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Beddy-Bye

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The baby was crying. He could hear the monitor going off, mournful shrill sobs accompanying the slight static of the machine. That’s stupid. I can do better. Note to self, build better baby machine.

He settled back, satisfied, then winced as a new cry broke the lull. The baby still needed fixing, though.

“Steve.”

Nothing.

Steve,” he tried again, tapping insistently this time.

“Hnn?” Steve groaned as he stirred, turning slightly in Tony’s direction without opening his eyes.

“The baby’s crying.” Tony told him expectantly.

“Okay,” Steve murmured, then shifted and settled back in.

No, no, don’t do that. “Steve,” Tony tried again. “It’s your turn.”

“It was my turn last time, Tony, and the time before,” Steve mumbled, still not opening his eyes. “Your turn, for real this time. It’ll do you good to spend time with him.”

Tony was unconvinced.

Steve sighed. “You’re not going to break him, you know.”

I’m not afraid of breaking him, Tony thought stubbornly, but held his tongue. He waited another moment, then steeled himself and shuffled off the bed. The baby was still crying and Steve showed no sign of getting up. It was up to him, then.

No biggie, he told himself, padding down the hallways towards the baby’s room. You've seen Steve do it before; you can do it. Can’t be too hard, can it? Steve always makes it look so easy.

He stopped in front of the crib and stared down at the still-crying baby, illuminated by the night light and the faint glow of his arc reactor filtering through his shirt. It had half-kicked off its blanket and was still moving its limbs angrily in time with its shrieks. Now what? The baby was still crying, quieter little hiccuping sobs now.

He took a deep fortifying breath. Step one, check the diapers, he remembered. No smell, but that didn't always indicate a negative return. He felt at the diaper gingerly, but it felt flat and relatively solid, like the way it had when Steve had him feel the diaper after he changed it. There was none of the gross squishiness like when Steve had him feel the wet diaper.

Okay, probably not the diaper, then.

Maybe it was hungry? But – he glanced at the little digital clock – Steve had given in a bottle about an hour ago, so it should be fine now. Plus, it wasn't showing any signs of hunger: no rooting, no excessive squirming, no moving head frantically from side to side.

Pick it up, then? Tony stared dubiously down at the still-shrieking bundle, then grasped it gingerly under the arms and hoisted it up uncertainly in the air. He dangled the baby for a moment, flummoxed, before awkwardly shifting it to cradle in his arms. It felt only natural, then, to start rocking the baby, making those little full-body jiggles he’d seen Steve do before.

“Hey, it’s all right now, little guy,” he whispered, hugging the baby close to his chest, careful to avoid the arc reactor. “I know I’m no Steve, but I hold you pretty well, yeah?”

The crying subsided and the baby opened his eyes again, staring sleepily up at Tony. It made a half-hearted grab at the arc reactor – chasing the light, probably – before settling back down to blink sleepily up at him. Tony found himself humming as he rocked, sometimes a toneless drone, sometimes snatches of half-forgotten lullabies of mysterious origin.

The doorway lit up as the hall light was turned on, then darkened again. Tony looked up to see Steve standing in the doorway.

“Steve,” he said, surprised.

“I was just checking up on the both of you,” Steve said apologetically, coming all the way into the room.

Tony smiled. “Come over.” He waited for Steve to approach before continuing, “He just wanted to be held, I think. He’s okay now. Sleeping again,” he said, looking down for confirmation.

The baby let out a final “snerk” before its breath went deep and even. Steve came in close and slid his arms around Tony’s waist, carefully avoiding squishing the baby, and rocked side to side with Tony’s motions.

“This wasn't a bad idea,” Tony finally admitted softly into the growing silence.

Steve didn't say anything, just smiled.