadn't thought of that. “Well, I, um -”
“I'm sure we could roster off one person to stay behind and care for the little tyke,” Tony replied, appearing right in front of them as the elevator doors opened out onto Steve's floor. “Or, if not, I'm sure Happy – my bodyguard – would be only too happy to watch the kid for a few hours.”
Oh God, the whole team was there, sat around his breakfast bar and eating his food. Hell, Sam even waved at him as he led the social workers out of the elevator and into the living room slash kitchenette.
“And if Mr Rogers is fatally wounded in battle?” Hammond asked, eyeing everyone cautiously. “What then?”
“Well, there are six of us, see,” Clint replied round a mouthful of pancake, gesturing to the people around him. “Seven, if you count Rhodes, but he's kind of honorary. If Steve was killed – which, y'know, super soldier, so it's unlikely – do you really think we'd let the kid go without?”
Steve was speechless. It was one thing for the team to accept Peter's place in Steve's life, but to physically offer themselves up as guardians, should he ever not come home? There were really no words to express his level of gratitude.
“We are a family,” Natasha agreed. “We take care of our own.”
Patricks noted something else down on her clipboard, and looked marginally pleased. Hammond didn't, but Steve was beginning to think that man wasn't happy about anything, so he paid it no mind.
“So, uh... you've met the team, then,” he laughed nervously. “Why don't I show you Peter's room?”
Gesturing over to a door on the far left (on which the decorator had painted Peter's name, so it was kind of hard to miss), he led them over and let them in. Honestly, he was very proud of the effort gone into this room. The walls had dried and looked immaculate, and all the furniture had been built and moved into place. Someone (again, probably Bruce) had gone about neatening everything up – the books were all in alphabetical order on the shelves, and the toys that couldn't fit anywhere else had been put in a toy box at the bottom of Peter's bed. Steve had picked out a cartoon robot bed spread, and the little red and blue bots matched perfectly with the walls and carpet. He would have loved a room like this when he was a kid.
“You... did all this in less than a day?” Patricks asked, wandering around the room.
“We, uh, haven't slept much,” he replied honestly, scrubbing a hand over the back of his neck. “Everyone did their part, though.”
“I can see that,” she nodded, straightening an Iron Man action figure that had toppled into Thor on one of the shelves. “This is very impressive, Mr Rogers.”
“We bought clothes, too,” he added, moving over to open the wardrobe. Honestly, he thought Tony and Natasha had gone a little overboard on the clothes – no toddler should need a shoe rack in the bottom of their wardrobe – but everything they had picked was of amazing quality and, Steve had to admit, absolutely adorable. “I mean, I can buy him new ones if he doesn't like these, and the same goes for any of his books and toys, and -”
“I think we're all well aware you can physically provide for the boy,” Hammond cut him off. “What I'm more interested in, Mr Rogers, is whether you can provide emotionally for him.”
“I – what do you mean?” Steve gritted out.
“You would be a single parent, correct?” the man asked. “You have your team's support, evidently, but it's statistically proven that a child growing up in a nuclear family -”
“My mother was a single parent for the vast majority of my childhood,” Steve cut in, barely suppressing a sudden wave of anger, because how dare he? “She was completely alone, working every moment God sent so I had a roof over my head, and medical care, and things were bad back then, but I'd say she did a pretty good job, don't you?”
He seemed to have left the man speechless, which he felt an intense sense of pride about. He knew he probably hadn't meant to offend him – though a small part of him thought that maybe he had – but Hammond was the modern man, not Steve, and even he knew that there was no secret formula when it came to raising a child – just unconditional love.
“I plan to make sure that Peter never, in all his life, believes that he is unwanted or unloved. I don't have a partner, no, but I do have a family, and so will he,” he added, looking specifically at Hammond now.
“I... think we've heard and seen enough,” Patricks murmured after a few moments of awkward silence. “Your sincerity and passion is refreshing, Mr Rogers. We came here expecting... well, not expecting much, to be completely honest, but you've proven us both -” she shot a glance at Hammond, “- wrong. There will be a lot of paperwork to fill out, but I think we're safe in moving onto the next stage of adoption.”
“That's, that's great news,” Steve sighed in relief, and couldn't keep himself from grinning madly. “That's so great, God, thank you!”
It was going to happen. God, he was going to be a father, and Peter was going to live with them, and... he hadn't realised quite how much he needed this until right now. He really didn't know what he would have done if the tower hadn't been approved. Yes, he had acclimatised to the present, but he was still working on the whole 'having people there for him' thing.
He really, really needed this.
“I'm going to leave this booklet with you,” Patricks continued, handing the thing over. “There's a lot to fill out and go over, but we need it done before you can bring him home tomorrow, okay?”
“Yes, ma'am,” he nodded, flicking through it. She really hadn't been kidding when she said there was a lot to fill out.
“Other than that, I'd say you're pretty much ready to go!” she smiled. “Honestly, we were dreading this, but it's actually turned out to be one of the most painless cases we've had. I tip my hat to you and your team.”
“Thank you,” Steve grinned, feeling a little giddy. “I'll show you both out?”
He gestured for them to go ahead of him, and ignored the way the team were subtly watching them with baited breath as he got them into the elevator and headed back down to the lobby. When they were safely away, he let out a deep breath, then turned back to his team – schooling his face into one of reserved resignation.
“Well?” Clint was the first to burst, throwing his fork down on the table. “Am I going to be an uncle, or what? I need to start working on my embarrassing wedding speech now, or it won't be ready by the time he's -”
“We passed,” Steve nodded, unable to keep his joy in anymore. “Peter's moving in tomorrow!”
“Congratulations, brother!” Thor bellowed, quickly followed by yells and cheers by the rest of the team. Before he knew what was happening, Natasha was pulling him in for a group hug, and they were all scrambling to get their arms around him.
Everyone but Tony.
By the time he had realised the genius wasn't in the doggy pile with them, the man had had more than enough room to escape, and he seemed to have taken his opportunity, because he wasn't anywhere in sight. Steve frowned, not totally sure why the genius would have disappeared when they were quite clearly going to be celebrating, but guessing where he had gone.
It looked like he was just going to have to speak to him later, when everyone had had a chance to calm down.
Unfortunately, he didn't get the chance to speak with Tony like he wanted to. The genius had, as he'd suspected, locked himself away in his workshop, and Steve spent the rest of the day celebrating with the rest of the team and getting any last minute errands sorted out, before heading over to the hospital with an overnight bag for him and Peter. He thought he might as well spend the night with the boy, seeing how he hadn't seen him all day, and he wanted to make sure this was what Peter wanted, too, before anything was finalised.
“Hey, buddy,” he grinned, peeking around the little boy's door. He was busy watching evening cartoons and drinking his milk, but gasped excitedly when he spotted him.
“Steeb!” he squealed, throwing his arms out wide for a cuddle, spilling some of his milk down himself in the process as Steve walked in and closed the door behind him.
Without any hesitation this time, because he felt more comfortable knowing that Peter was his to care for, he dropped his bag at the foot of the bed and scooped the little boy up into his arms. Peter giggled excitedly, wrapping his spindly little arms around Steve's neck as he brought him down to rest against his hip.
“You miss me?” he asked, grinning, and received a milky, heartfelt kiss on the cheek for his trouble. He couldn't help but grin harder. “I guess you did. So, what're we watching?”
“Dora,” Peter replied, snuggling in close as, still cradling him in his arms, Steve propped himself up against the pillows on the bed and laid Peter out against his chest to watch. He didn't know what Dora was, but there seemed to be a little girl running around with a monkey on screen, and Peter was enraptured by it, so he wasn't going to complain. In fact, he stored the information away for later – knowing, now, that he might need it.
Peter was exhausted by the time his show finished. He'd drank what remained of his milk, and had started fiddling with the drawstring of Steve's hoodie almost absent-mindedly, so, as the credits began to roll, his little eyes were beginning to droop.
“Hey, Peter?” he asked softly, knowing, if he was going to do this, it had to be now. “Do you remember what I said about your aunt and uncle, sweetheart?”
“Dere in heaven,” Peter replied, snuffling a little as he shifted around on top of Steve. “Wid Mama 'n Dada.”
“That's right,” he nodded. “And they love you very much, but, now they're in heaven, they can't take care of you. They want to, but they can't.”
“Like Mama 'n Dada,” the little boy sighed. “Wuz I bad?”
“No, goodness, no,” Steve shook his head adamantly, cradling the boy a little closer to his chest. “No, Peter, you're a good boy. Sometimes these things just happen, but it's not your fault. Do you understand?”
Peter sniffled, then rolled so he was pressed tummy to tummy with Steve and leaning up on his elbows. “Are you goin' 'way, Steeb?”
His little face just looked so heartbroken, on the verge of tears, that Steve had to shift them so Peter was lying on the bed with him curled protectively around him. “No, Peter, I'm not going anywhere,” he replied softly, stroking a hand through the boy's hair. “Not if you don't want me to. That's what I wanted to talk to you about – the nice nurse who's been looking after you while I'm not here has said you can go home tomorrow. I was thinking, since your house got a little burnt in that fire, that you might like to come and live with me?”
“Will dere be pee bee 'n jay?” the little boy asked seriously, and Steve laughed softly.
“Yeah, Peter, if you want,” he nodded, then watched in wonder as the little boy reached up and – with one, tiny pointer finger – drew across his cheek in an invisible line, then up and back down his nose.
“Lub you, Steeb,” he whispered, quite out of the blue, before his eyes finally fluttered shut for the last time, and he slept.
Steve took that as his form of a go ahead.